Now we’re getting into the good stuff.
My Teacher Glows In The Dark is far and away my favorite of the four books in the series. It represents a turning point for the whole series as the focus changes from earthbound capers to galaxy-spanning adventures, from planting the seeds of mystery to harvesting their fruit, from Duncan and Susan to Peter. Peter narrates this book and also the next one. I can see why he gets two books, he’s easily the most interesting character.
This book takes place simultaneously with My Teacher Fried My Brains, but stands in stark contrast to it; very little happens in Fried My Brains, while this one has lots and lots of things happening. One thing they have in common is that they take place over a long period of time, but much of it is spent not doing anything: Duncan spends weeks in the telepathy force field, while Peter loses months of time on Earth to hyperjump space travel, which brings you across the galaxy in a matter of weeks but doesn’t age you. This means that since she did neither of those, Susan is the oldest kid in the story by the end of the fourth book.
MTGitD starts right where My Teacher Is An Alien left off; nerdy Peter Thompson running away with Broxholm, the alien teacher whose life he may have saved– unless he was actually saving the lives of those who were endangering Broxholm’s mission. If you knew as much about Earth as Broxholm does, you wouldn’t come unarmed either. Broxholm offers Peter the chance to change his mind, but there’s just not enough to keep Peter on Earth… or so he thinks at first.
As we lifted away I saw cop cars racing toward the house. One stopped. The door flew open and a blonde kid scrambled out.
“Susan!” I cried.
She couldn’t hear me, of course. That didn’t stop me from making a fool of myself. Seeing her made me remember that not everything down there was rotten. “Wait!” I cried, turning to Broxholm. “Wait. I want to go back!”
Broxholm didn’t even look at me as he moved his hands over the control panel. “There’s no turning back now,” he snapped.
The ship began to move faster. I watched the earth drop away beneath us. Within seconds I had lost sight of Susan, the house, even the town.
I felt hollow inside.
“Stop that,” said Broxholm. He shook his head. “You earthlings! You never know what you want. If you’d stop trying to hold onto everything you’d be a lot happier.”
It wasn’t until he spoke that I realized I was crying. “Sorry,” I whispered, wiping my eyes with the back of my hand.
Broxholm touched my shoulder. “Don’t look down,” he said softly. “Look up!”
When I did, I started to cry again– this time out of sheer joy. We were heading for the moon. Beyond it lay the void of outer space, a deep black sprinkled with stars.
When Peter arrives on the ship– which is called the New Jersey, thanks to a senior crewmember’s “bizarre” sense of humor– the first thing that happens is surgery. Interestingly enough, the doctor who treats Peter on the ship becomes an important minor character– and yet he is never named. Peter nicknames him “CrocDoc”, and everyone seems to know who he’s talking about when he uses the name with other people, so perhaps CrocDoc comes from a culture without individual names.
When I opened my eyes again, I was lying on a table in a room that was filled with soft green light. I was still naked. A tall alien who looked a little bit like a human crocodile– or at least like a human crocodile would look if it was red instead of green– was standing over me.
“Feeling better?” asked the alien softly.
Actually, what it said was “Klaakah greebratz?” But my brain heard it as “Feeling better?”
I sat up, got dizzy, and laid back down.
“What’s going on?” I whispered.
“I just did a little work on your head,” said the alien, as casually as if it was announcing it had gone to the corner for a loaf of bread. “I’m sorry I didn’t have a chance to explain the situation before I started, but I hadn’t been expecting you.”
“What did you do?” I asked, touching my head nervously.
“I installed a Universal Translator in your brain. That’s why you can understand me. From now on, you’ll be able to understand almost anyone you meet. We all wear them; it makes life quite a bit easier.”
This brings us to one of the most delightful aspects of the book, the many variants of alien languages. Peter’s Universal Translator enables him to understand alien gestures and facial expressions as well as words, and each one gives an interesting hint on their home culture.
