Thursday, June 30, 2005

Nice Kids As Tabula Rasa

Discussing the MacHale books has prompted thoughts about the nature of the children I've been reading about in all of these books. I've never been terribly strong on remembering characters in books at the best of times, but I can't help but notice that very, very few of the characters in these sf novels are in the slightest bit memorable.

I think this ties into the niceness issue--maybe what I've been describing as "nice" isn't nice, but merely a blankness, a depiction drawn to alienate as few children as possible, so that the author is not writing "for people like me" as an adult author might, but for "a market". This is a wild surmise you understand....

The funny thing is that today I saw a movie which got across the idea of the sf/scientific child far better than all but a handful of the books I've been reading.

On the flight from Boston to Ft. Lauderdale (business, not pleasure) I watched The Ice Princess. I swear I only watched it because it was such an obvious Noel Streatfield (White Boots) rip off, and had Michelle Trachtenberg in the title role.

I'll assume you don't know it (and ignore all the summaries you see: it isn't a comedy, Casey isn't a bookworm, a maths specialist, or an ousider, and she doesn't "decide to take on the skating world"). Essentially Casey is a geek: child of a hard working single mom, she is aiming to read Physics at Harvard and is still at the stage of assuming that being good at something means she loves it. In her spare time she skates on the pond at the back of the house. Then her physics teacher tells her she needs a science project in order to apply for a physics scholarship and it needs to be based on something she loves. A figure skating fan, she decides to go down to the ice-rink and study the physics of skating. After some argument about spying, she does. The story then follows a predictable trajectory... she gets hooked, starts skating, turns out to be very good and goes onto win Silver in the junior regionals (I was so pleased she didn't win, it made it a much better movie). In the process she gives up Harvard and finds new friends--both depicted more plausibly than is usual in this kind of movie.

But the reason I'm bringing it up here, is that Casey never stops being a scientists. She pays for her own skating lessons by applying her studies of their movements to her friends' figure skating skills. She films them, charts their movements, works out where greater pressure needs to be applied to give them greater lift. Her approach to skating, when she decides it will be her life, is completely different to the other girls around her. She remains what she always was: a scientist.

There is a neat article here. I don't know whether to be more impressed that Trachtenberg learned to skate from scratch or that they took the trouble to get the physics right.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good god, you're making me want to rent an ice skating movie. Hell must have... (ahem)

Anyway, I agree that "nice" kids make it easier for readers to place themselves in the protagonist's place. When I read "The Rolling Stones" as a kid, I thought Castor & Pollux were cool, but I didn't have any desire to emulate them. Even if they did both have red hair like me. :)

6:05 AM  
Blogger Farah said...

So did you rent the movie? [g]

And could you expand re Castor and Pollux? Ie did you feel the need to "place yourself" as C&P? Did not being able to reduce your enjoyment?

4:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry, I was being a little vague there. I think my primary point was the C&P are rather the opposite of 'nice kids', and hence don't encourage the reader to imagine being in their place. C&P are, bluntly, genius brats who believe themselves to be cleverer than they actually are, and get smacked down for it several times in the course of the novel. (and almost kill their grandmother and baby brother through sheer carelessness, though they do eventually redeem themselves).

Which didn't stop me from enjoying the book in the slightest. C&P's dialog and actions were snarky, clever and fun (as was Roger Stone's and Grandmother Hazel's, though the mother and the daughter suffered from "nice girls syndrome" as I suppose you could call it)* It's just that at the age I first read the book (twelve or so) I thought it was a fun adventure, I just didn't want to get into the scrapes that C&P did through their actions.

I guess I was a Nice Boy myself. :)

*It drives me up the wall to read their sections again as an adult. Mom Stone is a medical doctor who seems content to use passive agressive means to do what she wants (C&P Dialog: "You ever notice that Mom always gives in until she gets what she wants?" "Sure, Junior. Didn't you?") Though when push comes to shove she does override Roger's objections when choosing to shuttle over to a passenger liner that's suffering from a mutated measles outbreak. (And Roger childishly joins her later, even though the ship's quarentine is extended as a result.)

The daughter, Meade, is just a stereotypical fluffhead, content to think about boys and not much else (in the only science related moment she's involved in, she's also the only one truly lousy at astrogation.)


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