And Father Came Too: Nick Wood, The Stone Chameleon (Cape Town, Maskew Miller Longman, 2004
And Father Came Too
Nick Wood, The Stone Chameleon (Cape Town, Maskew Miller Longman, 2004).
Stuck at home yesterday, partially the snowfall -- utterly beautiful-- partially my grading, and rather shocked to see the enthusiasm of the comments list. I'll post about that later today, and in the meantime, thanks for all the food for thought, and here's another issue that ties into one of the comments about Heinlein. The point about the adventure novel is getting away from home...
Nick Wood's first science fiction novel has a lot going for it as a social novel. When fifteen year old Kerem moves to Cape Town with his parents he discovers a school taken over by bullies. There are some really interesting discussions of the "colour problem" which work well because they are so clearly different from the race issues of the USA or of Britain (not worse or better, just different) and offer a rare political subtlety. As a vision of a future South Africa, the social aspect is conveyed very well.
Most of the peer pressure is towards body augmentation: mechanical prostheses and plastic surgery which make people look more like animals. Kerem is repelled by this (of which more in a moment) but also worried that he will be bullied. Then he finds a chameleon in the garden which seems to grant him the powers to blend into the background. The snag is that Sid, the chameleon, is diminished by this.
This is where the first problems begin to start : in this book, new technology, body augmentation, drugs etc, are snares and delusions. Good kids grow up to be like their parents. It's an argument, but I found it depressing. This is more the mentality of the thriller novel, in which science is dangerous. Wood can't even resist describing the magic as "better than drugs".
Ah yes, the magic: the other difficulty is that the story comes to focus on a found object which seems to grant the holder the power to change the world. First, I find it irritating when sf novels get mystical. The body augmentation is interesting because it's transparent technology. Waving stones around and saying they are magical doesn't satisfy the desire for possibility, for something we can seen to be done. I don't mind if a novel is clearly fantasy, but here it feels like a let down, in part because up until then we were being set up for sf, and also because a made object can be acted on with the intellect, a found object which is magical is demanding an emotional response--in this case it will be kindness and togetherness.
Next is the little issue that the real conflict here is not external--who gains power in the new South Africa--but internal. How Kerem will grow up. When he momentarily loses the stone he suddenly realises, "There was strength and goodness within me and I had the power to be happy with myself,/The Civil War had been won." (74).
And finally is the title I gave this review: just what kind of adventure is it when the father of one of the protagonists attends as chaperone?