Sunday, August 31, 2014

Book Review: Earth Girl

Curse summer colds, I never caught colds this much when I was in college, must be the general public making me sick. Regardless, one other big change from my college town is that apparently the District of Columbia has a law about being in the teenager section of a library if you aren't a teen or accompanying one. So far I haven't seen it enforced yet, and I can still pass for 19 if I try, but it is making me a little more hesitant to go in and browse around and instead I'm getting more and more of my books off of my never-ending "to read" list. Which is probably a good thing for me in the long run but I feel oddly out of touch without that chance to just see what's new on the shelves or simply has an interesting cover.

Earth Girl by Janet Edwards

Hundreds of years into the future, Earth has mastered terraforming and how to portal to distant worlds leaving old homeworld Earth very loosely populated, in fact the only people who live there in great numbers are the ones whose immune systems couldn't handle these foreign worlds and it was live on Earth or die. Jarra is one of the handicapped, or apes as some people like to call them, and while she already plans to go into Pre-History archeology she still feels like she wants to stick to it all of the exos who look down on them. So she comes up with a weird plan, enroll in an off-world university but since all first year courses must take place on Earth (since that's where Pre-History is after all, buried under years of sediment) she can stay there, masquerade for a year and then stun her classmates with her reveal. But even the best laid plans go astray and for a plan as odd as this one there are plenty of chances for things to go wrong....

The back of the book proclaims it to be the world's first YA utopia book and while I'm not positive it's the first I can't remember the last time I saw a bona fida utopia setting. Edwards doesn't try to spring any dark twists about the world on the reader/characters and does some really interesting world-building in the process. I liked how there are a set of worlds which have evolved to have a radically different culture from the others and the little details like how people on Planet Earth don't actually have any voting rights in the big interstellar congress (as someone in DC I empathize with this immensely). I did find the fact that people had forgotten a lot of Earth's history, and referred to it as pre-history, a bit strange though since they had only been portalling off-world for five or six centuries. There is a mention in the book that practically the entire internet crashed one night but that is one of the bigger hurdles you have to get over in the book, that and the idea that there is some unknown problem on every other planet but Earth that affects the handicaps, hopefully a future volume addresses that in more depth.  I also felt like the tension created in the book, about how the other planets look down on Earth as a result, even though Earth is literally the origin of the human race and the planets that do have old artifacts are envied by the rest, sent unintentional mixed messages as well, although it did show that you can have conflicts even in utopian settings!

While I did like Jarra a lot she wasn't my favorite part of the book, it was how the book just did a lot of things differently from how the standard novel plays out. I've already mentioned that it has what's arguably the rarest of all settings, a utopia, and while it might be confined to just Earth it's closer to being a space opera than any other kind of science fiction and you don't see a lot of that in YA books (then again I have terrible luck with YA and sci-fi, I'm still cringing remembering all those books I read a few summers back). The conflicts here aren't slow-burning builds but often come suddenly and unexpectedly, much like disasters in real life, and many other moments which would be big. dramatic reveals in any other story come off as rather anti-climatic. And I like it when stories do that, there have been so many times in my life when I've tried to lighten up a situation for myself going "if this was a movie this would be a big, solemn moment with sad music, dark lighting, and everyone in the proper frame of mind and yet here I am in the weirdest place possible trying to deal with it" so of course I love it when stories do that. There are times and reasons to set up the story one way (if you're trying to invoke specific symbolism or continue with a theme, ie acknowledging on some level that this is fiction and therefore malleable) and there are times when I want the actual events and characters of a story, not the stylings and trappings of it, to be what I remember later on. Plus, my quibbles with the setting's history and some of it's politics aside, I really liked a lot of the other details and I'm a sucker for interesting settings, a good one will let me happily overlook a lot of other details as long as nothing draws me out of it while I'm reading it. So, expect to see reviews on the other books in the future sometime, apparently they've all been out in the UK for a while now but I need to check the US publishing dates first!