Tuesday, January 4, 2011
What's Hot?? Fever Crumb.....
Via The Guardian, Saturday 27 June 2009
by Philip Reeve
Future litter is one of the great themes of Philip Reeve's brilliant Mortal Engines series. When I first read these books, I felt as if the pages themselves were charged with electricity. They are set in a remote future in which London has become a huge vehicle - a traction city - roaming around the "darkling plain", swallowing up and asset-stripping smaller settlements in accordance with the laws of "municipal darwinism". It's a heady mixture of the strange and the familiar - Brighton is a slave-trade hub, floating on a raft in the middle of the Atlantic. As an image of the future, it's both fantastical and convincing - a kind of steampunk Planet of Slums.
Fever Crumb is a prequel to the series. Here London is still stuck to the ground, though it is already being menaced by a coalition of wandering, northern tribes called the Movement. Fever Crumb herself is a foundling who has been brought up in the rarified and ultra-rational atmosphere of the Order of Engineers, who live and work inside the head of a colossal ruined statue - an image that mashes "Ozymandias" with Planet of the Apes. When she is sent out to work on an archaeological dig, her composure and reason are tested, first by the madness of the city itself, and next by the emotional wounds she opens as she uncovers the mystery of her own parentage.
Reeve's vision of a society that can no longer afford technology but which is still strewn with the non-degradable detritus of our "civilisation" could not be more timely. Sometimes this detritus is good for a laugh (there's a clever joke about Space Hoppers), and sometimes it's chilling, as when the true nature of "Medusa" is revealed in the earlier books. I occasionally felt uncomfortable in Fever Crumb because of the way these heavyweight issues sit alongside some fairly weedy puns - there's a Krishna-ish cult called Hari Potter, for instance - but I suppose that captures the indifference of time, which will happily reduce the manuscripts of Euripides to dust while inexplicably preserving shopping lists. Bizarrely, Fever Crumb's London bristles with Bowie references. There's a pub called the Mott and Hoople, and the ferocious Skinners' warcry is adapted from Diamond Dogs.
That album in its turn was a response to George Orwell's 1984. Reading Fever Crumb made me nostalgic for the days when books and music talked to each other a bit more. Lord of the Rings, for instance, was surprisingly influential in rock music (T Rex, Led Zeppelin, and so on), board games (Dungeons and Dragons), the hippy press (Gandalf's Garden) and computer games. That doesn't really happen nowadays, when successful books are filmed - and therefore trussed up in copyright law - much more quickly. Even though they are so cinematic, there don't seem to be any immediate plans to film Mortal Engines. Good. It'll be interesting to see what happens to these astonishing, important images if they're allowed to float around in the culture for a while, like pop songs.
Fever Crumb is a terrific read, a sci-fi Dickens, full of orphans, villains, chases and mysteries. There's even a balloon-chase climax. I worry that if you read it before reading the others, you'll miss out on the electric shock I had when I was plunged straight into that jungle of predator cities. Like The Magician's Nephew, or the story of how your parents met, it's a beginning better told at the end.