Friday, June 24, 2005

Life as wasteland: Hope Campbell, Legend of Lost Earth (New York: Four Winds, 1977)

First of all, my apologies for absence. Between the back injury, crises at work, and the fact that the house is filled with packing cases which we are slowly working through, I've been too tired to read--not something I say very often.

But things are picking up, and I pulled this book out of the pile. It's a fairly straight forward and rather well written sf novel. Giles lives on Niflhell, a planet to which humans have fled but which he has been taught they originated on. To say anything else is a heresy, and the government is cracking down on heretics.

The planet is very well depicted; Campbell uses Giles's restless unhappiness to draw attention to shortened life spans, falling ash and wrecked planet. She carries the extrapolation through as well: Giles is dating by 15 and thinking of children by 18. He might be dead ay 40 after all.

Eventually, as one might expect, Giles discovers Earth is real (and gets a new girlfriend). However the route turns out to be mystical rather than technological and he is the only person who can navigate the way through. He leads a party through and they escape.

Earth turns out not to be another planet, but a parallel world to Niflhell. One can only see or access it if one is in the right frame of mind. In a scene that reminds me of the dwarves in The Last Battle the government of Niflhell cannot follow the heretics because they cannot see the Earth even when passing through the portal.

Where I hit a problem is that all of this is explained to Giles by an older man at the very end. He doesn't work out a single thing for himself.

This takes me back to MacHale's Pendragon books. I queried sartorias as to why she liked these books as she had said "The YAs that I admire most are exploring those assumptions, questioning them, questioning human roles in life and society, questioning traditions." and the MacHale books didn;t seem to fit the bill. But sartorias added: "Books that engage with kid toolkits, like MacHale's Pendragon series"and "MacHale starts off with all kinds of zings, particularly for boy readers. (And I noted in New York that among the many, many kids who asked him to sign, were shuffling boys whose mothers all said "He hates to read but he cannot wait for your next book!" or "I couldn't get him to read anything until your first book came out." So I got one, and read the opening--and yup, it's an exceedingly kid-friendly opening.
"
and that made me think a bit.

The problem I had with McHale's book was essentially that his hero (Bobby) is a Jock. Hope Campbell's hero although no athlete, isn't a thinker either. Both are rewarded for being handsome, nice and kind.

So in both of these books, the type of boy being valorized is not the nerd or the geek who we associate with the sf reader. However, I am also aware that many heroes of adult sf are athletes or jocks etc. I'm not saying they can't be: but surely what most of this fiction does is to valorize those who think, and neither of these books do that.

A question: if boys really like MacHale, which boys? Are they boys who might be seduced by the dark side of sf, or are they boys who want confirmed the idea that bouncing through life relying on strength and agility is the way to go?

Or am I just prejudiced?

10 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Generally guys who are handsome, nice and kind do get rewarded. Why not? These are good attributes. Being a thinker does not make you a great person. In fact many thinkers, even great ones who revolutionized society, were distasteful people who lived unhappy lives. Many, if not most, people would rather have nice friends than thoughtful ones (though having both is nice too)

4:29 AM  
Anonymous Royce said...

I apologize for gettting back to you so late on this. I was the Anonymous poster who mentioned "The Monsters' Room" in your entry under "The Dragon Machine."

Anyway, the publishing information is as follows (for my paperback edition):

The Monsters' Room (original title: Peter's Angel)
Author: Hope Campbell
Copyright: 1976
Publisher: Scholastic Book Services

Originally published in hardback as "Peter's Angel" by Four Winds Press (a division of Scholastic Book Services)

Sorry there's no ISBN number. If you're really that interested in reading it, I'd be willing to mail you my copy.

8:09 AM  
Blogger Farah said...

Generally guys who are handsome, nice and kind do get rewarded. Why not? These are good attributes. Being a thinker does not make you a great person. In fact many thinkers, even great ones who revolutionized society, were distasteful people who lived unhappy lives. Many, if not most, people would rather have nice friends than thoughtful ones (though having both is nice too)

I don't disagree with you. The problem I had was that Bobby seemed nice because it was easy to be nice in his circumstances, not because he actually thought being nice was a good thing to be. I might be sensitive to that personality type tho cos my Uncle fits it. When it was no longer convenient to be nice, he wasn't. We see Bobby switch at the end of the second book. Plus, mostly his niceness is about other people telling us he is nice. But yeah, I think this book pushed personal buttons.

11:33 AM  
Blogger Farah said...

Thanks Royce!

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