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Elfquest: The Rebels. Written by Bern Harkins and Richard Pini. Illustrated by various. Poughkeepsie, NY: Warp Graphics, 1998. 1v. (unpaged). (Elfquest Reader's Collection, Book 13). $11.95. ISBN 0-936861-47-9.

Science fiction

Adults, teens, kids; mild violence

This book collects Elfquest: The Rebels #1-6.

This story is the first of four books set in the far future of the Elfquest universe. Humans are slowly colonizing their solar system. The elves and trolls have disappeared, and while there are myths and legends about them, only a handful of researchers and officials know that the "Sojourners" were real.

Captain Junnard, commander of the Skyward naval vessel Dauntless, pursues a stolen experimental spacecraft containing five individuals: Cosmo Luricahn, ex-Skyward cadet; Chandra Davenkee, ex-student at Wayfair Academy; Scorch Chirell, ace mechanic and race-car driver; Shimmer, more or less a robot with self-awareness; and Rose, a being grown mostly from the DNA of a Preserver. The story of the previous four days is intertwined with the immediate situation the five are in. For the sake of clarity I'll separate them.

Sharing one seat between them to save money, Cosmo and Scorch travel to Abode (the name of the Elfquest world). Their mutual seat is next to Chandra, native of the colony planet Ice. Scorch is caught, leaving Cosmo to chat up Chandra. She's not thrilled that he's part of the Skyward, but he warms her up by showing her some previously unreleased technical material. They part friends. Next day, Cosmo finds Chandra moping outside. She's discovered that her "scholarship" to the Academy means that she has to spend 16 years working on Abode, when she had wanted to take badly needed technical skills to Ice. To distract her, Cosmo takes her to his aunt Gestrelle, who studies "the little elves who once lived in the woods." Unfortunately, her research is being suppressed by the Skyward, who want the elves to remain mythological. Commander Steele, a woman who has devoted her life to this mission, threatens to kick Cosmo out of the Skyward if Gestrelle doesn't behave. Indeed, the next day, Cosmo's appointment is pulled. Meanwhile, Rose is scheduled for vivisection. Gestrelle, Scorch, and Chandra plot to rescue her, but Cosmo, furious at his aunt, refuses to participate--until later, when he first helps Chandra hack into the Academy net for various pieces of info about the lab where Rose is kept, and then takes his aunt's place in the "strike team."

Sneaking into the lab, they find Rose gone and are quickly discovered. But Shimmer, who has been acting for years as a lab assistant and who is friends with Rose, shows up and knocks out their captor. They rescue Rose from the operating table, but Shimmer is shot by Dr. Benier, who opposes Rose's vivisection but doesn't want her to be taken away. However, when Dr. Benier realizes that Rose is with friends, she lets them go. Shimmer, wounded, decides to go with them as well. Sneaking out, the five hear a general security alert. They have only one way out: steal the experimental ship in the lab hangar. Being geniuses, Cosmo and Chandra figure out how to override the command codes and activate the stealth system, while Shimmer pilots.

They decide to first see if they can find more of Rose's kind and head for Sarazen, the human name for the former site of the Sun Village. It's nothing but a desert waste with living rock. Rose races up the rocks to a small niche, where she obviously finds an elf in a Preserver cocoon; she gets the small Palace from the elf (whose identity is not made known to us), thanks him/her, and rewraps him/her up. Of course, the humans don't know what the small Palace is for. Rose points to the sun and says, "Highthings went there!" So the others decide to check out the various destinations in that direction.

