How to Be a Hero on Earth 5|
by Rob Payne
by Lesley Choyce
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by M. Wayne Cunningham
Strange, bizarre, weird, and richly imaginative are all words that are apt to describe these two must-read books. Reading Torontonian author Rob Payne's How to Be a Hero on Earth 5 is like touring Alice's Wonderland with Monty Python and the Adams family as guides. The adventure takes place in a space-time rupture between Earth and its alternate dimension, Earth 5. Nova Scotian Lesley Choyce's tour with 16-year-old Dylan Gibson in Deconstructing Dylan is almost as zany for the new meaning it gives to finding one's self¨whether in a photograph, in a dream, in The Tibetan Book of the Dead, or on the shores of Scotland's Loch Ness.
Seventeen-year-old John Fitzgerald's trip to Earth 5 begins innocently enough with an Air Canada flight to England. John is to visit relatives at the insistence of his slightly eccentric scientist father. But when he slips into a dream and the plane slides into another dimension¨ watch out, for John is literally on a ride for his life. He has slipped through a hole in the Earth's ozone layer that is being used by Earth 5 DIMCO agents (led by evil Colonel Ridpath) to siphon air, ice and water away from Earth and into Earth 5. As John acclimatises to the duplicate Earth 5 environment, he meets a succession of surprising characters¨good, bad, and all of them quirky with a capital Q. Rex, the reappearing airport security guard, for example, communicates in riddles, anagrams and codes. He repeatedly directs John and his Non-Dimensional friends away from the DIMCO police toward safety, as they flee across England and Scotland to the Isle of Skye, a rendevouz point that should allow them to return home before time runs out and Colonel Ridpath confines them forever to the alternate dimension of Earth 5.
Like Chaucer's merry band, John the Canadian and the loopy Non-Dimensionals¨Delores, the sharp-tongued Texas Goth who plays on John's heartstrings and on everyone else's nerves, Gus, an Australian self-styled mystic and would-be womanizer, Jen, a motor-mouthed ex-nanny, an older Nate, a carbon copy of John's already eccentric real dad, and some others¨trek onward while experiencing their mind-warping adventures in other dimensions. We read about an attack on John by a demonic wig of hissing hair and gnashing teeth, an assault on Gus by a fork and spoon, the hijacking of the troupe's bus by a nun with a gun, a pair of kangaroos serving dishes nobody wants to die for, and a madcap television game show with the Non-Dimensionals pitted against a team of two monkeys and a squad of "four squat rugby players with square heads." John and his crew race against the dimensional clock and the DIMCO thugs to get back to Earth. They succeed, but how¨and with what consequences for John, his Dad 1, and Dad 2, who tags along, and for John's mother¨is best left for Rob Payne to tell in his inimitable fashion.
Dancing away from John Fitzgerald's Earth 5 adventures and into Dylan Gibson's futuristic world is also great fun. Dylan's dad, like John's, is a scientist and so is his mom. Both have been intimately involved with genetic manipulation and stem cell research. Dylan's mother is even linked to the 1996 Dolly the Sheep project. Dylan's involvements, besides the teenage run-ins he has with his parents, teachers and a classmate bully with an illegal veriscan, are with the insects in his favourite book, The Field Book of Insects, and a sassy new dark-skinned girl at school, "Robyn with a y," whose favourite readings are The Tibetan Book of the Dead and The Tibetan Book of the Living and the Dead. For Robyn, a favourite discussion topic is alternate planes of existence. She tries to persuade Dylan of "the infinite numbers of [Dylans] alive and well in infinite alternate universes." And based on her reading of her favourite books, she wants him to travel with her to Tibet. It's little wonder that Dylan is uncertain about who he is, where he has come from, where he is going and what makes him tick. But before anyone gets to go anywhere, Robyn needs to come to terms with her own adoption, her high-spirited non-conformity, and the fact that her former best friend has openly declared her lesbianism with dire consequences for both her and Robyn.
Between trying to get to any base with Robyn, defending her reputation, and figuring out just who he is, Dylan is constantly distracted by some strange things in his own life. For instance, what is his connection to the look-alike figure in the photograph he finds hidden in his mother's bedroom? Or what is the meaning of his eerie dreams of swimming with Loch Ness's Nessie? Or what is he to make of memories he inexplicably has of Scotland where his parents lived before he was born? And why is his mom so depressed that she needs to be on pills? Is there any truth to Robyn's assertion that his mom is hiding a secret? And who is this Kyle kid he so closely resembles but his parents refuse to talk about? Once Dylan learns who he is, he also learns there are others like him struggling with his same questions, so he sets out to help them, beginning with a thirteen-year-old kid named Graham who lives in Scarborough.
Both of these books are rewarding to read¨John's for the sheer fun of experiencing a world gone awry, and Dylan's for seeing a secret world brought to light. ˛