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Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Buck Rogers and Zach who? Two science fiction books for middle school and high school.

Nowlan, Philip Francis (1962) Armageddon 2419 A.D.: The Seminal Buck Rogers Novel.  New York:  Ace Books.

Opening line:  "My first glimpse of a human being of the 25th century was obtained through a portion of woodland where the trees were thinly scattered, with a dense forest beyond."

When I was 11 years old, scholastic book order offered this book, Armageddon 2419.  I had just seen Star Wars in the theater (it was 1977, the year that blockbuster was first released.)  I loved the experience of the film, had found out that it was something called science fiction, and was really excited to find out that this science fiction stuff also came in books.  My Uncle Dirk had loaned me some of his vast SF collection, but it was stuff like Bradbury, Asimov, Niven, and Clarke that were a little too difficult for me (which doesn't mean I didn't try to read them).  When my Scholastic book order form had this book on it, I thought, finally,  Maybe this book will be like Star Wars. 

And it was, kind of. So this guy Rogers is investigating this strange biological phenomenon in a cave and he passes out.  Somehow the chemicals put him into a coma and slow down his biological functions so that he sleeps for nearly 500 years.  When he wakes up, the United States is no more.  A rag tag collection of rebels (equipped with gravity belts, missile guns, and subspace radios) are fighting against a conquering force of vaguely Asian people called Hans, who hold the cities.  Rogers brings World War One fighting techniques to the table and soon the tables are turned.  Somewhere in the midst of all this, Rogers meets a woman named Wilma Deering who shows him that women can be warriors and can contribute their strength, intelligence, and resourcefulness to the war effort. (In fact, in the world of the future, no one questions this).  It is a sweet romantic sub-plot.

The book has some issues.  The Americans seem to be an exclusively Caucasian bunch.  The Asian Hans are not depicted in the best light.  Both these aspects might be a good source for a conversation after the student has finished the book.  But the story is remarkably progressive for when it was written.  I recommend it for Middle school and high school. 

Lupica, Mike (2010) Hero  New York:  Penguin.

Opening lines:  There were four thugs, total gangsters, in front of the house with their rifles and their night vision goggles.  Four more in back.  No telling how many more inside."

Zach Harriman's dad is a special advisor to the President of the United States.  Zach has always thought of his dad as a diplomat. When his Dad's plan goes down under mysterious circumstances, Zach starts to realize three things.  First, his dad had super-powers -- strength, invulnerability, speed.  Second, Zach is developing powers too.  Third, this means that there are people who are out to control and manipulate him.   Now he isn't sure who he can trust.  It won't be easy to figure out.  Zach might be developing into a superhero, but he is also a fourteen-year-old kid. 

This is an action packed book that should attract readers fifth or sixth grade an up.  There is a bit of violence, but nothing too graphic.  There probably aren't enough themes here to make this worthy of study in a language arts class, but it would be a great book for a classroom library. 

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