Saturday, August 22, 2015

Better than movie

I read "The True Meaning of Smekday" - this is the novel, sort of a YA science-fiction/adventure novel, that "Home" was based on. It was a fast read for me, partly, I suppose, because it is YA.

I enjoyed it, though, which was also maybe why I read it in three days. And it is better - more complex, funnier, more thoughtful bits - than the movie had. The fundamental story is the same. The characters are mostly the same but I think in the book Tip and her mom are not recent immigrants, it's just a single-mom family (Tip is mixed-race: her father was African-American, her mother is of Italian heritage). Pig is there but she's a girl and is drawn as a tabby cat. (In the movie, Pig is referred to as a boy, but Pig is a calico. 99% of calico cats are female, and the very few males out there are males who are XXY, and therefore are genetically abnormal: the genes required to be a calico require two X chromosomes)

Pig plays a bigger role in the book. I hate to be spoilery but if you're someone who likes cats, the ending - how they got rid of the Gorg - will be satisfying.

(Slight spoiler: the author uses a variant of the old War of the Worlds trope for getting rid of the "bad" aliens).

The Boovish dialect of English is still in force in the book, but somehow, in print, it's not as annoying. (Even though dialect-writing usually bugs me).

In the book, the Gorg really are Takers. They are galactic bullies, not just misunderstood starfish-guys who want their babies back. And the Gorg are a lot more cruel and heartless - there's a scene where, after Tip and J.Lo (the screwup Boov in the book is called J.Lo, not Oh) leave Roswell, they see the Gorg burn the town, and Tip repeatedly says, "I'm sure [the people they met and befriended there] got out. I'm sure." but you can tell she's not sure and is just saying it to comfort herself.

Oh, Slushious is there, too, playing an equally big role - though in the book, it's Boov technology rather than mere Boov ingenuity that makes it fly. And J.Lo has a toolbox of weird tools - kind of a Deus ex Machina box of tools, in a couple occasions.

Also, in the book, there's stuff that wasn't put in the movie, I think because of the fear of "imitation" - for example, J. Lo eats only stuff that is NOT food - the whole scene with the urinal cakes in the book has J.Lo enjoying them, whereas in the movie, the line is "Do NOT eat the blue mints!" (There's also generally less toilet humor in the book; no jokes about "breaking the pee" or "going #3")

I think Tip's character is more sharply drawn in the book. She's younger (11 rather than 13) and smaller (she says she nails cans to her "church shoes" so she can reach the car's gas pedal). And she has some cute and funny character traits. It's implied her mom is fairly devout Catholic.  And Tip herself, in a few instances, comments "Pardon my language" after she says something that could be inferred as taking God's name in vain - or once, when she's talking about a casino, and refers to the craps tables, she says "pardon my language." (I laughed, because I remember feeling the same way - like I didn't quite want to say "craps" as a game or "crappie" as a fish (even though the fish is pronounced differently) because of C-R-A-P in the name). She also comments at one point to J. Lo that she hopes people and Boov go to the same Heaven, though that's because she wants to "say a few things" to him about the plan he's planned that she doubts will succeed.

There are also a lot more things that happen in the book. (Well, a 400 page book would be hard to condense into a 90 minute or so movie). There's a whole episode in Happy Mouse Kingdom, a parody of Disneyworld, which is where the Boov originally planned to send people, until the Boov found out about oranges, and decided they wanted Florida for themselves. There's also a whole cross-country trek, a hurricane, a side-trip to Roswell, and some dealings with a newly-set up bureaucracy.

There's also some reference to how the Europeans treated the Native Americans - there is a Diné man (he does not like the term Navajo) who calls himself Chief Shouting Bear who talks a bit about this, and also, the whole concept of "The Boov are so generous because they are giving the humans the WHOLE state of Arizona for their use" - again, the idea of reservations.

There's also parody of how bureaucracy works (the bureau of missing persons is far, far, far less effective than a loose grassroots network of people who each have a short list of names and ask around) and of corrupt, appeasing leaders (Daniel Landry wants to work with the Gorg, believing they will give him good things, when it's all too clear the Gorg are lying to the humans and will just destroy them)

Tip's mom has a bigger role in the book. In the early bits, where Tip describes her, she sounds kind of vague and maybe like a bit of a screw-up, or not very smart (then again: how reliable a narrator is Tip?). By the time Tip finds her, she has kind of become an organizer of a remnant of people living in an abandoned casino. (She also works with Landry, but seems able to break that off when necessary).

In the book, the Boov ultimately go home (after the Gorg have been driven off) but J.Lo stays - apparently, he would have been regarded as some kind of Boov criminal (as in the movie, he mistakenly sent out a message that wound up going to the Gorg, and therefore telling the Gorg where the Boov were). J.Lo notes that Boov do not have capital punishment, but that he would be given a humiliating job as punishment ("Bearer of the Droppings"). So he chooses to stay with Tip and her mom.They become wealthy because of some Boov technology that is shared with GM, and they buy a nice house and live a quiet life.

And why isn't Tip famous, when it was her idea (with J.Lo's help) that saved the world? Well, Daniel Landry steps in and invents a story where he, James T. Kirk-like, fought the Gorg leader in hand-to-hand combat, and defeated him. And Tip decides: I don't really want fame. So she doesn't challenge his story. (The entire book takes the form of an essay Tip wrote, that was placed in a time capsule)

It was an interesting and enjoyable book. I'd recommend it, especially for young teens. I'm not sure if it would work as a reluctant-reader book, because I never was one and am not sure what a book requires to tempt reluctant readers. But it was fun and a quick read for me.

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