Born with abnormal white skin and powerful telepathy, a boy finds himself dangerously at odds with the high-tech dictatorship that represses innovation and history on a post-apocalyptic Earth.
In this debut sci-fi novel, future Earth is largely unrecognizable and frequently unlivable after enduring world-reshaping volcanic disasters unleashed by reckless experiments. The planet’s one life-sustaining central continent (of the only three remaining) is filled with bizarre hybrid animals (“crabbits”), some of them intelligent. A vividly multicolored human race largely clusters in the rigid confines of an authoritarian city state called Arzen, whose leadership, leery of progress, focuses on producing a small-footprint agrarian culture. Aided by robots, Arzen rulers raise children to be obedient and unquestioning—which is vital, considering that many people are now born with different psychic abilities, potentially dangerous to the status quo. Schoolboy Arthur Zireg’s own parents have such mental superpowers and elite government jobs (secret agent dad, in fact, has been erased from bureaucratic records while on an undercover mission). This helps 12-year-old Arthur very little when his DNA-throwback white skin marks him as an outcast. After he uses a potent “brainwave” attack on classroom bullies, authorities put Arthur on a strict probation/janitorial routine—with the next step likely imprisonment and electronic lobotomy. But Arthur is also an insatiably curious hacker, who discovers how to conceal his nonconformity and contact a rebel underground among the persecuted science, technology, engineering, and math types dwelling in exile. Schmidt begins her Arzen Chronicles series with an entry best suited to the age demographic represented by its plucky hero. The tween voice in the material is perfect for sci-fi/fantasy readers who have not yet graduated to the slightly harder-edged dystopian futures sketched out by multivolume YA authors such as Veronica Roth, Suzanne Collins, and Scott Westerfield. Not that there isn’t darkness here—abusive, addicted, and seemingly heartless parents are a recurring theme—but it comes with an abundance of gee-whiz stuff (the joy of discovery and how to do things being one of the qualities the Arzen Supreme Leader tries to suppress). There is even a friendly sort of unicorn in the supporting ensemble. And the images by Schmidt and debut illustrator Nugroho set a storybook tone. The narrative ends in mid-cliffhanger, with much unresolved.
Entering the crowded sci-fi genre of Orwellian/dystopian adventures featuring imperiled kids, this novel delivers talking animals and a thumbs up to scientific curiosity.