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The Extraordinary Adventures of Ordinary Basil: The Impossible Flight to Helios

Wiley Miller, Author
Wiley Miller, Author . Scholastic/Blue Sky $14.99 (126p) ISBN 978-0-439-85665-2
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Robotic armies, flying pet dinosaurs and jet-propelled helium suits feature prominently in Miller's first book for children, liberally illustrated and based on his (Non Sequitur ) comic-strip character Ordinary Basil and set in 1899. The 12-year-old hero, bored with his "ordinary" life on the Maine coast, longs for adventure. He soon gets his wish when he becomes the first Earth-dweller to visit Helios, a magical, futuristic city in the clouds, courtesy of Professor Angus McGookin's balloon airship. The man explains that humans have called Helios many things (Eden, Atlantis, etc.), but "the history of Helios is the history of human accomplishment, not human self-destruction." Basil quickly finds himself—along with his new friend Louise—in a battle with a stereotypical madman-genius, Dr. Von Röttweil (a fallen member of Helios's High Council). Other familiar archetypes and themes abound. Basil has been chosen out of all humankind ("The High Council will be most pleased to know you've finally been found"), for instance, and Von Röttweil's sidekick is a "hideous, hunched assistant" à la Quasimodo. Miller's diverse perspectives ratchet up the suspense, as in several vignettes depicting the children's ride on Louise's pet pteranodon. The characters' exaggerated facial expressions nicely counter the compositions' Gorey-esque edge. Miller has packed plenty into this engaging escape of a read, with a whiff of commentary on contemporary times. Readers will be glad Basil broke the confines of the funny pages. Ages 7-10. (Nov.)

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