Thursday, August 18, 2011

Review - My Teacher Flunked the Planet by Bruce Coville

Short review: Kids save the Earth from alien judgment with some fairly heavy handed social commentary thrown in.

Humans are evil
Nasty, violent, and cruel
But it's not our fault

Full review: My Teacher Flunked the Planet is the last book in the My Teacher Is an Alien series. I didn't have the earlier books when I read it the first time, but that did not prove to be a significant impediment to enjoying this book due to the concise summary of previous events at the start of the book.

Peter, the human protagonist of the book, having previously uncovered the fact that reasonably benign aliens have replaced some of his teachers, left Earth to learn from the aliens, had his brain removed, studied and replaced, learns that the Intergalacatic Council of aliens has come to believe that humans are too dangerous to allow into space, and will either have their technology cut off, or simply be eliminated. Peter, and two other human children from earlier books - the smart and sweet Susan, and the former bully turned supergenius Duncan - are sent to Earth with three aliens to find a way to prove to the council that humanity doesn't deserve to be eliminated.

At this point, Coville lays on some fairly heavy handed social commentary, as the kids are whisked about the world to witness the worst humans can offer - war, famine, cruelty, indifference to suffering, and so on. Duncan is found by the police and taken away from the group, triggering nasty anti-alien riots. (One oddity in the book is that apparently making Duncan a supergenius also made him nicer, which I don't think follows. Sure, the book gives lip service to the idea that making someone smart doesn't necessarily make them nice, but Duncan, in practice, seems to have been reformed by his brain enhancement. Of the messages contained in the book, I'm least comfortable with the idea that smarter people are nicer).

Just when everything seems lost, Coville throws in what seems to be a deus ex machina ending, as the root cause of humanity's violence and anger is revealed - and it turns out it really isn't our fault. This, to me, undermines the plot of the book: humans aren't redeemed by anything we do, we are redeemed because we have special powers that were previously undiscovered. The message of the book, showing the human costs of violence and indifference, and that humanity is (or should regard themselves as) interconnected, is laudable. Oddly, for a book that deals with such a serious subject, the book is quite humorous too. But the clumsy execution at the end of the book reduces what could have been an excellent book to merely an average one.

Previous book in the series: My Teacher Glows in the Dark

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