07.04.2011 - On Eric Nylund
I just finished reading Eric Nylund’s The Resisters.
I have a very complicated relationship with Eric Nylund. My mother bought me a copy of A Game of Universe when I was a teenager. I was skeptical: I had never heard of the guy, the cover art was less-than-amazing, and it was a gift from my mother. Kiss of death. When I eventually got around to starting it, I was blown away. For weeks, I raved about the best “first seventeen pages in a novel, ever.” I eventually started to push it on my friends. My beat up copy must have been read sixteen or seventeen times. It has, maybe, another two or three reads left in it before it starts to shed pages. I don’t lend it out any more.
Then I discovered Dry Water. At first, I didn’t like it as much. But it rereads better than Universe, and I no longer know which one I like better. They are very different, but both have great pacing, complicated relationships, and evocative fantasy elements. By 1998, Eric Nylund had a solid place on my list of favorite authors. I eventually found Pawn’s Dream, which I liked, and Signal to Noise, which I hated. Everyone is allowed a dud, though, right? But this was when our relationship got complicated.
In 2001, Nylund released Halo: The Fall of Reach. A novelization of a video game. At the time, I believe I used language like “selling out,” and “have lost all respect.” I was young. And, in my defense, “all novelizations of video games stink” is a solid rule of thumb that will rarely lead you wrong. I eventually found a used copy of the book (so far had my impression of the man fallen), and I didn’t hate it. It was intensely derivative, reading like a mash-up of Ender’s Game and Starship Troopers. Then came another video game novelizations and a sequel to Signal. This could have been the end of our relationship.
The fact is, I see kids reading Halo: The Fall of Reach all the time. And they like it! He’s a good writer, and his treatment of the source material, though rushed (seven weeks, they say), is more then generous. As a teacher, my understanding of his sell-out novel has matured. Kids and young adults are treated to some terrible writing, and these readers are still developing the sophistication required to distinguish between something that is good and something that is almost good. Much of the literature aimed at young people looks to exploit this, which I think is unforgivable. And, as he says on his website, there is “a shortage of good science fiction for kids.” Halo is almost good. But it compares favorably to what a lot of my kids are reading.
His Mortal Coils series is aimed at a slightly older crowd, and anyhow, Christian mythology doesn’t excite me. This leads me to The Resisters. It is an effective book. The characters are distinct and believable, the actions sequences are exciting (though sometimes not as clean as I’d like), and giant robot bug suits are cool. I like that the language and situations offer nothing to shock parents. I like that it is a little on the short side as this won’t frighten off casual readers. On the whole, I’m happy to put it into my classroom library. And I’ll keep a copy of Halo in my desk if a child’s interest is sparked.
But they can’t touch my copy of A Game of Universe.