Thursday, October 05, 2006


Dancing robots? Right this way.

Monday, October 02, 2006

The Kids Are Alright

Philip Reeve’s A Darkling Plain, the final volume of a quartet of children’s science fiction novels set in mobile cities that tour a post-apocalypse landscape, has just won the 2006 Guardian’s children’s fiction prize. An interview with him was published in Saturday’s Guardian review section, and very enjoyable it is too. Although the interviewer, Julia Ecclestone, can’t help noting that it reads more like an alternative history than science fiction", as if, y’know, it would be really embarrassing to think that an honest to God SF novel ever won a literary prize, so let’s pretend that it isn’t really SF at all. And as if no alternative history was ever SF.

Anyway, Reeve’s quartet, begun with Mortal Engines, which he describes as the kind of "’big and rambling book’ he would have enjoyed as a teenager" sounds like the pure quill to me. And I bet that I would have loved to have come across it back when I was a teenager, and reading anything that was even remotely associated with the special spine-tingling mind-expanding strangeness I had discovered in SF - adult SF, that is, for there was precious little children’s SF back then. What happens, I wonder, to all the fans of Reeve’s novels (and to fans of all the other SF and fantasy children’s novels) when they grow a little older? Do they move away from SF and fantasy, and if so, why? And why do so many people stop reading as they grow up? Are SF and fantasy publishers trying to capture the attention of this large and avid audience? And have SF conventions any ideas about attracting younger readers? It seems to me that the average age of convention-goers increases at a rate of about a year per year, which given my advanced years is a bit worrying. If the genre is to stay vital, it needs to find answers to these questions.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Players - 12

Jerry Hill said, ‘Here’s how I see it, Joe. I’ll lay it out for you, and any time you think I got something wrong, you just jump right in and tell me. Okay? Way I see it, you’re driving along, and you see this pretty young girl standing by the side of the road, holding out her thumb, looking for a lift. She’s wearing nothing but a flimsy dress and she’s a young, good-looking girl, you can see the shape of her body through that thin material. So you do what any red-blooded man would do. You stop your truck and you tell her to hop in. So far, you haven’t done anything wrong, but now she’s sitting right beside you in that thin dress, you can smell her, and she smells so good you want to eat her up. You live by yourself out in the country, I bet a week might go by without you talking to anyone, much less a delectable peachy-fresh girl like this. She got into your truck of her own accord, in that thin little dress, she’s talking away, maybe she’s leaning at the window letting the wind blow her hair back and you can smell her and you want her. You ache for her, don’t you? Any man would, right?’

Watching this on the little TV, Summer realized that Jerry Hill wasn’t interested in getting Kronenwetter to confirm or deny the story. No, the son of a bitch was making sure that he got his version of events on record.

Look at him now, smiling up at the camera, saying, ‘So you make a move. And then she’s screaming, and you panic and somehow or other you knock her out. And when you’ve done that, you’ve crossed the line. And crossing the line frees you up. You can do anything you like. So you take her back to your cabin -- or no, maybe first of all you pull off the road and drag her out of the truck into the ditch and you have her right there, don’t you, Joe? Because you can’t wait. Because she’s so young and fresh.

‘And afterward, you know you can’t let her go,’ Jerry Hill said, his voice getting louder. ‘So you take her back to your cabin, you drag her down into your cellar. You rip off that thin little dress and those black panties, and you chain her up. You keep her down there, naked and chained like an animal. We know you did, Joe, because we found the leg-irons you used. And you know what? Those leg-irons have her blood on them. The very same blood we found on her dress and on her panties.’

Kronenwetter shook his head violently, hair whipping from side to side, his teeth bared in a
grimace, his eyes squeezed shut.

The noise he made was shrill and raw, like razor-wire ripped from his throat.

Summer felt as if someone had dropped an ice cube down her back. One of the detectives said, ‘Jesus.’

On the TV, Denise Childers said, ‘Maybe we should take a break.’

Jerry Hill caught hold of a handful of Kronenwetter’s hair, winding it around his fist, pulling back the big man’s head, leaning down to speak in his ear. ‘You picked up that little girl from the side of the road. You kidnapped her and you held her prisoner and you raped her. How many times? Five? Ten? Twenty? You did all that, and then she got away and what did you do? Nothing. Because you just didn’t care. Because you thought you were so fucking powerful there was no way you would get caught. Or wait, maybe you wanted to get caught. Is that it? Is that why you left her dress and her driver’s licence and her library card and her panties down there in your cellar? Is that why you left the fucking leg-irons there? Is that why you’re blubbering now, you piece of shit?’

Kronenwetter’s mouth worked inside his beard and he gave a wordless cry, so loud that everyone around Summer jumped. On the TV, Jerry Hill had let go of Kronenwetter’s hair, and the man was shaking his head, shouting.

‘It wasn’t me! It wasn’t me! It was the monster!’
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