Lbbp has always preferred plants to people. Whilst researching Earth’s biodiversity, he accidentally became the proud parent of a bouncing baby human girl. For him, it was breaking all of his culture’s rules to even contact humans, so imagine the difficulties in bringing one home and raising her as his own daughter. Lbbp eventually names his adopted daughter, Terra. Lbbp’s home planet, Fnnr, is diverse politically and advanced technologically.
After some orbits, it is time for Terra to begin her education. She is aware of the differences to those around her, but Lbbp has been a good parent and he knows what is expected of a good Fnnr student. In her spare time, she dreams of blue skies and strange voices high above her. As Terra grows, Fnnr’s relationship with its mentor species undergoes dramatic changes. Could her humanity hold the secret to avoiding war and saving the lives of those she loves?
Mitch Benn is well-known for his musical comedy and appearances on Radio 4 comedy shows. ‘Terra’ is Benn’s first novel and he wears his SF influences proudly. The humour is sharp and precise and works very well in the wider world of Fnnr. Terra and Lbbp’s relationship is moving and genuine as are the relationships between the supporting characters. Overall, the comedy and personalities combine to produce an impressive first novel. A personal bugbear is when SF stories describe time and distances in Earth-centric terms, hours, miles, years, etc and Benn handles this very nicely.
There are a couple of negative issues. The build-up towards the political conflict in the third act was nicely handled, but the resolution was a little rapid for my taste. The building peril could have benefited from a couple of extra chapters. The ghost of Douglas Adams haunts any contemporary comedy SF novel. His influences are clearly rattling Benn’s pots and pans here. Once or twice, while reading, I found myself wondering how Benn would have handled the recent ‘Hitchhiker’s revisit, ‘One Last Thing’. Perhaps the sequel to ‘Terra’, which Benn mentions having completed in the sleeve notes, might increase this sense of what might have been.
Benn has an entertaining style which would appeal to young adult and young-at-heart adults alike. I blasted though this novel in a shopping trip and a couple of evenings. Hopefully, the next instalment will continue this excitement.
(pub: Gollancz. 255 page small hardback. Price: £12.99 (UK only). ISBN: 978-0-575-13208-5)
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