BOOK REVIEW: The New Roald Dahl? By Dianne Bates***
The back cover blurb of Erasmus James and the Galactic Zapp Machine proclaims its author DC Green "**the new Roald Dahl". I agree. This is not to say that this new Australian children's author writes in any way like Dahl, but the originality, vigour and humour of his storytelling and his refreshingly idiosyncratic use of language marks him as One to Watch Out For.
A legendary international surfing journalist from southern NSW, Green impressed Ibis Publishing executives so much with his writing that they signed him up for a three book series, a feat almost unheard for a first-time children's author in today's Australia. (New writers take note!)
So, what is it that makes the first Erasmus James' book such a stand-out? For a start, Green breaks all the rules, not just in aspects such as characterisation and use of language, but in punctuation. When did you ever read a book where an exclamation mark is extended to a series of four? Where three brackets are used instead of one? At first I found this lack of convention irritating, but as I became swept up into the strongly paced, side-splitting humour of the book with its underlying whacks at twenty-first century conventions, I forgot all of my school-marm, judgemental reservations.
Erasmus James, son of an inventor who meddles with dad's latest – a machine which doesn't just move into time, but into Uponia (a whole new, fantastical dimension) - is a sassy-mouthed boy who wants to get home. Having met King Reginald the Seventy-seventh, Ruler of Uponia from the foothills of the Bloodhorse Mountains (etc, etc, etc, etc), Erasmus (Raz for short), fast-talks his way into surviving by negotiating to sell King Reg a prototype for a kar. He does this by a modern means, presenting the tyrannical, murderous Reg with a Lameboy, which, like all Gameboys deadens Reggie's brain and natural inclinations. The King even condescends to repair Raz's galactic zapp machine while he sends the boy along the Trans-Uponian Highway to see the Great Wonder of Uponia.
A talking (and wind-breaking) ninja horse by the name of Franklin is Raz's mode of transport in a strange land frequented by mutant poultry, which, early in the piece, have Erasmus thinking, "Didn't those bird-brains know you can't make an omlette without breaking a few eggs? (I wonder if that's original?) Which brings me to the other seven things I thought of: crunchy spuds with roast chicken, satay chicken, chicken wings with a selection of yummy dips, apricot children, Bayfried Chicken (BFC), chicken burgers smothered in apple sauce, and, of course, Vietnamese chicken omlette."
My reading of Erasmus James and the Intergalactic Zapp Machine often had me in fits in laughter, reinforcing the book's back blurb warning, "so funny, you could break ribs or explode internal organs from laughing so hard". What the blurb doesn't mention is that if you read the book while in the company of others, you might annoy them greatly by reading aloud long chunks of side-splitting sections, which is what I did time and again.
My appreciation of this new author's first book is not totally without reservation. At times (especially in the introductory chapter), I found Erasmus' asides broke the story flow and that sometimes Green's over-statements (such as references to the farting horse and Vietnamese food) were annoying. Some adults might find the near-end scene of death highly offensive. But these are small quibbles in a book which plays around irreverently with all aspects of language.
Underlying all of the book's hilarity is a message about life, about heroically facing one's fears and conquering them in a world (such as today's) where mad-men bent on world domination and destruction hold sway, but where lesser mortals can in the end, with humour, co-operation and persistence and by overcoming prejudices, triumph. Watch out for DC Green!
**(((By the way, it was DC HimSelf who compared HimSelf with the late and great Dahl!!!)))
*** Dianne Bates is the author of over 90 books for children, including Money Smart Kids and Grandma Cadbury's Trucking Tales. http://home.pacific.net.au/~dibates/