Blackout by Sam Mills
|Blackout by Sam Mills|
|Reviewer: Jill Murphy|
|Summary: Chilling near-future thriller set in an authoritarian Britain where books are rewritten and authors are branded as terrorists. Lots of pace and tension and lots to think about, too. Great stuff.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 304||Date: February 2010|
I am a murderer.
I'm standing in a bookshop, a gun hot in my palm. The bullet that sat in my barrel thirty seconds ago has pierced flesh, blown into brain tissue, metal now fighting consciousness. The woman slumps ont the floor. Blood begins to trickle from her head. It drips onto a pile of signed copies stacked on the floor.
Oh my word! What an explosive beginning to a book! But what made a boy do something like this?
Stefan's father runs a bookshop - and it's quite a dangerous occuption in this Britain of the not too distant future. Because the government are banning books. A book inspired a terrorist bombing in which fifteen thousand people died. In the aftermath, books were banned - many altogether, and many were rewritten to become saccharine-sweet shadows of their former selves, with all violence edited away. Any kid caught reading an original gets sent to the Institution and everyone knows what happens there, and it's not good.
But Stefan's father doesn't agree with this censorship and he doesn't agree with the security clampdown either. He doesn't like the CCTV cameras winking on every street and in every hope. He doesn't think the state should have brought back capital punishment either - still less does he approve of a public execution in Trafalgar Square every month. And so he does the unthinkable. He takes in a writer - terrorist if you're a good citizen - who is on the run. Stefan just can't understand it and eventually, he turns his father in to the authorities.
But it isn't enough. Mud sticks. And soon enough, Stefan is on the run himself...
I loved, loved, loved this book. The narrative races away and you race away with it. And as poor Stefan is punched down, punched down and punched down again, you feel punched right down with him as all the consequences of an authoritarian state become clearer and clearer. Without free speech, without civil liberties, poor Stefan is utterly defenceless. And of course, without real books in his life, he's also totally naive. He's never lived vicariously and he has no real bank of knowledge to use to help himself. And so we see him lurch from faithful state stalwart to libertarian rebel to violent terrorist without ever really understanding what's going on.
It's tough stuff, but it's absolutely credible and it doesn't sacrifice narrative to polemic, so the whole thing is pretty much a chase thriller with a wonderfully sympathetic central character and some big ideas to back it up. This combination of future catastrophe and high octane action results in a book that is going to appeal to a wide range of readers from early secondary age right up to young adult. It'll definitely give them pause for thought.
My thanks to the nice people at Faber for sending the book.
Books for children are doing an admirable job describing what life would be like in Britain if we continue to allow the erosion of civil liberties. If they like the look of Blackout, they might also enjoy The Last Free Cat by Jon Blake, The Witness by James Jauncey, and The Declaration by Gemma Malley.
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