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Zia McCorgi by Cooner

"Spill it, Short Legs!"

The Journal of Zia McCorgi

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Summerhill by Kevin Frane [a review]
Zia McCorgi by Cooner
So while at Further Confusion 2013 I got a copy of Summerhill by Kevin Frane. I read it on the plane home and could not put it down. So I suppose if you want a quick review I'd say Summerhill is a real page turner with intriguing characters, settings, and ideas. It is completely worth a purchase and I highly recommend it. It is probably going to be a book I'll reread this year and reread again in the future and I loved it.

So let’s get this started before I get any further as always here is my disclaimer: I work at the FurPlanet table at conventions selling books and FurPlanet graciously published my novel. I receive no money or gifts for working at the table and get no cash or items for reviews of their novels. Any sales of Summerhill will profit me only if you by my book alongside it. Further Kevin Frane is a generally cool dude to talk to and I've spoken to him once or twice, and he once gave me a ride to an IHOP but he is not connected to me on any deeper personal levels.

So what is Summerhill about? Roughly Summerhill is about a dog named Summerhill [oh look a titular main character], who doesn't remember his past, on an adventure to figure out himself, see what the world has to offer, and tag along with a woman named Katherine as she runs from the inter-dimensional police. Oh and there is an otter whose body has psychotropic effects on Summerhill. And a telepathic/clairsentient bird creature who likes to freeze Summerhill in suspended states of blue. And a frozen ocean. Oh and an endless city that Summerhill thinks he's from but isn't sure and was so boring it gives him nightmares. Did I mention the cruise ship to nowhere that moves between time, space and the multiverse with a crew of stick bugs, robots, a shapechanging security chief, and the previously mentioned Katherine a hostess on the ship? Oh and Summerhill can also make plants do odd things.

If this is starting to sound a little complicated for a simple story of a dog on an adventure to discover himself that is because it is complicated. That is sort of the point of Summerhill. See part of Summerhill’s awakening to find who he is in the end is based upon the complexity of things around him as he learns to deal with the larger world on his own terms. Something I think everyone can relate to as we grow and change as people over time by being in the world.

The book is a creative romp through the author’s imagination and you almost want to keep reading the book to see what next strange locale or event Summerhill will be in next. Or you would be reading it just for that if the story and character of Summerhill weren't engrossing enough.

Summerhill the novel is experimenting with form and style to tell a larger story it is as much an exploration of the concept of limitless potential as it is a story about Summerhill the dog trying to find himself and figure himself out and how in the end we all have greater potential then we perhaps realized. This makes it a bit different from other furry novels. It has a different structure for the characters and a different style. Is it a massive departure from what has been seen before? I’d argue no, but it is different.

Readers should be warned if you want a tight story that wraps up every loose end and explains things to you Summerhill will not be your cup of tea. The ending of Summerhill is clearly not a traditional ending and not everything will be explained. That is part of the point after all, that Summerhill's story continues on and that there is no easy end. At its heart Summerhill is a truly hardcore science fiction novel. Well speculative fiction I suppose as it is not so much on the science but speculation about larger concepts.

No one should be surprised by this Kevin Frane has made his point well known that he enjoys science fiction as a concept and loves to write in it. I loved his other works Thousand Leaves and Seventh Chakra which are both clearly science fiction novels (though they are both more humanist at their core being more about the people in these science fiction settings and their dealings especially Thousand Leaves Leaves which at its core is about a bunch of normal people struggling against a vast and dangerous conspiracy that threatens society and a disease outbreak... my but Kevin Frane loves complicated concepts that can not be easily digested to a one word sentence). Seventh Chakra still intrigues me for a highly original and overlooked part of science fiction (that of linguistics as a concept). In Summerhill the setting is as much an integral character that shifts and changes as is Summerhill the dog who is tied inextricably to the setting. This is truly good science fiction period and it is the type that forces at least some thought about bigger concepts. You know while marveling at amazing settings and ideas.

Does it always work? No there are points where the narrative is bogged down by setting and a little too overdone on some bits. He sometimes explains things a little too much in my opinion, I’d prefer some more mystery to events and for some things to go unexplained. For a book that has vastly different setting and thoughts from many novels in general it isn’t as obtuse as it could be and perhaps shows a little too much of its hand. I also feel the overall narrative is too linear for the story it is trying to tell. Finally, in a tale about a time traveling inter-dimensional hopping dog from a city on the edge of nowhere who does what he does the story has a very tight progression of events with only one deviation. But these moments are rare enough and the larger work is intriguing enough that I can forgive the flaws. My novel had big flaws and Kevin Frane's other books had flaws as well. The thing is that the more you read his works the more you see the evolution. He's clearly improving and making great strides and this one holds together extremely well. Can flaws be forgiven in the face of obvious hard work and an engaging story? I’d argue yes.

It is also pretty clear reading Summerhill that Mr. Frane has been getting a lot of inspiration from works like Cloud Atlas and the new seasons of Dr. Who and he’s taken the best parts of those to build his book. If you liked those works you'll find this a very good, though still different, companion to those cultural touchstones. There is also a bit of Star Wars in the novel, the opening chapter gave me flashes of the ingenious use of the Mose Isle canteen from A New Hope where the movie demonstrates the vastness of the galaxy by showing multiple and very different races.
I'm going to create a cut section detailing some internal thoughts about the novel. This should be skipped if you care about spoilers.

All that said here is the take away review wise:
If you are looking for something notably different. If you are looking for an engaging book full of hidden details that hint at larger stories, and the thrill of feeling oh so clever for noticing those clues. If you are looking for truly imaginative settings. If you want some oddness in your day and a work that will draw you in and force you to pay attention. If you want any of that then Summerhill is the work for you. I can't help but praise a fantastic novel which seems to fall perfectly into something different from what everyone else is writing in general. Its daring and different and oh so good. Buy Summerhill yesterday.