CM . . . . Volume XIX Number 40 . . . . June 14, 2013
Moreira's first novel for juveniles, Charged, was a work of realistic fiction dealing with two 15-year old friends, a boy and a girl, who were each coping with family problems. And when Membrane begins, readers might think that it, too, is going to be concerned with a teen who's having to deal with a concern that's a hot topic in today's schools - bullying. In this case, while riding the school bus home on her sixteenth birthday, Tanya Fisher is on the receiving end of some subtle verbal harassment being led by her supposed friend, Rachel, and echoed by Rachel's sycophant sidekick, Lisa. Relating Tanya's story in the first person, Moreira teases readers by having Tanya share that "something" had occurred at her former school, something that had caused Tanya to be labelled "slut", and something so significant that Tanya had several times accessed a helpline for kids in trouble and had even required the assistance of a therapist. Exactly what that happening was, Moreira, despite offering numerous hints, hides from readers until some two-thirds of the way through the book. What readers do know at the outset is that this school was to be a fresh start for Tanya, though she now fears that Rachel may have somehow accessed details about her past.
Membrane, however, very quickly switches genres and becomes an ambitious, complex work of science fiction, but one that doesn't quite achieve its full potential. Shortly after Tanya alights from the school bus on this May afternoon, she accidentally bumps into the bus shelter and, upon leaning on it, finds herself being covered in a hot, clear slimy liquid. Looking around her, Tanya notices "that the sky had turned a velvety purple and the sun was darker than usual with a purple streak like the sky." If the Wizard of Oz's Dorothy had been present, she might have correctly observed, "Toto, I have a feeling we're not in [Halifax] anymore." Not only is Tanya not on planet Earth, she's not even in the same universe. In this parallel, but not completely identical, universe, Tanya finds herself "facing a girl who looked exactly like me, except she seemed to be about twenty pounds lighter..." To assist readers in keeping track of which Tanya is being referred to, Moreira has the original Tanya call her patronizing double Princess, or P for short, while the second Tanya responds by addressing Earth's Tanya as TOT (The Other Tanya). Though Tanya/TOT is surprised at finding herself in this new universe, P says, "I have been hoping to meet you, or another of my doubles, for an exceptionally long time." P explains that their universes are contiguous and that, at certain points, they are connected by the membrane, and portals of slimy material allow passage between universes. Because Tanya/TOT knows her mother has a birthday party planned, she asks P's assistance in getting her home via the membrane, something that P does, while adding, "Come back again. I will wait here at the same time every day for the next two weeks."
Everything described in the previous paragraph occurred in just the book's first chapter, with the result that readers find themselves presented with two plot lines, one dealing with Tanya's adolescent concerns on Earth and the other involving what could occur should Tanya accept P's invitation to return to the parallel universe. As a bit of foreshadowing, at the point of Tanya/TOT's original arrival in that universe, P's version of Halifax was being attacked by the Others, alien invaders, but their planes could not penetrate the membrane's protective covering. Finally, with one day left in the two-week window, Tanya/TOT's lack of a confidante causes her to return to P. "I wished I had someone to talk to – someone who wouldn't judge me... [P] could never tell anyone in my world what I'd said. My secrets would be safe with her."
During Tanya/TOT's second visit, she learns that P is a highly ranked member of Resist, "a group that trains particularly talented youth to resist the invasion... Suffice it to say that we are elite youth and that we have to be at our mental and physical peak at all times because the Others are superior to my kind. They have perfected their genome." P also explains that the Others live in artificial domes on a dead planet that doesn't receive much sun. Because the Others attempt another penetration of the city's protective membrane while Tanya/TOT is there, P takes Tanya/TOT to a meeting of her Resist group, passing her off as her cousin, a member of the Boston Resist. There, Tanya/TOT learns that, because pollution has weakened the membrane around this second universe, it is perhaps only a matter of time before the Others can invade. Tanya/TOT also meets a second Liam, with the "original" being her unrequited romantic interest on Earth.
Following this brief visit, Tanya/TOT returns home and resumes her everyday life with her university professor father, teacher mother and younger brother Joey until one day she again goes through the membrane, this time unintentionally. Going to P's home, she meets TOM (The Other Mom) and TOD (The Other Dad). As Tanya/TOT is about to go home, not only do the two Tanyas see an Other plane penetrate the membrane and land in a nearby park, but Tanya/TOT finds herself seemingly stuck in P's universe. Because of P's obligations to Resist, she goes to investigate, taking TOT with her. When the two Others can't handle this world's higher oxygen levels, the Tanyas capture them and recognize one to be a third version of Liam. Another Other appears, this one female, and she is also a Tanya double, but one who is even more perfect in appearance. This Tanya, who calls herself Pat, also succumbs to the oxygen-rich air, and, along with the two males, is imprisoned by Resist. Because Tanya/TOT has no history with the Others, she is shocked by how harshly the captive Others are being treated during Resist interrogation.
