I don’t tend to post negative reviews because, mostly, I can’t be bothered.
You can’t learn much about how to survive the melee from inspecting a corpse.
I’m also aware that my tastes may be special to me. For example, the entire world loved the wonderful Elizabeth Moon’s Paksenarrion series, except for me. I simply don’t like the spiraling-disaster-with-redemption-at-the end sub genre. Finally, I’ll also admit I don’t want to roast anybody I may subsequently meet in a professional capacity (who may then take a swing at me, metaphorical or otherwise).
So, let me tell you about, um, Blah Blah Blah by, call him/her, Thingy Whatsisname. (Cover by Pulp-O-Mizer.)
It’s in that not-quite-YA category of 9-14, so I read it to my son “Kurtzhau” a couple of years back when he was 8.
It came complete with a cover quote by Philip “My God, that City is on Caterpillar tracks” Reeve and promised Pulp Tropes and good rip-roaring adventure along the lines of the truly excellent Luke Challenger Adventures.
What it delivered… well it did deliver the Pulp Tropes, but only grudgingly.
It followed the boilerplate children’s fiction structure Kurtzhau once described as “It’s all blah blah blah here’s his uncle and now we’re travelling, and FINALLY you get to the space station.”
It’s as if, in Children’s Fiction, some Hemulen Aunt stays the writer’s hand and whispers deadening maxims into their ear; “Children like to be led in slowly to the adventure. If there are fantastic/speculative elements, then they should be there as a climax, not as the main focus… no no, the little dears would find themselves far to confused.”
The result modifies the Generic Children’s Plot of Yesteryear thus:
Page 1: Journey and Arrival: “
Gosh on the way to a new place with new people. How jolly fascinating.Gosh there are Crucial Family issues that the author really wanted to write about and not this SciFi trash. Is that a hint of mystery and some back story?”
Page 30: Children Explore: “Gosh, let’s explore!” The children discover how privileged they are but also the unique friendliness and wisdom belonging to those not of their class and ethnicity.
Page 60: Children Go Off On Their Own: “I’m bored
/Let’s play Hide and Seek!Is that a wardrobe/storm cloud/cave system/etc?”
Page 120: Arrival at the Fantastic but on small scale: “Wow! A single mythological creature/dinosaur/wizard/
Page 200: Quest!: “Oh dear! We had better travel to the Castle of Evil/City of the Dinosaurs/Planet of the
Tank NinjasBucolic Wise People/Allegorical Modern Culture!”
Page 290: Wonders!: “Gosh! Wow this is amazing! How limited were my privileged horizons!”
Page 300-End: Climax: “Gosh this is scary! I’m glad there are female adults to fight for us.”
Along the way, the following will apply:
Lots of travelogue, with description balanced between the mundane (e.g. pancakes, or an old lady’s hat) and the fantastical (e.g. dwelling place of the
Grande High Tank NinjaWise Female Elders Who Know Best). This description will only be relevant to the plot by luck rather than design — things seen from the train get as much attention as places you have to fight overbe chased through while nevertheless respecting local culture and custom.
If there is violence, it will be done by female adults, or kick-ass big sisters. Fatalities will be self-inflicted.
Special effects will be paid for out of a budget: Given resources limited only by their writing skills, the author will still steer the story away from the wide screen, gosh wow and craft a tale that could have been easily done by the 1970s BBC Children’s department.
Conclusion will be an Arrival. Heroes exchange plot coupons for safety, and emphatically do NOT drink from the skullcups of their fallen enemies.
And, did I mention the rambling sentence structure? “He ducked as the blah which he had previously heard now sounded behind him.” And the endless repetition of words, “He did not like the look of the big man who looked down at him with an evil look in his eye. ‘What are you looking at?'”
Kurtzhau… well, 8-year-old boy like being read to. However, I noticed an increased tendency to fiddle with Lego while I’m reading this flabby fiction.
Adults with literary tastes wrinkle their noses and complain loudly about these “awful interminable series” children like reading.
However, these series exist for a reason — children trust them to deliver actual stories. The truth is that blockbusting series like Hive and Ranger’s Apprentice — and of course Harry Potter (did I mention I saw JKR writing in a coffee shop when I was a student?) — simply blow this kind of ramshackle vessel of the imagination out of the water. It’s like that 19th-century battle when the Turkish Fleet took on the Royal Navy.
I’m left wondering how this book got published in its current form in this day and age. Or is the industry in so much trouble they only bother to edit the first 30 pages?
M Harold Page (www.mharoldpage.com) is a Scottish-based writer and swordsman. He writes grown up novels with lots of swordfights and mayhem. However he’s also a dad and books aimed at children occasionally make him see red.