What is Heart of Earth by Mark Laporta?




From the pen of Mark Laporta, the new young adult novel from chickadee prince wins some originality points right from the off simply by not blowing up the whole world before we start. Young adult literature seems to have gotten a little hung up recently on the metaphorical anger teenagers have with the unfair broken world around them by depicting every apocalypse going. Meanwhile ‘Heart of Earth’ may lose some of its readers by being a bit too far from this and the average teenage life. For you see in it we follow young Derek Dixon, a boy whose body has changed into something unrecognisable that is clumsy and awkward, he’s found that girls are a mystery that leave him tripping over himself, his people skills are all out of whack and his parents are now unfeeling prison guards who were never young and will never understand him. Now I ask how is any teenager supposed to relate to this?

In truth Derek Dixon is the teenage son of an alien diplomat recently cut off from his trust fund and reduced to selling trade secrets to other races for petty cash. Unfortunately he’s not very good and before we can get into a tale of trade negotiations he is captured and sentenced to life on a backwater world in the primitive western spiral arm of the galaxy. Forcibly transmogged into one of the natives and assigned two dxn units to watch over him and keep the mind suppressant active; which keeps him from blabbing about his alien past and doing something about getting back to it. It looks like he will be stuck with a life of recalling who he is but being unable to do anything other than stammer in front of girls and worry if his new Nikes are cool enough. However while they manage to land their three bedroom house neatly in a quiet little town without too much notice somebody else isn’t so careful.

This introduces us to the other main star of the book Lena Gabrilowicz who is sailing her dads yacht off the cost as we were all one to do, in the last days of high school, when she notices a bright flash followed by what seems to be a falling star. Or at least that’s the best she can figure as she finds she can’t actually look in the direction it came from as though her eyes just skim over that bit of the horizon to the next. Sort of like when you fancy someone and they don’t know you exist. Or as is perhaps more accurate for a teenager on board a boat with her Dad’s beer, as though it’s someone else’s problem.

Unfortunately instead of like civilised British aliens, they don’t just park behind a billboard and take in a game of cricket at Lords. Instead they not only crash into the ocean, no doubt squashing a few squids, but they also help themselves to a beer or two and leave a letter telling the young girl that no one will believe her anyway. This sets her on edge as can be expected. After all how do you explain your Dad’s beer going missing without him assuming it was you? This is probably for the best however as it’s not too long before she runs into Derek and the two must question why the Earth is apparently being invaded by post boxes and local business men.

The tag line for the book probably emphasises both its best and worst points ‘Come to think of it, selling classified intel to Vrukaari warlords was probably a bad idea’. The good being the humour flowing easily through the book never feeling too forced or jarring and the worst being every alien name or title in the book; don’t look for any Narn or Woookies here. Instead every alien word sounds like someone spilled a scrabble bag or got inspiration from whatever floats up in their alphabety spaghetti. These random spasms on the keyboard do manage to hurt the flow a little but considering most of the action is set on Earth this isn’t too much of a problem. This can also be seen in some of the native terran language used both by the author and the characters as they chase around the swears with a little too much vigour to feel too natural. Though the dialogue felt somewhat stilted at times this managed to take me back to the campy sci-fi I read as a child, in particular to the type of serial based stuff that ran “educationally” on BBC2. Where you would tune in for the story and then have to sit through them trying to tie that into hand writing, or grammar. Whether this is the sort of stuff children today will want I don’t know but I certainly enjoyed it.

Everyone in the book is nicely fleshed out, this goes from the teenage cast to the alien races who manage to avoid the planet of hats tropes enough so that you can see some bias and dare I say it racism going on between the “advanced” alien races but not so much that everyone feels like a cardboard cut-out of everyone else. Even the resident jerks like Blade manage to feel like real people, which considering what he goes through is quite an accomplishment.

The book stands alone well enough though there is a definite door left open for a sequel or series, just don’t expect some great sprawling epic and instead the potential for a good character driven run of enjoyable fairly light young adult novels.

The book is available from Amazon, Barnes and Noble and those quaint little shops dotting your high street that still sell paper bound together. This is probably for the best what with our misaligned senses where we will somehow find “the texture of the paper, the exotic perfume of the ink, the crinkle of the spine alluring”

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