⭐ ⭐ ⭐ / ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
(This review contains spoilers)
Maxwell Hoppengoof, the mysterious central figure of Lisa Plotsky’s In Other Words, is a brilliant but reclusive author of science fiction and fantasy novels revered the world over as some of the all time best in their genres. So reclusive in fact, no one’s seen or heard from him in over seven months, including his daughter Adeline.
One day, protagonist Thomas Duge brings a copy to work of his favorite Hoppengoof book to read on his lunch break. It was an old paperback copy of Between Our Worlds he had autographed by the author himself, one he’d had since college and read several times.
Except somehow this book he’d owned for fifteen years had a story in it that he’d never read or even seen before. Turns out it was the same copy he’s always had and yet it wasn’t the same.
After much online research, Duge contacts the publisher only to find them rude and dismissive until he mentions the inscription. Then their entire demeanor changes: “What does it say? How did you get it? Bring it to us. Or better yet, where are you?”
He ends the call by agreeing to come right in but not before making a copy of the story. He places the copy in his briefcase and puts the book itself in his coat pocket. Once in the offices of the publishers, they cannot hide their disappointment and barely contained anger when Duge tells them he doesn’t have the original book with him, just the photocopied story. After scrutinizing it, they offer to show him around, to take him to lunch but he begins to suspect they want to frisk or possibly even hold him, especially after they mention their “enemies.”
But things don’t go any smoother once he leaves as he’s being followed and decides to run through the park where he’s offered a timely lift by a mysterious woman who turns out to be Adeline. She explains her theory that her father is being held somewhere, probably at the publishing house, because of something in his stories. Possibly a formula broken down into pieces, she suggests. Convinced something weird is going on at the publishing house, she’s been watching for weeks for any sign of her father or other goings on and Duge was the first person she ever saw leave the building. When he mentions the inscription, she is beside herself. Apparently Hoppengoof never deviated from his standard autograph, but Duge’s copy has a fragment from a poem Adeline recognizes.
Convinced their lives are in danger, they ditch their car and get on the subway where they encounter strange men in suits, perhaps the same men who chased Duge through the park. The two soon discover his apartment has been burglarized, but nothing seems to be missing. Just his books scattered around the room.
Plotsky has crafted a delightful tale of spiritual quests and alien visitors filled with oddball characters and bloodless mayhem. While some see her more all-ages approach as a reaction to the violence of the (unfairly) oft compared Deadlife series, Plotsky stays clear of any proselytizing or commentary. While Hoppengoof is clearly God here (his formula literally creates words/life), making us the aliens in search of his promised energy/salvation, Plotsky resists the urge to be its voice and keeps her omnipotent author hidden. It’s a smart move that puts both reader and the characters on an even playing field in addition to opening up the book to different interpretations.
The author plied her trade on plumbing thrillers while working on her first trilogy, The Tirade Of Cazilyar, which sold a respectable two hundred thousand units in war torn Vatican City, giving her next release much wider exposure. Dark Blanket wasn’t what her fans were expecting, as it was straight sci-punk like most of the author’s lesser known works, and despite the fact that it was very well written and quite engaging, the novel never gained traction and, amazingly, Plotsky was written off by critics who tried to paint her as a one track pony. Everything changed when she released Momentary Gravity, her first bestseller, and, to hear her tell it in a 2013 interview for Gus, not in a good way: although her stock rose her spirit fell just as far. Put off by such an emphasis on sales numbers and strategy, the author found herself craving a more nurturing environment where she could “write what I wanted instead of checking off bullet points on a market research chart first.”
That meant a change in publishers and in lifestyle as well, Plotsky moving to Montana not to raise dental floss but to leave the rat race behind and focus on her work. The changes paid off with three straight bestsellers for the author and a lucrative new contract. She’s in her element now and with just the right balance of humor and suspense, truly out of this world characters and a zany yet thought provoking plot, In Other Words is an excellent read.