A Couple of Surprises: Nick Gifford, Piggies (London: Puffin, 2003)
I picked up Piggies by Nick Gifford shortly after attempting to read a book so bad I couldn't even flick through it. Matt Thorne's 39 Castles contained some of the worst info-dump I've read in a long time (phrases like "owing to" produced solid clunks of anti-poetry), and committed the worst heresy in children's fantasy of making the rebels who are against wise elitist rule sound utterly in the right (we are clearly supposed to think they are misguided). It's a shame because the basic idea of having diplomats instead of warriors as heroes is pretty good. I was very surprised when I looked up Mt Thorne to discover he has been shortlisted for the Booker and was a founder of the New Puritans. No sign of it here.
But it was the day for surprises: while in Camden I bought a second hand copy of Nick Gifford's Piggies simply because I liked the sound of it. A boy falls through a portal and finds himself in a world of vampires. I didn't expect to be blogging it because it sounded obviously fantasy, but after I had read it (and passed it onto Chilperic who enjoyed it every bit as much I ad I did) I chewed it over and decided it was very definitely science fiction. Here's why:
When Ben finds himself in another world, he stumbles around ignorant and scared. The people he meets confuse him: unlike in a fantasy novel, no one really stops to explain anything, and when they do (the policeman, the doctor, the boy in the woods) they later turn out to be lying or to be manipulating him. Although this is a pretty sweeping statement, the unreliable guide is a much more typical sf trope than a fantasy trope.
Then, having found sanctuary in the wood, Ben must learn to survive. In most fantasy novels this is fairly romantic, and is usually constructed around acquiring of mastery. In this novel, the more Ben gets to know, the more he realises he needs to know. The more of the world he understands, the more world there seems to be. In this sense, the world is Real.
FInally there is the fact that the vampires aren't vampires as such, but humans who appear to have caught a disease in which they need to exchange blood--preferably between kin-in order to thrive. Gifford doesn't just give us this as an sf explanation tho', he adds in the kind of back story which gives that sense of a world extending away from Ben into itself which is very sf-ish, so that he tells us at one point that there are courtesies about who may or may not share blood, but has the sense not to elaborate. Ben doens't need to know after all, he isn't a vampire.
There is a really excellent review of Piggies here.
And my surprise? I hadn't realised that Nick Gifford is Keith Brookes. Which explains a lot.