________________ CM . . . . Volume VII Number 16 . . . . April 13, 2001

cover Spaz: The Last Book in the Universe is About to be Destroyed.

Rodman Philbrick.
New York, NY: Blue Sky Press (Distributed in Canada by Scholastic Canada), 2001.
221 pp., cloth, $22.99.
ISBN 0-439-08758-9.

Subject Headings:
Science fiction.

Reviewed from uncorrected proof.

Grades 6 and up / Ages 11 and up.

Review by Darleen Golke.

*** /4


If you're reading this, it must be a thousand years from now. Because nobody around here reads anymore. Why bother, when you can just probe it? Put all the images and excitement right inside your brain and let it rip. There are all kinds of mind probes: trendies, shooters, sexbos, whatever you want to experience. Shooters are violent, and trendies are about living in Eden, and sexbos, well you can guess what sexbos are about. They say probing is better than anything. I wouldn't know because I've got this serious medical condition that means I'm allergic to electrode needles. Stick one of those in my brain and it'll kick off a really bad seizure and then total mind melt, lights out, that's all folks.

They call me Spaz, which is kind of a mope name, but I don't mind, not anymore. I'm talking into an old voicewriter program that prints out my words because I was there when the Bully Rangers went to wheel the Ryter for his sins, and I saw what they saw, and I heard what they heard, and it kind of turned my brain around. . .

Ryter was this gummy that changed my life, and if you're reading this, maybe he changed the world, too. Gummies are what we call old people, and the Ryter was so ancient, the hair on his chin beard was as white as bone, and most of his teeth were gone. Even his skin was old and worn out and so thin, it looked like if you held him up to the light you'd see right through him.

Spaz lives in the Urb in the futurist post-Big Shake world which features enclaves (latches) ruled by gangs peopled with inhabitants scrambling to survive. "The only escape," Spaz confides, "is Eden, and you can't get in there unless you're a proov, and if you're genetically improved you'd never leave in the first place, so forget about Eden." Because of his epilepsy, Spaz loses his adopted family, most heart-wrenchingly his little sister, Bean. However, Billy Bizmo, latchboss of the Bully Bangers, takes Spaz under his wing, recruiting him as one of his gang of thieves. Sent to rob Ryter in this "steal or die" world, Spaz instead discovers an extraordinary man who transforms his life.

      Ryter's "novel" concepts of writing and reading contrast sharply with a world in which the populace is addicted to mind probes. "Long-term memory is a thing of the past," Ryter explains, and "the only ones left who can remember books are a few old geezers" and Spaz who has always "had a lot of old stuff in [his] head that everybody else seems to have forgotten." Ryter insists he is writing for "those who will be alive at some future date." To Spaz "there's only room for right here, and the want-it-now. The future is like the moon." Strange as Spaz thinks Ryter is, he turns to him for help when he receives a message that little sister, Bean, is seriously ill. With the assistance of a young female proov, Lanaya, Spaz, accompanied by Ryter and Little Face (a youngster who follows them), embarks on a dangerous quest to save Bean from certain death. The group must negotiate hostile territory rife with cruelty and destruction, and, in the process, they discover friendship and loyalty and ultimately retain their humanity.

      An award-winning author of adult as well as young adult novels, Philbrick has had his novel, Freak the Mighty, adapted as The Mighty, a Miramax feature film. In this latest science-fiction adventure, Spaz and a collection of unusual characters with whom he connects exemplify the determination of the human spirit to survive and provide meaning to existence, no matter how negative the circumstances. The Urb is characterized by "violence, disease, toxic smog," but, as Lanaya passionately insists, the "greatest danger is ignorance." "What's to write about if life is perfect?" Ryter asks philosophically. "Writers need a challenge. They need to struggle. They need to fight." As narrator, Spaz is an appealing and compelling protagonist who tells his story in the vernacular of his world, a language which contrasts with Ryter's carefully constructed sentences and literary references. Despite the chaotic and horrendous setting, the fast-paced plot builds to an unusual climax which offers hope for a better future for the inhabitants of the Urb. The sights and sounds are depicted with vivid detail, the dialogue is crisp and energetic, and the characters colourful. Spaz concludes, "They call me Ryter now" - the last book in the universe.


Darleen Golke is a teacher librarian in Winnipeg, MB.

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

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Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364