Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Review - Zombies of the Science Fair by Bruce Coville

Short review: Pleskit and Tim need science projects. Pleskit's science project is supposed to make Tim smarter so Tim can do his science project. Instead, Pleskit makes zombies.

To make Tim smarter
Pleskit unlocks potential
Now he's a zombie

Full review: Zombies of the Science Fair, the fifth book in Coville's I Was a Sixth Grade Alien series sees Pleskit and Tim preparing for their upcoming school science fair. The book abandons the third party narration of Peanut Butter Lover Boy and  goes back to the original format of alternating viewpoints, switching between Tim and Pleskit as the narrator in each chapter, and throwing in a chapter narrated by their mutual friend Linnsy too. As with previous installments in the series, the story is full of zany adventure, a dash of moralizing about the value of good friends, and introduces a concept seen in other Coville books - that humans have vast amounts of wasted potential.

Tim and Pleskit view the prospect of completing a science project for the impending fair very differently. Pleskit sees the science fair as a wonderful event - an opportunity to come up with and complete a project that will show off his love of science. Tim also sees this as an opportunity to come up with a project that will show off his love of science, but fears that as with previous years he will (a) put it off to the last minute, and (b) embark on an endeavor so overly complicated that he cannot possibly complete it with his available resources and technical skills. Given this history, it seems natural that Tim would view the prospect of doing a science project with a mixture of joy and trepidation.

Given this set up, it comes as no surprise that one week before the science project is due that Tim has still not managed to even come up with a viable idea. What is surprising is that Pleskit also has not come up with a usable idea. Granted, Pleskit has completed three science projects by that time, but the first proved too technical to be understood by technologically backwards humans, the second involved using agricultural materials forbidden to be revealed to humans, and the third proved too controversial. So when Tim calls Pleskit about his problem getting a science project started, Pleskit has an idea that will help both of them: for Pleskit's science project he will make Tim smarter, and then the new smarter Tim will be able to come up with a project he can complete. Given the history of plans concocted by these two, it should surprise no one that this is a recipe for disaster.

It turns out that humans are actually much smarter than they seem, so all Pleskit has to do to make Tim smarter is to unlock the wasted potential in Tim's brain. The idea that humans have massive untapped potential wasting away in our brains is a theme that has shown up in other Coville books - notably the My Teacher Is an Alien series. Pleskit decides to make a suggestibility potion that will allow him to simply tell Tim to be smarter. And because Tim has untapped intelligence lurking inside his head, this works. Unfortunately, it also has to effect of making Tim subject to almost any command given by the person who administered the potion, a situation that has some fairly obvious potential downsides.

But the potion does have a big upside and Tim is able to make a viable science project. In the meantime, Pleskit comes up with an antidote, just in case. And this turns out to be a good idea because class bully and recurring villain Jordan (who everyone assumes simply had his wealthy father pay for someone to complete his science project) taunts Tim into dosing himself with the potion, leaving him paralyzed and unable to do anything. Even worse, a plot against Pleskit's father's mission comes to fruition during the actual science fair, resulting in everyone in attendance being turned into a suggestible pseudo-zombie (hence the title of the book). As usual, things look dire but quick thinking by Tim and Pleskit plus some heroics by Pleskit's bodyguard McNally wind up saving the day.

Zombies of the Science Fair is a typical Coville book: a nice message about the value of friends and an optimistic take on human nature wrapped up in a silly, funny adventure. Building on previous books in the series, a little more is revealed of the mysterious shadowy conspiracy that seems determined to foil Meenom's mission to Earth and replace him with an agent inimical to Earth's interests. Overall, Coville strikes the right balance between silly preteen antics, moralizing, and interstellar conspiracy, and winds up with a fun and interesting book.

Subsequent book in the series: I Was a Sixth Grade Alien: Don't Fry My Veeblax!

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