Sure there’s a settled CBA and the NHL is headed back to the ice (is it too early to start yelling “Let’s Go Red Wings!”?), but that doesn’t mean you can’t pick up a book when your favorite team isn’t playing. This edition of Hockey Pages shifts genres from the romantic books I’ve spotlighted so far. This time we’re going down a sci-fi path with Slipstream and Oculus, which are the first two books in Michael Offutt’s A Crisis of Two Worlds series. Slipstream came out in April 2012 (and I gave a mention to it here) and Oculus followed in November.
The books revolve around Jordan Pendragon, a seemingly normal teenager, who is smart in math and physics and a good hockey player. In Slipstream he’s a high school senior in Salt Lake City who discovers that he’s got powers that allow him to bend time while his sister can manipulate and travel through dimensions. They end up on a parallel Earth where Jordan discovers he is a chosen one that must save both Earths. As Oculus opens, Jordan is a freshman at Cornell on a hockey scholarship and using the school’s labs to track down what he needs to prevent the end of both worlds.
Hockey plays a significant part in both books, but hockey culture is center stage in Oculus. Michael Offutt offered up a little insight for us:
Spotlighting the hockey culture of Cornell in Oculus
I didn’t used to like hockey as much as I do. That all changed a few years ago when I came to understand the culture behind hockey.
We don’t see it much out here in the West (Note: Michael lives in Salt Lake City). But back East, college teams in the NCAA enjoy an enormously loyal fan base that can give them more than an edge on home ice.
Cornell is one of these universities. When I started delving into the Cornell culture called aptly “the Lynah Faithful” after the rink of the same name, I was astounded. It’s a dream of mine to actually attend one of these games (which probably won’t ever come true because I don’t have all that much money to go and travel).
When it comes to the Lynah Faithful, I’ve never seen such school spirit, and it really comes to a boil when they play Harvard. The crowd has a rich historical tradition of heckling netminders, of throwing things out onto the ice ranging from wadded up newspaper to actual fish (for Harvard) to Colgate toothpaste boxes (when they play Colgate). They have their own website with the lyrics posted to all of their chants so that new crowd members will know what to say when the time comes. Honestly, the crowd sounds like it’s more fun than the game. That is, UNTIL you become invested in the players.
That’s the key to any sport. Getting to know who is playing on the team you are supporting–their personalities, their quirks, etc. And that’s one of the things that I really strive to do in Oculus. I put the reader in Jordan’s head so that you experience his anxiety, his thrills, and his ultimate suspicion that no matter how hard he tries, the circumstances of his unique life will bust through and ruin his chances at a normal life.
Reviewing Slipstream & Oculus
I should say upfront that Michael and I are friends and we help each other out with some of our writing projects. He’s given me feedback on a novel I’m working on and I did the same for him with a draft of Oculus.
With that out of the way, I can say that both of these books were among the best books I read in 2012 (you can see evidence of that over at jeffandwill.com where I recapped 2012, including a section on books). I’m often leery of sci-fi because world building done badly can be a nightmare to read. Michael, thankfully, builds a solid and believable universe for his characters to operate in. When they’re in Avalon, the alternate Earth, he manages to lay out everything you need to know without getting bogged down in exposition.
One of the truly exciting and different things in Avalon was the hockey. There pro hockey was hockey as we know it mixed with some Rollerball elements, such as if the crowd doesn’t like a player they just might shoot him as he skates.
Speaking of hockey, there’s tons of hockey in Oculus as we get to see Jordan start up with Cornell’s Big Red. We get a lot of practice, team bonding and a great dose of game play. Everything that Michael talked about in his research above is on the page. It makes me want to go check out a Cornell came for myself.
As for Jordan, he’s a great character. Despite the fact he’s extremely smart and has his unique ability to manipulate time, he’s also a normal high school senior/college freshman. He can be confident in one moment and completely unsure of himself in the next. He tries to balance the huge task he’s been given, which could easily result in his death, with being a normal guy. He’s got a lot of help in his quest. His sister, Kathy, is with him as is her boyfriend, Dylan (who she met on Avalon). Kolin, an assassin from Avalon, is Jordan’s boyfriend and protector.
You’ll notice I haven’t mentioned too much about specific plot points of either book. To say much more than I have is to take away from the surprise of reading the books for yourself. If you like parallel universes stories, I think you’ll like these books. Meanwhile, I’m eager for book three since Jordan’s mission is not yet over.