Once I was dressed I turned to the CrocDoc, as I now thought of him, and thanked him again for what he had done.
He tapped his elbows together three times. According to my implant, this meant he was glad to have been of service, and he hoped he would never have to eat my children.
Gurk rearranged a few warts, a signal that the topic was definitely closed.
He looked around the semicircle of aliens. They all made gestures of agreement, which in this case ranged from a simple nod to a triple armpit fart.
There are so many terrific alien characters to meet in this book, I could have easily done this post as a simple list of character profiles. These two are Gurk and Fleef, whose races are characterized by movable warts and a bleeping sensory stalk, respectively, who become Peter’s friends over a meal. (Also, due to an alien coincidence similar to our Murphy’s Law, mealtimes are the most frequent time for the ship to make a stomach-churning hyperspace jump.) It’s thanks to them that he learns what the real reason was that Broxholm and Kreeblim were studying Earth schools.
“Good,” said Fleef. “Then maybe I can finally ask you my question. What we were arguing about when you first met us was whether or not it made any difference if we borrowed some of your planet’s children for a while.”
“You mean like when Broxholm was planning to steal some kids from our school?” I asked.
“No, no, no,” said Fleef. “We weren’t going to steal anyone– just borrow them for a while. It’s part of a research project. We would have brought them back! Which is why I don’t think anyone would have minded that much. But Gurk says people, parents especially, would have been terribly upset. So– which of us is right?”
“Gurk is. Parents would have gone berserk. You can’t just go around stealing–er, borrowing kids like that.”
“See!” said Gurk triumphantly. Actually, he didn’t say it, he pulled off one of his brown warts and waved it in front of Fleef’s face. which my translation device told me was a sign of victory.
“But it doesn’t make sense,” said Fleef. She looked upset. Not just unhappy because Gurk had won the argument; she seemed genuinely disturbed.
“What doesn’t make sense?” I asked.
“Oh, ignore her,” said Gurk. She’s just annoyed because she wants to believe you people don’t have well developed emotions.”
“Why would you want to believe that?” I asked.
Fleef didn’t answer. Gurk spoke for her. “Because then she won’t feel so bad if we have to blow up your planet.”
The aliens see humans as more or less a planet of mad scientists; immense brain capacity, but seemingly devoted only to using it for pain and suffering. Everything bad that we do– war, pollution, torture, genocide, and especially television– is something that all other sapient races eradicated long before they even got close to space travel. How do they keep the inmates in the asylum? This is why the Interplanetary Council, the rulers of the universe, have sent Broxholm and his group to study humans and find the best way.
“One group believes we should take over your planet. A second thinks we should leave you on your own and see what happens; they believe you’ll destroy yourselves before we ever have to worry about you. The third group wants to quarantine you–”
“What do you mean by ‘quarantine’?” I interrupted.
“Cut you off from all connection with the greater galaxy,” said Broxholm. “This could be done by setting up a space shield beyond which you could not pass, or by planting agents on Earth to sabotage your science, so that you could not learn how to get off the planet.”
“That’s terrible!” I cried, furious at the thought of anyone trying to bar us from space, from exploring the stars.
“I agree,” said Broxholm. “But not as terrible as what might happen if you actually move into the galaxy at large. That is why one group simply wants to destroy the planet. They don’t like the idea. But they think it is far better than letting you loose on the galaxy in your present condition.”
There’s a very emotional exchange between Peter and Broxholm in which we learn something surprising. Remember in the first book, when Broxholm seemed to be laughing an evil, snarling laugh? He does it again, but with the Universal Translator plugged in, Peter can see that he’s actually crying. Broxholm may have played a hard-hearted jerk of a teacher, but he’s very softhearted in real life, and is terrified that this planet he’s come to care so much about will be destroyed despite all his efforts.
With four possible fates of the planet, ranging from apathetic to downright hostile, Peter feels like he’s the only one left to speak for Earth. Yet he has an ally who is more than he seems– the titular Teacher of the title, a three-foot-tall glowing Papa Smurf, known as Hoo-Lan.
