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The Complete Alcatraz

December 7, 2015

Walker discovered the Alcatraz books and started reading Alcatraz versus the Evil Librarians to us out loud one summer when we were all four taking turns reading out loud to each other most nights before bed. When he went back to college, I asked to borrow the book, and it stayed on my nightstand for about a year and a half while I read other books and kept coming back to it in between. I can say a lot of things abut this book, but the best is what a good book it is to read right before bed. It’s always exciting, always humorous, and always fun in short segments. I went to sleep many nights with a smile on my face, the book having made me forget whatever worries I might have otherwise taken into dreams with me. I almost always denied this author his greatest pleasure: “It is a writer’s greatest pleasure to hear that someone was kept up until the unholy hours of the morning reading one of his books. It goes back to authors being terrible people who delight in the suffering of others.”

There are traps in several of the books in this series for those who like to skip to the end (beware, Jenny!). On the last page of Alcatraz versus the Evil Librarians there is a completely gratuitous sentence: “And so, untold millions screamed out in pain, and then were suddenly silenced. I hope you’re happy.” At the bottom of the page there is an explanation: “This was included for anyone who skipped forward to read the last page of the book.”

The first sentence of the book, which turns out to be typical of the first sentence of every chapter, is a doozy:
“So, there I was, tied to an altar made from outdated encyclopedias, about to get sacrified to the dark powers by a cult of evil Librarians.”
The tied-to-an-altar situation is not mentioned again until the beginning of Chapter Two, which asks:
“Would a nice person begin with such an exciting scene, then make you wait almost the entire book to read about it?”

Each chapter begins with meta-narrative, usually something conversational about Alcatraz himself, or the readers’ peril if they live in the Hushlands, where no one knows that librarians are evil. Chapter Four begins:
“Hushlanders, I’d like to take this opportunity to commend you for reading this book. I realize the difficulty you must have gone through to obtain it—after all, no Librarian is likely to recommend it, considering the secrets it exposes about their kind. Actually, my experience has been that people generally don’t recommend this kind of book at all. It is far too interesting.”

Some of the silliness is rooted in something, which makes it more interesting. Alcatraz finds out why librarians are evil from his grandfather, who says:
“This war we’re fighting—it isn’t about guns, or even about swords.’
‘What is it about then?’….
‘Information,’ Grandpa Smedry said. ‘That’s the real power in this world. That man who held a gun on us earlier—he had power over you. Why?’
‘Because he was going to shoot me,’ I said.
‘Because he thought he could shoot you,’ Grandpa Smedry said, raising a finger. ‘But he had no power over me, because I knew that he couldn’t hurt me. And when he realized that…’
‘He ran away,’ I said slowly.
‘Information. The Librarians control the information in this city—in this whole country. They control what gets read, what gets seen, and what gets learned. Because of that, they have power. Well, we’re going to break that power, you and I.’”

When Alcatraz looks at his first non-hushlander map, he sees three new continents, one of them
“directly in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, right between America and Japan.
‘It’s impossible,’ I said. ‘We would have noticed a landmass like that sitting in the middle of the ocean.’
‘You think you would have noticed,’ Sing said. ‘But the truth is that the Librarians control the information in your country. How often have you personally been out sailing in the middle of what you call the Pacific Ocean.?’”

In Alcatraz Versus the Scrivener’s Bones, he reveals the secret of the librarians’ name: “Librarians. LIE-brarians.
Sounds obvious now doesn’t it? If you wish to smack yourself in the forehead and curse loudly, you may proceed to do so.”

At one point, there is a crash, and Alcatraz says
“it was remarkable that nobody had been severely hurt. Actually, you may find this annoying. It would have been a better story if someone had died here. An early fatality can really make a book seem much more tense, as it lets people realize how dangerous things can be.
You have to remember, however, that this is not fiction, but a real-life account. I can’t help it if my friends were too selfish to do the narratively proper thing and get themselves killed off to hike up the tension of my memoirs.”

There’s a lot more information about librarians, as Alcatraz and his friends are on their way to the Library of Alexandria (which still exists but is hidden from Hushlanders):
“In the United States alone, there are thousands upon thousands of books published every year. Most of these are either ‘literature’ books about people who don’t do anything, or they are silly fiction works about dreadfully dull topics, such as dieting.
(There is a purpose to all of these useless books produced in America. They are, of course, intended to make people self-conscious about themselves so that the Librarians can better control them. The quickest way I’ve found to feel bad about yourself is to read a self-help book, and the second quickest is to read a depressing literary work intended to make you feel terrible about humanity in general.”

