5 Novels, as you might guess, contains five novels. My last post dealt with the second one, Slaves of Spiegel. The first one, Alan Mendelsohn, the Boy from Mars, is very different. To be sure, both deal with teenage boys in working-class New Jersey towns who, along with a close friend, have an adventure with space aliens. That’s where the similarites end, however.
Slaves of Spiegel is really and extended short story built around one funny concept. Alan Mendelsohn is a novel in truth, 250 pages long. It is a coming-of-age story, beginning with cliche of a boy who moves to a new school where he doesn’t fit it, but then befriends the school’s other loner. Things come to a head when, while they’re out of school for different and equally hilarious reasons, they explore a dusty used bookshop downtown and come away with a book that’s supposed to teach them how to read minds. It does … sort of. To say anything more about it would be to deprive you of the pleasure of reading it yourself.
One thing I will note, which puts Alan Mendelsohn at odds with typical science fiction writing. In many science fiction novels, particularly the dumb ones, there’s a character who dispenses perfect wisdom. The most famous and obvious example is the novels of Robert Heinlein. Almost every one has some old dude who lectures the younger characters about politics, philosophy, ethics, history, and so forth, always dispensing wisdom in small and witty bursts. It’s no secret that these characters all represented Heinlein himself, and that he used them to fantasize about having everyone else worship his superior intelligence. Thus no one should be surprised when the younger characters in a Heinlein novel give the elderly dude their complete trust and turn out the better for it. A similar pattern can be seen in lots of other crap novels such as those of Terry Goodkind and Robert Newcomb.
In Alan Mendelsohn there is no elderly character to offer perfect wisdom to the two young protagonists. There are parents, but they are ineffective and get little screen time. Then there’s a parade of other adults, each of them bizarre and slightly suspicious in hiw own way. None of these characters comes onstage stamped with the label “good guy” or “bad guy”. Rather, it’s up to the two boys to figure out who is trustworthy and who isn’t and who lies somewhere in the middle. Just like real life.