Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Country Girl Goes Aventuring: Sue Welford, Starlight City, Oxford University Press, 1998.

Kari's mother brings home Rachel, a scruffy bag woman. When Rachel is collected by the police, Kari and her friend Jake go look for her in the city and meet Razz, a street boy who helps them find her.

Rachel turns out to be the representative of aliens who have been watching earth and had abducted Kari when she was little to check out her musical talent (this abduction is seen as completely morally acceptable and never questioned). They help Rachel escape, and the aliens head home.

I did enjoy the tale, but as well as the qualm about the failure to question the morality of alien abduction (and such questioning would have made sense in the context of this tale) there is other stuff which Kari takes for granted in ways that do not encourage us to question.

This is a police state with identity cards, ghettos, fuel shortages and the oppression of the urban poor. Not only does Kari blithely accept this, but the sense that it is somehow right is built in. When she worries about Razz, Jake reassures her that he is a street kid and will be just fine. At the end of the novel they leave Razz behind who accepts his lot like the proverbial cockney sparrow. And what really icked me out is that Rachel is loved, not because she is a Misfit they have got to know, thus proving that maybe the label is a bit problematic, and the police harrassment of Misfits unacceptable, but because she is not really a Misfit and therefore we don't actually have to think about all of the above.

Finally a small oddity. How do you react to a book that contains a dedication to Princess Diana, "You were the wind beneath our wings", and epigraphs from Wilfred Owen's "Shadwell Stair", and Ursula LeGuin's "Semley's Necklace"?

A boy and his basset, a girl and her cat: Carolyn MacDonald, The Lake at the End of the World. Hodder and Stoughton, Australia, 1988.

Diana lives by a lake with her mother, and her father who has been damaged by a tractor accident. As far as they know, there is no one else left in the world. They look after the birds that her father transplanted many years ago, grow crops and have no meat. Their only animals are the barn cats. Diana has made friends with one called Matilda.

Hector lives in an underground community of one hundred and two. The community is self-sufficient, has much food stored and lives in quiet darkness to save energy. Everyone whispers. They also have basset hounds. Hector's basset hound is called Stewart and Stewart is a wanderer. One day he leads Hector above ground, and Hector, entranced, keeps returning until one day he meets Diana. He follows Diana into the world where she hides him in her shed.

As Hector grows stronger, Diana's mother finds him, but the two women initially don't tell each other, and Beth makes friends with Hector on her own terms. When Diana discovers she is initially angry with Hector but that gradually subsides. By the time he meets her father as well, he is on his way to being integrated.

But Hector, who was being raised to be a leader in his own community, decides to go back at the very least to say good bye but also with the sense that he needs to find out if he is needed. Diana and Stewart accompany him and find at the heart of the underground system a dictator who has kidnapped many scientists to create his underground empire: yes, he had preached the end of the world, but as we discover his plan to dump the accumulating toxins of the power plant into the lake, we realise he isn't exactly a Green, just a believer in the ecological equivalent of a modern Gated Community.

Diana is expelled and Hector locked out of the community and left to starve. Hector decides he has to leave, and just decides to go--realising that much of the Counsellor's power is simply about fear. As he as one of the older members leave, the lake breaks through into the tunnels forcing many of the community above ground. The Counsellor is killed.

At the end there is the hope that the underground dwellers will contribute ther resources to help create a viable lake community [although it's too small really for genetic diversity].

I really did like this quiet story. Ok, so I'm predisposed to like anything that;s essentially a tale of a girl and her cat, and a boy and his basset, but even the mild mysticism of the lake didn't annoy me and the issues of environmental collapse were handled very well.