The Obsidian Blade by Pete Hautman

Lynn: I’ve made four starts on this review and each time it turns into pure gushing adoration so I’m just going to give up and go with that.   The Obsidian Blade (Candlewick 2012) just blew me away.  So much for a detached reviewerly evaluation!  Sorry readers but Pete Hautman simply amazes me.  Is there any genre he can’t write well?  And he doesn’t just write well, he seems to bring something completely original and thought-provoking to the work each time.

In this first volume of a planned trilogy, The Klaatu Diskos, Hautman explores a familiar science fiction trope – time travel.  But again he approaches this concept in a fresh and fascinating way and the result is stunning.  In a brief prologue we learn that in the far-distant Post-Digital Age, beings bored with the usual corporeal existence developed a discorporeal state.  This lofty new existence didn’t take away the need to maintain one’s status however and one Klaatu artist conceived of a novel entertainment.  She designed a series of portals, called diskos, that allowed discorporeal beings to transport themselves through space and time.  The Klaatu had a fascination with significant sites of human achievement or epic disaster and the diskos were very popular until a design flaw was discovered that allowed corporeal beings to also use the discos.  This unfortunately allowed physical anachronisms into the time stream and the entertainment was largely abandoned.  The diskos remained in place however  – for “hapless beings to stumble into” – and sets up the story.

Cue 12-year-old Tucker Feye, son of a local minister and his charming wife in Hopewell, Minnesota, an average boy in a loving family – until Tucker’s Dad is sucked into a disko and the world changes.  When he returns looking older, Adrian Feye has lost his faith and brings with him a young girl, Lahlia, who barely speaks.  Mr. Feye will not talk about where he has been or what has happened to him and over the months, the family unravels.  When both his parents disappear, Tucker sets out to find them and discovers the dangerous secrets of the diskos.  Tucker careens through time, landing at the World Trade Center, the Crucifixion, and in a future hospital where healing requires a terrible sacrifice.  He crosses paths again and again with the people he cares for and all are dramatically altered by their journeys.

Time travel is inherently confusing and even in the hands of the masters, readers can feel as if their brains have been turned inside out!  A.E. Van Vogt anyone?  Hautman’s concept is truly mind-bending, but the sharp clarity of the writing and rock-solid plotting keeps readers squarely in the story.  Heart-stopping action and wonderfully weird weapons are everywhere but at the same time Hautman manages to explore weighty themes like the very nature of faith,  the story of Jesus, and the tendency of humankind to follow – some blindly and some with an eye to the main chance.

This is a brave book – one that may infuriate some readers while fascinating most.  Count me in as awestruck.  A cliff-hanger ending makes the wait for the next installment downright painful!  I’m handing my copy off to a young sf fan in our book club so stay tuned for his reaction.

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About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees.

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