Monday, November 6, 2017

Review - The Universes Inside the Lighthouse

The Universes Inside the Lighthouse (Balky Point Adventures #1)
by Pam Stucky
Date: 2014
Publisher: Wishing Rock Press
Reading level: YA
Book type: prose novel
Pages: 221
Format: e-book

Two teenagers on a summer vacation on an unassuming island ...
A mysterious girl who appears in photographs taken decades apart ...
A science lab set up in a place that exists both nowhere and everywhere ...
A storage closet that is far more than it seems ...
A parallel Earth, exactly like our own ...
A universe made up entirely of ghosts ...
An entity that is taking over innocent lives and infiltrating the universes ...

Adventure, mystery, travel through space and time to find a man who seeks to rip the universes apart. Reminiscent of A Wrinkle in Time with just a dash of Doctor Who ...

and it all begins ... inside the lighthouse.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

Wow. This was bad. So, so bad. I'm exhausted after struggling through this, and I don't even feel like writing a review. But I'm fed up with awful books with misleadingly high Goodreads ratings. I'm tired of wasting my time on stuff that should be good, but isn't.

The first problem with this book is that it doesn't know who its audience is. It's billed as "MG/YA sci-fi", but I don't think it would appeal to either age group. The characters are supposed to be 17 and 18, so they're driving around and letting their hormones make them all angsty. On the other hand, they act young. Some act so young, in fact, that I assumed they had an intellectual disability.

The main character (or so I thought, until near the end when the point of view jumped around to the point of distraction) is Emma, a girl whose defining characteristic is having a crush on Ben. She's also an introvert. That's literally the only character development we get for most of the story, which made Emma an excruciatingly boring character. Charlie is Emma's twin brother. He's old enough to go lusting after girls, but chants things like, "Aliens, aliens, aliens," when he discovers the identity of his new friends. And he doesn't just do this once. I guess it was supposed to be a character trait or quirk, but it just made him come across as someone with some sort of disorder. Ben is the guy Emma's lusting after. He's walking arrogance who has dark hair and... yep. That's about it. (The physical descriptions for many of the characters were either non-existent, or came way too late; we found out at 85% that Charlie had green eyes.) Eve is one of the "aliens", but she looks human, and of course she's blonde and beautiful and Ben and Charlie are both attracted to her, which leads to jealousy on Emma's part. (Although, when Charlie finds out that Eve isn't human, it leads to a kind of icky reaction where he pulls his arm away from her and asks if she's even really even a girl, as if the only thing that matters is what's hidden under her clothes.) Eve's father, Milo, is kind of a blank, although I winced when he made an inappropriate comment about his daughter's body odour in front of her new friends. Dr. Waldo is a sterotypical absent-minded professor who speaks in run-on sentences and has overly expressive body language. The villain's name is Vik, and he's pretty much what you'd expect from a bad villain: black hair, black clothes, perma-sneer, and a bad habit of talking about his evil plans in front of the protagonist.

Another problem was the way the characters--as well as the whole book--were written. I couldn't put my finger on it at first, but then I realized that it reminded me of old kids' novels from the 1950s. Some of the word choices made the characters sound like they were in their 80s. And Emma and Charlie calling each other "dork" didn't help; do teenagers today even use that word? The characters could go from sounding like a child to a grandparent within a paragraph. It was really awkward. Also awkward were the emotions. They didn't fit half the time. Sometimes they were too strong, sometimes they were too weak, and sometimes they were just plain wrong, given the situation. Another thing that reminded me of those older books was the subtle sexism. The women had to organize the potluck. A woman came over to watch her husband fix a leak (because, apparently, women can't do plumbing themselves). Eve swooned into Ben's arms after an emotional outburst. No. It's the 21st century. I don't want to read that kind of crap.

For a book about travelling through multiple universes, the story is actually super boring. I think the main idea was that the teens were trying to stop Vik from destroying the method of travel throughout the universes. But you could be forgiven for not noticing. There were so many info-dumps, so many perseverating ramblings about things that had nothing to do with the story (like the names of the planets in a parallel solar system). I could definitely see where the author drew inspiration for parts of the story. The Void reminded me of the Dementors from the Harry Potter series, and the story about the planet that had been affected by The Void reminded me a lot of the movie Serenity. And yet, the rest was strangely unimaginative. At one point, the teens end up on another planet with "primitive natives", and we don't even find out anything about them (other than the fact that they can apparently change gender... but I suspect that was just a typo). Later, two eat a meal on Eve's home planet, and they eat... steak and salad. With sporks. With all the infinite possibilities, why are they eating a Western meal with a familiar utensil? There's too much of a reliance on stereotypes, which leads to the book feeling even younger (I'm thinking of the ghost planet in particular, where everyone wears flowing dresses, glides around, and talks like this: "Helloooooooo!").

The writing and editing were pretty bad. The writing was unsophisticated and disjointed. Conversations were especially hard to follow, since often questions would be asked but not answered... until pages later, when someone would bring the topic back up, as if it had never been left in the first place. It made me wonder if the book had been really badly edited, with new passages clumsily added, but I don't really feel like this book was edited at all. There were so many punctuation errors, and even duplicate words, especially toward the back half of the book. And, overall, the book's message is preachy, and kind of insulting to introverts. I wasn't impressed.

What little enjoyment I got out of this one was unintentional, and mostly from how bad it was. You can see how bored my brain was when it saw the following passage as dirty:

A young, dark-haired man stood in the empty space where there once was a door, covered in debris and dust from the explosion, a satisfied grin on his face, a giant weapon in his hands.

Am I the only one who found that funny? Probably. I was punchy and tired, though, from slogging through the utterly drab plot, so I guess I was looking for entertainment wherever I could find it.

Quotable moment:

Glen opened the door.

There stood the aliens.

"Eve!" said Ben and Charlie.

"Milo?" said Emma.

Amy Renee, who had joined her husband at the door, looked from the people standing in the doorway to her children and back. "So you're the aliens then?" she said matter-of-factly, as though people claiming to be aliens appeared on her doorstep every day. "I'm not so sure I should let you in."

Premise: 2/5
Plot: 1/5
Characters: 0/5
Pace: 0/5
Writing: 1/5
Editing: 0/5
Originality: 0/5
Enjoyment: 1/5

Overall Rating: 0.63 out of 5 ladybugs

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