Literature: Alcatraz Series

aka: Alcatraz Smedry

"So there I was..."

Alcatraz Smedry is an orphan who has been passed around the foster care system for his thirteen years of life due to his habit of breaking anything he touches. It's nothing intentional, it's just like things he touches fall apart. Door handles, pots, ovens... one time he picked up a chicken, only for it to lose all its feathers and only eat cat food from then on.

On his thirteenth birthday, he receives a letter from his father, bequeathing him his inheritance: A bag of sand. The next day, Alcatraz's grandfather arrives (late, as usual) to take him on an adventure to recover the sands from his evil Librarian caseworker Ms. Fletcher.

You see, the world is much larger and stranger than we've been led to believe. One-quarter of the world is actually controlled by a cult of evil Librarians, who rewrite history in their conquered lands to remove things like strange powers, magical glass, and talking dinosaurs. Despite what they teach, most of the world is not ocean—those "empty spaces" on the map are actually the Free Kingdoms, which the Librarians keep hidden from the Hushlands. Australia is a recent Librarian acquisition, and Hawaii is an outlying island of the continent of Mokia, also recently conquered.

Alcatraz as a Smedry has a Talent—in his case, the Talent to break things. His grandfather is always late, his father could lose things, his uncle can lose himself, his cousins can trip, or wake up really ugly, or speak nonsense. All these are important and powerful Talents that they use to fight the Librarians and preserve the freedom of the world.

The Alcatraz series is a stand-alone series written by Brandon Sanderson, unconnected to his Cosmere. The series at present consists of four books:
  1. Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians (2007)
  2. Alcatraz Versus the Scrivener's Bones (2008)
  3. Alcatraz Versus the Knights of Crystallia (2009)
  4. Alcatraz Versus the Shattered Lens (2010)

Not to be confused with The Alcatraz (mostly). Or the television series Alcatraz.

This series provides examples of:

