14 September 2010

Book review: Children No More

Children No More, Mark L. VanName. 2010.

I bought a copy of this book at NASFIC, after hearing that Mark is donating all proceeds from this novel to Falling Whistles, an NGO working to rehabilitate child soldiers in Congo. (It turns out Mark lives somewhere around here, actually. There are a lot of writers in these parts.)

The story is about a freelance/retired mercenary named Jon and his ship, whose AI is named Lobo. They're contracted by a former coworker named Alissa Lim to help rescue a group of children who have been pressed into combat. Jon was himself a child soldier, and he takes the mission for personal reasons.

This book is not happy fun times. The opening chapters depict the rebel forces training the boys to be killers. There is a lot of unpleasantness, depicted unflinchingly. However: the ending, which I won't spoil, is worth every flinch, every gut punch. There are moments of levity (Lobo is sarcastic as hell) throughout, and it's not unrelentingly bleak. There's a strong thread of hope: Jon's hope for the boys, Jon's hope for himself.

The main thing that bothered me was that Lim was portrayed as losing her temper easily. She's the only major female character (there's another one, but she's fairly secondary and one of the counselors in the rehab camp; well, there's also Maggie, who's a love interest for Jon), so there's not really a counterpoint for "wimmin: they're so emotional, amirite?" Now, it's true that Jon isn't as in control over his emotions as he likes to think he is, at least regarding certain things, but here's the thing. When Jon loses his control, good things happen. When Lim loses her control, bad things happen. It seems minor, but when this is viewed alongside every other story with the same stereotyped characterizations, it's just another brick in the wall of oppositional sexism, dividing Men from Women as mutually exclusive groups.

(Note: I don't believe that Mark had sexist intentions when writing this book, or creating Lim's character. I'm also not calling him a sexist. I'm commenting on the existing sexist tropes in American culture, which surround us so much that we don't even know they're there.)

In the end, it's a tale of humanity. It's a tale of overcoming horrors and moving on with your life, even if the horrors come back to haunt you now and again.

Strongly recommended.

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