Huge Spoiler

I recently read a book that still makes me smile even days after I closed the cover, which is a rare occurrence for me. Generally, when I finish reading a book, that’s the end of it. Very few books any more make me think or feel anything but in the moment of reading, and often not even then. But to leave me smiling? Amazing.

The book was science fiction, reminiscent of the movie Enemy Mine with Dennis Quaid and Louis Gossett Jr. where two completely different beings from different planets meet and against all odds become friends. I don’t know if that was the purpose of either this book or the movie, but that’s the meaning I got from both of them.

What especially made me smile about the book was the ending, and since I’m going to tell you the story as well as the ending, I’m not going to mention the name of the book. Anyway, the story begins when the human wakes up with amnesia and discovers he is on a spaceship far out in space, which is an amusing scenario to begin with. Well, maybe not amusing, but provocative.

He eventually discovers he’s on a mission to save Earth and that all the other people on the mission are dead. And when he meets the alien, it turns out all the beings on that spaceship are dead, too, so it’s up to the two disparate beings to save their planets. Which they do, of course, because they are heroes, right? Image the fellow’s surprise when he discovers he wasn’t a hero who had volunteered for the mission but a middle school physics teacher who had refused to go when called because he loved teaching and didn’t want to give it up, and so he was shanghaied. Still, he did save the earth, and because he saved the other alien’s life (“other” because each is an alien to the other), he ended up not being able to go to back to Earth and return to his much-loved teaching job. Instead, he ended up on the other planet, which had an atmosphere inimical to human life. So the other aliens built a terrarium for him, keeping him as sort of their pet alien.

What really amused me, though, is at the end of the book, he is again a teacher, teaching young aliens about physics. So he did what he had to do and got to do what he loved to do. A person — or a character — can’t ask for more than that.

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What if God decided S/He didn’t like how the world turned out, and turned it over to a development company from the planet Xerxes for re-creation? Would you survive? Could you survive?

A fun book for not-so-fun times.

Click here to buy Bob, The Right Hand of God.

Robinades, Beauty, and Other Things

What is the surname of The Swiss Family Robinson? If you’re like me, you’d assume it is Robinson, but apparently, Johann David Wyss never actually used the name “Robinson” in the book. It turns out that “Robinson” is a genre based on Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, which started the whole desert island survivalist fiction movement. (Some say Defoe started the whole fiction movement, that Robinson Crusoe is the first real novel, but I don’t really know if that is true. I do know that book-length fiction was called a novel, because it was “novel.”)

I found it interesting that I would come across a mention of this genre right before watching the movie Enemy Mine, which is a robinsonade in a science fiction setting. Dennis Quaid is stranded on a desert planet — an island in space — and in true robinsonade fashion, nature is viewed as harsh and ungiving (as opposed to The Swiss Family Robinson, which views nature in a more benign fashion). Although Enemy Mine doesn’t follow the genre form of building a civilization out of that wilderness, Quaid does find a way to survive and to form a civilization of sorts with his marooned enemy, a Drac, played by Lou Gosset Jr.

The tagline tells the story: Enemies because they were taught to be. Allies because they had to be. Brothers because they dared to be.

The set, designed by Rolf Zehetbauer is magnificent, as is the make-up, but for me the most interesting effect of the movie is the subtheme of beauty and ugliness. (The Terran and the Drac each see the other as ugly.) Every time I see this movie, I am struck by how normal the Drac looks to me by the end of the movie, and I think how seriously damaging it is for us to beatify beauty. Sure, beautiful people are nice to look at, but so are those who aren’t quite so spectacular looking. It might take a while to get to know the person or to become used to a less than eye-catching appearance, but in the end, beauty means nothing. (Well, in the end, we are all worm food or a box of cremains, but let’s not go into that.)

I know one thing, though. If you were living a robinsonade life, stranded on a desert island with a less than attractive companion, as in Enemy Mine, you’d soon focus on what mattered most — survival. It is only in a world where survival is almost a matter of fact (at least for a while) that the differences in appearance can loom so large.

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Follow Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.