The Girl with Silver Eyes

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From Goodreads, modern cover

Recently, I treated myself to a bit of a belated book spree on Amazon. I’d been hoarding a gift card balance from Christmas and my birthday. I like to keep a balance for ebook purchases but I’d also been waiting for a move to be done before picking some books off the long to-buy list (not as long as the to-read list so that’s a good thing for my wallet).

A while back, I’d added a book from childhood to the list. I have a small collection of my childhood books. The ones I’ll re-read periodically or the ones I’m going to force down my nieces’ and nephews’ throats when they come to visit someday. However, there were a few glaring omissions. One of my latest acquisitions was a big one and I know why I didn’t own it. It’s actually one I found through school.

Most of the reading I did early on for school wasn’t my cup of tea. I was often bored because the books were too easy or I didn’t care for the characters. This all started to change in 5th grade. Mr. Clark wasn’t the sort of teacher I’d encountered before and I adored his class. We dissected owl pellets, cows’ eyes and a sheep’s brain that year. Went to the swamp for our class trip. Fostered baby snapping turtles and very happily called Mr. Clark’s Florida King Snake Blackie as we wore him around our necks. Science was big in his classroom and it was the first time it was a real focus of my schooling that I remember. With Mr. Clark also came some very cool science fiction books. When I recently posted about picking up a copy of The Girl with Silver Eyes, a classmate from that year said that was the teacher that led to her love of science fiction and fantasy and I would have to agree. This book and the White Mountain trilogy were like gateway drugs and I happily fed the newfound addiction with Bruce Coville’s Magic Shop books and Dinotopia that year too. Overall, 5th grade was a great reading year. Except for Where The Red Fern Grows but I have blocked that one out completely…not. I am still traumatized. Animals in peril. Enough said.

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From Goodreads, cover I remember from 5th grade (love the attitude Katie has going here!)

So, what is The Girl with Silver Eyes? For starters, it’s not a trilogy. Ten bucks says if it was written today, it would be. It’s also not preoccupied with world building; it’s completely character driven in a normal suburban setting. It’s the story of Katie, a very quiet, very shy not quite 10 year old who has silver eyes. And can move things with her mind. And talk to animals. In short, Katie is awesome and a bit of a spirit animal to my 5th grade self. As the book begins, Katie has just moved into an apartment with her mother after her grandmother passed away. Katie’s powers start to cause problems and brings the interest of a new neighbor on her head, a new neighbor who is not what he seems be at first glance. Also, Katie’s figured out why she has silver eyes and that maybe, just maybe, there might be other kids like her out there. But how to find them?

So, to start with, this book holds up really well even though to some extent, this book could not exist today. A lot of the tension and pages of this book owe itself to the fact Katie couldn’t simply Google the other kids’ names once she finds them. Also, a lot of it runs on the idea of the telephone in a way we just don’t worry about anymore. Katie has to stay in her apartment to wait for phone calls. Think about that. Still, the idea behind the story is still solid and I sort of love that the book has a bit of an ambiguous ending. Like I said above, today the book would probably be a trilogy and have some odd love triangle develop along with lots more details about the shadowy Psychic Institute introduced in the end but here, we’re left with this idea that Katie is going to be OK…we think. A kid can make up their own ending and I think we don’t do enough of that in kids’ science fiction and fantasy today (and I cannot believe I am writing that as I am one of those people that loves every little plot line wrapped up in the end usually).

So, in short, I still love this book and hope it’s still being shared in some way with kids today. If nothing else, I kept trying to think through how the story might change in a 2017 setting and realizing I’d still really like to be Katie, silver eyes and all.

Robots are cool

I do love a good robot. I was a fan of Johnny Five as a kid, adored Wall-E the second I saw him and have decided I want Echo as my new best friend. The ones in the film version of I, Robot weren’t really on my list though I do love Sonny but that could be because Alan Tudyk is one of my favorite people ever.

