Thursday, February 10, 2005

We are all doomed: Rosemary Harris, A Quest for Orion (Harmondsworth, Mdx: Puffin Plus, 1982).

Having complained bitterly on Tuesday about the propaganda of The Girl Who Owned a City I now want to retract a bit. For all its classic cosy catastrophe structure (ie all the wrong people are killed off--the poor and feckless--and the right ones--the middle classes-- make a new and better future), at least it is a book with faith in the human spirit.

But there is a strain running through children's sf which I can only call "anti-survivalist". These are the prophecy books, the voice of doom books which predict ecological disaster, nuclear war, or invasion. Robert Swindell's Brother in the Land, Gudrun Pausewung's The Last Children of Lenebsborn spring instantly to mind. Both of these books are there to warn children, " if you don't act, the world is doomed". They are both post-disaster stories, but unlike the equivalent written for adult sf (the classic is Walter Miller's The Canticle for Leibowitz) they posit no world after. One can only screw up once, there is no chance at redemption. In a very odd way, although intensely threatening they are also recursive, they offer the safety of the grave and the end of trouble and torment.

Rosemary Harris's A Quest For Orion fits this category. England has been invaded and the neo-Stalinist hordes are moving the English population into prison and labour camps, clearing England completely (not at all clear why, although towards the end, there is talk of creating a drug controlled slave population).

Four teens head to London, to rescue a fifth, Alastair, a young boy who is cannot walk but has premonitions. A sixth, Matt, decides to surrender himself with the idea of creating a fifth column. He is of course turned into a slave, until he finds a Germans resistance unit, who, for no reason that I can quite see, parachute him and a friend into England with the King’s Treasure, which might be Otto the Great’s Crown and a jewel belonging to Charlemagne.

Meanwhile Alaistair in London has been having visions and we begin to get a lot of mystical stuff about Arthur and Charlemagne. This takes the place of any kind of political analysis: the term “neo-Stalinist” is used without question, and the one time Matt, the historian, pauses to think it is to think “The reasons for what happened, and any apportioning of blame, seemed beside the point now—fruitless. As did any discussion about the growth of neo-Stalinism and the surprising speed with which so many disparate people had fallen beneath its spell.” (106).

And at the end, all but two of the children die, the invaders--who can read thoughts and control populations with drugs--stay in charge, and the sense is of history coming to an end. The book is well written, but the combination of the absence of political critique, and any sense of future change means that it reads very like the post-nuclear disaster novels I mentioned above. I'm not at all sure what the point of this novel is other than to make teens feel passive and as if the world is not theirs to make.


Blogger loyalesther said...

You evidently have not read Part II in the two book series: Tower of the Stars. It shows how the characters did not all die and the end even goes back in time to correct all the horrible events because the main characters had succeeded in their quest to stop the invaders.

4:27 PM  
Blogger Farah said...

Thanks! I neither came across the book or any mention of it. If you fancy writing a short summary/review, I can post it to the blog under your byline.

email it to farah dot sf at gmail dot com.

11:34 PM  
Blogger Bethany Hope said...

I loved the series. I think Rosemary Harris is a fantastic writer, but very underrated.

9:48 AM  

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