Friday, January 02, 2009


Year of Writing

This will be my last posting, at least for a long, long while. I have to jettison a few things to make room in my life for more purposeful writing, and this is one of the things to go. I'm going to shoot for less reading, too, but we'll see how far that resolution takes me!

I just finished another Geraldine M: The Kite Rider (Oxford U.P. 2001). This story was almost too painful to read—I had to put it down a few times just to get some relief. It's a bit like Crispin—a boy finding his way (but much more painfully) past one way of being and thinking to another. It takes place in newly-conquered Mongol China, around the time of Kublai Khan's attempt at invading Japan; it concerns change, obedience, revenge and salvation. Haoyou, the boy, is so slow to learn; but isn't that also so real? After this, any quicker personal transformation in fiction will eem false, I feel.

For fun, a couple of Joan Aikens: The Scream (Macmillan, 2002) and The Witch of Clatteringshaws (Delacorte/Random House, 2005) The latter was published posthumously, the last of the Dido Twite adventures. The former was a short and compelling tale of the supernatural—very well done. I will now troll the Internet for nice things said about JA postermortem.

Here are two titles that bear comparison: The Bar Code Tattoo by Suzanne Weyn (Scholastic Inc., 2004) and Unwind by Neal Shusterman (Simon & Schuster, 2007). These are SF titles set in a world not too far in the future whose stories are inspired by a single idea; one starts out promising and doesn't deliver, while the other is far-fetched yet well-executed.

The premise of the first is credible and interesting: what if it became mandatory for everyone to get a bar code tattooed onto their arms, which would give access to all the personal information required to live and take part in society? Sadly, the story is half-baked and ill-informed. There's too much teenie romance and not enough hard thinking. "The wilderness" is not some kind of endless grocery store that can supply the needs of anyone who hangs out in it. You can't go from city living to feeding and clothing yourself with what you manage to hunt without a lot of training—and you certainly can't provide for a whole colony that way. And the number of the beast argument coming from a teenager with no understanding or even consideration of the gleeful apocalypse accounting that underlies it—it's just ridiculous.

The premise of Unwind is completely unbelievable—I read the book just to see if the author could make me believe it, and though he didn't, he did make the story and characters compelling enough to have me finish the book. His future world is a post abortion-war USA in which parents can choose to "retroactively abort" an unsatisfactory child aged 13 to 17, as long as about 95 per cent (every useable part and piece of tissue) of the child is used again as transplant material—i.e., it's not a death but a new, expanded life. This is supposed to have been a ridiculous compromise brokered just to get the sides talking, and unexpectedly taken up in seriousness. But I just can't buy it. I can't even buy the war itself, even with the explanation that it really wasn't about abortion or no abortion, just about one side against another. The culture Shusterman builds to support the premise is convincing for the most part, though, and his main character offers some interesting scope for discussion about what makes a leader.

Continuing my Meg Tilly explorations, there is Porcupine (Tundra, 2007). Very competent, humorous and touching. There is nothing like family dysfunction, it appears, to teach a person how to write about sibling relationships in a realistic way: the love, the ignorance, the loyalty, fear and jealously all bundled up and doled out blindly by the characters but to excellent effect by a committed writer.

Picture Bride by Yoshiko Uchida (University of Washington Press, 1987), is about a young, educated Japanese woman who travels to the U.S. to marry a Japanese bachelor storekeeper. It reads a bit like a novel resulting from graduate school research, but not enough to be off-putting. The characters were real and the writing didn't draw attention to itself, which in this case was good.

Finally, What Happened This Summer by Paul Yee (Tradewind, 2006), a collection of short stories in the voices of Chinese teenagers in a number of contemporary Canadian Chinese communities. Very good indeed.

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