  • Absent-Minded Professor: A lot of the Smedries are intelligent academics while at the same time being eccentric, absent minded or just plain strange.
  • Action Girl: Bastille is a perfect example of this. She is a 13-year-old knight and an expert fighter. Specifically, she's of the Little Miss Badass variety.
  • Affably Evil: She Who Cannot Be Named actually makes great chocolate chip cookies when she's not plotting the downfall of her enemies.
    Grandpa Smedry: We shouldn't eat these.
    Alcatraz: Are they poisoned?
    Grandpa Smedry: No, they'll spoil our dinner.
  • Ambiguous Situation: In the fourth book, Alcatraz wonders if Aydee is really that bad at math, or has just learned to blurt out the first number that pops into her head in order to activate her Talent. He spends a few paragraphs musing that he might be reading too much into a clever look in her eyes... before realizing, as he's writing, that he can just go and ask her. He does, and she confirms she's doing it on purpose.
  • Author Filibuster: More like narrator filibuster. Alcatraz frequently breaks the action to say various random things that may or may not relate to the story. For example: "Blah, blah, sacrifice, altars, daggers, sharks. Blah, blah, something pretentious. Blah, blah, rutabaga. Blah, blah, something that makes no sense whatsoever. Now, back to the story."
  • Awesome McCoolname: The name Smedry actually means "Oculator". note 
  • Better Than a Bare Bulb: Alcatraz frequently plays with tropes and lampshades them left and right.
  • Blatant Lies: Much of what Alcatraz says at the beginning of the chapters, such as when he claimed to be a fish.
  • Black Magic: Dark Oculary is an evil form of Ocularlry comprable to necromancy.
  • Blessed with Suck or Cursed with Awesome: All the Smedry Talents contain elements of both, to one degree or another. They take what seems like a major disadvantage and turn it into something that can be useful. For example, Grandpa Smedry is always late, which is usually a real pain, but it has also saved is life on multiple occassions because he keeps showing up too late for his own death.
  • Cats Are Mean: Alcatraz insists that kittens are cute so that they can draw you in, then pounce on you for the kill.
    Alcatraz: Seriously. Stay away from kittens.
  • Changeling Fantasy: Pretty standard (though repeatedly lampshaded). Alcatraz is a poor orphan who is constantly thought to be worthless, only for it to turn out that he's from a family of practicaly artistocratic magic wielders.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Not only is the trope played straight a number of times, Alcatraz explicitly mentions the trope by name in the second book, and references it again in the fourth (although that time he was talking about Chekhov's Blue Teddy Bear).
  • Cheerful Child: Aydee Smedry is always perky, happy and outgoing.
  • Cool Airship, or maybe Cool Plane: The Dragonaut isn't technically an airplane that uses jet engines or an airship that uses oversize balloons to fly, but it is cool and it flies.
  • Death by Newbery Medal: This trope isn't used, so much as it's repeatedly mocked. Alcatraz insists that authors must hate mothers and dogs because they are always trying to write meaningful books that kill off one or the other, or sometimes even both.
  • Department of Child Disservices: Alcatraz's child services worker was always telling him how useless he was. Turns out she was his mother. And she's the nicer of his parents.
  • Destructive Saviour/Nice Job Breaking It, Hero/Person of Mass Destruction: Alcatraz is constantly breaking things. Usually this works out in his favor, but he still does quite a bit of collateral damage in the process. This comes to a head at the end of the fourth book, when he defeats an invading army, but breaks the city he was trying to defend as well as Smedry Talents in the process.
  • Discussed Trope: Sometimes the characters will discuss a trope, but more often Alcatraz explicitly describes what tropes or Narrative Devices he's using in his capacity as narrator.
  • The Ditz: Australia Smedry isn't dim-witted. She just has trouble remembering that she is smart.
  • Dungeon Crawling: Every time they infiltrate a library, ranging from a typical American local library to the Library of Alexandria. Complete with traps, monsters and villains.
  • Eccentric Mentor: Grandpa Smedry is about as eccentric as they get.
  • Elegant Weapon for a More Civilized Age: The crystal swords used by the Knights of Crystallia.
  • Everything's Better with Dinosaurs: Subverted. Dinosaurs are real, intelligent, talkative, and annoying. No one likes them. Alcatraz even muses that the reason the Librarian "dinosaurs are extinct" myth caught on was because everyone wished it were true.
  • Everything's Even Worse with Sharks: Especially chain-saw wielding sharks.
  • Eye Beams: Any Oculatory lens with "-bringer's" in the name (e.g. Firebringer's Lenses, Frostbringer's Lenses, etc).
  • Kid Hero: Alcatraz Smedry, though he constantly insists that he's not as heroic as people think.
  • First-Person Smartass: Alcatraz again. He'll often go off onto smartass tangents with no bearing on the plot.
  • Foreshadowing: Some of it is subtle. Most of it is not.
    Alcatraz: By the way, this is important.
  • Foregone Conclusion: Will Alcatraz Smedry be sacrificed by Evil Librarians? Will he be killed by a Dark Oculator? Will he die when he breaks his own flying dragon ship? Will he be killed in the deadly pit filled with sharks who are wielding chainsaws with killer kittens stapled to them? Of course not, because he's still alive to tell the story. The suspense comes from finding out how he overcomes obstacles and whether or not anyone else dies. Of course, Bastille totally dies at the end of book 2.
  • Functional Magic: Even when the Free Kingdomers call it Silimatic Technology, the glass is still magic glass.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: Kaz uses "Rocky Mountain oysters" as an expletive. While this doesn't seem to go with his use of nuts as curses throughout the rest of the book, some people may know that Rocky Mountain oysters refer to an entirely different type of nut.
  • Goggles Do Something Unusual: Oculators use lenses that have a variety of powers. Each type of lens has its own function. These include tracking lenses, lenses that shoot laser beams, lenses that generate whirlwinds, etc.
  • Great Big Library of Everything: The Library of Alexandria is a massive dungeon like place with almost every book in the world, however it is run by undead librarians that try to steal your soul.
  • Guns Are Worthless: Seriously, you've got better luck with a knife if you're going up against the Smedry Talents, as they work best defensively. In the fourth book, an entire firing line shoots at Aydee, Kaz, and Alcatraz. Some of the guns don't fire because the soldiers miscounted the bullets and didn't load any, some of the soldiers get lost on the way to raising their guns to fire, and the rest of the guns just break.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Parodied. The last page of book two involves a tearful death scene for Bastille, put there just in case you skipped to the end.
