Patrick Patterson and the World of Others by James Edward Fryar
Review by Matt Posner
The late great Joseph Campbell talked about patterns that are familiar and to a great extent universal in world culture. They seem to reflect concerns of humanity as a whole. Young adult literature is driven by some extent by the zeitgeist, or spirit of the times, but it is also driven by these timeless mythical patterns, and that being the case, once you know what the pattern looks like, you can see it being used, either deliberately or accidentally, in many things that you read.
Patrick Patterson and the World of Others, by James Edward Fryar, openly participates in the kind of structure Campbell outlines. It follows the mythic pattern of the boy coming of age, losing mentors and coming into his own as a man. Given the cultural ubiquity of this pattern, which has been used especially much in books of the last ten years -- used, and used, and used, and used* -- the question is not whether using it again makes sense, but whether a particular book dealing with these themes contains the right combination of interesting characters, writing quality, creative surprises, and general freshness of approach to make it feel distinctive.
Patrick Patterson is a decent book. It has a strong narrative drive, plenty of conflict, good pacing, and complete clarity. It has a heart, in the form of Patrick's bittersweet longing for the girl next door, an underdeveloped subplot which promises to be more meaningful in future books, but which for me has more interest than any of the frenzied combats and chases the author has offered to an audience in whom he anticipates a taste for the cinematic. Furthermore, the novel has a fairly fresh concept in that it substitutes for magic (the trope preferred by most contemporary fantasists including me) the concept of entire hidden cities of unearthly beings from outer space, and a galaxy-wide conflict in the offing for future books. In other words, there are aliens instead of wizards (although magic exists also). There is even a nod to Roswell, New Mexico, in that Patrick comes from Farwell, Texas, a real town that comes across in the book like a fictionalized imitation. (Roswell, it should be understood, is where worldwide UFO theorists believe the alien spacecraft wrecked in the 1960’s.)
Given all the positives above, still, this book is not a masterpiece, I'm sorry to say. Characterization is not as deep as I would like it to be, with the characters seeming to have little history and few traits not required by the plot. Some plot elements flat-out vanish, unresolved, such as Patrick’s fight against the bullies in an early chapter. Yes, the fight still has a key function because it foreshadows more important such struggles in his future – but a more significant problem pushed it out of the way and the characters involved just dropped out of the story. I wish that were not true. Most elements of the story struck me, as they came up, as having a sort of paint-by-numbers feel. After a prophecy about a traitor was made, I was able to predict roughly who it was and be clear who it was not. One mystic character takes on a prominent role late in the book, supplying a disappointing deus ex machina I would gladly see shed from the storyline. I also anticipated a particular climactic use of some technology. Especially, I was struck by Patrick’s muted reaction to certain losses at the end that would have emotionally crippled most thirteen-year-olds.
Fryar’s style is clumsy in places. He overuses comparisons with “as though” and commits some lamentable goofs, such as “tiny midget” and "short dwarf." I didn't know what to make of "hundreds of other cars like tiny bubbles of oxygen through the vein of the enclosed Lincoln Tunnel." I think we all know that the proper term for a flow of traffic is "artery" and that an oxygen bubble in a blood vessel will kill you. I also can't quite understand, either, how someone's speech can be "breaking the void of silence." Errors of this type are cosmetic, and could easily be cleaned up by Mr. Fryar having a good writer buddy line-edit his manuscript.
However, despite these complaints there is an undoubted appeal in some of Fryar's settings. For example, one place is described thus: "All types of people from pink-skinned to coarse haired, from nine feet tall down to less than a foot in height, from giant lizard men to what appeared to be walking trees, rushed between all manner of shops and stores along the main underground road." Is it the Star Wars cantina, the Bazaar at Deva, Diagon Alley, MIB headquarters? Maybe all of the above.
There are some logic problems. A character who is described as a giant rides comfortably in a car. There are far more alien races than there are planets in the galactic confederation with which the characters are connected. No explanation is given for the changes in mass and physical skills that go with the change of appearance caused by a technological device. Looking like a bird doesn’t make you fly, right? However, on the positive side, these logic errors are not nearly so egregious as those on every page of Jason Letts’ Powerless series. Suspending disbelief was not terribly difficult, and my main activity was feeling how much better the book would have been with just a few lines of clarification to explain away these problems.
Based on just one book, I think James Edward Fryar will grow into the role of novelist quite handily. He has a good feel for the fundamentals, and he writes from the heart, and I expect that, as Tolkien said of The Lord of the Rings, the tale will grow in the telling.
*Yes, I use it too.
This Patrick Patterson and the World of Others book review was written by Floresiensis
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