|Terra by Mitch Benn|
|Category: Science Fiction|
|Reviewer: Ani Johnson|
|Summary: A deceptively simple sci-fi story that encourages us all to gather around the author's knee to listen highly agog, greatly amused and occasionally tearful. This is the unmistakeable voice and talent of Mitch Benn that his fans know and love, plus some.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 272||Date: July 2013|
|External links: Author's website|
Terra is different from everyone else on Fnrr and not only because she has vowels in her name. You see, Terra isn’t actually from Fnrr. Her adoptive father (Lbbp, a Fnrrn scientist) rescued her from her parents, the Bradshaws, on the planet Rrth in a moment of unthinking philanthropy. If only he'd done a little more thinking and a little less philanthropy…
Mitch Benn, comedian, satirist, composer/musician and the owner of the very loud infectious giggle often heard in the background of BBC Radio 4's The Now Show was at a loose end one day so asked via Twitter for suggestions to fill in the time. The suggestion he accepted was the offer of a meeting from Simon Spanton, something for which anyone with a sense of humour and/or a love of sci-fi should be grateful. Why? Simon is the Deputy Publishing Director of Gollancz and the rest, as they say, is history.
Terra includes aliens, hostile invasions, gadgetry and strange new worlds, in fact all the sci-fi staples expected from an author with such a passion for the genre. There are also strange languages which Mitch has thoughtfully translated for us and written in italics so we can distinguish it from Rrth English.
However, as with most sci-fi, this book is as much a comment on our era as about strange new worlds. It cuts to the heart of diversity and the problem of trying to be comfortably different when all we feel is excluded-different either within our own culture or in a totally alien society where we are in fact the alien. Mitch also cleverly sidles in subtle political commentary. I won't give too much away; just think 'education reforms' as you read about the Fnrrn teaching methods. Indeed, the lexicographic dexterity we've come to love in Mitch's lyrics translates well into prose.
We wouldn't have expected anything different from someone as wittily incisive as Mr Benn, but there's a lot that even his greatest fans may not have expected that will appeal to those who haven’t been as enamoured about his past work. Besides the hilarious bluster there's also a tenderness, gentleness, poignancy and vulnerability. We not only laugh out loud and sit on the edge of our seats when the suspense hits, but we cry too. (Four times in my case, two of them in an open office. Thank goodness for the hayfever excuse!)
Terra herself makes this book an ideal YA crossover as she searches for who she is in a world that she's trying to understand and that has trouble understanding her. At times she may seem more intelligent than her age, but I've met some children raised by scientists and she'd fit right in.
Her Rrthly… sorry… Earthly parents, the Bradshaws, had me nose-decanting coffee by the end of the first page, reminiscent of Roald Dahl's The Twits but then their baby daughter goes missing and their world crumbles.
Every parent will recognise Lbbp, someone trying to do his best in difficult circumstances while lingering doubts affect his judgement but not his love. As this novel asks questions about the nature of parenting, we come to realise that Lbbp's reluctance to call himself a father doesn’t matter a jot. However, my favourite character is the intriguingly named Vstj; jealous, snide, insecure and deliciously arch but with a twist.
I wish Mitch many, many author returns as many, many of us could do with more from where this came. Just one thing though, pronouncing Fnrrn names – please don't try this at home, at least not with your mouth full. I tried it once and, well, not big, not clever and not at all pretty.
Where further reading is concerned, Terra has been compared to both Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. I personally think his voice is pretty unique, but if you want to check the comparison out for yourself Good Omens by both Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman seems a good and highly recommended place to start.
You can read more book reviews or buy Terra by Mitch Benn at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy Terra by Mitch Benn at Amazon.com.
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