“Can I go anywhere I want?”
“Of course,” said Hoo-Lan. “Why not?”
“Well, don’t you have rules– you know, security precautions against spies, things like that?”
“You have to stop thinking as if you were still on Earth, Peter. We’re not the same as you are. I’m the closest thing to a spy on this ship. Certainly the biggest troublemaker.”
I looked at him in alarm. “Are you going to get me in trouble?” I asked nervously.
“Oh, probably. Anyone who tries to do something worthwhile gets in trouble now and then, don’t you think?”
Hoo-Lan is my favorite character in the series by a country mile. He’s very much in the Mr. Miyagi mold of mysterious mentors who never quite say exactly what they mean, but leave it for the student to discover. He also has something of a bizarre sense of humor. He even gives Peter a new name for this time on the ship: Krepta, Child of the Stars. You can see why I chose that as my handle for the Hungry Reader project; if not, read this.
One running gag is that Peter is always asking him, “Who are you?” as if Hoo-Lan had a secret identity or something– which he does, but he always gives Peter a different answer. One clue is that Hoo-Lan’s biggest interest in Peter is in his brain: a couple of chapters take place with Peter’s brain actually outside his body, as Hoo-Lan and CrocDoc examine it. While under the knife, Peter has a number of strange hallucinations, including the image on the front cover. (The two kids looking in are not an element of the story, by the way; it’s just kind of a callback to the previous two books, so all of them have kids watching an alien teacher take off his mask.)
When Peter has his brain safe back in the braincase, he tells Hoo-Lan that he saw the front cover of the book and Hoo-Lan almost panics– but at the same time, he’s delighted, because Peter has partially found out who he is.
Hoo-Lan led me into a room filled with all sorts of fascinating equipment.
“You know,” he said, as he began tinkering with some machinery, “I’ve spent a good part of my life trying to crack the secrets of telepathy.”
“You mean direct communication from one mind to another?” I asked.
He nodded. “The thing is,” he continued, staring at me intently, “you’ve got it. You went into my brain while you were being operated on and pulled out images. Jumbled ones, of course,” he added hastily. “But you did pull them out of my head, and you did it without training. I think something that happened on the operating table helped unleash the ability in you.”
He took the skimml from me and began squishing it back and forth. “You can’t understand what this means, Krepta, unless you know that we’ve been trying for lifetimes to create this ability in some of our people. By we, I mean the Interplanetary League. The best we’ve been able to do so far is piggyback on thought transmission with some of our machines. That’s the situation with your friend Duncan, by the way.”
“He’s not my friend!”
I regretted the words the instant they were out of my mouth. They made me sound small and petty.
Hoo-Lan makes an experiment to see if Peter can connect telepathically to him– but not only does it fail to connect, Hoo-Lan loses consciousness and begins to die. Peter pleads for the Interplanetary Council to help him, and learns another surprise about who Hoo-Lan is; a former member of the Council himself. Out of respect for their troublemaking friend’s last request, they send Peter and Broxholm on a mission back to Earth– and thus the fourth book begins.
See? Here we are right back at the ending of the previous book! The two books take place simultaneously, isn’t that wacky?
This series is one that I always felt was meant to be brought to the movie screen. To make it simpler, though, I felt that this one, which has all the action, and My Teacher Fried My Brains, which has almost none, could be merged into a single movie. Since Duncan gets his brain fried, and Peter gets his brain removed, there’s a kind of a brain theme going through both of them. My proposed title: My Teacher Blew My Brains Out! Eh? Ehhh?
What will happen now that Duncan and Peter are both smart? Will they be friends or enemies? Will they fight over Susan’s love? What are Broxholm and Kreeblim going to do with these kids? Will Hoo-Lan be okay? And who will the teacher be in the final episode, and what will he do that is abnormal from a normal teacher?
find out next tiiiiiiime