Unable to watch the questioning any longer, Tanya/TOT decides to go home, but, instead of just her going through the membrane, P and Liam are "taken" by the membrane before Tanya/TOT can follow. Tanya/TOT and the other two do not find themselves in Tanya/TOT's Halifax. Instead, they are "in a dead, barren world", Mortus, the home of the Others. Before the three die from this planet's low oxygen levels, they are rescued and taken to a domed city, which is but one of twenty such cities occupied by the Others. There, they meet a human woman, Scott, who is from P's planet. Liam recognizes Scott as being a missing anti-terrorism agent who had been sent to Mortus. When Scott hadn't returned from her mission, she had been thought to be dead. P assumes that Scott has been helping the Pakantas (as the Others call themselves) improve their DNA, and P calls Scott a collaborator. Scott acknowledges that she assisted with some DNA work, saying she helped because "they [the Pakantas] have to become stronger if they are to reseed this universe or move to another." Residual radiation after the war had damaged the Pakantas' DNA, and "the human DNA has provided a healthy dose of brute strength." What Scott doesn't immediately tell the trio is that she will want to enrich the Pakanta DNA pool with their DNA.
Not knowing where a membrane portal might be, the three are seemingly forever trapped on Mortus. However, when Scott decides that the trio should learn the Pakanti language, she unwittingly provides the agent for their escape because their Pakanti teacher, Pinti, is the mother of Pat, and Pinti knows that her daughter had followed the Other Liam to P's planet. A former Resistance fighter, Pinti plans to steal a plane and, with the trio's help, rescue Pat. The group are successful in the first part of the plan, that of stealing the plane and reaching P's planet, but there, via mind-messaging, Pinti discovers that her imprisoned daughter and the other two Pakantas are barely alive. It falls to Tanya/TOT to lead the rescue, and she must overcome the ghosts of the bad memories connected to the earlier bullying related to her "secret", or her mind can be infiltrated by the Tempists [see excerpt above]. And the secret that Tanya/TOT has been hiding though most of the novel is that, at her previous school, a grade 12 student had "started talking to me after school. He said I was pretty and hot. Then he asked to see my boobs. I refused, but he told everyone I had let him." Given the recent suicide of Amanda Todd in BC after she was harassed and bullied for flashing her breasts in an online chatroom, Tanya's concerns will likely resonate with middle school readers.
Successful in her rescue efforts, Tanya/TOT returns home, but she's been away in the other universes for two weeks, and so, in response to her mother's question, "Honey, where have you been?", she recognizes that she can't tell the truth and so simply responds, "I was with some friends downtown." Aware that her daughter was still dealing with the emotional aftermath of being bullied at her previous school, Tanya's mother really doesn't push the issue beyond saying that she will need to return to counselling. As the book winds its way to its conclusion, Tanya makes a dating connection with Liam and even receives an apology from Rachel. Unfortunately, Moreira lets bullying Rachel off the hook by allowing her to explain her meanness away by saying that Rachel's perfectionist mother won't accept her daughter's not being first at what she does (highland dancing, in particular), the implication being that it is this adult pressure that has caused Rachel to lash out at others.
As my lengthy plot description demonstrates, Membrane is a very complicated, sometimes overly convoluted, science fiction novel. Serious science fiction fans will not know whether or not to place Membrane in the Jules Verne camp of plot driven SF or in the H. G. Wells' more issues oriented version of SF as the book seems to try to do both. The concept of multiple universes and the possibility that each of us might have numerous doubles "out there" should be intriguing to middle school fans of speculative fiction. However, the book's principal weakness is that Moreira perhaps tries to do too much. Her detailed introduction of the real enemy, the Tempists, coupled with the deus ex machina appearance of Jarma, a Resistance leader from Hydrous (yet another universe), really comes too late to be well integrated into the storyline. And the mind strengthening exercises that Pinti introduces to ward off the Tempists just grind the plot to a standstill. The title, while perhaps somewhat intriguing, really does not capture what the book's contents are about.
Recommended with reservations.
Dave Jenkinson, CM's editor, lives in Winnipeg, MB.
on this title or this review, send mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal
use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any
other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.