Monday, November 28, 2005

A Clone of My Own: Patrick Cave, Sharp North, (London: Simon & Schuster, 2004)


I found the first book in the trilogy easily enough: in this book Mira grows up in Scotland and only really begins to question her life when someone kills a woman who looks a lot like her and holds a paper with her name on it. Failing to get any answers, she runs and ends up in London where a woman with her face is a Saint, one of the leading families of New Briton. After living rough she finally falls in with Kay, also a Saint but an oddity, a Scroat (or natural) conception in a world of cloning and genetic engineering. Kay is brother to Clarissa, also a facsimile of Mira, and rival of Jan Barbierre, a thuggish descendant of another house. Jan's bid for power destroys the Saints and the other cloned families, but he is aided by Tilly, Mira's clone progenitor who wants to destroy the system for other reasons. Kay finds out he is also a clone (but not of whom, that waits for the next novel) and he and Mira flee. They are caught, Mira is helped to escape by Clarissa.... only it turns out it is Mira who is killed and Clarissa who survives to find the surviving clone, Adeline, who has the blue and brown eyes which have been creeping into stories about a saviour serpent.

It;s a decent book but I do get very fed up about this "clone a spare parts", "clone as easily disposable", "clone as something automatically awful" business. Cave disposes of one real silliness by making clones legal but cloning illegal, so there is no incentive for a clone to remain secret and no legal disabilities (they go with being an unofficial child ie one without a license and affect clone and non-clones alike), but there is very little consideration of the idea that there is nothing really special about artificial twins and that they are much too expensive even for major families seeking to preserve personality traits. Yes, it would work, but the expression of those traits might turn out to be very different, you'd still have no guarantee that someone with musical talent would want to be a concert pianist rather than a sound engineer. Cave does take something of this on, but not enough to really challenge the rather predictable plot.

NB: we now know that separated at birth siblings have a tendency to fall in love/lust with each other. Now that would be a different plot for a kid's book.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Why Does No One Sneeze in Space? Martin Duffy, Mothership (County Wicklow, Ireland: Aran Books, 1992)

OK, I'm being flippant, but don't you ever wonder? Today I have a cold and reading a book in which twelve children, abandoned on a space ship, don't appear to get sick once in six years is a bit irritating....

This is an interesting book despite my irritation, It was broadcast on RTE radio in 1992 and that fact rather explains the stiffness of style. It's a rather Ben Bova-ish book: twelve children of six different races have tales of being the descendants of heroes who went to find treasure for earth. Two of them tho', Ben and the girl Han don't believe it. The stories were told by "Jones" an adult who eventually left them to "go ahead" and tell Earth to get the party ready. Han and Ben find Jones, discover he is a wreck and dangerous, discover also that they are the remnants of the cargo of a colony ship that didn't survive an asteroid strike. Without the means to mend the ship (and in the face of the hostility of the other children) Ben and Han, and their allies Faye and Luke, get into an escape ship and head for the planet that Helen Jones (Ken Jones's dead wife) thought might be marginally viable.

The book would be a bland nothing except that Duffy describes the growing tension between Ben and the larger, less bright but more charismatic Dan extremely well. Luke, who cannot stand up to Dan is depicted brilliantly and there is an emerging sexual tension between two of the children who tickle and cuddle a lot that stops just this side of sex which Duffy gets spot on--two puppies moving into adult games for which they have no reference. Jones turns out to be a drug addict, but Duffy shows it, without ever allowing the children to really understand,

The book is deeply implausible: four children cannot create a colony, but I did like the way the children were intelligent people of many different sorts.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Love in the Time of Genetics: Patrick Cave, Blown Away (London: Simon and Schuster, 2005).

I almost gave up on this book in the first ten pages they are so badly written. The opening newsheet sounds like the worst work of my students-pretending-to-be-journalists and the first pages of Adeline's story were uber-mystical. But I perservered and Cave got into his stride and this turned into one of the interesting books and one of the "definitely sf" books in my collection.

