Saturday, December 4, 2010

Forget The Cheerleader, Save Your Money! Saving Charlie Flops!

The Good: Moments of intrigue, Have the characters pretty well down
The Bad: Ridiculously simple diction, Story does not ultimately add anything, Moments of voice
The Basics: With fairly flat characters and a simplistic writing style, Saving Charlie is bound to disappoint fans of Heroes or romantic time-travel adventures.

I tend not to read novels that are tie-ins to current television shows. As an avowed Star Trek fan, I have – naturally – read many Star Trek novels. It’s part of the culture and it’s part of the culture I enjoy celebrating. Every now and then, I make an exception to this general rule, like when I read the Lost tie-in Bad Twin (click here for that review!). I decided to make another exception when I learned of Saving Charlie, the new novel that ties in with the hit television series Heroes. Now I am finding I wish I had not made a second exception!

This novel focuses on Hiro Nakamura, the time-traveling, time-freezing hero whose mission to “save the cheerleader, save the world,” dominated the early chapters of the Heroes storyline. Unfortunately for Hiro, the message given to him, that simple catchphrase is a bit vague and Hiro chooses the cheerleader, Charlie, to try to save, determined that this will save the world from Sylar, the brain-extracting, power absorbing villain plaguing the community of newfound superheroes.

Hiro Nakamura has learned that in order to use the power he has only recently discovered he has, he must return to the past to save a cheerleader in a small Texas city. He arrives and finds Charlie, a shy, kind cheerleader and Hiro is delighted at the prospect that she might be the one he might have to save and by extension the world will be saved from the evils of the Brain Man. Hiro’s quest is only complicated by two things: first he has arrived six months before her date of death, meaning he has to wait around six months in Texas before he can rise up to save her, and second, he believes that he loves Charlie.

Over the course of six months, Hiro begins to work with Charlie and fall more and more in love with her. What seems like a youthful smitten crush soon blooms into a complicated romance as Hiro has a tendency to translate in time and space at awkward moments, usually when his relationship with Charlie is taking a leap. So, for example, when he finally shares a kiss with her, he ends up back in Japan, only to return to Texas at a point even further off (1976!). As Hiro waits the clock out while negotiating a complicated love, an abusive coworker and trying to understand the unique powers he possesses and the threat of the Brain Man, he finds himself wrestling with the idea that he may not be as heroic as he needs to be.

Saving Charlie is a problematic book and it starts with the fundamental, problematic concept of time-travelers and time traveling. There are two novels that I believe are both perfect novels and deal with time traveling. Last year, I enthusiastically reviewed and recommended Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time-Traveler’s Wife (click here for that review!). As well, ironically – because Hiro Nakamura loves Star Trek and because it is also (though more loosely) a tie-in novel, Peter David’s epic romance Imzadi (click here for that review!) succeeds in virtually every way that Saving Charlie fails.

First, in terms of the story, Saving Charlie is, at best, dull. Hiro and Charlie develop as a couple through a sense of inertia and the idea that they are destined for one another. They are not bound or destined by any common love or common law, just the sense that because they were together in the television show, they are together in this book. Yes, the book is their supposed love story, but the problem is, it never blossoms into a true and real feeling love. Instead, Hiro pines for Charlie, does her favors occasionally and works with her. It seems much more of the novel is spent with him fretting over the impending events as opposed to actually enjoying the time he has with her.

The novel is distracted from its own purpose by the sense of where it must end up. The novel, written by Aury Wallington, is advertised as filling in a vital lost chapter in Heroes history, finally telling the story of the love Hiro and Charlie had that went largely unseen on the television show. Unlike Imzadi, which was highly anticipated after years of allusions on Star Trek: The Next Generation to the Riker/Troi relationship, Heroes never truly hyped the Hiro/Charlie relationship. When she is killed on the television episode, it does not break Hiro.

The characters in the show are about as plastic in Saving Charlie as they are on television. Ando, for example, is Hiro’s fairly generic sidekick and his appearances in this book read very true to the character we see on television because he is a supporting role with very little of his own genuine character to him. The problem with Saving Charlie is that the two characters that are supposed to make us care about the story, Hiro and Charlie, are not fleshed out in any meaningful way. There is nothing particularly special about either one – aside from his falling through time whenever things get hot or his ability to clean up his place for her by stopping time moments before she enters the room.

Saving Charlie also fails on a plot level from using the conceits of the time traveler. Hiro Nakamura has the ability to move through time and to stop it, though at this point in his development, he lacks precision with his jumps, which is a nice character defect. The problem with having both of these abilities is the same problem with allowing the Borg to time travel in Star Trek: First Contact. If at first you don’t succeed, try try again certainly applies. So, if Hiro cannot save Charlie this time, if he truly loves her, why doesn’t he try again? Through a series of trial and error, one can go back and try a different way the next time (like the Borg, if they failed in the mid-21rst Century, why didn’t they go back to the 1960s and assimilate everyone?!). Hiro’s unique gifts make this plot somewhat ridiculous. Sylar, the “Brain Man” cannot hurt him once he learns when and where Charlie will be killed by him. All he has to do is stop time right when he grabs her, then grab Charlie and teleport her to a different time and place.

But no, it didn’t happen that way in the television episode, therefore, the reader is not allowed the correction of the oversights in this novel.

Aury Wellington presents Saving Charlie as a fairly simplistic work that is almost insulting to those who might enjoy what sophistication and violence comes in the television series. Wellington’s chapters are seldom more then four pages long and the writing does not use diction more complicated than a fourth grade reading level. For the price of a hardcover, this is a serious disappointment.

In a book that could have truly fleshed out the world of Heroes and create a great love to make a genuine tragedy, we get a waiting game novel that puts Hiro Nakamura into a more pointless journey than we might have already suspected.

For more information on Heroes, especially the episodes this book pertains to, it is worth checking out Heroes – Season One on DVD, which is reviewed here! Thanks!

For other science fiction novels, please check out my reviews of:
Star Trek: The Motion Picture - Gene Roddenberry
Star Wars: Revenge Of The Sith - Matthew Stover
Neuromancer - William Gibson


For other book reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2010, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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