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Monday, April 11, 2016

This Gary Schmidt book isn't science fiction really, but it is good!

Schmidt, Gary D. (2012) What Came From the Stars  Boston: Clarion

Opening lines:  "So the Valorim came to know that their last days were upon them.  The Reced was doomed, that the Ethelim they had loved well and guarded long would fall under the sharp trunco of the faceless O'Mondim and the traitors who led them.  The Valorim looked down from the high walls of the Reced and knew they wold find no mercy in the dark fury of the O'Mondim massed below -- none for all they had loved. "

Gary Schmidt may be the most masterful storyteller I have ever met.  Whether in writing or speaking, he weaves a spell quickly and completely over his audience.  His books are always wonderful, though sometimes it takes a while to get into some of them.  When I heard that Schmidt had written a kind of science fiction novel, I was apprehensive.  In addition to loving Gary Schmidt's work, I love science fiction (I go back to the days of Asimov, Arthur C. Clark, and Larry Niven but also love the more recent work of writers like Orson Scott Card, Neal Stephenson, Octavia Butler, and others).  And I get scared when one of my favorite writers of realistic fiction decides to give SF a try.  I think this reaction of mine goes back to when I first read CS Lewis's Space Trilogy. I had loved his Narnia books and was hoping for something similar with the Space Trilogy -- but when I read it I was deeply disappointed. Whatever Lewis was writing, it wasn't science fiction to me.  There was very little science and I had trouble figuring out who I was supposed to root for.  So when I heard about Schmidt's book, I was worried.  I didn't want to be disappointed.

The opening lines didn't sooth me either.  It seemed like he was writing a pale imitation of Tolkien.  I got really frightened.

But then I got to the end of the first chapter and the beginning of the second chapter.   It is at this point in the story that the Valorim take all the art of their civilization, all the creativity, all the beauty, and, in short, everything good and noble and honorable, and they put it into a jewel in a necklace sort of thing, and then they somehow propel it out into the galaxy and it traverses incalculable distances, enters our solar system, the Earth's atmosphere, and eventually ends up in sixth-grader Tommy Pepper's lunch box.

And then I relaxed.  Get Schmidt into our world, and I know everything will be okay.  Better than okay.  It turned out to be an excellent book. Tommy and his sister Patty who never speaks and his friend Alice are soon dealing with strange and violent happenings.  It turns out that the O'Mondim, relentless hunters from the planet that the necklace has come from, have  come to get it back.  Before long Tommy is fighting to save his house, his friends, his school, his town and maybe the planet.  Alternating chapters continue the story of the Valorim's final days which Schmidt handles well, but I found myself racing through those chapters to get back to Tommy and Alice.  There are some parts when we feel desperation for our heroes -- but there is a satisfying and beautiful ending as well.

This book would work best for good fourth grade readers and up.  It isn't really science fiction (though it isn't really not science fiction either)  And though I haven't tried it, I think it would make an excellent read-aloud book.  This one is worth getting a hold of.  You'll like it.

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