Saturday, August 8, 2015
Review: Boltzmon!, by William Sleator
The story is told from the perspective of an eleven-year old boy named Chris, and at the heart of his life's problems is his older sister Lulu, who is bent on making him miserable. Not only does she bully him at home, but now that they both go to the same middle school, she spreads rumors about him and causes other kids at the school to bully him as well. Chris doesn't know what he did to deserve this treatment. He spends his free time at home mapping an imaginary world called Arteria. In this world the pirates like to target and kill blonde-haired girls. Chris relishes in imagining his own sister being tormented in Arteria.
It turns out that Arteria is a real place, as a chance meeting with a being called boltzmon reveals. Boltzmon, as it explains itself, is a piece of a black hole that has the knowledge of everything it has absorbed. It can also bend space and time, which means that it comes from the future, where it has already absorbed Earth and even the planet of Arteria. It knows that Chris will be dead very soon if he does not visit the Time Temples in Arteria. Oh, and boltzmon's very unstable. When Chris or somebody says something that perturbs it, the boltzmon transports itself and Chris through space and time - to 40 years in the future on the planet of Arteria.
Thus the story jumps back and forth, mostly, between Earth and Arteria. Though the boltzmon is unstable, it seems to have a purpose, one that's not so clear early on. Chris takes the form of an Arterian in Arteria, and the boltzmon takes the form of whatever or whomever it pleases. For example, in the first trip, the boltzmon is a cranky old woman who absolutely needs to sit down, but a middle-aged wealthy blonde woman refuses to move her bag in order to make room for the old woman. This perturbs the boltzmon to no end, and the boltzmon seems intent on annoying the blonde by any means possible. This blonde becomes an important part of the Arteria plot, and Chris begins to assume that she is actually his sister, Lulu, forty years in the future.
The story hinges upon the mood of the boltzmon, but though the boltzmon is very unstable, its motives are much clearer and more coherent than they originally seem. The book, therefore, is not just a random series of adventures, but a fluid whole. We travel through time a little bit, as Chris witnesses the means of his death and realizes the way to correct it. In the end, while it would be simple for the book to create an easy villain, it's much smarter than that. While bullying is at the heart of the villainy in the novel, Chris also needs to learn to stand up for himself. The human element is much more effective than the scientific, as Sleator explains the science behind his boltzmon with as few details as possible in order to still give a good idea of what it is. In forcing his characters to reflect about themselves, on how they grew to be who they are, he also provides a lesson in the power of self-reflection. While the adventure leading to the end is comical and fun, the ending is very poignant and certainly worth the craziness.