Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Short and Sweet: SF in Sixty Pages.

Barrington Stoke Ltd. This is a series of Easy Readers aimed at maybe the 8-10yr old market although some of them, as you'll see, seem to be aimed at teens. The quaility is variable. The best were by Eric Brown and James Lovegrove who are very well respected sf writers. That said, I think Barrington Stoke could do better. If you agree, they invite comments. Too many of the endings are either flippant or neat.

Alan Duran, .Gameboy Reloaded (Edinburgh: Barrington Stoke Ltd., 2005).

Mia doesn't like her little brother Zak much--he pinches her toys after she has expressly said he can't play with them, and particularly her Gameboy. On day Zak spots a game cartridge in the river. Mia retrieves it and takes it home, but before she can play it, Zak gets there first and disappears into the game. Mia goes in to play the game, and also to get him back.

The mawkish moralism of this book is irritating but in sf-nal terms I was more bothered at the ways in which the reader's get excluded from the cognitive challenges which the book presents. Readers are invited into Mia's emotional world, but excluded from her cognitive world:

the last puzzle in the game is to rearrange letters to make a well known phrase. (United We Stand, Divided We Fall--told you it was mawkish). The reader isn't provided with the letters. It created an odd sense of empty space in the story and on the page.

Theresa Breslin, Mutant ,(Edinburgh: Barrington Stoke Ltd., 2005).

This book should really have several exclamations in the titles. I think I've come across Theresa Breslin before but I can't think where.

Brad works in a lab. He likes Jade who doesn't smile much. His co-worker is Mark and there is also Professor Mace. They are all working on a growth fornula that will enable humans to grow spare parts. In one part of the lab are "mistakes".

Brad knew that the mutant organs could never get out of the tanks, but he always felt unhappy when he was near the room where they were kept." (5)

That pretty much sums up the standard of science. They do all wear white suits, and when Jade's hard drive is wiped she does have back up disks, but Mark offers to test the formula on himself and when they do, it's by shaving skin and watching the hair grow back (and we are later told that it is naturally "bigger and stronger").

Anyway, it turns out to be the Professor sabotaging the lab because he wants to use the growth formula on his "mistakes".

"Mistakes!" Professor Mace gave an evil grin. "These are mine. My early work. They should not be kept trapped in here. I can use this... " He held the bottle with the Culture high above his head. "I can use this to make them strong. They will grow. Then no-one one will be able to keep them shut away." (60)

As Rob says, he's gone crazy but not, apparently, because the idea is ludicrous. The final chapter ends.....

Hours later, the arm, thicker now and stronger, reached out and up.

It pushed against the top of the tank, and slowly, slowly the lid began to open.

Don'tcha just love a good B movie?

Eric Brown, British Front (Edinburgh: Barrington Stoke Ltd., 2005)..

Two teenagers, Al and Jenny, are thrown forward to 2055 where they discover an all white, Fascist Britain, As Jenny and Al are an item, and Al is brown and Muslim, this is not good. Al is nearly lynched.

They get caught, their story is believed because the terrorists are known to be developing time travel, and they are rescued by the "terrorists". There is a touching moment where Al discovers his father's grave has been destroyed.

The terrorists send them back to one year after they left, with lots of documents about the "fascists" and who they are to give to the police and the government. Apparently sending them back a year after they left would help prove the truth of their argument--someone hasn't been listening to Professor Kirke. A year before they left would have been more convincing.

But anyway, everyone believes them and the story ends there.

Completely ignoring the fact that the description of what happens to make this future sounds a lot like Blair's anti-terrorism laws. Or maybe that's the point?

The story never really takes off, but it's ok and there is a sense that Al and Jenny may have changed their world.

One last thing...

Mr. Publisher? Calling a book British Front and sticking a bloody great Union Jack on the front will probably put off a whole load of Asian and Black teenagers.* Without thinking it through, I packed it in my bag to read on the Underground, and spent most of the trip being glowered at.

*For non US readers, the largest Fascist Party in the UK in the 1970s was the National Front who marched under the Union Jack.

Eric Brown, Space Ace (Edinburgh: Barrington Stoke Ltd., 2005).

Billy dreams of flying with his ex-space ace Grandpa through the solar system. When the navigational computer of a junked Space Tourist bus takes over their cobbled together ship Billy finds himself on a tour of the solar system. To be honest, this is not much more than a lightly fictionalised way to teach kids about the Solar System, but speaking as a once and future nerd, that's fine by me.

James Lovegrove Antgod (Edinburgh: Barrington Stoke Ltd., 2005).

Dan's best friend Jason likes weird ideas and doesn't have much empathy. He tortures ants. fantasies/philosophises himself as their god, and invents Truth Glasses. When Jason is killed Dan sees through the glasses the very macrocosmic god that Jason had envisioned treating men like ants.

If your child likes this book, try the real thing. it's a short story by Theodore Sturgeon called, funnily enough, "Macrocosmic God".


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