To check out a book from the Library of Alexandria, you have to pledge your soul to the Curators of the library, which means you become one. Alcatraz’ father figured out that if he bequeathed his soul to his son, he had a loophole, and sure enough, when Alcatraz asks for his father’s soul back, one of the Curators
“suddenly spun and threw back its hood, the fires in its eyes puffing out, replaced by human eyeballs. The skill bulged, growing the flesh of a hawk-faced, noble-looking man.
He tossed aside his robe, wearing a tuxedo underneath. ‘Aha!’ he said. ‘I knew you’d figure it out, son!’ The man turned, pointing at the hovering Curators. ‘Thank you kindly for the time you let me spend rummaging through your books, you old spooks! I beat you. I told you I would!’
‘Oh dear,’ Grandpa Smedry said, smiling. ‘We’ll never shut him up now. He’s gone and come back from the dead.’
In this case, Alcatraz’ act of necromancy doesn’t exactly pay, as he has to find out what his father is up to, and why his mother has been scheming against him.

At the end of this book, after the ending and epilogue, there’s a two-page section in which one of the main characters dies “so that if anyone skips forward to the end to read the last page—one of the most putrid and unholy things any reader can do—they will be shocked and annoyed….”

At the beginning of Chapter Eight of Alcatraz Versus the Knights of Crystallia, Alcatraz once again explains when he’ll get to the part where he lies “tied to an altar made from encyclopedias” by saying that it will happen in “Book Five” (of this four book series) and that we wouldn’t want him to summarize because
“’any story, no matter how good, will sound really, really dumb when you shorten it to a few sentences.’
For example, take this story: ‘Once there was a furry-footed British guy who has to go throw his uncle’s ring into a hole in the ground.’ Sounds dumb, doesn’t it?”

Occasionally the narrator will veer off into a digression that turns into an advertisement for the book, like
“All I’m saying is that you should question what others tell you, even if they have a college degree. There are a lot of people who might try to stop you from reading this book. They’ll come up to you and say things like ‘Why are you reading that trash?’ or ‘You should be doing your homework,’ or ‘Help me, I’m on fire!’
Don’t let them distract you. It’s of vital importance that you keep reading.”

The meta-narrative ramps up at the end of the third book, featuring an “after-book special” in which the two heroes, Alcatraz and Bastille, say
“We’re her to talk to you about a pernicious evil that is plaguing today’s youth. A terrible, awful habit that is destroying them from the inside out.’
Bastille looks at the camera. ‘He’s talking, of course, about skipping to the ends of books and reading the last pages first.’
‘We call it “Last-Paging,” Alcatraz says. ‘You may think it doesn’t involve you or your friends, but studies show that there has been a 4,000.024 percent increase in Last-Paging during the past seven minutes alone.’”
This is followed by an “author’s afterword” rather than preceded by an epilogue, as in the previous two books.

The last book, Alcatraz Versus the Shattered Lens, features an exciting battle conducted with dialogue almost entirely drawn from Shakespeare plays:
“That explosion was enough to get Bastille free from her grapplers, but her sword had been knocked far away. I scrambled to get it for her as she pulled her dagger free from her belt, facing down a Librarian.
‘Is this a dagger which I see before me?’ the Librarian said, holding up a larger, much more imposing sword. He swung.
Bastille just smiled, blocking his sword with her dagger, then stepping unexpectedly forward and kicking him in the crotch with a booted foot.
‘Get thee to a nunnery’ she said as he squeaked and fell to the ground.
Bastille hates it when people quote from the wrong play.
I grabbed Bastille’s swird, then dashed toward her, tossing it into her hands as I passed. ‘Neither a borrower nor a lender be: for loan oft loses both itself and friend.’
‘Beggar that I am, I am even poor in thanks,’ she said with an appreciative nod.”

One of the final chapter numbers in this book–between “Four Teens And a Pickle” and 16–is 8675309 because, Alcatraz says “I knew it would drive Librarians crazy….People don’t become Librarians because they want to force people to be quiet, or because they love books, or because they want to help people. No, people become Librarians for only one reason: they like to put things in order.”

The last page of the fourth book—and of this enormous volume–is addressed to readers who have listened to the author about acting out the book as they read, mentioned once, but who have somehow missed the many, many warnings about not reading the last page first: “I will not read the last page of novels first,’ I said, and then punched myself in the face.”

It’s a fun series, and I was sorry to see it end. Now I’ll have to find something new for the nightstand.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. December 7, 2015 8:58 am

    Wow, I’ve never heard of this series but it sounds like great fun!

    • December 8, 2015 8:16 am

      It is, especially for boys the age of yours and up. The main character’s magical “gift” is that he can break things. Really.

  2. December 8, 2015 6:53 am

    This reminds me of the Xanth series by Piers Anthony. I haven’t read them in decades (like since my mid-20s) but I remember them as being full of puns and light-hearted sci-fi/fantasy.

    • December 8, 2015 8:17 am

      They are sort of like that, in spirit. The part about readers being supposed to act out the book as they read it is sort of like Piers Anthony or Robert Aspirin.

  3. December 8, 2015 7:32 pm

    I glower viciously at this series for trying to penalize me for my perfectly legitimate book-reading method. MY SYSTEM IS VALID.

    • December 8, 2015 9:15 pm

      That’s why I tipped you off. Besides, I think the author doth protest too much.

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