On Monday night, I was privileged to meet local fantasy writer Fran Wilde at my favorite book-addiction fix, Main Point Books. I’d read Fran’s debut novel, Updraft, the week before and enjoyed it thoroughly. As you can see in the photo, I wore my special, science-fiction tee-shirt for the occasion. Also in attendance was Fran’s mentor, Gregory Frost, whom I met at last year’s Push to Publish conference. Not sure how fantasy writers get cool names like Fran Wilde and Gregory Frost, but it makes me worry about my own chances.
Updraft has its problems, particularly in the middle, where it bogs down a bit in cliche. Without giving anything away, we find out that our protagonist, Kirit, is a special whatzit because her father (who vanished when she was a child) was a special whatzit, and it is her destiny to inherit all his special whatzit-ness. So, in that sense, it’s Harry Potter, Escape to Witch Mountain, Star Wars, and every other story that appeals to teenagers who don’t fit in and attribute it to undiscovered birthright specialness. Now that I think about it, I suppose this trope stretches at least as far back as the King Arthur legend with the sword-in-the-stone stuff. Of course, it also applies to the monstrosity that was Jupiter Ascending, God help us all. (Wanted…Tarzan…Superman…Holy crap, when you think about it, there are a lot of stories like this. What’s wrong with us?) I have a knee-jerk negative response to this kind of plot device, which smacks of social elitism and colonialism to me (“We deserve to be kickass because we were born to be kickass.”). I prefer a story where some poor, nobody schlub sees an opportunity, takes a chance, and rises above his status due to his own courage, pluck, and ingenuity, but that’s my American bias talking.
There was also a span where I was twenty to thirty pages ahead of the plot. I don’t know if that would be true of any non-writer who reads this, but there was a good chunk of this story where I was unsurprised and getting annoyed by it.
Having said that, I loved the hell out the setting, which was a culture of humans living in towers above the clouds. No one ever ventures below the cloudline, and the entire society depends upon bridges and hang gliders. And, for as dicey as I found some of the middle part, Fran totally pulled off the ending. So, yeah, I enjoyed the book, and even though I rarely read series, I’d read the sequel to this, if only to find out what’s the deal with the towers (they’re made of bone and they keep growing). Oh, and also to see what’s under the clouds. I’m hoping it’s the same monster that hid in the pit of dry ice over which the Sleestack were always suspending Will and Holly.