Sunday, May 22, 2005

Galactavision Weekend (or, Where's Terry Wogan when you need him?): Brian Earnshaw, Starclipper and the Galactic Final (London: Methuen, 1987).

One finds good books in surprisingly unprepossessing places. , Starclipper and the Galactic Final is a series book about Star Jam, a family pop group. It has the kind of garish poorly bound hardcover that screams "library edition, meant to tempt boys", and the story line--Star Jam have made the finals of the Galactavision Song contest but must hide out for a week to avoid their competitor who wants to sabotage their chances--made me shudder. So it was quite a surprise to find one of the rare books which genuinely fitted that rubric for Full SF which I outlined at the beginning.

In Star Jam's world, there is interstellar flight in a variety of different types of ships. Music has gone galactic but is still regional. Rock rules, but their mother is a folk singer. Their mother's fiance is the owner of a mega music corporation (my memory is that 1987 was the height of the Stock, Aitken and Waterman domination of the UK music scene).

When their future step father tells them they may not compete in the finals--he wants his group, Sven and the Five Girls, to win even though he hates their music--they take off, with the help of their mother who stays behind to get married. Sven chases after them and damages their solar sails forcing them to head to an unknown but very large ship for rescue. This ship turns out to be owned by space hippies. It's an old Russian Mars rocket, fuelled by paraffin. It can't land, it's very slow, but it's considered one of the greenest fuel there is. There is a lot of discussion in the book over ecology v. speed. The ship is on the way to the Green Planet, a hippie reserve where the annual folk festival is to take place.

The hippies are folk singers and there are some nice culture clashes between the children (with the exception of the youngest, who likes folk). Some of this is over music but also over attitudes. The children begin to realise that the planet they are heading to may not be an idyll (there is 12' of cloud cover). Once on the planet they discover the inhabitants are deadly serious about letting the indigenous species alone, and that humans come last but this is handled not as an opportunity for sentiment but for ingenuity. Instead of shooting at a predator, the pilots of the speed boat throw honey filled apples on wires into the air which are grabbed by dragonflies who pull the boat out of danger--there is enough honey for a five minute flight.

The book was written (if I remember Top of the Pops correctly) at the dawn of the video age and at the height of the synethesizer craze, and it reflects those concerns. Two of the children have learned (in the previous book) how to project telepathic images as they sing -- they call this telesinging. Sven, they discover, is using android backing singers with someone to control them from a distance--sort of a synthesizer in android form I suppose.

There are two interesting aspects to this: the children actually know they aren't a very good band. The younger ones know that their eldest brother and lead singer can barely hold a note and can manage only about three chords. Telesinging only works live, so when they hear that the judges will be on other worlds, they know they can only make a local hit, they can't win. There is also a sense that they know that although they can project images, their images are very literal--illustrations rather than art, which act out the words of the songs.

But when they pull the plug on Sven's androids, they are clear that their argument is less that Sven cheated--they are sure he'll come clean if he wins and help sell more music androids--than that this is a battle between natural music and unnatural. Which is ironic given that they hated the Green Planet. But this understanding--that this is not about cheating but about philosophy, and about the long term future of music--means that the book has consequence, it reaches into the future. This is underscored by the children's decision to pull out of the contest. Earnshaw has resisted turning this book into something about personal ambition or growth, and instead has engaged his protagonists in a wider political debate.

Utterly unexpected.


Post a Comment

<< Home