Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Children at play

I’ve been trying to get my hands on a copy of Garth Nix’s YA novel Shade’s Children for quite a long time and I just recently received it in the mail via Bookmooch. I was surprised to discover that it's Science Fiction rather than Fantasy, the latter genre being Nix’s forte (and why I adore him so completely and gushingly). I wasn’t disappointed with Shade’s Children though; on the contrary, I really, really enjoyed it and part of my enjoyment came from it being the most disturbing thing I think Nix has written.

The basic idea is that humanity has been invaded by aliens (?) and anyone over 14 has been disappeared while everyone under 14 has been taken to Dorms where they’re raised until their Sad Birthday.

On each child’s Sad Birthday (the 14th), they’re taken to the Meat Factory where they’re cut up and their muscles and brains harvested to make one of 5 or 6 varieties of terrifying killing machines who follow the orders of whatever clan they end up in; duties include fighting and killing each other and capturing or killing children who’ve escaped from the Dorms.

(I also had a Sad Birthday. It was my 30th. I realized I was 30, still a student, and sitting on a crappy bicycle from Canadian Tire in the living room of our apartment. Pathetic. It almost seems like becoming a post-human killing machine might not be so bad after all.)

Fighting against the Overlords perpetrating this evil is Shade and his children – Shade is some kind of projected intelligence and his children are those who’ve escaped the Dorms and are trying to fight against the Evil Bastards (capitalization mine). The children in Shade’s care die a lot, indeed, a lot more than they should…but I won’t say anymore. Like all of Nix’s work, Shade’s Children is almost entirely plot-driven and I don’t want to ruin anything for those of you who might read it.

I will say that what I liked most about this book is what I also liked most about Yusuke Kishi’s The Crimson Labyrinth and Koushun Takami’s Battle Royale – it’s all about gaming taken to a shockingly cruel and dangerous level. Not that this is a new idea; on the contrary. But I think it just tends to always work because it’s so deliciously hair-raising to imagine yourself (but from a safe distance) engaged in a game for which you don’t know either the rules or the purpose behind it, and which will likely cost you your life.

My question then becomes…why are so many of these books made to revolve around children/adolescents? I'm sure it's been suggested that it's all about children emulating corrupt adult behaviour, or a metaphor for a culture's loss of innocence. Those are pretty safe and palatable options. But what if it's a fantasy (begun in The Lord of the Flies perhaps) in which a culture gets to gorily and joyfully abandon all responsibility for its children - or, in the case of Shade's Children, actively feed upon their particular age-based vulnerabilities. Yes, I'm suggesting there may be something essentially vampiric about it all.

If anyone still respected the critics who like to run all lit through the Freudian interpretation machine, I'm sure they could have a field day with both my idea and the fact that I have this idea at all. Luckily, that shit is totally out of fashion. Also luckily, vampiric lit is quite popular these days.

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