I have finally hit a purple patch in my science fiction reading and here are the first three which have appealed to me.
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro I regard as science fiction though the people and culture is so strongly linked to the twentieth century it feels like I am reading a future ‘altered by the butterfly wing’. The story is told by Kathy, a carer who has served for almost twelve of her fourteen years. Ostensibly the the story is about the love and hopes Kathy and her fellows enjoy furtively, despite being in a establishment in a rural and isolated environment. She remembers painfully and in great detail how, within a closely monitored and restrictive life (comparatively privileged), she and her fellow students struggled to go beyond their place in their world.
Kathy’s upbringing is different to that of people who live outside of her enclosed society and Ishiguro has underlined this difference by imbuing Kathy’s voice with a fatalistic, eerie and alien tone. Moreover, Kathy focuses on the immediate; on her relationships, and is resigned to her role. Tommy and Ruth are not so compliant and their imagination and individuality scratch at their limitations. The most potent part of the novel is the way Ishiguro plays with the focus: the words donor and carer are used from the beginning but the reason for, significance of and the societal attitude to caring and donating takes a time to register. The novel makes a critique of the implications of teaching and conditioning, such as is experienced by Kathy’s cohort, which is as profound as it was in Brave New World.
This is a disturbing book which holds a magnifying glass to inequality and exploitation. It has a resonance which I experienced when I read Nineteen Eighty-Four, The Handmaid’s Tale and The Road. It is a dystopian fable and, though told very quietly, the impact is huge. I know, when I am stronger, I will read Never Let Me Go again.
I had read Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner several years ago and found it an excellent if very painful novel about compulsion. lies and exploitation which won the CILIP Carnegie Medal and Costa Children’s Book Prize in 2013. The Door That Led to Where by Sally Gardner is a much more humorous story though the protagonist, AJ, and his friends, Leon and Slim struggle to find a way around neglect, violence, lack of opportunity, deprivation and betrayal which blights their lives and their potential. The key to new opportunities is AJ’s inheritance which is actually a rusty iron key which opens a door to another time. The humour surfaces in the quick witted and honest conversation of the boys, the element of caricature in the villainous characters and the sheer exuberance of the time travelling tale.
The door leads AJ into a time before 1800 where ‘low-born’, resourceful, energetic boys can find purpose and be valued. It leads to AJ uncovering the mysteries behind his father’s disappearance, the new/old snuff boxes and the truth about who is the poisoning people on both sides of the door. The Door That Led To Where is a fast and clever book which challenges modern assumptions of advancement and underlines the doleful effect of lack of options.
The Red Wolf Conspiracy by Robert V.S. Redick is a much more conventional fantasy: potions that enhance talent or suppress it; objects which blight the wearer; benevolent visitors from another world; peoples violently divided by culture, prejudice and appearance; empire building, spies, bullies, traitors and the ‘why isn’t he dead’ mad magician. Hey, just how unreal are these scenarios in today’s political scene! The real fantasy arises as the heroes and villains battle aboard a giant ship over control of a bloody emperor and the Nilstone. I enjoyed this novel as it is well written and the array of characters have some substance to them and act within their ability. I liked the ship environment which is Redick describes in effective detail. It ended on cliff-hanger and I was informed there are two more books. I have not been impressed by the next parts of the trilogy – too long, unwieldy, too extreme and the characters become thin – all talent and no personality, the mad magician makes too many escapes and the ‘victory’ can only be categorised as Pyrrhic. I recommend a reader just stop with book One and savour a story well told, a battle well fought and ‘mostly’ won.