I have, unfortunately, never read the books that inspired the movie until now. My dad apparently missed these for me in his reading assignments when I was a kid which is a bummer because I can guarantee I liked this book better than Have Space Suit, Will Travel. I, Robot, is according to my dad, a compilation of short stories Asimov published in science fiction magazines in the 1950s and 1960s as he developed the three laws of robotics for the trilogy they would eventually star in. The short stories are threaded together as memories that Gloria Calvin, lauded robopsychologist, is sharing as part of a press interview on her retirement from U.S. Robots. They track the earliest developments in robotics as the machines grew and came across dilemmas with the Three Laws and their functions.

I actually had the movie tie-in cover but
this is cooler.

To start with, if you have seen the movie, this is not the corresponding book. That is the second book in the trilogy, The Naked Sun, which has most of the basic plot line from the movie. Which, in Hollywood’s defense, is an awful title for a robot movie so I can see why they stole the entire series’s title. I would catch a few things here and there that ended up in the movie from these short stories (the character of Gloria Calvin, the story where a robot hides among other robots, the idea of a great machine doing things that protect humanity but takes away their rights) but for the most part, these were entirely new stories based around the Three Laws.

I like Asimov’s writing style though he can be over my head. A lot of his writing is technical; he is trying to rationally explain science in a fictional context where it may or may not actually be possible in the real world. That said, with the Robot series, over what I saw in the Foundation trilogy, there is a lot more psychology than science. This is of course because the main question is when is a robot more like a human? When is a robot actually a better version of a human? Is there a way to actually tell the difference between them at that point? Lots of cool questions and I loved all the different dilemmas that came up in these stories to explore them.

The secondary characters of Mike Donovan and Greg Powell, who were technicians on the front lines of testing new robots, were funny and often in the weirdest situations: one robot decided he was a Prophet for the machine, another ended up in a dilemma loop which meant he was a drunk robot, yet another time they were the butt of a robot’s practical joke as it dealt with a dilemma with the Laws. These were easy to like characters that got at the problem in the story, less so the science which made the science in turn, approachable. A dilemma with one of the Laws is essentially a logic problem and I don’t know about you, but that was not my strong suit in math class. However, through these two laymen type characters, I was able to follow and enjoy and try to puzzle out the problem along with them. I did like the stories where Gloria Calvin was also the main person struggling with the robots to figure out the dilemma but the character herself was much more contained and Asimov used that to hold back information, making it harder to puzzle alongside her. She’s pretty prickly in general so it’s actually a neat way to use the character as a tone for the storytelling.

I liked these stories, I liked being able to explore the Three Laws more and also look into the world that helped develop them. The movie has its place (I like it though I know it was not as popular as hoped) but I always like checking out the origin stories. Gives you a different way to look at a world and a a story you thought you knew.

 

You broke the ship! You broke the bloody ship!

As you’ve probably figured out by now, I was raised with a healthy dose of science fiction television and movies in my life. I loved my summer marathons of Star Wars with buckets of popcorn and only getting up to change the VHS tape to the next movie. Wow, I just dated myself there. That’s right; I’m old enough to remember VHS tapes. Call me ancient. I watched Star Trek: The Next Generation religiously with Dad and had the required crush on Wesley Crusher. Then it was Deep Space Nine and Voyager. I didn’t get as excited about Babylon 5 but I watched enough of it. I was especially excited once I was old enough to go to the theater with Dad, Uncle Mitch and Jeff, my own personal peanut gallery for movies. I used to joke that it was like going to movies with the Mystery Science Theater 3000 crew. The first one I remember seeing with them was Starship Troopers. Not really a movie a 6th grader should have been going to. All I remember is sitting between Dad and Uncle Mitch and the two of them continuously speaking over my head, “That wasn’t in the book…” with furtive looks down at me. Luckily, I emerged fairly unscathed and also became the cool girl who’d seen the movie in class the next week.

So, I’ve also always enjoyed the parodies the genre has inspired. Spaceballs being the notable one I remember from when I was a kid. I was introduced to Mel Brooks probably too young too but I loved all his movies. Not that I got all the jokes in Spaceballs the first time I watched it. After all, Rick Moranis to me was the guy who shrunk his kids. I appreciate it a lot more now that I’m older. I remember the first time I got the gag of the dancing alien. It was like I was finally old enough to be initiated into the cool kids’ club. But, Galaxy Quest is the film I remember being old enough when it came out to really enjoy during the first viewing. The movie is ridiculous and yet highly enjoyable. A group of TV actors from a space program are taken to an actual spaceship where aliens believe the TV shows they’ve been watching are “historical documents.” You know only hilarity will ensue.

