Providing interesting perspectives in popular fiction

“Remember the head fake? That’s when you teach somebody something by having them think they’re learning something else.”
Randy Pausch

One of the nice things about popular fiction is that you can often address interesting topics when it’s ostensibly about something else. One of the reasons I like series like Buffy, Dollhouse, and the like.

A recent example was a novel called “Team Human” by Larbalestier and Brennan. It’s definitely written for a young (and probably female) audience. The type who reads Twilight (personally, never read it, and I would say it if I did ;-)). Anyway, someone recommended it on Twitter and I wanted to read something I could cruise through during a bath.

On the surface it’s about a female teenage protagonist, her friend who falls in love with a vampire (in a world where vampires have adapted to public life) and another friend with family issues. The female protagonist is at least somewhat tolerable, well, as much as a more-or-less believable teenager can be. Annoyingly self-centered, even when ostensibly caring for others (I know it’s one reason for the plot, but still annoying). But at least she’s more likeable than the “I-only-see-myself”-Katniss of “Hunger Games” (don’t get me wrong, liked “Hunger Games” as a tamer, Westernized version of Takami’s “Battle Royale”, but I wouldn’t want to be friends with the main character).

Anyway, “Team Human”‘s story is as predictable as can be expected. About page 60 (roughly 1/5th or 1/6th into the book) you can pretty much predict what has happened and how the rest will unfold. It’s not hindsight — I made a note and compared it afterwards (love digital reading). As a detective novel it would fail. It’s also creepingly politically correct. But then again, I’m not the target audience.

What was nice about it was the perspective it provided when a good friend is planning to do something you strongly disagree with — because it’s high-risk, final, and you think they lose many of the things that make life meaningful. And regarding this perspective, the book works really well. The downsides of becoming a vampire were a nice metaphor for other processes where you both gain and lose things of significance (in that world: turning has 1/5 chance that you end up really dead or worse, and in every case you become so detached from the world that humor in the form of laughing is no longer possible).

Frankly, I was starting to think about a few stories about people doing a sex change. And I wondered whether there are some people who did it without really considering all sides of the issue, who saw it as the solution to all their problems, without really trying to give their sex/gender a chance, and who perhaps had too-few (or the wrong) same-sex friends. And it was nice of the book to address the issue with more than one character and outcome — and arguing for going into major decisions with both eyes open. I agree, it’s the least you should do when making life-changing decisions. Make sure it really fits to who you really are, then go ahead. If not, don’t force it, but continue searching for something that fits.

And overall, it was a nice reminder of how some authors manage to put some depth in otherwise rather plain stories.