Sunday, October 19, 2014

Book-A-Day 2014 #290: Finder: Talisman by Carla Speed McNeil

Just as there are songs about how awesome music is, and movies all about the glamorous world of movie-making, there are books that celebrate book-reading -- not necessarily in the autobiographical mode, but usually about a young person growing up. They usually feature that young person fixating on one particular book, and nearly always also show said young person trying to create stories as well. (And there are bonus points for kids with big glasses.)

Finder: Talisman is a middle piece of a longer series of science fiction stories by Carla Speed McNeil -- all published under the umbrella Finder title; these days originally online -- but it also hews very closely to the standard books-are-awesome story. Of course, I agree that books are awesome, and, if you're reading this, you probably do, too.

I've seen Finder described as a far-future story, but I think that's by people who don't understand just how much future there will be. It's set on a planet named Earth with mostly normal biological humans, and I doubt it's more than four or five thousand years up the line at most. (For me, you don't hit far future until our sun has noticeably changed in size or demeanor.) There are urban types, who are organized into tight occupation-based clans -- much like medieval guilds, but just different enough to be future-y -- and the more salt-of-the-earth folks who inhabit the rest of the world. (There's at least one apocalypse -- slow or quick -- in the past, and the world population is far below our own. Technology is pretty much where we could be in ten years, give or take. Governance also seems to have mostly devolved to the clan level or disappeared entirely.) When I've seen this world described, it always seemed unpleasant, like all of those YA dystopias where all of the special snowflake sixteen-year-olds have to be brainwashed to fit into one of a set of three life-choices. But Talisman shows a world more complex and interesting than that, centered around a family who all seem to have made unusual choices and still function just fine in their society.

The main character -- the girl who discovers books -- is Marcella. She has two older sisters -- one of whom is male; one of the odd touches of culture which McNeil doesn't explain here -- a mother who does some sort of work that entails direct brain connection, and a screaming, insane, bed-bound father. (Psychiatry seems to be somewhat less advanced in this world than in ours.)

That's the world Marcella lives in, but the world she wants to live in is that one special book, given to her by her mother's occasional lover Jaeger (also the central character of the larger Finder series). But Jaeger is the kind of man who instinctively tells perfectly-formed stories to women to make them like him, so the story he read to her -- ostensibly from that book -- is not the story in that book. To get the story she wants, she'll have to make it herself.

Again, the story here will not surprise anyone: it's the standard fictionalized how-I-became-a-writer story, starting in early childhood and ending just before Marcella actually writes anything worthwhile. (Or, at least, I hope that's what she's about to write at the end.) McNeil tells that story cleanly and well, with a strong sense of Marcella's voice -- she narrates this book, in many more caption boxes than you're used to seeing in modern comics -- and lovely precise drawings that are particularly good with faces. The worldbuilding details in the background are more individual and interesting -- I'd like to see what kind of writer Marcella becomes, and how that fits into her society.

Book-A-Day 2014 Introduction and Index

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