The Cure by Michael Coleman

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The Cure by Michael Coleman

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Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: More a defence of intellectual freedom than a battle of science and faith, this is a wonderfully tight psychological thriller that doesn't duck the issues with a neat happy ending. However, its vision of a kind of fundamentalist science may cloud understanding in some younger readers.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 320 Date: October 2008
Publisher: Orchard Books
ISBN: 1846163455

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It's 274 AD. That's not Anno Domini, by the way, that's After Darwin. Raul and his sister Arym live in a world that has completely rejected religion. After terrible outbreaks of fundamentalist terrorism some years before, a rationalist, authoritarian regime came to power. They dissolved all the churches, mosques and temples. They forbade religion and dubbed Charles Darwin the new saviour. But the trappings of religion haven't entirely disappeared. The familiar tropes have been replaced with consumerist ones - in this world the blesseds are celebrities, not saints and quasi-religious services in Celebreons, not churches, install them. The Bible, Talmud and Koran have been replaced with The Writings.

Raul and Arym live in a nurture-house, cared for by the state. They have never known their mother. Arym buys into the new regime. She loves the Blesseds, she believes in The Writings. Raul, however, has questions. And questions are frowned upon in this brave, new, rationalist world. So the nurture-house guardian sends the siblings to a sanatorium, so that Raul can be "cured" of his doubts. Will he become an unthinking believer like his sister, or will he continue to rebel?

As a thriller, The Cure works brilliantly. Coleman weaves a web of tension in which Raul's questions lead him into ever more trouble and peril. Yet he cannot help but speak out. It's a powerful defence of free speech and intellectual freedom and a strong indictment of today's consumerist society in which the trivial is celebrated while the spiritual is not. The book doesn't flinch from tragedy and so it challenges its young readers and refuses to let them off the hook. But it also maintains a powerful belief in the human spirit - something that really should be celebrated - and insists that hope never dies.

So far, so good. However, this future dystopia of Coleman's imagining bears more resemblance to a fundamental religious society than it does to a world in which science has become god (small g? big G?) and this obscures what, for the age group, should be a simpler message. We know that aggressively state-secular authoritarian regimes have spectacularly failed to create fulfilled and happy societies - and indeed the book makes mention of Hitler, Stalin and Mao. We know that religion and spirituality don't wither out, no matter how hard the boot that crushes them. Perhaps young children do not - but I can't see that a fictional future world in which it appears science no longer asks questions, and isn't, well, very scientifically advanced (they're still performing lobotomies, for heaven's sakes and there is little or no mention of technology) is really going to help them make the comparison. Even I was left feeling a little confused about what message I was supposed to be taking on board.

These are fairly big reservations, but nonetheless I enjoyed The Cure very much. It certainly held my attention and I thought the denouement was both challenging and brave. Like Coleman I suspect, I don't see that science and religion are necessarily incompatible - although I am an atheist and he is not - and even if I did, I certainly think it's a good thing to explore such issues in books for children. There are questions that science cannot answer - and however young we are, we have the right to decide whether it's simply that science cannot answer them yet or that behind science lies something that only faith can understand.

My thanks to the nice people at Orchard for sending the book.

T E Berry-Hart's Escape From Genopolis has an equally disturbing vision of future science.

Booklists.jpg The Cure by Michael Coleman is in the List Of Books To Celebrate Charles Darwin's 200th Anniversary.

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Magda said:

The initial premise (but not the result) is almost exactly like in McLeod's Night Sessions (which is not a young teen book, but would be a good link for slightly older readers and adults).

Now, as far as the content, do you, then, think, that this book simply reverses the standard dystopian s-f setting of post-apocalyptic religiously fundamentalist society? Replaces the scenery (& the god) so to speak?

Or does it make genuine points which would be specific to such a science-fundamentalist society?

And is the science genuine science, and the fundamentalist element is in the atheism or is it really a pseudo-science closer to Lysenko than Darwin?

I think I am mumbling again, but I am sure you'd know what I mean as you usually do.

Jill replied:

Yes, I get you. I think the author has faith and wanted to make the point that science has yet to provide all the answers, so is distrustworthy as a "new religion". It's a good point, but I feel the book's thrust was personally-inspired, y'know?