Tuesday, July 03, 2007

E.T. WTF?

E.T. The Book of the Green Planet
By William "I swear I didn't make up this name" Kotzwinkle

Remember the scene in E.T. when the little guy is sick, gets really pale, and his skin has the same color and texture of a pork chop? For months after seeing that movie, my addled young brain could never remember "pork" and instead had to ask Mom, every time she mentioned pork, "is that the E.T. meat?" I also called clam chowder "whale soup." Somehow, I suspect that this is the paragraph that will get the most comments.

Time for a different analogy.
If the movie was a steak, the book is a hot dog. Sure, it takes a little of the good stuff from a steak, but it also takes a bunch of other random, bizarre, and unidentifiable stuff and packs it in there, too, and then wraps it in a shiny cover. After the steak, you're sated and happy; the meal is complete. After a hot dog, you're always left looking around for something else--anything else--to wrap things up. Hell, even another hot dog would be ok, just so long as it provides some sort of finality or closure.

I couldn't even tell whether it was a children's book (very simple structure, lots of kid-friendly characters and moments), young adult's book (Elliot is trying to figure out how to woo some girl with a ponytail. Half fish? Dude, the kid can't even sidestroke.), or a book for mildly mentally-incapacitated adults (see above, plus mention of Elliot's dad's infidelity and desertion, and E.T.'s treason). It just showed up at my door Friday night, so I read it. (Incidentally, that's also how I got a wino for a roommate.) And I still enjoyed it, because it was light and fluffy, and it had E.T.

Basic plot: E.T. returns to his homeworld, where he's a Doctor of Botany, First Class (remember how much he liked Gertie's geraniums?), carrying a checkerboard, a geranium, a bunch of half-remembered earth slang, and a somewhat confused idea of our social structure (his only contact was with children who gave him candy and beer, and government operatives who chased him with trucks). He expects to be heralded as an emissary and new ambassador to Earth, hoping to use this new status to visit Elliot again, only to be demoted and sent out to the fields in the agricultural district.

Then there's lots of little mishaps and discoveries about his planet, like all of the plant life which seems to be more sentient than the people in my previous read, yet is still used as a food source. Sure, it's barbaric to eat a cow, but having a conversation with the plant that will become your breakfast cereal? That might be too much for me. And I really like cereal. There are also plants that play music, run around screaming, and trees that migrate, and have jumping contests. Awesome. The whole time he's farming, he's also plotting to get back to Elliot, and sending a telepathic copy of himself back to Earth for... I don't know, comic relief? I'll give Kotzwinkle this much: it's extremely imaginative. And you've gotta have some love for a book with exchanges like:

"One day I will master the language. I will be able to talk to anyone on Earth--to mathematicians, astronauts, lawmakers, botanists, and--and nerds."
"Nerds?"
"They are a small but important group."

Then there's some spoiler stuff, and some other spoiler stuff, and the book ends just when you're hoping to get some closure, but according to the back cover, there isn't even another book. The basic message seems to be: be nice to everybody, and you'll be rewarded for it. Eventually.

ket, if I've ruined one of your favorite childhood books, I apologize. I'll send you some Encyclopedia Browns right away so you can tear them apart and point out that if the criminals didn't center their crimes around obscure trivia, Idaville would become a lawless anarchy.

SPOILERS ABOUND

...when he fails to steal a space ship, even aided by no less than three other species of varying degrees of sentience and malice, he recruits a malfunctioning robot and grows a spaceship out of a turnip.

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posted by reyn at 6:54 AM

1 Comments:

Blogger Kat said...

I don't know what's so bizarre about the name Kotzwinkle. :) I read his "The Bear Went Over the Mountain". I'd love to tell you about it, but that was a few years ago and I don't remember it anymore.... Besides, he's clearly an awesome guy since he helped to write Walter the Farting Dog and I'm not sure it gets any better than that.

7/09/2007 1:40 PM  

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