Monday, December 12, 2005

Investigative Fictions: Malcolm Rose, Traces:Roll Call (London: Kingfisher, 2005)

I feel a bit embarrassed about this book: I almost didn't buy it because the word "thriller" is almost code in the genre world for "bad sf". But Malcolm Rose's Traces is genuinely futuristic and doesn't fall into the anti-science mode of most "futuristic thrilers".

Traces: Roll Call is the third book after Framed and Lost Bullet.

Luke Harding is a Forensic Investigator, at 16 the youngest on the force. He lives in a world in which the South of Britain is a mess, while the North of England and Scotland are still pretty good places to live. There is an all powerful Authority which arranges jobs and marriages and to which all children are given for education at the age of five. Luke, as befits a teenager, is refusing to fall in love with the scientists for whom he is destined and instead loves Jade, a musician which is completely illegal, but he has four years to go before Pairing Time and is trying to ignore the issue.

The actual plot is a flimsy confection in which someone is killing off people named Emily Wonder, and Rose mostly uses it to teach kids about forensic science. There are clumsy moments--Rose can't resist telling us what characters are feeling even when he has already shown it through what they do and say--and I got annoyed that, while Luke us smart, it is his computer that knows things, but on the whole this is a book in which things are thought through and worked out. What really puts it in my "extremely interesting" category is the background story. The investigative plot is ok, but the story of Luke's world is fascinating. Rose gives us a sense of a place and time of change in which politics is still a real thing, there is none of the rigidity and lack of historical sense so common to many of the futures in children's sf. The book ends with Luke having promised to try and get someone acquitted in the face of a system that believes appeals are bad for confidence in the law*, there's some serious stuff going on here, and a very real sense that everything one does has consequences. I'm going to be buying the sequel.

*for non-UK readers, that's pretty much a direct quote from ex-Home Office Minister David Blunkett.


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