Sunday, April 13, 2008

The True Meaning of Smekday

I enjoyed every part of this book by Adam Rex, including the illustrations and comics, which is highly unusual, as those who know me will attest. I also enjoyed the way it is told. The book begins with a middle school student writing an assigned essay about "the true meaning of Smekday" which has to be at least five pages long and, if it wins, might be included in a national time capsule. That essay comprises pages 3-29, and ends with the explanation, from a member of the alien race (called the "Boov") who calls himself "J.Lo," that the name of earth is now

"Smekland. As to tribute to our glorious leader, Captain Smek.'
'Wait.' I shook my head. 'Whoa. You can't just rename the planet.'
'Peoples who discover places gets to name it.'
'But it's called Earth. It's always been called Earth.'
J.Lo smiled condescendingly. I wanted to hit him.
'You humans live too much in the pasttime. We did land onto Smekland a long time ago.'
'You landed last Christmas!'
'Ah-ah. Not 'Christmas.' 'Smekday."

The essay gets a C+ because "when the judges from the National Time Capsule Committee read our stories, they'll be looking for what Smekday means to us, not to the aliens." (Don't you love it when a teacher gives a grade based on what she/he thinks another's expectations will be further on down the road?)

The second section is much longer, and that's part of why it wins the prize and is included in the time capsule. It comprises pp. 33-150 and tells the story of how the human, named Gratuity, and the Boov, J.Lo, become friends and allies. It's a truism about SF that it's always hard to imagine aliens without human characteristics, so I found this one pretty original. Here's one description of how J.Lo reacts when he's upset: "J.Lo composed himself for a moment, but I noticed his eyes were starting to look wet. Which might have meant he was about to cry, but it bears mentioning that his face was also slowly turning yellow, so I don't know."

The last section is the longest, and Gratuity says she's writing it only for her journal, which no one will read until after she's dead and the time capsule is uncovered. It tells the story of how she and the Boov have to work together to save Earth, or Smekland, from a second alien menace, the Gorg. This section has most of the comics, and my favorite tells about the development of the Boov on their planet. Here's a section of the text from the comic:

400 years ago--Art is replaced by entertainment.
350 years ago--Entertainment is replaced by Talking About Entertainment.
325 years ago--Talking now almost always occurs over vast distances--on phones or by computer. Face-to-face communicatioon is carried out mostly by t-shirt. (One of the t-shirts pictured says "I suggest you talk to my hand.")

At the end, Gratuity explains why, even though she saved the world, she won't talk about it: "For the rest of my life, even if I live to be a hundred and ten (an appended newspaper article reveals that she lived to be a hundred and thirteen), I will never again do anything as fantastic and important as what I did when I was eleven. I could win an Oscar and fix the ozone layer. I could cure all known diseases and I'll still feel like my Uncle Roy, who used to be a star quarterback but now just sells hot tubs."

There's all the interesting machinery you could wish for in a SF novel, including a car modified to hover, lots of alien weaponry, and cloning machines. And I also like it because cats help save the planet.

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