  • Hidden Agenda Villain: Not even the other Librarians seem sure what Ms. Fletcher is up to, but Alcatraz assumes it's nothing good. Finding out she's his mother, Shasta Smedry, just makes her mysterious motives harder to deal with.
  • Humongous Mecha: The Evil Librarians have giant robots (and robats. Yes. Really.) as part of their arsenal. Bastille claims they are Awesome but Impractical, but they still pose a real threat in Alcatraz Versus the Shattered Lens.
  • Human Sacrifice: The very beginning of the first book, which doesn't happen until sometime in the fifth.
    Alcatraz: So, there I was, tied to an altar made from outdated encyclopedias, about to get sacrificed to the dark powers by a cult of evil Librarians...
  • Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy: Inverted. The Librarian minions can generally shoot just fine. It's just that Smedry Talents can make them almost impossible to hit. For example, Grandpa Smedry is always late to where the bullets are going to be, and guns tend to spontaneously fall apart when fired at Alcatraz.
  • In Medias Res/Action Prologue: The opening of the first book starts with Alcatraz about to get sacrificed on an alter of outdated encyclopedias, but then he skips to a story of his childhood growing up, and leaves the reader hanging.
  • Insistent Terminology: There are most definitely no libraries in the Free Kingdoms. Those big buildings full of books are archives, all right? The Royal Archive in Nalhalla even has a sign over the door saying "The Royal Archives (not a library!)".
  • Instant Awesome, Just Add Dragons: Of course, Our Dragons Are Different. For example, the Dragonaut is a dragon shaped flying ship, with six wings, and six legs. Oh, and it's made of glass, of course.
  • It Runs in the Family: "A family full of eccentric, weird and sometimes insane relatives..." The Smedrys are especially known for being reckless, which annoys their bodyguards to no end.
    Bastille: Sometimes I think you Smedrys try to get yourselves killed just to get me into trouble.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: Because Alcatraz does all his narration in first person, there's no fourth wall for him. Sometimes, even within the dialogue, he'll make a reference to how the events of the story would appear if he wrote them as his memoirs.
  • Lethal Joke Character: Literally everyone with a Smedry Talent. For instance, Grandpa Leavenworth has a Talent for being late, and makes himself virtually invincible by doing things like arriving late to a spot where bullets are going to be, and cousin Australia can be a Master of Disguise using her Talent for waking up ugly.
  • Luke, I Am Your Father: Alcatraz's emotionally abusive case-worker turns out to be an Evil Librarian cultist. Then it turns out that she's his mother.
  • Magitek: Silimatic technology might be considered either this or Magic from Technology. Just don't let a Free Kingdomer hear you call it "magic."
  • Making a Spectacle of Yourself: Sometimes it seems like the cooler a Lens is, the more uncool it looks.
  • The Masquerade: The Hushlands are controlled by Evil Librarians who use their control of information to teach all sorts of lies about history, economics, geography, physics, etc. The Free Kingdoms are continents that have not yet been conquered by the Evil Librarians, so they don't even appear on Librarian-approved maps. For example, one of the Free Kingdoms is in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. You didn't really think there was nothing but water and tiny islands in all that space, did you?
  • Medium Awareness: Not so much in the first few books, but Medium Awareness starts showing up a lot in the Alcatraz Versus the Shattered Lens. For example, characters would refer to the "last chapter" or say that a trip took several chapters to complete. Of course, the fourth book is bizarre even by the standards of this series and this could be in large part because of Alcatraz's sterling narration.
  • Meta Fiction: By the bucketful. For example, Alcatraz constantly comments on his own Narrative Devices, usually as a way to convince the reader how unheroic he is.
  • Milkman Conspiracy: The aforementioned cult of evil librarians that control the world.
  • Minovsky Physics: The various types of glass. And brightsand.
  • Muggles: Hushlanders.
  • Muggle Foster Parents: Alcatraz went through dozens of sets of Muggle Foster Parents. None of them would keep him for long because of his unfortunate tendency to break their most valued possessions.
  • My Little Panzer: Teddy bears that double as hand grenades.
  • The Noun Who Verbed: Alcatraz shrewdly guesses that "She Who Cannot Be Named" must be so fearsome her name is taboo. Turns out people just can't pronounce it.
  • Other Stock Phrases: "So, there I was..." is the opening for every book in the series.
  • Out of the Frying Pan:
    Alcatraz: It seems that no matter what I did, I ended up in even more danger than I was before. One might even say I was "out of the frying pan and into the fire"... Personally I say "Out of the frying pan and into the the deadly pit filled with sharks who are wielding chainsaws with killer kittens stapled to them." However that one's having a rough time catching on.
  • Painting the Medium: Alcatraz sometimes uses some unconventional text formatting to communicate things. In book three, he starts adding random punctuation to words, then swapping vowels for the letter q, in order to underline his difficulty in the current situation.
  • Parental Abandonment: Alcatraz grew up thinking he was an orphan, only to eventually find out that both his parents are Well-Intentioned Extremist types: one of them fighting for the Librarians, and the other one pursuing a plan that might inadvertently destroy the world. Also, neither have much in the way of parental skills.
  • Pink Is for Sissies: While he agreed that the dragon shaped flying glass ship was awesome, Alcatraz was not very happy about having to travel in the pink butterfly shaped glass ship, complaining that they could have found something more masculine.
  • Quintessential British Gentleman: The dinosaurs. Even when they're captured by evil Librarians and about to be murdered.
  • Royals Who Actually Do Something: The Smedry family, although they gave up their actual royalty long ago.
  • Unusual Euphemism:
    • Shattering Glass!
    • Grandpa Smedry tends to use alliterative exclamations like "Clustering Campbells," and Kaz will use various words likes curses. Even the often uttered "gak!" is occasional used almost like a swear.
  • Villain Has a Point: The librarians are usually wrong about the dangers of letting silimatic technology be commonly used. However, they are unfortunately right about how giving everyone in the world Smedry talents, like Alcatraz's dad wants to do, would be the worst idea ever.
  • Walking Tech Bane: Not just technology but pretty much everything. Alcatraz even broke a chicken once. It's not just him; Smedry Talents in general tend to be particularly effective against Hushlander technology, due to the large number of moving parts.

Alternative Title(s):

Alcatraz And The Evil Librarians, Alcatraz Versus The Evil Librarians, Alcatraz Smedry