Sunday, June 20, 2010

2 chapbooks from Nightjar Press

Michael Marshall Smith
What Happens When You Wake Up In the Night

Tom Fletcher
The Safe Children

Nightjar Press, 2009

A small British publisher Nightjar Press publishes small chapbooks. They are published in a limited edition of 200-300 copies, so you have to grab it as soon as possible. The two first authors, who opened the series and the work of publishing in general, became Michael Marshall Smith (needs no introduction) and Tom Fletcher, whose first novel will be published this year.

Since the book contains only one short story, to say something intelligible about the stories can only be, one way or another, told to readers some important moments of the narrative. So I can`t do it without spoilers. For those who believe spoilers are necessary evil and will not read any further, we can only say that these are two very strong story, but the stories are not something that would goose-on-skin-horrible (although the book publishers still are drawn towards horror). Which one is better? Both are good, you can easily buy both books.

For those who are not afraid of spoilers, we continue. The main theme of both stories is children. In Smith's story the protagonist is a little girl, the protagonist of Fletcher`s one lost his son. Smith has written fantasy, Fletcher - science fiction.

Maddy, still quite a child, in Smith`s story wakes up in the middle of the night. She is afraid of the dark, so she sleeps with a light. They agreed with her mother: Maddy sleeps with the light on, but if she wakes in the night, the girl can go to the parents' bedroom only if it is absolutely necessary. At this time, waking up, the girl discovers that the night light is off and thinks that her mother had violated the deal and turned off the light. Maddy wants to go to the parents' room to say that the mother had violated the deal. But the girl is not succeeding in that: in the darkness she can not find the door. Solid wall and there is no trace of a doorknob. After some time girl`s mother wakes up, hearing her daughter rustling. Mom said that Maddy has violated the deal by going to the parents' bedroom. Maddy also blames her mother that on the contrary, she has violated the deal, turned off the light in the Maddy`s room.

The contract did not violate anyone: the father, the mother and the girl woke up all in one room on the floor, where there are no windows, doors, cold and dark. Maddy's parents tries to understand what is going on, going past the walls in search of doors or windows, but no exit.

Smith, a superb stylist, shows excellent speech and thought of a girl, when she just wakes up in the middle of the night. She is capricious, rely more on imagination than on rationality; just such a silly. At the end of the story not a children's sadness, the bitter realization that nothing will change either today or tomorrow shows up in her thoughts, in the tone of her voice. So Smith alludes to the fact that the girl has managed to grow up, so long the three of them are in this room (they do not feel hunger, but the room is still cold and dark).

«What Happens When You Wake Up In the Night» is not only a sad story of hope and despair, but the lesson with a fair amount of author sneers: better to sleep, closing with a blanket and putting his head under the pillow.

Fletcher is more serious and concerned about the social implications. James gets on the train to go to work. Along the way he remembers his perished son. Looking during a trip to a futuristic landscape, he also recalls a line from a once read fantastic story: "Where are my safe children? Where is my flying car?" Indeed, James feels that the future has already arrived, but he still gets a train, and children continue to die. At the new place he is met by the administrator, who explains James' duties. They are a bit unusual: all that is required is just to sit in the lobby of the factory and once a week to check arrivals, checking their names with the database. The rest of the factory is fully automated. James is surprised, but agrees to work. Administrator is to leave for home, leaving the hero alone with the empty hall and a computer.

Fidgeted for some time of boredom, James suddenly hear sounds similar to the steps, and then cry "Daddy!" from the wall. James totally terrified and immediately calls the administrator who has left. Administrator arrives and opens a mystery of the factory to James: in its walls children, certain robots are produced, so similar to humans, that James with a long time does not believe that they aren't alive though the administrator says so. Why did the factory produce these little boys? The truth almost knocks James off his feet: children are sex toys. They were specially produced for rapists and pedophiles to secure real, living children. The administrator assures that children are robots and feel nothing. They look like real, but still not real. But they are crying, James` trying to say something. “Go home, administrator replies. And come back tomorrow.” And James leaves.

He received his safe children, thanks to robots. Children of flesh and blood must now be safe. But is this that security he dreamed of? Why the boy robot is called him Daddy?

«The Safe Children» is a story that does not leave even a robot indifferent.

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