'Mister Fishback's Monster'

The cover of ‘Mister Fishback’s Monster’ by Steve Sabatka.

Steve Sabatka teaches high school classes by day. But in his off-hours, Sabatka immerses himself in a world of mythical creatures, prehistoric carnivores and mutant beings.

In his spare time, Sabatka works as an author out of Newport. He has produced several science fantasy/thriller-themed short stories — most recently including a novel titled “Mister Fishback’s Monster.”

The book is geared toward teens, although adults with active imaginations and oddball senses of humor might get a kick out of it too.

Set in 1978 in the Oregon beachfront town of Seaport, the novel features a gangly high school sophomore named Steve (mere coincidence? I think not!) who daydreams about weird behemoths and freakish fiends instead of paying attention in class.

The story begins on the day before spring break, when an incident in the high school cafeteria leaves Steve with a black eye. The school bully has it out for him.

Perhaps just as bad, Steve’s language arts teacher has assigned a two-page essay on “Why is Moby Dick white?” which will be due the Monday students come back to school.

Steve has other plans for his vacation, though. He wants to finish up “Epoch Lost,” his latest clay animation film, featuring a brachiosaurus he has modeled out of clay. He also plans to hang out with his friends, Mihn and Ken.

Ken’s pet ferret, Zombie, is always along for the ride. Steve feels a special affinity for the little mustelid, which survived an accident that left him looking as bizarre as the creatures in Steve’s hyper-imaginative daydreams.

But this spring break takes on an extra air of excitement when a mysterious, 60-foot-long creature washes up on the beach. Mr. Fishback, Steve’s biology teacher, discovers the carcass while out on his morning run.

This brings out a slew of looky-loos, including not only Steve and friends, but also Les Schwab of the tire store fame; former Governor Tom McCall, who is on the campaign trail trying for a comeback; and Professor Ravenswort, the costumed host of Portland TV station’s late-night “Creature Feature.”

To Steve’s eyes, the beached enigma looks like a “big dead burrito,” except that it is endowed with a giant flipper, sharp teeth, fur, scales, suckers and an eyeball the size of a grapefruit. Even the learned Mr. Fishback cannot identify the mystery creature.

“Mr. Fishback’s Monster” flaunts cheesy lines (“It was a final mission, a perilous but necessary journey into the heart of truth!”); a cast of Characters with a capital C (I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Steve’s roller girl mom and motorhead dad); a suggested hard rock soundtrack; and to balance all of that out some haiku.

The novel mashes together coming-of-age issues, the inner demons we all contend with and the monsters — from Moby Dick to King Kong — that sometimes stand in for those fears.

This book is no “Moby Dick,” thank goodness, but it dives deeper than you might expect — while also delivering offbeat sweetness and fun.

The Bookmonger is Barbara Lloyd McMichael, who writes this weekly column focusing on the books, authors and publishers of the Pacific Northwest. Contact her at bkmonger@nwlink.com

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