Once Upon a Time a Princess Was Uploaded: Roderick Townley, Into the Labyrinth. London: Simon and Schuster, 2003.
I dread sequels. I particularly dread sequels to brilliant books. Too often in my [not very] humble opinion, the sequel merely reveals that the author didn't realise what they had achieved.
The Great Good Thing, in which Princess Sylvie gets bored with not living her story very often, and rescues her family until their book can be narrated anew, is my nomination for a children's classic. John Clute and I raved to each other about this brilliant book we'd found and it was only when I brought my "find" to him that we realised we were talking about the same book. There is so much to discuss about that book.
So it was with enormous trepidation that I opened Into the Labyrinth. I was worried on all sorts of counts. The Great Good Thing is about to be made into a hyper-text. Would Townley make this more than just a gimmick? What about this great evil Princess Sylvie would have to face? Would this be the kind of anaemic villain which has populated children's fantasy since He Who Is Too Boring to Be Named came on the scene?
No and no.
When The Great Good Thing is republished it becomes so popular that Sylvie and her family are rushed off their feet. When the book is translated into Japanese they have to face the fact that even the midnight hours will not be their own. They rush around so much that they all lose weight and Sylvie has to go into Lily's dreams to ask for new clothes. When they are republished in a second edition Sylvie is very pleased to see her outfits have less frills.
But they are all suffering from Stress so Lily also writes in Rosetta Stein, her own stress counsellor, as a shepherdess. This has mixed results. The palace takes well to yoga (although Prince Rigeloff declines the classes on the grounds that he is supposed to be an angry character), but Rosetta Stein does not take well to being treated as a servant and later, when the story is under attack, she is the first suspect.
Then the story goes on-line and into hypertext. Here is where Townley justifies every bit of faith in him. The characters have to cope with moving both in book form (linearly through the pages) and up and down the escalators of hypertext. They also have to cope with children who open up the text and move within chapter (this had been a problem in the book, but not so much).
When the text is attacked (first bits disappear creating scary bogs, then they transmute so that the Mere of Remind into which she jumps becomes the Mirror of Remind and Sylvie's donkey is badly hurt). Sylvie must go into the world of net space and with the help of Rosetta, the drippy Prince Cedric (who like all transmuted characters in fairy tales is so much more interesting to Sylvie when he is under a curse), defeat the invader.
As with The Great Good Thing Sylvie wins through, but it is the reader, not Sylvie, who understands what's happened. To Sylvie, a virus looks like a small rodent, a cookie is lemon coloured and tempting but ultimately flavourless and unsatisfying and all she really knows is that Clare's grandnephew (Clare was the Reader in the first book) hates the story. Eventually she realises that her first Reader, the girl with the dark blue eyes, was also once the Author. It's nicely handled, not too revelatory.
The book is witty and makes game of words and the practicalites of fiction.
And no, this book isn't science fiction (despite its cyberpunk touches) but I thought I'd allow myself an indulgence.