Fiction Reviews


(2013) Mitch Benn, Gollancz, £12.99, hrdbk, 255pp, ISBN 978-0-578-13208-5


Mitch Benn came to my attention, and probably to that of many others, for his appearances on Radio 4’s The Now Show where he sings humorous songs. Often these are inspired by items in the current news, but sometimes by one of his great interests – Science Fiction. It is for the latter that he has appeared as a

As the story opens, Mr. and Mrs. Bradbury are having yet another of their eternal arguments, and they argue about everything. They have not yet even agreed on a name for their baby. Meanwhile Lbbp, a Postulator (a kind of scientist) from the planet Fnrr, is on a fieldtrip to the planet Rrth (as they call it) and is hovering nearby in his invisible spaceship, studying the goings on of a small creature. Unfortunately he nudges the wrong button and makes his ship visible, the Bradburies suddenly see it and somewhat excitedly crash their car and then run away terrified. Believing them to have deserted their baby, Lbbp, being a caring and compassionate person, sees no alternative but to take the baby home with him. The authorities back home, unsurprisingly, are hardly happy with him but the Extrapolator (the planet’s greatest artificial intelligence) intervenes and orders that Lbbp must raise the baby, which will be granted full rights of citizenship. Lbbp decides to name her after her home planet – Terra.

We move on eight orbits (about eleven of our years) and Terra is doing well, though obviously aware that she is not the same as her school friends. Her appearance is the most obvious difference as the people of Fnrr have short bodies with long slender limbs, grey skin, and large, domed, hairless heads with black oval eyes (you all know the type). And so we get to see Fnrr from Terra’s eyes, the similarities of normal life (school homework must be done!) but utilising different technologies (such as commuting in your own gravity bubble). Mostly this is day-to-day growing up but then, horror of horrors, the neighbouring and very warlike G’grk tribe decide to invade and enslave the remainder of the planet.

Meanwhile, Terra, who is after all human and cannot help but think at least a little differently about some things, has introduced some new concepts to her friends and thus to their society; things such as stories. Although as emotional as any other race, the people of Fnrr are very factual and the idea of, well, making up something that is not true, just for entertainment, had never crossed their minds. And so Lbbp and his colleagues come to the realisation that they have gravely misunderstood humans as much of their understanding was based on the many earth 'histories' they have picked up. They had not realised that these 'histories' were simply stories, though in retrospect they never did make much sense logically (I mean, why is it that Rrth gets invaded so often and by so many gun-toting aliens, and especially always by ones that no-one else has ever come across?). It seems that they will have to rethink all about Rrth and its peoples. He even realises that the Bradburies had not callously abandoned their baby - they were scared witless seeing a real spaceship materialise in front of them. He had in effect kidnapped Terra! She might be different, but having Terra in their society proves to be an advantage when the G’grk invade - the Extrapolator’s job, after all, is to predict the future and protect the people.

I found the story to be very well written and, though aimed at a much younger audience, it was still a satisfying, if simple, read for the older reader. I think that as a child I would have much enjoyed it. Throughout the book there is a constant thread of humour that keeps it light, amusing, and interesting. Much of that humour works simply by illustrating the absurdities of many adult, 'worldly' attitudes. It reminded me of Winnie the Pooh visiting Eyeore when he thought he was out; he knocked on the door and waited for it not to be answered. There was also compassion in the story and we learnt that the people of Fnrr are really very much like humans – we are all just people when it comes down to it, with our individual good points and bad points.

All in all, a good read that I would recommend, especially to the younger reader. And he says he has already written the sequel!

Peter Tyers

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