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Flights of fancy
The hijacking by Palestinian terrorists of an Aboriginal dance troupe provides the starting point forThomas Kcncally‘s new novel. Flying Herr) Class. Thomas Quinn interviews the Australian author.
The liberal literary establishment accept Thomas Keneally as one of their own. and as such. he was doing his duty on a hectic promotional tour of the UK last month. llis nineteenth and latest novel. Flying llem (lass. lay on the sofa next to where he sat. what might have been a packed itinerary folded in the inside cover. But his publishers. ‘dear old llodders'. as he dubs l lodder & Stoughton. were taking care of him. No expense spared on the hotel. everyone very kind; a worthy reflection of the author‘s bankability. of his potential to do what he did in 1982 with .S'e/tinrller's Ark: win the Booker Prize. That novel remains the competition's biggest-selling winner. ! As Keneally explains. Flying Hero 1
(lass got underway with some ' research by his daughter. who was working as a journalist in New York. ‘She went and hauled these articles on the psychology of hijackers. What do they think they are doing'.’ Does it work'.’ Are they mad or are they sane'.’ What are the economics of it‘.’ 1 low do terrorists get bonded into the organisations they belong to'.’
"The other hall‘of the book is a fictional version of what I've found out through journeys through Australia in years past and the experience of going to New York with two groups of Aboriginal performers. I wanted to write a book about Australia and ask what is it'.’ ls it the centre of the Aboriginal universe or is it the [European netherworld'."
'l’he novel's main character. MacLoud. is a small time tour manager and unsuccessful writer whose wife's career far outstrips his own. Accompanying his charges. Barramatjara (a dance troupe). from enthusiastic New York to an expectant Frankfurt. the couple find themselves part of a Palestinian terrorist campaign.
'I‘hree male passengers are identified as special enemies of all those on board: a Zionist journalist. an American businessman with an Israeli passport and MacLoud himself. accused ofexploiting the Aborigines and aiding the Australian government and the ('IA in robbing them oftheir land. We learn MacLoud‘s story through flashbacks as the hijack htlrtles towards a thrilling and violent conclusion.
‘l'm the sort of writer who hides behind a cast of thousands.’ he says. ‘l'd rather go to Eritrea and write
SPRING BOOKS SPECIAL
about famine in the Horn of Africa. than write about the intimate and the domestic.
‘First time 1 went to Eritrea we were sitting in a bunker two miles from the front. There was an afternoon shelling and the Eritreans are sitting with their Kalashnikovs stacked in the corner listening to the BBC Africa news. which was followed by a book reading. And in this incredible situation the book they were reading was llritel (lll Lac. And one of them said to me. “If the woman likes the man. why doesn't she tell him?” I don't ever want to write anything as pallid and intimate as that.‘
The most successful aspect of Flying Hem (lass is the depiction of group psychology. the product of
close observation and careful study by the author. As for the characterisation. Keneally is dealing with archetypes — this was the intention and it is an interesting one. Only the Aborigines were actually based on real people. and it has been commented that they are the novel‘s one original creation.
As an American ofJapanese descent. Daisy Nakamura. another passenger on the hijacked ﬂight. qualifies as a victim ofoppression in the Palestinians‘ historical analysis. But as an Arizona Republican she is also an oppressor.
While Keneally appears less at ease with female characters than with males. and more adept at broad brush-strokes than cameo portraits. the novel‘s supporting cast is still no less believable than any character can be. contained within 251) pages. sharing with ten or more other characters. a narrative dominated by the psyche of MacLoud.
Flying l l em Class is u n fashionably a novel of ideas and this necessitates ethnic and political types. So we are offered a near-alcoholic. right-wing English journalist and an American with the personality of an intelligent Dan Quayle. There would have been more imaginative options. it is true. but do the critics complain because the characters are familiar. rather than badly drawn'.’ Journalism is always more interested in exceptional. rather than continuing. atrocities. Right-wing alcoholic journalists are a continuing atrocity. And a good novel from Thomas Keneally is hardly a surprise. (Thomas ()uinn)
Flying I lero Class is published by Ilodder 6t Stoughton priced £13.99.
