Friday, June 22, 2007

Laser Guns and Old Lace: Sean McMullen, Before the Storm. Ford Street Publishing, Hybrid Publishers: Melbourne, Victoria, AU. 2007.

Emily and Daniel are well brought up young people living in Melbourne in 1901. Emily is sixteen, Daniel is a little younger. But while Daniel chafes openly at the strictures of Australian Victorian society, his brighter older sister arms herself with rigid good manners and the arts of manipulation in an effort to open some kind of intellectual space for herself.

Into their lives drop BC and Fox, soldiers from the a future British Empire which is consuming itself and its children in total and almost continuous war. Their mission: prevent the opening of the new Australian Parliament from being destroyed by German terrorists, and starting the next world war.

McMullen offers a rich depiction of life in Victorian Melbourne, and nicely balances the need for plausibility of period with the development of character: Emily is well on her way to becoming one of Australia's early feminists, but this novel lets her stand as simply a determined young woman pushing at boundaries. The portrayal of social class and foreignness is also nicely done, and is an essential part of the plot, not simply background. McMullen demonstrates an interaction between the protagonists that is about skills and competence and weaves this too into an essential element of the plot.

Perhaps the most satisfying element of the plot is the time travel and Emily and Daniel's attempts to get it straight in their heads. Too many authors gloss over this or wave a magic wand to turn time travel into a portal fantasy. McMullen joins Sleator and James Valentine (see review of the Jumpman books) as one of the few modern writers of sf for teens who does not assume that his readers will be bored by science and philosophy.


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