Saturday, August 15, 2009

Airborn: The 200-Page Check-In (or, Why I Should Learn to Stick to the 100-Page Rule)



So I broke my 100-page rule on Airborn and kept reading even though I didn't think it was all that captivating. After all, there were pirates and an island shipwreck coming, so I hoped it would get better. Besides, I didn't have anything else to read.

Well, I've bought Matt Ruff's Bad Monkeys since then and made it through the pirates and the wreck. There are still 300 unread pages to Airborn, but I'm done with it. The pirates were exciting, but the shipwreck was not. In fact, calling it a shipwreck is an exaggeration.

It's more of a forced landing on an uncharted island where no one's really all that concerned about being there for very long. It's pretty much taken for granted that they'll be underway again as soon as they make repairs, so everything feels very controlled and safe. There's no danger or excitement to any of it. In fact, the whole episode feels like nothing more than an excuse for Matt and Kate to explore the island and discover a skeleton that matches the description of Grandpa's mysterious creature.

I like Oppel's description of the island with its lush greeness and abundant bird life, but Kate's reaction to the skeleton is hard to swallow. Rather than going back to the airship for help and securing a dozen witnesses to the find, Kate swears Matt to secrecy, saying that she's afraid the captain will "send some of the crew to come and collect the bones, and then it'll be taken from me."

Kate's major concern now isn't that her grandfather is vindicated, but that she get the credit for the find. That rubs me the wrong way for a couple of reasons. First is because the ship's captain has been consistently portrayed as a fair man. Kate may not get that, but Matt certainly does. He adores the captain, but he immediately caves to Kate's suspicions and doesn't defend the captain in any more than a cursory way.

The bigger reason that Kate's reaction irks me is that up until now her entire character has been built around her love for her grandfather and her desire to see that he has a positive legacy. Even that's been barely enough reason to like her since we've never seen her and her grandfather together. All that we know about their relationship is what she's told Matt, so we have no emotional investment in seeing her succeed in her quest.

And now, even if we've decided to accept her quest anyway and just try to go with it, her motivation changes so suddenly - it's all about her recognition and glory now - that I couldn't care less who learns about the skeleton or what happens to it. And since I'm now at the 200-page mark, it's as good a time as any to put the book down and move on to a secret organization that assassinates evil-doers.
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