From 9-year-old novelist to published author
MIDDLEBURY — As a child, Marshall Highet would often lose herself in the wondrous science fiction worlds created by such celebrated authors as Isaac Asimov and Ray Bradbury.
Now a parent and educator, Highet has created her own futuristic world in a new book that she hopes will beguile young readers with an exciting, heartwarming tale couched in a deeper message of standing up for one’s beliefs, as well as caring for one another and for the world in which we live.
“Spare Parts” is the name of the Middlebury resident’s new book, the first in a series of three aimed at youths between the ages of 11 and 15. The saga primarily plays out in a dome that was built to shield its inhabitants from the effects of an outside world battered by pollution, volatile weather and disease. The dome houses two “classes” of people: A-Ones, a more affluent and educated lot who occupy prime real estate in the dome; and Underdwellers, or “Botches,” who live in Spartan conditions in a lower region of the dome. The Botches are outfitted with various prosthetics owing to a virus that is notorious for claiming arms and legs.
The primary characters in the story are Lynx, a young male Underdweller; and Tesla, a female A-One. They cross paths one day while Lynx and some other Botches are trying to lift an A-One’s wallet in an effort to get money to survive. During the course of the ill-fated pickpocket attempt, Lynx defends one of his associates — an act that impresses Tesla to the extent that she rescues Lynx from the wrath of his would-be mark. The pair strike up a friendship and Tesla asks to visit the Underdwellers’ region of the dome, a place where A-Ones never stray. She finds that Lynx and his fellow Botches bear little resemblance to the stereotypes the A-Ones have assigned to them.
“Spare Parts” offers an exciting story of friendship and survival while giving the reader pause to reflect on how the Earth is edging ever closer to the need for protective domes.
“I was thinking pretty hard about how the human race would live when climate change really starts affecting us,” said Highet, who teaches English composition, among other subjects, at the Community College of Vermont and the College of St. Joseph in Rutland. “We are seeing the effects right now; it’s really happening. A hundred years down the road, bio domes might be a part of (the landscape).”
Highet’s work was also inspired by how South African athlete Oscar Pistorius was able to outfit himself with special leg prosthetics that transformed him into a world-class athlete known as the “blade runner.”
“I loved the idea of a para-Olympian with prosthetic legs competing and winning against humans without prosthetics, and what that meant for the future of prosthetics,” she said. It was in this spirit that Highet endowed her Underdweller characters with some interesting prosthetics possessing special powers — such as the ability to run very fast, jump extra high and emit rays that can levitate objects.
“Spare Parts” is the third book Highet has written, though the first that has been published. She loves to write, a skill that runs in her family. Her late grandmother, Helen MacInnes, was a much-acclaimed espionage novelist during the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s.
“Ever since I was little, I was writing fables,” Highet said. “I wrote a science fiction novel when I was 9. I really enjoy imagination and how far out there I can go while still holding (the story) all together.”
With its vivid descriptions of interesting characters and otherworldly places, along with lively action sequences, Highet hopes “Spare Parts” someday makes its way onto the big screen. She has already begun to shop the book to movie producers.
“That would be thrilling,” she said of the potential for a “Spare Parts” movie. Highet is now heavily immersed in writing the second installment of the Spare Parts trilogy.
In the meantime, Highet has been asked by a number of area schools to come in and talk about her book and its application to present-day technology, since robotics, bio domes and sophisticated prosthetics are already part of 21st-century scientific vernacular. “Spare Parts” has an appendix explaining its references to Austrian physicist Erwin Schrodinger, inventor/futurist Nikola Tesla and astrophysicist Carl Sagan, among others.
Highet has dedicated the book to her son Kian, 9, and daughter Brylea, 6. Both attend Mary Hogan Elementary School in Middlebury.
“The cool thing about this book is that all of the science fiction is based on real science,” Highet said. “The dream would be that you would be able to use this book in a science classroom. It would merge those two disciplines of literature and science … to make scientists into readers and readers into scientists under the core curriculum.”
Highet will celebrate the release of “Spare Parts” at the Vermont Book Shop in downtown Middlebury this Saturday, Dec. 6, from 3 to 6 p.m. She will sign copies of her book, which is also available for purchase at other area bookshops and online.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected]
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