Monday, February 07, 2005

Inter-Stellar Parenting: George Bowering, Parents From Space (Montreal,Roussan Publishers Inc. 1994)

A very funny book written somewhat in the style of Daniel Pinkwater: slightly on the edge of surreal, but unlike Pinkwater there is real sf happening.

Neville Neatby is the narrator. Part of a group of kids who meet to review movies together. One day his friends turn up, miserable because they all have duplicate parents. In some cases just one extra set, in others three or four extra sets.

The kids set out to work out what’s going on, with wisecracks, neat theories and a sense that they have become characters in a movie written by someone else.

A lot of this is about parental behaviour—almost any parental behaviour, however nice or caring, would be too much if multiplied. But it is handled in a way that this isn't metaphor, but the very practical problem that aliens bring with—a proper “what if”.

It turns out that the aliens are “ideas” from another place that they call “Earth” (they call their language “English” when they translate it as well). As a result of a population explosion they banned new children altogether and now, they miss being parents.
“You can imagine how some people felt when their kids had all grown up….Young ideas, so to speak, are so nice to have around.” (153)

[contrast this to Star Wind which seems to actively dislike teens.]

But they can’t cope with new ideas that they didn’t expect (which is why the left-handed Neville has no extra parents) and they deflate into balloons when they see something absurd.

The alien parents are never presented as a threat, just a little sad.

There are some lovely moments in the book: the psychologist who asserts that the parents are a symptom of teenage psychological disturbance (68). The fact that the Professors in the Astronomy department are arguing with each other about the possibilities (no single expert voices here, 69).

The fact that by the end, we have serious suspicions of the origins of Professor Purzlebaum, the rather eccentric astronomy professor, whose books have interesting titles:

Homeless and Ugly in the Solar System: An Ontological Survey of Irregular Self-Perceptions among Humanoids.
Stepladders on the Moons of Neptune
Great Scott, It’s Alive! An Illustrated Encyclopedia of Everything that has Come From Outer Space.
Who’s Who in the Galaxy
A Cubic Foot at the Other End of the Universe: Einstein for Rookie Carpenters.

There is also some really good thought in here. Harry, the smartest of Neville’s friends, worries that they might come from the future because if so, it might not be possible to send them back:
“I think you can go back in time because all that stuff has happened, so you just go back the way you got here, kind of in the footprints you made going to where you are now.”

“…I don’t think you can go to the future because it hasn’t happened yet. There aren’t any footprints.”

“…now they are here in the present. The world they came from hasn’t happened yet.”

…“What it suggests to me is that either they can’t get back to where they came from because now it is not there now—or they aren’t here now anymore than they would have been if they were from the future.”

Harry’s musings (which turn out to be wrong) leave lots of space in which readers can think. This is something I haven’t seen much before.


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