Monday, November 30, 2009

The Kingdom Keepers YA novels

Last year I picked up an autographed copy of Ridley Pearson's THE KINGDOM KEEPERS: DISNEY AFTER DARK at Borders. I'm sort of a sucker for autographed books; if I even suspect I might like the author or content, I usually snap it up.

I later posted a review on, and here is the text of that review:

THE KINGDOM KEEPERS by Ridley Pearson is a young adult book about a group of kids who are chosen to "become" holographic guides at the Magic Kingdom. But somehow their holographic existence begins to sort of intrude upon their real life existence. And they find out from an old Imagineer that the Disney villains are coming to life, more or less, and are gaining energy enough to really make some trouble for the parks and for the world at large.

This sounded to me like a promising premise, and I think it could have been - if Pearson had not left SO MANY darned loose ends and introduced so much stuff that just didn't seem to go anywhere in the end. One of the worst ended books I've ever read. I had to go back and reread the last couple chapters to see if I missed something, but I didn't. It was just a bad ending. Very fast read, I probably knocked it off in a couple of hours total reading time. I don't know if the author just got sloppy, or was introducing a bunch of plot elements to set up sequels (which have come and which I haven't read...but may). As I say, it had promise, but didn't live up to it in the end. I really wanted to like this book more than I did.

As you can see, it wasn't my favorite book. I haven't read many young adult novels (though as my son gets older, I am pretty sure that is going to change), so I don't know if it is common to plot and write this loosely. I've read other stuff by Pearson, and found his other work to be okay. Not great, but not bad, either. Readable.

When my son read this book, though, he zipped right through it and loved it. So we picked up KINGDOM KEEPERS 2: DISNEY AT DAWN for him this weekend. As he is engrossed in his first Harry Potter novel at this time, I picked up his new book and read it. Like the first book, it didn't take me much time to finish it. I started it Saturday and finished it Sunday, in limited reading time.

All in all, I'd say that the second book is a much better book than the first. While loose ends were left in this book, the main plot points were all tied up much more neatly than in the first. Those loose ends actually made me want to read a sequel this time.

In this one, the DHI kids (if you haven't read the first, DHI is an acronym for "Disney Host Interactive") are back, and once again are pitted against some of the Disney villians, who have sort of come to life and are trying to get some sort of existence beyond the Parks in Florida. This time, most of the action takes place in the Animal Kingdom, where Disney is preparing holographic animal hosts, just like these teens are for Magic Kingdom. Wayne, the old Imagineer, is once again on hand to provide guidance and technical assistance through the Virtual Magic Kingdom (VMK) world, which was closed by Disney when they realized that these villains were using it to gain a level of control over the parks themselves.

The first book and this book were both really good ideas. In my view, however, the first did not execute the idea well at all. The second book executes the ideas much better. Maybe it isn't the best book I've ever read, but it's pretty good.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Carl Hiaasen's NATIVE TONGUE

A couple months ago I picked up THE MOUSE THAT ROARED, a Disney critique of sorts, at my public library. In the comments section, George Taylor of Imaginerding mentions that Carl Hiaasen had written a book about a theme park in Florida called "The Amazing Kingdom", and this is the book.

NATIVE TONGUE features developer Francis X. Kingsbury, who has built a popular theme park in the southern part of the state (I think it's down that way, since he mentions the Keys quite a bit), a competitor, if you will, for the tourist dollars that Disney pulls into Florida. There's been a crime, however; the last two blue-tongued mango voles in existence have been stolen from their display, and the ensuing investigation into the theft leads Joe Winder, a newspaperman who has burned out and is now working for the Amazing Kingdom as a PR flack, into a lot of drama.

It's pretty clear from the outset that Hiaasen is dead set against further development in Florida, especially around the Everglades and the Keys. This tale is all about the sleaze and the greed surrounding the development of the Amazing Kingdom, and a subsequent project which will see the destruction of coastland habitats to make way for a housing development and a golf course. Winder finds himself involved with a senior citizen eco-terrorist, a possibly-insane ex-governor who now lives in the swamps, and various synchophants for Kingsbury, who is himself not what he appears to be.

Although by comparison Disney looks pretty good next to the scandal-ridden, borderline criminal enterprise that the Amazing Kingdom hides, there are plenty of backhanded slaps at the company - especially evident is Hiaasen's disdain for any corporation or entity who would re-engineer the land for their own purposes without regard to the pre-existing ecology of the region. I'd say that definitely includes Disney. The fact that Kingsbury is more or less jealous of what Disney has accomplished in Florida is a pretty good slap by itself.

I think the idea that Disney is out for profits at the expense of whatever gets in its way, including the environment, is pretty obvious to most people. Even when they do something like the Animal Kingdom, it involves a massive re-creation of the landscape. It may be a reservoir for plant and animal life, but it is far from natural. Still, I don't share Hiaasen's disdain for the company or what they've done to accomplish what they have accomplished.

Hiaasen is a very talented writer, with a flair for characters, dialogue and setting. I've read a handful of his (currently reading LUCKY YOU, and I'm not sure of what the others I've read are titled - the titles sort of run together for me) and been well entertained by all of them. NATIVE TONGUE was no exception. A really good story right to the finale.

What it says about Disney is open for discussion. But for me, I know I'll keep reading Hiaasen. I'm just surprised it took me this long to get to him.

Friday, November 13, 2009

A link to a Disney Bibliography

I love collecting the titles that relate the history and technical stuff, and even the criticisms of Disney. At 2719 Hyperion there is a pretty good list of titles that any fan of Disney parks should consider owning. I know that some of them are a little pricey, but I think I want them all eventually.

Here's the specific link to the post: Bibliography: Walt Disney World History