Monday, October 11, 2010

I Am Number Four

Before I start on the content of this book, I need to address some things that affected my expectations prior to reading it.

I bought I Am Number Four without noticing the author’s name. When I got home and saw it was attributed to a fictional character I felt a bit concerned. It seemed like an overly contrived marketing ploy, or that the author had something to hide. Was he/she reluctant to be associated with the book?

A quick piece of research revealed the following about the author Pittacus Lore:

“Pittacus Lore is Lorien's ruling Elder. He has been on Earth for the last twelve years, preparing for the war that will decide Earth's fate. His whereabouts are unknown.”

Other searches reveal that Pittacus Lore is in fact TWO people, James Frey and Jobie Hughes. Frey was earlier the author of a memoir A Million Little Pieces, an Oprah book club best-seller that apparently caused some controversy when parts of the memoir were found to be not as true as many were led to believe.

So, was the pseudonym used to hide the involvement of an author with a controversial writing history? Or was it also the “marketing ploy” I mentioned above?

I suspect marketing played a significant part in the creation of this book. It seems like it is the first in a planned ongoing series, (perhaps hoping to follow the success of the Twilight Series). Also, a film is already in production. How long before the characters are sold as action figures?

But aside from the cynicism arising from the books background, how did I like the story?

Mostly I enjoyed it. I’ve had an interest in aliens, conspiracies and the unknown since childhood and the book covers that ground. I found the characters and situations were portrayed quite plausibly despite the fantastic elements. This perception may have been helped my longstanding interest in such things.

John Smith is “number four”, one of nine children rescued from Lorien, a planet being destroyed by a hostile alien race, the Mogadorians. The children and their guardians have made their way to earth where they each go their own way and try to hide their identity, in case the Mogadorians follow to destroy them.

The children have been partly protected by a “charm”. They can only be killed in a particular order. Attempts to harm or kill one of them out of that order will backfire on the assailant killing or harming him instead of the intended victim. The story starts when John (fourth in the order) receives confirmation that the first three have been killed and he is next in line.

The story has several elements. The most crucial is John’s evasion of the Mogadorians and his need to stay alive. Then he has to fit in with a normal school community life, dealing with teenage friendships, romances and bullying while trying to remain out of the spotlight which could draw unwanted attention. He also has to contend with developing special Loric talents (legacies) as he comes of age.

The book is paced quite well, continually developing new situations to keep the reader’s interest. This also helps to keep the reader from thinking too much about the implausibilities and weaknesses within the story. The “charm” intended to protect the nine is one of the weaker and least credible aspects of the story. The only reason for its existence seems to be to increase the stakes faced by John. He KNOWS he is the next one the Mogadorians will be coming for, making his situation more urgent and threatening.

The story moves on towards a showdown with the Mogadorians and we find out how John’s developing talents can help his struggle to survive. When the inevitable confrontation comes, the scale of it seems overwhelming and melodramatic in comparison to the tone of the rest of the book, and I found it difficult to see these events as part of the “real” world in which the story is supposed to be set.

As the first part of a continuing series, this book introduces some interesting characters and possibilities for the direction the story will take. What started as one teenager’s fight for survival will clearly expand into more widespread struggle for earth’s salvation, not only from the Mogadorians but from ourselves.

If earth survives the Mogadorians, will we take the right actions to ensure our planet’s survival? Will we follow the example of the Loriens, and reverse our exploitative and destructive practices before it’s too late? Or will we end up like the Mogadorians who, on depleting the resources of their own world seek out other worlds to despoil?

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