Friday, March 11, 2005

Ear-rings and Flashing Eyes: Nicholas Fisk, Ecape from Splatterbang (New York: Wanderer Books. Simon and Schuster, 1978).

This is one of those "too much technology makes us soft" books. Fisk strands his young teen male on a dangerous planet. Mykle's parents have been mining there when the "flamers" attack and they scurry off accidentally leaving him behind (he has strayed out of the ship.

Mykle takes refuge in the sealed Settlement, with only Ego, a computer, for company. He gets restless, goes for a walk in his eco suit, and finds Amina, the daughter of one of the Romni miners with whom Mykle's parents are working.

Now call me stupid, but at first I read the girl' name as Anima. Then I realised I'd misread it. Then I realised that I had been right in the first place.

What I like about the book is that it begins with real dissonance (the world is not our world) and there is a genuine puzzle to resolve, what are the flamers and how does the world function? And I like the fact that it is Amina who works it out (heaven knows how Fisk expects a boy to respond to this book, Mykle is rather sad). But I didn't like that at the end, when Mykle's mother says it was Amina who discovered the life cycle of flamer-eat-metal, animals-eat-residue, Mykle responds, "Not discovered...she just seemed to know about things like that. The animal, hte plants...".

I've given you less clues than I had. The phonetic spelling threw me at first, but we get lots of hints of swarthy skin, cooking pots made of fabulous new material but still making stew, the reputation of the Romni as thieves.

What Fisk has done, almost certainly with the best of intentions, is used racial prejudice as the *point* of the novel, but rather than having Mykle come to realise that Amina is clever in the same way as Mykle is clever--or perhaps even cleverer than him--Fisk gives us all a way out. Amina is not precisely clever, she has the senses of the gypsies, she is sensitive to animals. She didn't think about it (even though we do see her engaging in observation and experimentation) she does sort of knew. She is the anima after all.


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