It has some great one-liners (including the title of this post) that I will pull out from time to time as needed. They never fail to crack me up. For a while, this was a go-to movie for me in the summer. It just fits the breezy, no responsibilities-so-I-can-watch-nonsense moods I get in the summer months when it’s too hot to stir from the sofa and a pitcher of iced tea. Naturally then, when I saw this film in the $5 bin as summer was fading away last week, I had to revive the tradition I had let fall away since high school.

Color me crazy but it’s not just the fun the movie provides. Because, despite the nutty premise and the fact the film is clearly poking fun at the genre inspiring it, it also creates memorable characters on the adventure of their lifetime. It is entertaining, funny and action-packed with decent special effects and a “plausible” storyline. Kind of like what all those shows that inspired them did at their best. To my mind, that makes it even better than a parody.

We will also mention in closing that before he was Mac or the on-again, off-again boyfriend of Drew Barrymore, and long before I fell in love with him again in Dodgeball or Accepted, Justin Long stole my 8th grade heart as the geeky fan that saves the day in this film. At least I knew how to pick ‘em young 😉

It’s Funny What Sticks…

The ocean has always fascinated me. Why I have no idea. I didn’t grow up near it. I have rarely visited it. I can attribute my love of the ocean to two things. One, The Living Seas at Epcot. Once they took Horizons and the Dreamfinder from me, The Living Seas became my favorite pavilion at the park. These days I tend to drift towards The Land and my new found love of the greenhouses. My thwarted green thumb tendencies are apparently kicking in. But the Living Seas has always drawn me. I could watch the manatees and dolphins for hours. My second reason? SeaQuest DSV. It was a television show that ran for three seasons from 1993 to 1996 on NBC. Apparently these were formidable years for me because I’ve often thought of the show over the years. I remember episodes better from this show than ones I’ve watched in the past few years. The show inspired my first research paper in 6th grade (I argued why we needed to address ocean pollution on a national and international level. Don’t laugh; I got an A ;-). The show inspired my computer’s current name, Darwin. I named my computer after a dolphin. You have my permission to worry about me.

SeaQuest DSV is a show about the adventures of an advanced submarine at the beginning of the 21st century. What has struck me the most in re-watching this show is how they didn’t put it off in the distant future. They talk about 2011 or 2015 in passing as years not so far removed from where they are. The potential of the ocean was introduced to me through the first season on the show. So far it’s still my favorite. They were more interested in showing the science of the ocean that season. Once we got past that, the show got a little ridiculous; I’d be the first to admit. I mean, as I type I’m watching an episode in the middle of the second season about a giant plant eating everyone at a horticultural colony. I know what you’re thinking, hello Little Shop of Horrors and you’d right. I’m sad the further I get into watching the series, everything I loved about the first season seems to be in short supply. I liked the educational element of the first season, which makes me a nerd I know. And also an atypical viewer I imagine so I can see why they went for a more sensational, action-adventure format after the first season.

What has impressed me so far in my re-watching is how well the show has held up in terms of its special effects over the years. True, one of its producers was Spielberg so it had the money and support to look good at the time. When I mentioned to my dad how impressed I was, he told me it was because there hasn’t been science fiction shows on TV like this since then. And I have to admit he’s right. And the few that have been on TV haven’t lasted long. Take my beloved Firefly, canceled before its first season was even complete. It’s since been given cult status, which is how I found it. I didn’t even watch it when it was first on. How I missed it continues to puzzle me.

So why has there been a dearth of science fiction shows on mainstream TV? There have been shows that technically fit the mold. Lost would fit, so would V. But I am a kid who grew up on the many incarnations of Star Trek after all. And it would have been Dad that started me watching SeaQuest too. I miss those shows. They were full of impossible situations but the crazy situations and imaginative new worlds kept me coming back for more. I guess budgets don’t spring for that kind of series these days. I’ll write more once I finish the entire series but I wanted to write about why I was re-watching, reliving a little of my childhood, one episode at a time.