________________ CM . . . . Volume XI Number 21 . . . .June 24, 2005



Beth Goobie.
Victoria, BC: Orca, 2005.
279 pp., cloth, $19.95.
ISBN 1-55143-374-5.

Grades 9-12 / Ages 14-17.

Review by Joan Marshall.

**** /4



Just ahead, Nellie saw the entrance to the exit lobby. Sure of herself, riding her own anticipation she put on a burst of speed and headed toward the faintly-lit doorway without first probing the area beyond it with her mind. As she did her foot kicked a small stone on the floor, causing it to ricochet over the threshold into the lobby. Immediately a stun gun beam lit up the doorway from the other side. Two steps from the entrance, Nellie dove to the right and the beam clipped her shoulder harmlessly. Swearing under her breath she pressed against the wall. What the fuck had that been for? She'd completed the five tests, passed all the ordeals. This was supposed to be down time, when a runner got a few minutes to relax. Had one of the drones gone derelict or was this a runner, tipped into blood lust? It happened sometimes—a runner pushed too far who turned against her own.

Quick footsteps approached the entrance and a boy peered cautiously through the doorway, a raised stun gun in his hand.

Nellie blinked once, her mouth coming soundlessly open. Then, without hesitation, she drew her knife and threw it. The boy had no time to react and the knife landed clean, piercing the jugular. Without a cry, he slumped to the ground.


Nellie is a young teenager being trained as a terrorist in the Advanced Section of the Black Core Program at the Detta Complex in the Interior city of Marman that is in continual battle with the guerillas from the Outback. In this future dystopia, people are born into an astrological caste system that forever defines for them their place in society. Nellie, a blue cat tattooed on her inner wrist to identify her as a lowly Cat, is determined to prove herself worthy of the Goddess Ivana's respect. She delights in her difficult, hair-trigger training, makes fun of her dorm mother (the Supreme Bitch of the Universe) and her psychiatrist, Dr. Westcott, whom she thinks she is fooling as he probes her mind for dreams. What she doesn't know is that the system has chosen her to be the face of the second coming of the Goddess Ivana and the authorities are plotting not only her every move but also even her memories so that she doesn't develop any dangerous attachments to others. She is trained to file her memories and forget them entirely. In this way, she "forgets" her best friend, the vicious remarks of Colonel Jolsen and the horrific killing and damage the cadets create in the city (which is blamed on the Outback). However, Nellie begins to see her double in her dreams, another Nellie who seems to exist in another dimension (and who is, indeed, the heroine of Goobie's first book in this series, Flux). These two girls are actually twins, abducted by the authorities for their own purposes. Nellie Joan has escaped with her mother to the Outback while Nellie Joanne was absorbed into the Black Core program. Suddenly one day while Nellie Joanne is running a maze for training, she meets Nellie Joan and her friend, Deller, who have appeared in her dimension, or level, to seek her help. Captured and tortured, they escape to a higher level where they see Eld, a supreme being who sucks the souls out of children to keep up his strength and that of the sarpas, his henchmen. In an effort to get Nellie Joanne to kill Nellie, Joan, Eld and company reveal that it was Nellie Joanne who murdered her own mother. Nellie Joan calls on all their doubles from all levels to come and help dissolve the gods. In their escape, they end up in the maze underneath the cathedral from which they are rescued by the Jinnet, a guerilla organization from the Outback who remove all their implants and inspire them to search out and destroy all the sarpas in their own level. In Nellie Joanne's level, everything is "fixed" with all the static rigidity that that implies. In Nellie Joan's level, all is in "flux," uncertain and spooky.

     Nellie is a true hero, learning as she goes along, growing from an unquestioning, obedient student to a thoughtful, compelling activist. Although she is kept ignorant of the big picture for a long time, she finally figures out that the Goddess Ivana is a scapegoat for a group of unscrupulous, evil aliens who have invaded her world. She is a spunky, irreverent heroine who has to learn who is honest and true and who to trust. The secondary characters are also well drawn: Deller shows his heroism through his self-sacrifice; Lierin is the typical teen best friend, making Nellie's community rich and funny; Colonel Jolsen's creepy militarism creates shivers down the spine.

     Goobie's pace is fast and furious, blended with just the right amount of self-reflection and questioning. The first chapter is particularly well written as it grabs the reader instantly and yet manages to incorporate many details of this weird society. From that point on, the book is impossible to put down. The dialogue is up to date, smart and funny, and, at the same time, advances the action in an intense rush. The mind to mind conversations at first astonish and then enthrall the reader.

     This novel's setting is complex and mind bending. Nellie Joanne's world is strange enough (Goobie introduces some interesting ideas about sexual mores while the students look back on the past—our world—with disgust and horror). However, the added element of other levels of existence and personal doubles who are not quite the same as the original, mixed with the conspiracy theory to fool the masses about control and religion, creates a novel that will appeal to those students who can not only suspend belief but also accept ambiguity and delight in new ideas.

     Fixed addresses the themes of religion as the opiate of the masses, militarism, family and terrorism. It develops a compelling, complex world that will spark both delight and outrage, while it raises questions in the curious minds of those readers fortunate enough to read it.

Highly Recommended.

Joan Marshall is the teacher-librarian at Fort Richmond Collegiate in Winnipeg, MB.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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