So that's the previous few days. Now, the Cam Triompe (as Scorch has christened the ship) is desperately trying to outrun the Dauntless, which is trying to blow them out of the sky. Though they temporarily evade the Dauntless, the five are running out of reaction mass, i.e. fuel. They have to make a pit stop at Quaino's Station, described as "pretty sleazy" by Skyward records. Quaino and his men apparently want to steal the ship, but they are stopped by Imeliar L'cota ("outlaw murdering pirate scum" to the Abodean Cosmo and "rebel hero" to Icer Chandra) and his men. L'cota has plans for the young crew and their ship, but he doesn't reveal them immediately. Chandra and Cosmo make their way to the local bar, attempting to raise money for re-mass by selling Skyward software. One thing leads to another, though, and there's a big bar fight. After throwing a few punches, the pair are rescued by one of L'cota's men and taken to the rebel leader, who has supplied them with re-mass and asks them to meet him on the planet Harveston. Cosmo is highly distrustful and, when they take off, refuses to set a course for Harveston. However, various system failures in the ship force them to Harveston anyway.

A big chunk of Harveston is autonomous, refusing Abodean rule, and the Cam Triompe sets down in an area of local control. Shimmer and Rose remain on the ship, while the humans are put up in a local farmer's house. There they discover a young boy with a bad but usually treatable disease. The parents explain that the hospital is in the Abodean zone and will not accept patients from the autonomous areas. The three decide to sneak the boy in, for once he's past the hospital guards, the doctors have to treat him. With Chandra and Cosmo running a diversion, Scorch sneaks the cocooned boy in via the underground algae tubes. Of course, this means they have to leave Harveston ASAP. Having not had a chance to get more fuel, their choice of destination is limited. Then Chandra touches the small Palace and wishes that she was "a million klicks away." Instantly--they are! Which turns out to be an extremely useful ability, because they discover that a rogue Skyward commander is aiming a comet at a disabled alien ship that has been sitting peacefully for years. If the comet hits... the Human-Wiggler war begins again.

We're back up to snuff in this well-characterized and well-thought-out work, with its accurate-sounding technical jargon, a slang set that incorporates both elven/troll and future influences, and admirable lack of exploding bodies (the fight scenes are few, and the Rebels try their hardest not to kill anyone). The plot is very detailed, as the synopsis might convey; it took me several readings to get a sense of exactly what was going on. The device of intertwining the two story threads worked for the most part, since the two threads were sufficiently different that it was usually easy to tell "when" I was. However, the visual key that one or another storyline was "up"--rounded panel corners for flashback, sharp corners for present--wasn't obvious enough as a signal, and I have to admit that when the flashback ended, I was pleased to return to a single thread.

What makes this book stand out is the characters. Scorch is an excellent character, one of the most appealing people I've met in a book in a long time. A whiz with tools, poetry- and memoir-quoting, well-read, adept at funny faces, brave and even chivalrous when he needs to be, he's got charisma by the bucketload. Chandra is also very pleasant, as she's brainy without being nerdy, bookish but lively, principled, and forceful. Cosmo is a bit duller; he's more than just the pretty face from the "ROTC," but he doesn't have the strength of personality that his friends have. (It's perhaps telling that in the next book, Skyward Shadow, Chandra is clearly attracted to Scorch rather than the more handsome Cosmo.) Rose is a typical Preserver, for all that she's humanoid, and is always adorable. Shimmer... well, his portrayal is mildly erratic; sometimes he's stiff-voiced, and other times he's more normal sounding, and his injury appears to bother him only occasionally (though it will have a bigger effect in Skyward Shadow). The "villains" (Junnard, Steele, guards) are well rounded and more sympathetic than standard SF bad guys.

I also liked the dialogue. These people actually sound like people conversing, making jokes, and arguing--they sound like they have lives, educations, and pasts, which many SF characters don't.

The art is ideal for this story, being slightly more whimsical and "rubbery" than normal for Elfquest while still maintaining a SF feel. Look for a "guest appearance" by a Groo-like figure in the bar fight, the "laughing ravvit" symbol of L'cota that really pisses off Junnard, and Scorch's expression when Chandra drops a reheated meal in front of him.

Overall, this book does an effective and entertaining job of taking Elfquest to the stars. Aside from its obvious existing audience, it should appeal to SF fans who might have had little interest in the pure fantasy of the "normal" Elfquest books. This book definitely stands alone and can be read without any prior knowledge of the universe.

Buy it directly from Warp Graphics!

Copyright 2000, D. Aviva Rothschild


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