Thursday, December 01, 2005

Not Science Fiction But...

Because most children's books don't come with genre labels the way adult fiction does, I have to take fairly wild guesses as to whether a book is sf. On the blurb both these books walked and quacked like sf, but neither are. I'm listing them here tho' simply because they are interesting books.

Nicola Morgan, The Passion Flower Massacre (London; Hodder, 2005, but copyright 1988) is a retelling of the Jim Jones Massacre only its set in Northumberland. Morgan's best book remains Mondays are Red, a tale of synathesia, but this isn't bad. She tends to emotional downloads, and I wish she'd get out of her characters' heads. I've noticed a lot of modern YA books spend a great deal of time on feelings. It's not precisely that I don't want to see someone's emotions, but can we get back to "show, don't tell"? Sometimes I feel like I'm sitting in on a therapy session.

Peter Slingsby, The Joining (Cape Town: Tafelburg Publishers Ltd, 1996) [with thanks to Nick Wood for sending this to me].

Being told that a writer is an "environmental educator, author and cartographer" is enough to make the heart sink. Welcome to didact city! But not at all: this time travel fantasy in which four children, two Xhosa, and two Cape Colored, slip back in time during a school trip is a genuine delight. Absorbed by a local group of (now extinct) /Xam (ancestors of Sam/Bushmen) they learn another way of life structured around looking after the land and mysticism. There are some icky bits--I am not convinced that humans of the past lived in harmony with the land; I suspect we've always been rapacious little buggers--but on the whole Slingsby produces a really excellent ethnographic fantasy.

I don't know how much of a theme it is, but the few chidren's books from South Africa I've read all suffer a little from Power Rangers Diversity: you know, one of each color. I don't know how to read this book because I'm not part of the culture, but in it the black girl becomes a hunter, the black boy a spirit painter (because he is the one who can read the paintings) and the mixed race girl marries into the tribe and becomes a carer. It's the fairest boy, the one who looks white, who becomes the Shaman, the one who knows. I winced a bit, but I suspect I'd have winced a bit whatever the arrangement. A very vexed issue.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Farah, Yes, a good point about 'Power Rangers' diversity in some of the books coming out of South Africa - and I'd probably include my own book here. I think it's partly a reaction to the apartheid monocultural writings of the past, where characters of 'colour' were either absent or else peripheral servants. But it can end up a seeimgly P.C. contrived exercise to reinforce the notion of the 'Rainbow Nation'.

5:46 PM  

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