30 March 2009

Book of the Week (7): "Solar Nation" by Erica Blaney

In Solarnation, Solly and Lalune, and their entourage of bizarre animal, vegetable and mineral friends and supporters, battle to liberate the people of Clandoi from their miserable, dark and constrained lives. Solarnation continues and completes the story that started with Cybernation, Erica Blaney’s début novel. For those unaware of Cybernation, I’d recommend reading it first as it introduces the intricately woven raft of invention and convention which underpins the plot. It also introduces the two Solly and Lalune and the repressive caste system into which they were born, and which they flouted in order to forge a remarkable and lasting bond.

Erica Blaney has created a desperate world, a planet to which people escaped from the earth hundreds of years earlier, only to ruin it too. The harshness of the environment, and the cruelty and racism of those who rule is thrown into relief by the humanity of many of the characters, even those who aren’t in the least human. Blaney never writes off a character as being a single entity or force for good or bad; we hold our collective breath as they make their choices, and as they make their mistakes too.

This is an author with an extraordinarily rich visual imagination, and her writing is so fluid and evocative that even the most outrageous characters – Star the loyal snowcamel with his leathery umbrella or the appalling swag that ‘looked and stank like a pile of rotting carpets’ – are utterly believable. She is a fearless writer. In blinding one of the characters, she is able to evoke much more powerfully the extreme nature of her predicament. She’s also something of a romantic, so readers can’t help but hope for a good resolution, not only for the people of Clandoi but also for Solly and Lalune…

These books reward readers who pay attention, but Blaney knows just how to grab and hold that attention. Her accomplished, compelling storytelling is full of energy, linguistic invention and originality, and, when the time is right, she has a most appealing lightness of touch and humour.

[Yes, I'm biased - Erica Blaney is one of the writers represented by Fraser Ross Associates. But I have absolutely no qualms about recommending these books. Her initial submission was instantly appealing, and with Emily Thomas's support at Hodder, Cybernation and Solarnation are even better than I might have hoped!]

Recommended by Lindsey Fraser

  • For another thought-provoking take on defying racial divides, read Noughts and Crosses and its sequels by Malorie Blackman.
  • For more fast-paced sci-fi, try The Seventh Tide by Joan Lennon.
  • For more eco-politics hidden in a terrific story, Toby Alone by Timothée de Fombelle.
  • Or for more thrills, scares – and black humour, read The Black Book of Secrets by F.E. Higgins.

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