Thursday, February 03, 2005

Genre Boundaries: Is there such a thing as SF fancy?: John Parke, The Moon Ship (New York: Pantheon Books, 1958).

This book shouldn’t be here at all. It’s a children’s play story, not sf in the way we usually think about it. The entire thing is pretend, but written with the utter seriousness and acceptance children bring to “let’s pretend”.

Chris’s mother tells him to go outside “Go take a walk with the Man in the Moon” (9) so he does.

Chris goes into the barn and starts turning the barn into a space ship. He’s joined by his friend Bruce, and they build their ship/barn and take off for the moon. Space suits are made from raincoats.

They get to the moon, walk out and around, and come home. Neighbours come over and they invite them into their ship for a second trip.

It is, of course, absolutely a fancy, a child’s game, but I have to include it for two reasons:

1. Parke is utterly methodical. Everything the boys do recreates the real thing. It isn’t that they make the ship, they don’t, but if a ship needs a radar, they find something to represent the radar. The match is perfect and a lot is said about rocketry, space ships and the moon in the process.

2. Parke handles his materials beautifully. What the book reminds me of is the Spaceman Spiff cartoons in Calvin and Hobbes. The children don’t say “let’s pretend” because they know. They don’t create a radar and then look out of the door because they know that you can’t see out of spaceships. Parke has depicted the closed world of a true fantasy game brilliantly and he plays it right to the end. Even in the closing lines Chris is holding in his head the dual world of the “real” trip to the Moon, and the awareness that he was “only” playing.

I’ll need to come back to this book. I need to consider carefully the way in which Parke has written. But if in the meantime the Minstry of Whimsy Press wants to start a children's line, this would be pefect.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is an illustrated children's book you must read, though I don't know if it was ever translated to English. In my home country Sweden, the writer/artist Bertil Almqvist published a whole series of books about a Swedish Stone Age family, "Familjen Hedenhös".

In the book "Barna Hedenhös i världsrymden"("The Hedenhös Kids In Space") the family built a nuclear-powered rocket(!) and traveled to the Mooon AND Mars! (almost 4,000 years ago!)

I kid you not: the rocket is built from the trunk of a giant tree, the "Ur-anium" fuel is a gift from American Indians, and the space suits are made of... you'll just have to read it, it's very tongue-in-cheek.

The whole enterprise is depicted as a "tall tale" and full of satirical touches (the Martians look and live like modern people, Mars is full of cats, the visiting Stone Age family become traveling circus freaks...). Obviously, the humor appealed to adults as well as children.


2:08 AM  
Blogger JeffV said...

Sounds fascinating. Although I should note that the whole point of Ministry of *Whimsy* is that we don't publish whimsy; see: Orwell. Although that didn't stop one school from ordering Stepan Chapman's The Troika for its kids (*shudder*).

So--as opposed to the book you reviewed much earlier (Ember? City of Embers?), this one works for you because it believes so utterly in its premise. And the other only does this intermittently? (I realize one is for older kids and one is for younger, so...)



6:47 AM  
Blogger Farah said...

Yngve, I definitely want this book. Could you email me the details:
farah.sf at

And Jeff, you have hit the nail on the had brilliantly (why couldn't I do that?). it's that matter of believing absolutely.

1:34 PM  
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1:08 PM  

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