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Sunday, March 07, 2010

THE WHALE’S TALE By Edwina Harvey. Sydney: Peggy Bright, 2009

I first read this as a manuscript. Actually, I first read it as a short story, entered for the Mary Grant Bruce Award for Children’s Literature, which I was judging some years ago. The practice was to read all the manuscripts with the authors’ names removed, prepare a short list and hand this to children to choose the winner. That year, the story the kids chose as a winner was later published as a short – very short – book. I can’t remember what it was called and I suspect it’s long out of print. It wouldn't be the first time, not will it be the last, that a story that won a prize has been forgotten while one that didn't win has become a classic. Take that book which won the Australian Children's Book Council award for picture book of the year - what was it called? Something about bears? I haven't seen it around for a while, but Animalia, which didn't win, is still going strong.

But I felt that this story, “Restitution”, had merit and deserved a Commended at least, which was in my power to give.

Edwina Harvey worked the manuscript into a novel, which got as far as the George Turner Award short list for a new piece of SF writing.

Once again, I was asked to read the manuscript, then pass it on to a teenager to read. I felt it needed work, for reasons I told the author at the time, but the teenager loved it. What can I say? Samantha now has her copy of the finished product and no doubt loves it even more in print. The issues I had with the manuscript have been well and truly addressed.

Edwina Harvey is the kind of children's writer who can write the most over-the-top things and take them for granted. "What - you mean people DON'T run into unicorns every day, or travel the galaxy with a sentient whale and a dolphin?" And that's what makes her so right for this type of writing.

We all, as writers, have the story of our heart. This is Edwina Harvey’s. And that shows in the writing, as well as a whole lot of humour and wisecracking from a sassy teenage girl.

Japanese teenager Uki, a lonely but brilliant hacker who has been using her skills to make friends, is caught stealing a file from the computer of whale singer Targe. This is some time after whales and dolphins have communicated with humans and started touring the galaxy as performers and diplomats. As a punishment, she is ordered by the court to travel with Targe and his dolphin offsider Charlie on a tour. Targe is angry about being stuck with her. Uki is not pleased either. But as the tour proceeds, it turns out she has gifts neither of them knew existed…

It’s not the first time anyone has written about spacefaring cetaceans. David Brin did it years ago. But you really had to concentrate to get the most out of the wonderful Startide Rising, which was the hardest of hard science fiction as well as an adventure. This one is a lot easier to handle and has environmental messages that don’t hit you over the head.

The cover, by rising SF artist Eleanor Clarke, is exquisite.

And who wouldn’t love to travel the galaxy in the good ship Antarctic Dancer? I sure would!

I am told that this novel has been nominated for a Hugo Award and an Aurealis. Here's hoping!

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