Four books I read in June

I’ve read two books where a teenager has to navigate a post-apocalyptic England – and two queer romances. You can miss good books if you scorn teenage protagonists.

We live in a world contemplating disaster. Writing about after allows stories of humans under pressure, and it can ask questions about how we organise ourselves, what we would lose, and perhaps here and there, what we might gain.  They don’t have to be right wing power fantasies. Read more here.

A boy and his dog by C A Fletcher shows the British Isles largely depopulated.  Gris’s family only knows one or two other families, scattered across the whole Western Isles. A stranger steals his dog, among other things, and impetuous Gris sails after him. Step by step Fletcher puts Gris in increasing danger, in a haunting vision of a world largely without humans. The author has a brilliant way of foreshadowing disaster, in a way that makes what actually goes wrong a complete surprise, with at least one unforgivable twist, and he brings it to a staggering ending.

The Book of Koli by M R Carey starts in a post-apocalyptic Yorkshire, where an isolated village is slowly shrinking – births being fewer than deaths. Surrounded by carnivorous trees and other mutants, the community is ruled by those who can make old technology work. Koli challenges this and ends up expelled.  Carey delivers originality and imagination, his humane take on the world is accessible. This is the first of a trilogy, in which Koli must see if humanity is doomed to die out.

Red White and Royal Blue is fun – Alex is the adult son of the female President of the US and dislikes tall handsome Prince Henry of the British Royal Family. (It’s set in a world where Trump lost). Obviously, they’re going to end up in love but it’s good clean entertainment getting there. Spin, the obsessions of the modern media, and the stultifying nature of monarchy add to the mix. Many people firmly believe it is bad to read books that make you happy, and they also believe it must be easy to write them.  I’m not going to read this sort of thing every day but it’s very successful, and even drips in a positive political worldview.  Passionate love scenes are tasteful.

Felix Ever After follows black trans artist Felix at art school in Brooklyn, it is about his struggles with bullying, including aggressive deadnaming, and not knowing what he wants to do with his talent. The title warns you that he gets his stuff together, though it’s sharper and less obvious than Red White and Blue. We need an assertion of the basic humanity of trans people.

One Year On: Still Being Reviewed!

So a week and a year since the e-book first hit the aether and Our Child of the Stars still gets reviews.

A brilliant one on the British Fantasy Society website.


‘A heartwarming tale of love, loss and unity set in late 1960’s mid-town America’

The book may not bring peace among the nations but it is an interesting example of a book liked by science fiction fans and fantasy fans alike, as well as non-genre readers too.


The History Boys is bunk

TL:DR great cast and acting can’t save this morally bonkers and weirdly unrealistic school story.  Spoilers.

The History Boys was an acclaimed play – did I hear that it is being revived, or being turned into a musical?   The film was widely praised.  Alan Bennett is of course a national treasure.  The work deals with love, growing up. the purpose of education and the nature of history.  So, we watched the film on my partner’s birthday, and to quote from the play ‘You can’t polish a turd’.

OK, that’s harsh, but I wasn’t impressed.

The History Boys follows eight scholarship candidates being coached for Oxbridge, in a boy’s grammar school in 1980s Sheffield.  And it’s brilliantly played by the ensemble, some of whom launched a well-deserved career from being in it.  (James Corden, Russell Tovey!)

It’s really problematic.  The eight eighteen year-olds are, to a lad, not real teenagers.  They include well known types; the Christian hunk, the natural charmer, the obvious gay, the working-class kid who’s not expected to succeed.  But they float in an odd world where they learn lines from Brief Encounter, or know show tunes from the Fifties.  They don’t talk football, or music, or much about girls. They are, to be honest, a late middle-aged gay man’s strange fantasy of what he’d like teenagers to be like.

One of the teachers, Hector, regularly gropes every boy in the group, except the completely gay one.  The pupils treat this as a harmless habit of his, although they don’t actually court it.  The idea that they might be upset or suffer any lasting damage – that anyone might have a serious problem with it – is never challenged and is actually laughed off.  It has clearly been happening for years.

The dislikeable Headmaster receives a complaint when Hector gropes a pupil in public.  The Head clearly knows this groping happens – and we are supposed to take him as a homophobic bigot, because he arranges for poor old eccentric Hector to leave.  The bounder.

The gay, repressed, cynical supply-teacher Irwin is slightly more believable.  But then he is propositioned by Dakin, the class charmer, on the last day of term, and agrees.  Under the ridiculous laws of the time, Dakin was underage.  Any rational man would fear they were being set up.  It’s just one of several points in the film where the characters are puppets in the writer’s hands.

Dakin uses the Head’s wandering hands with his girlfriend, not to help her, but to save Hector.  So the lovely old sexual predator gets his job back.  The old letch is completely unrepentant and it’s clear a further group of teenagers can look forward to his crude fumblings.

A writer makes moral choices.  If you paint a sexual predator as harmless, try to get us to condemn his punishment, have his targets defend him, and expect us to cheer when he comes back, to immediately repeat his behaviour… well, you could have made other choices.   It’s an insult to those of us who fought for LGBT liberation in those years.

OK, it’s well-acted, and entertaining.  The verbal duels about history and education and art may distract you from the grope-athon.  Frances De La Tour gets to leaven the undiluted testosterone of the piece.  (Dakin’s love interest barely gets to speak.)

But adults in positions of responsibility using vulnerable people for their own gratification is, guess what, not OK.  Whatever their sex or sexuality.  Null points.