Ofall the people in all the bedsits in all the galaxies who say they like science fiction. can there be anyone who likes all the many sub-genres? writes lain Grant. j
Most people could happily admit to ' liking space-opera. Arthur C. Clarke is one of the masters here. and his early novella Against the Fall of Night (Gollancz SF £13.99) has just been reissued with a sequel. rather wittin entitled Beyond the Fall ()fNig/zt. penned by Gregory Benford.
The Clarke originally came out in 1948. and even then. his prose was effortless and compelling. Against the Fall ofNight. like so much of his work. does. however. tend toward cod portentousness. being about a young chap called Alvin and his search for The Meaning ()f'l‘he Universe. but ifvou can handle this. it is well worth a read.
Benford’s sequel is perhaps less satisfying. if’only because the frequent proximity of the words ‘Alvin‘ and ‘star' makes you chortle
with glee as you think of a crap l97()s pop singer.
()fcourse. SF can also be fused (melded might be a better word in the circumstances) with alien genres. Allen Steele's Clarke County, Space (Legend). for instance. is an extremely neat political thriller set in an off-world colony which is trying to break away from the colonial power on Earth which is exploiting it. and Greg Bear's Queen of Angels (Gollancz £7.99) is an effective crime thriller set in 21st century 1.os Angeles though there is a danger. as always with this author. of the reader being put off by the clipped and at times dangerously close to pretentious prose style.
Then there is SF parody. Harry Harrison wrote two brilliant books — The Stainless Steel Rat and its immediate sequel. but since then he really has gone ofl'the boil. His latest character. Bill. the Galactic l lero. features in a number of books. of which Bill, the Galactic Hero on the Planet oi the Robot Slaves ((iollancz £3.99) is just out in paperback. It is very tiresome — l larrison is just
following a tried. tested and exhausted formula. Ifyou like the funny stuff. go instead for Douglas llill‘s The Colloghi Conspiracy (Gollancz £3.99). which is also written to a formula but with a genuine spark of humour which sets off the writing nicely.
But the genre with which 1 have the most problems is Fantasy. Most of it is just silly and written. badly. as follows: 1. Lift the plot from Lon/(2f the Rings. 2. Dress it up in fake archaic language (you must always have one of the wise. old characters say ‘Speak not to me ofsuch things' at a crucial point. and can make it look even more crucial by saying ‘unto me‘ instead). 3. Don‘t call your orcs ores and your hobbits hobbits. as that will be too obvious. In this category I particularly recommend Thomas The Rhymer by Ellen Kusher (Gollancz £13.99). one ofthe worst books I have ever read. It is set in medieval Scotland and written by an American whose only acquaintance with the word ‘kilt' is as a synonym in Newyorkese for ‘wasted‘. (vi. to terminate) as in ‘gce. [guess I kill
him‘. Though none of the characters actually says 'howdy doody bud. how's it hanging gimme ten. yo‘. it would not have come as too great a surprise.
Much better. and only partly because sections of the narrative are set in a grittily realistic (.‘anadian Mounted Police department in downtown Ottawa. is Charles De Lint‘s Moonheart (Pan £4.99). I admit to having been put off at first by the cover and the ‘De' in ‘De Lint’. but the book is a compelling read. and even the cover line from a Jane Yolen saying ‘De Lint is a folksingcr as well as a writer. and it is this voice we hear. . .‘can‘t hide the fact that the man has a genuine talent.
There are also two new books of short stories to look out for. Paul J. McAuley‘s King of the Hill (Gollancz £13.99). and Iain M. Banks's The State ofthe ArI(()rbit £12.95). lfthe range of McAuley's stories is wider. both writers are capable of delivering well crafted prose and neat plot-lines. and McAuley‘s book in particular is highly recommended — the title story is outstanding.
The List 5— 18 April 199179