Blown Away is a sequel to Sharp North which I missed (have just ordered it). What I think Sharp North is about is the freezing of Britain and the failure of various gen-eng and cloning programmes. In this novel Adeline, a flawed clone, decides "what the hell". If she is going to die of a heart attack she might as well do it trying to attack the Neitschian supermen who are currently running Britain (or Briton as it is called by these madmen). Alongside this story runs the diaries of Dominic, the son of a 2023 magnate who has his material taken for cloning and is one of the progenitors of Briton's New Visions, supermen with amazing reflexes but an inclination to obey authority. Adeline, we eventually find out, is cloned from Dominic's long lost girlfriend, a natural athlete but both a rebel and a bit of a mystic.

Most of the book is essentially an adventure come love story but I like the fact that the love story has happened, it isn't what we are leading up to, and what we see is about consequences. Similarly, we don't have long debates about cloning and genetic engineering, we simply see the consequences and discuss those consequences. In that sense this is proper science fiction: the book is about if this happened then what? Not a very startling comment on my part but it has been so rare to find this basic element of sf in these children's books that it's worth noting. The background in the book is very well drawn, like Kate Thompson Patrick Cave is genuinely interested in what a collapsing society might look like, but generally he does urbanism better than the utopian project in the desert. That bit needs work if it isn't to sound soppy.

What else to say about this book? It's hard to think of much because it reminds me so strongly of Westall's Futuretrack Five. That's not an accusation, more about placing the book. When Futuretrack Five came out it was unequivocally a book for late teens, but somehow this isn't quite, it feels younger even though the protagonists are the same age: possibly because Dominic is rather dreamy and romantic? I don't know... need to think about this one some more.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Just to let you know that I've updated the bibliography linked to this site.

When making recommendations bear in mind that this is a list of books I've made notes on not a list of books I've read. You can assume I know about Heinlein, Norton, Gee, Mahy, Westall etc. Recommend me obscure and new books please!

More later tonight I hope.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Holding off the Future: Margaret Haddix, Escape From Memory (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2003).

There is no way to avoid spoilers on this one so I hope you are all sitting comfortably and don't have any large objects to hand. I hate being the target of missiles (I got hit by a grapefruit last night--not sure if it was criticism).

Kira Landon has grown up in a small town in Ohio as an all American girl. Her hair is a bit darker than everyone else's, her mother a bit odd and disinclined to take part in town life. Then one day her friends hypnotize her as a joke, and she retreives odd memories of being carried through a war zone, by a woman not her mother.

Confronting her mother leads to her mother disappearing, to be replaced by Aunt Memory who tells her that Mom is in danger and that she, Kyra, must go to a town called Chryse to rescue her. Kira leaves with Aunt Memory and finds herself in a town in California that is a replica of its Ukranian original. The inhabitants of Chryse are memorizers, committed to an oral culture in which memory and remembering are everything. But things don't feel right, Kira feels she is being set up to be some sort of messiah. Luckily for her, her smarter friend Lynne has stowed away in her luggage, and between them they are able to work out what is going on and to manipulate Aunt Memory into taking them (but not Kira's mother) back to Ohio.

At stake is a system of uploading memories (and personalities) and overlaying them onto others. Kira's parents' turn out to have invented this. Kira's mother turns out to be her aunt, but in an interesting twist, is actually the body of her mother with her aunt's personality overlaid on top.

Haddix's novels for children frequently sit on the very edge of sf and I think this is another case. Although the premise is brilliantly sfnal--someone works out how to upload personalities) -- it actually plays very little part in the "present day" of the plot. I've been teaching Crime Writing this semester, and if we invert Todorov's idea that in the crime narrative there are two stories told, of the past and of the present,then in the the thriller we can think in terms of two stories as the past (there is usually a crime) the present and a (possible) future. The new tech is absolutely of an isolated past-story and a possible-future-story. It is hardly of now at all (although it is convenient for Kira to be able to access her parents' memories directly rather than from the usual diary). And the trajectory of the story is that of the thriller, it is about holding off the future, holding off the consequences of the new tech.

At the end of the novel Kira sits beside her catatonic mother/aunt, with the personality disks beside her, and waits for her to wake and decide who she wants to be. There is an sf novel here, but it is beyond the covers of the book.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Going Slow

I am swamped with work and have a couple of deadlines looming. At the moment I even have deadlines to read certain books.

The next post to this blog will be Tuesday 15th November.