Also, I love a book that takes place in the future that doesn’t happen a measly 10 or 15 years from now. There’s nothing that gets my goat more than the words 2015 and a view of Earth decayed and crumbling. This story takes place inn 2105. Thumbs up all around on that choice of date. And I liked some of the precautions Carman took in terms of time and memory. Stop reading here if you don’t want to know a couple spoilers for the book. Now do you remember that horrible Kevin Costner vehicle, "The Postman"? The film takes place a mere fifty or so years in the future when no one can even remember anymore than there was ever a United States of America. Since time was of incredible importance in this novel and since there had to be characters that were around before the formation of Atherton (which is a floating planet above Earth) and during this actual story, there had to be a way to make the characters in this book unaware of where they’d come from. To this end, Dr. Kincaid, the creator of this world, makes a stipulation to anyone arriving on Atherton that they must have their memories wiped of their old life before arriving on this new planet. It makes sense in the context of the story and it allows the author a way in which to talk about a future that both makes sense and is seriously suspenseful.
It’s not all sunshine and roses. For example, I’m not sure that I was a big fan of the narrative techniques used at times in this book. Sometimes Carman adopts a kind of "dear reader" voice that feels a touch at odds with the rest of the text. Sentences like, "It was midday when Edgar arrived at a place in which we are well suited to rejoin him…," and, "Before we discover what Edgar saw, it is worth noting that Edgar was usually a careful climber…" This sort of familiarity with the reader is meant to feel natural and easygoing. Unfortunately, I sometimes thought it a little affected. Fortunately it doesn’t happen all that often, and when it does it mostly fails to distract. Another detail that chapped my hide was that there aren’t many explanations regarding gravity and how the water in Atherton circles about. Hopefully these will be addressed in upcoming sequel.
In a way, the book this title reminded me the most of was Jeanne DuPrau’s "The City of Ember." In both cases a child discovers that the artificial world in which they live is a farce. They go up and down to find an escape with the help of a mysterious book. And in both books the adults are corrupt, there’s food hoarding, and time is of the essence. Both books are also of the science fiction genre, which is important. Of course, while there might be cursory similarities, "Atherton" is an entire world unto itself. Exciting and painful and not like anything else you’ll find aside from some surface details.
There are kids in this world who want exciting adventure novels that don’t contain wizards and witches. Crazy, no? These kids are fans of the Suzanne Collins "Gregor The Overlander" series. They come to me, desperate for any kind of a recommendation I can give, and let me tell you that exciting sci-fi books of this nature are hard to find. Ask anyone in the publishing industry and they’ll tell you that sci-fi doesn’t sell. They tell you this because their definition of what constitutes sci-fi is limited (i.e. big scary aliens). "A Wrinkle in Time" is sci-fi. "Tom’s Midnight Garden" is sci-fi. And "Atherton" is sci-fi too. Not only sci-fi, but also containing a message or two about the environment and what we’re doing to our world. Rather than preach, though, the book just ends up displaying a future that almost no one else could have ever thought of. Like nothing you’ve read before, "Atherton" is definitely one of the most diverting adventures of the year. Thumbs up and then some.