August 03, 2005

Yet another book review, damn I'm lame

I read the Harry Potter book the other day --- I'll post my thoughts on that later maybe, though there's not that many of them --- but when I bought the book the bookstore was giving out copies of another book, for free, so I said what they heck. It's a new children's book called Lionboy, first in a trilogy. It's written by a mother-daughter team in collaboration under the name Zizou Corder.

I can't see it having the crossover appeal of the Potter books, as the language and characterization are kept pretty strictly on a kiddie-lit level. What makes me bother to write about it here is not so much the characters or the plot as the setting. More on that in a minute. First to dispense with the necessaries: Our protagonist is 12-year-old Charlie Ashanti. He lives in London with his parents: his mom is white and English, his dad is black and from Ghana. Both his parents are scientists, his mom a chemist and his dad a botanist, and together they study rare tropical plants hoping to discover new drugs. Charlie's a perfectly normal boy, except that he speaks Cat, an ability so rare in humans as to make felines everywhere marvel and awe. The plot gets rolling when someone with an interest in the Ashanti's discoveries kidnaps Charlie's parents. They try to nab Charlie, too, but he manages to escape with the help of some cat pals, and soon he's on the run and on the trail of his parents; in his quest to find them he falls in with a traveling circus-ship and befriends the lions there. Hijinks ensue, etc.

Most of the fantastic elements in this story --- talking to animals, running away and joining the circus, spectacularly inept kidnappers --- are standard children's fantasy fare, through handled with fresh aplomb by Corder(s). The only truly bizarre part of it is the where and when. There's nothing about the plot I've outlined above which could preclude it being set in the present, but it's not. It's set in the near-future, a time when civilized people everywhere have stopped using oil---except for the denzians of the Empire (pronounced, one presumes, with a silent "evil" like the k in knife). No cars, no gas, practically no petroleum-based products, one gathers---the descriptions of household items and Charlie's personal belongings include several items which nowadays we would expect to be made of plastic, and which are carefully described as made of leather, metal, glass, or cloth. He does have a cell phone, though (solar powered). People seem to be poorer in this future, and to have revived some practically Dickensian occupations --- Charlie buys an eel sandwich from a fisherman's boat pulled up on the bank of the Thames. There are, however, gated compounds of the super-rich sprinkled throughout the world where all the old luxeries are readily availible. Something funky may or may not be going on with the schools, or maybe they're just shit, because Charlie doesn't go to one; he has a private tutor.

The Empire, it is heavily hinted, is what used to be the United States---a character named Thibeaudoux has "a southern Empire accent." Lest it depress my fellow Americans that we're all evil and stuff in the future, we have conquered the moon. Bonus! Besides, the Empire is nothing to the huge multinational corporations which are the book's real bad guys; it's Big Pharma who sent the wheels in motion for the kidnapping of Charlie's parents. We learn in an aside---as an aside--- that though the British government probably knows about the kidnapping of two of its top scientists, it's too weak and in thrall to the drug companies to attempt to rescue mission.

I read this book thinking the while, does this seem whack-ass to anyone else? If you could open the hatch and poke around in the unconscious of today's unreconstructed lefties, is this what they think it's gonna be like? That's this is what is plausible? And if so, is it not weird that it doesn't suck more? It's a future -topia. It's certainly not a utopia, what with all those multinational corporations evilly machinating right and left, and governments powerless to stop them. (Or at least the U.K. government. Drool, Britannia.) But neither is it a distopia, as everyday people like the Ashantis seem to be ably to lead perfectly happy, well-ordered lives, and there's the strong suggestion that all this worldwide economic collapse and social stratification has actually ended up improving the moral fibre, what with forcing people to get closer to nature and become more self-reliant and revive old traditions and whatnot. In Charlie's future, everybody takes their wicker basket down to the open-air market and buys fresh seasonal fuit and veg---because they bloody well have to. Sic semper technology. Except for cell phones. Those are just way too useful.

Posted by Diablevert at August 3, 2005 11:24 AM

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