Friday, February 21, 2014

Worldbuilding 101

Andrea 's Stray is a hard book to explain.  It breaks so many rules of storytelling, with lots of telling instead of showing, character soup, and a few elements I couldn't follow (what are the Ddura again?).  But all that is kind of irrelevant, when I just kept reading and reading because I wanted to know what happened.

Cass, our narrator, is awesome.  She's practical and level-headed.  When she finds herself suddenly in a strange and unfamiliar world after walking through a wormhole on the way home from school, she is as confused as any of us would be.  But she's also got the same theories any of us would come up with, because she's watched enough Star Trek and Doctor Who to make some guesses.  When she's faced with a tough moral dilemma and picks the tough but virtuous course, she blames the Scooby Gang (both the ones with the Mystery Machine and the ones with the stakes) for putting her in a position where she knows she needs to do the hard but right thing.

The book is Cass's journal, and it does a better job of reading like a journal than almost any book I've read.  One could look at this as a weakness, because it's a very direct, matter-of-fact recounting of events.  But it's very much like having someone tell you a story--you don't want flowery descriptions, you want to know what happened next.  And because Cass is learning everything as she goes, she explains it all to us.

So when she's rescued from the uninhabited world she wandered into and taken to a city, there's a lot of infodumping.  But think what an infodump it would be, to learn the history of a world that travels between dimensions.  And honestly, the backstory is complicated enough that I think if I had to learn it gradually, I would never have been able to hold it all.  As it is, plenty of it sailed over my head--I just retained enough to follow the monster fights.

But the main story of the book is how Cass is discovered, in this society of psychic powers, to be able to strengthen the powers of anyone who touches her.  She's recruited to help the Setari (psychic space ninjas, as she calls them) protect the world from the creatures that live between dimensions.  Apparently interdimensional travel has its dangers, which no one realized until it was too late.

What are spaces, and pillars, and Lanterans?  I don't know.  No clue.  But I don't care.  I caught enough to keep reading, and what I know is that Cass is part of this team now, and that she's making friends, slowly but surely, and convincing the bureaucracy that she's intelligent and can be an ally, and that she's looking for a way home and coming to terms with her place in this new society. 

Cass is one of the most mentally and emotionally strong characters I've read in a while.  She's surrounded by people who can kick all kinds of butt, but she keeps her head on her shoulders in a way that just keeps me cheering for her, time and again.  I can't wait to read the next book!

No comments: