What 'Lost' and 'Star Trek' Fans Will Love About J.J. Abrams' Book 'S.'
Anyone who's seen "Lost," ”Star Trek," ”Cloverfield" or any of screenwriter/director/producer J.J. Abrams' other mind-bending movies and TV shows will not be surprised to learn that his first book project, a novel called "S.," is just as innovative as his on-screen work. First of all, there's the remarkable physical object: The book comes in a sleek black slipcase emblazoned with a scripted "S.," but when you pull it out, you're holding what looks to be an old-school library book called "Ship of Theseus"--complete with pages that are yellowed with time and graffitied with notes in the margins--and a list of due dates stamped in the back. (If you loved Mark Z. Danielewski’s ”House of Leaves,” get ready to drool over this.) Take care riffling through the pages--you might displace the postcards, letters and news clippings that are tucked within them, such as this one:
Conceived by Abrams and novelist Doug Dorst (who wrote the book), "S." is not so much a story-within-a-story as it is several stories layered on top of one another: "Ship of Theseus" is a novel published in 1949 by a Sinclair Lewis-style revolutionary--and a Thomas Pynchon-style recluse--named V.M. Straka, about a man with amnesia named "S." Two students in the present day, Eric and Jen, are helping each other solve the mysteries of Straka's novel by leaving notes to each other in the margins. Here's what you'll love about "S." based on which of Abrams' TV shows and films you like.
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What "Lost" fans will love about "S."
Numbers and codes: Eric and Jen discover that the footnotes left by the book's translator, F.X. Caldeira, are coded messages. Watching them trying to unlock the ciphers brings to mind the "Lost" characters' obsession with a certain string of fate-defining numbers.
Parallel universes: Just as the final season of "Lost" thrust its characters into "flash-sideways," where we saw what happened if they had or hadn't boarded Oceanic Flight 815, "S." presents us with multiple possible storylines behind V.M. Straka's true identity.
High production value: Like the elaborate set designs of "Lost," Abrams goes all-out in producing something intricate and beautiful in "S." This book must have cost a pretty penny to produce, but probably not as much as the reported $10-$14 million "Lost" pilot.
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What "Star Trek" fans will love about "S."
Nerd-topia: Book-nerd outcasts Eric and Jen take refuge within the safety of Straka's pages--and as they delve into the book's secret codes, they get into some deep-structure nerddom that any Trekkie will appreciate.
Shifting of time and space: When "S." is shanghaied by the crew of a mysterious ship, time ceases to operate normally: Back on land after weeks, characters have aged years. It's just as unsettling as the parallel universe created by a black hole.
Bad*ss ship: S.'s otherworldly ship is no Starship Enterprise, but it has a notable ability to survive catastrophic maelstroms.
What "Alias" fans will love about "S."
Artifacts: Eric and Jen find the intricate "S" symbol carved into caves and stones--bringing to mind the mysterious Rambaldi artifacts that complicate double-agent Sydney Bristow’s secret missions.
Mentor-figure baggage: Eric's ominous falling-out with his thesis advisor, Professor Moody, and his assistant, Ilsa--who are also trying to track down V.M. Straka's true identity--isn't so different from when Sydney's various father figures try to imprison and/or kill her.
Amnesia: S. is desperate to piece together his identity--not unlike poor Sydney (another S-name!), who in the season 2 finale wakes up in Hong Kong only to find that two years have elapsed, and her beloved CIA agent Michael Vaughn is married to someone else.
What "Cloverfield" fans will love about "S."
Meta as hell: In the lead-up to 2008’s monster movie "Cloverfield," Abrams released obscure clues to the film’s plot, prompting fans to congregate on websites such as Cloverfield Clues to decode the hints. "S." matches that same level of meta: A mysterious video titled "Stranger" was released two months before the book’s release; while you're reading the book, you can follow along with the enigmatic broadcasts on the Radio Straka website.
Accidental discovery: "Cloverfield" was one of the first successful "found footage" movies. "S." carries through that same conceit of having a reader "stumble upon" a narrative through the margin notes in "Ship of Theseus."
What "Felicity" fans will love about "S."
College-era uncertainty: Perhaps Jen was once as bright-eyed and hopeful about college as Felicity, but even after she discovers "Ship of Theseus" and "meets" Eric, she struggles with apathy about her final year of undergrad and the terror of "real life" after graduation.
Unusual correspondence: Before Eric and Jen were flirting via margin notes, Felicity was narrating her romantic woes into a tape recorder and mailing the tapes to her former teacher each week. Clearly, Abrams wants his characters to really work for their correspondence.
What "Armageddon" fans will love about "S."
Heroic sacrifice: Like Bruce Willis' baller blue-collar hero in "Armageddon," the revolutionary freedom fighters in "Ship of Theseus" are working people who give their lives to the cause.
Love in crisis: Sparks fly in the face of global annihilation--which is why we don't want to miss a thing between A.J. Frost and Grace Stamper. Eric and Jen are battling against time and vicious Professor Moody in "S.," which makes their love story all the more intense and urgent.
What "Mission: Impossible III" fans will love about "S."
Secrecy, conspiracies and cover-ups: The secrets run deep in "S.": Who was S. in his forgotten past? Who is the real V.M. Straka? Not to mention the mystery behind the forces arrayed against them--as unknowable and deadly as the "Rabbit's Foot" in "Mission: Impossible III."
Ruthless villains: S. is given an impossible mission--but no option not to accept it: Bring down the malevolent weapons manufacturer Vévoda, a villain on par with the film's baddie, arms dealer Owen Davian (portrayed by Philip Seymour Hoffman).
What "Forever Young" fans will love about "S."
Analog fetish: In our era of instant connectivity, "S." is a bold throwback. Its notes in the margins make it intensely analog. Eric and Jen go to the library and write (long-hand!) to each other in the margins of an old hardback book--what could be more old-fashioned? It's like they're pulling a "Forever Young"--living in the past, in the present.
"Time waits for no man, but true love waits forever": Enough said.