CM . . .
. Volume XXIII Number 34. . . .May 12, 2017
Nerdy middle schooler Holly Farb, fresh from losing school council elections and hoping to be accepted into an elite private school, is abducted by alien pirates, along with schoolmate Chester and teacher Mr. Mendez, after Holly is mistaken for the missing Princess of the Galaxy. On the run from the pirates, Chester is revealed to be the real princess, Jalya, desperately fleeing her stifling royal life and the tyranny of the pirates who have killed her parents and taken over her home world. Spurning a chance to return to Earth, Holly and Mendez, together with galactic bounty hunter Toshiro and robot ASTrO, decide to defeat the pirates with the help of the President of the Universe. But when Jayla is captured and the President refuses to help them, the group are left on their own to defeat the Pirate Lord and his brainwashing machine known as The Forge. Having cemented her friendship with Jalya, Holly returns home where she decides against terrestrial boarding school in favour of the galactic Star Academy.
A hilarious romp of a tale with echoes of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Holly Farb and the Princess of the Galaxy is full of unfathomable adventure, repulsive aliens, and bizarre political intrigue, all shot through with a sense of both serendipity and nonchalance, as if it were natural that the President of the Universe was a squirrel like creature who spoke in grunts that could only be interpreted by a series of cloned assistants who each perform one duty before dying. As in the excerpt above, the narrative is occasionally interrupted by the dryly compelling observations of a robot storyteller who exhibits the same casual disdain for humanity as the aliens in Douglas Adam’s cult classic (a robot who turns out in the end to be ASTrO). Chief among the giddily hilarious details is the introduction of the grotesque alien librarians who run the galactic archives and who are programmed to kill anyone who takes out a reference book (as Holly and company do in their search for anti pirate warfare techniques).
The backdrop to the adventure is the stormy friendship of Holly and Jalya, and it is in this respect that the story becomes considerably more earnest. To protect her friend, Holly agrees to play the role of Princess but goes overboard in her typically bossy manner, at one point berating Jalya for shirking her political responsibilities. The overarching friendship plot alternates between charming and slightly awkward, with their spats bordering on the petty. (A feminist reader might find their stubbornness and Holly’s bossiness somewhat stereotypical, notwithstanding Holly’s evident courage and problem solving skills). But Holly’s intellectual ambitions, coupled with her nerdy self doubt that culminates in the admission that even she didn’t vote for herself as class president, will undoubtedly ring true with readers in the same way as do many misunderstood science fiction characters.
But Holly Farb and the Princess of the Galaxy is more fiction than science, and some technologies and other details can stretch credulity. Travelling through a spaceship airlock, the group finds itself exposed to space after opening only one door (airlocks, by definition, need two in tandem). Describing why the galactic archives contain print books instead of electronic media, it is suggested that magnetic data would be affected by solar flares, sounding like twentieth century technology. The pirates are divided between the Pirates Guild and the Pirates Union, and Holly stubbornly chooses to negotiate their release with the Guild first, admitting to herself (inexplicably) that the Union was the best place to start.
Still, the overall effect is that logic doesn’t matter, and like Hitchhiker, the conclusion to Holly Farb and the Princess of the Galaxy straddles the line between meaningful and implausible quite well. A flawed but delightful send up.
Todd Kyle is the CEO of the Newmarket Public Library in Ontario and Past President of the Ontario Library Association.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.