January 10, 2010

Slice of PIE: Science Fiction for Teens – THE COMET’S CURSE by Dom Testa

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We are part of our past in everything we do and are. Most of us recognize and acknowledge this.

For example, the science fiction I write comes out of forty years of reading. Starting in sixth grade with THE SPACESHIP UNDER THE APPLE TREE by Louis Slobodkin (http://www.amazon.com/Space-Ship-Under-Apple-Tree/dp/0689717415), I moved on to CITIZEN OF THE GALAXY by Robert A. Heinlein (http://search.barnesandnoble.com/Citizen-of-the-Galaxy/Robert-A-Heinlein/e/9781416505525/?itm=1&usri=Citizen+of+the+Galaxy) by the time I was in junior high. This past spring, I read WALLS OF THE UNIVERSE by Paul Melko (http://search.barnesandnoble.com/Rift-in-the-Sky/Julie-E-Czerneda/e/9780756405601/?itm=2&usri=julie+czerneda) and even more recently, RIFT IN THE SKY by Julie Czerneda (http://search.barnesandnoble.com/Rift-in-the-Sky/Julie-E-Czerneda/e/9780756405601/?itm=2&usri=julie+czerneda).

The Jesus I believe in was prophesied thousands of years ago, long before He was born on Earth in order that we could live forever in Heaven. I am a believer just as the Apostle Paul, Martin Luther, Martin Luther King, Jr., Billy Graham and the band SWITCHFOOT were before me and along with me.

People have been alarmed by the “dumbing down” of kids in school for years. John Taylor Gatto laid out the phenomenon with crystal clear logic in his book, DUMBING US DOWN (http://search.barnesandnoble.com/Dumbing-Us-Down/John-Taylor-Gatto/e/9780865714489/?itm=1&usri=dumbing+us+down) written nearly 20 years ago.

Why all this background?

Because there are few things that irritate me more than people who act as if they have discovered something new. There are even fewer things that make me steaming mad. One of those is when someone acting like they've discovered something new appears to make no effort to credit others – and then produces a bad product which they hawk on the virtue of "celebrity credibility".

We’ve all seen it. At its worse, you get Linus Pauling’s book VITAMIN C, THE COMMON COLD AND THE FLU in which he advocates massive doses of vitamin C in order to ward off these common diseases. His authority? Two Nobel Prizes. But you have to dig to find out that one was a Nobel Peace Prize -- laudatory but it has nothing to do with the healing powers of vitamin C. The other was a Nobel Prize in Chemistry "for his research into the nature of the chemical bond and its application to the elucidation of the structure of complex substances". While this is impressive it has little to do with the effect of vitamin C on colds and flu.

He was neither qualified nor knowledgeable enough to make the claims he made.

At its best you get Jamie Lee Curtis writing cute books for kids.

So, I’ve found another person to add to my pantheon of well-intentioned people who use their celebrity to hawk merchadise: Dom Testa. A twenty-year radio personality in Denver, he wrote THE COMET’S CURSE and self-published it and two other novels. The story delineates the adventures of a group of 251 teenagers aboard a starship escaping a plague on Earth induced by the planet’s passage through the tail of a comet and effecting ONLY people over 18 with an ultimately lethal respiratory infection. The books were recently picked up by Tor and published with new covers and typesetting. COMET is the first of a six part series called THE GALAHAD books.

I love teen fiction. I write teen fiction. I typically promote teen fiction to my students, and I am ESPECIALLY excited about good teen science fiction. Among the books I’ve recently touted are Scott Westerfeld’s PRETTIES series; HUNGER GAMES by Suzanne Collins (haven’t read its sequel yet, CATCHING FIRE) and the classic series, THE WHITE MOUNTAINS by John Christopher. I have also been a tireless advocate for critical thinking among teens and preteens. I’ve been a classroom teacher for 28 years, Science Teacher of the Year and a writer and guidance counselor.

And along comes Dom Testa with his message: don’t act like you’re stupid, teens! Good message. I agree. I’ve preached it for decades. His website and interviews make it sound like he discovered the concept and is alone in encouraging teens to not act like they’re stupid. And he’s making headlines! VOYA used him as a guest speaker earlier last year. His website (http://www.domtesta.com/bio.cfm) is extensive and while it’s encouraging, it grants little credit to those of us who have invested our lives in living and working with teens – while he was a radio show host (which, BTW, isn’t even aimed at teens. The demographic of station KIMN which hosts his Dom and Jane Morning Show in Denver is “Hot Adult Contemporary” (http://blogs.denverpost.com/ostrow/2008/10/17/denver-radio-ratings/)).

Worst of all, the first book THE COMET’S CURSE is written in a less-than-stellar style. Filled with the tropes beginning writers of SF assume are “new ideas” – planet-wide plague, interstellar escape mission, artificial intelligence, genius teens, interstellar colonization – Testa doesn’t even manage eloquent writing. Rough sentences like: “He was amazed at the deception, how the gentle appearance concealed the despair that weaved it way throughout the population.” (p 173) and “Tears returned to Channy’s eyes, the emotion of the incident still evident on her face.” (p 217) will hardly endear his work to English teachers in America. The ancillary inclusion of cultureless Canadians, Mexicans and Swedes on the GALAHAD’s leadership Council won’t take this book to the top of the Foreign Rights sales list, either. But because he’s a “Celebrity”, has a slick website and a well-managed and funded marketing campaign, other, much better books for teens will be lost in the glitter of this media blitz. The only thing we’ll see is how great Dom Testa is and how worthy he and his books are of praise. The people who came before him (he never once mentions reading SF as a kid or an adult) and those whose lives are spent “in the trenches” with teens will continue to work hard – and without an advertising campaign.

1 comment:

David A. Bedford said...

It sounds like you crave something well written. Although it is not science fiction (to do that well is very difficult), it is teen and well written. I'm referring to my new release, Angela 1: Starting Over, the first in a series of three set in a coastal Texas high school.If you would like to know more, please click on my name and follow the link to my website. Thanks!