Review Blog

Sep 09 2019

The old lie by Claire G. Coleman

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Hachette, 2019. ISBN: 9780733640841.
(Age: 15+) Recommended. Themes: Dystopia, Science fiction, End of the world, Refugees, Biological warfare, Dispossession, Stolen Generations. With excerpts from Wilfred Owen's poems as epigraph for the first chapter, and descriptions of soldiers struggling amid mud, barbed wire and corpses, the reader would be forgiven in initially thinking this novel is set in the trenches of World War 1, however, reading on, we discover that the action is taking place 'far from Country, trapped on a planet light years from Earth', and the soldier we have been reading about, Corporal Shane Daniels, is actually a woman (an Aboriginal woman), fighting a battle to protect the Earth and other planets of the Federation against attacks from the alien Conglomeration forces. The fearless and dashing fighter pilot, Romeo, with a reputation of being caught out in other people's beds, is also a woman - a clever reversal of stereotypes by the author Claire G. Coleman. Shane Daniels and Romeo are caught in a battle fought around space stations overrun with refugees, human and non-human, from planets in the Federation.
Other characters are on-the-run escapee, Jimmy; a strange malnourished waif, Itta; Walker, struggling alone in a desert somewhere; and Williams, a surgeon imprisoned in a laboratory cell. How their lives are connected is not revealed until the end. The common thread is the turmoil that has overtaken the Universe, the violence and suffering as beings are pitted against each other, the stampede of people fleeing danger, spaceships pitted in battle with space stations, and no safe haven anywhere. As we read on we gradually become aware of parallels with the current situation of refugees fleeing danger around the world, the use of biological warfare, past atomic testing on Aboriginal lands, Aboriginal soldiers denied recognition and rights on return from war, and children stolen from their parents. Coleman has found a highly original way to present themes from Australian history in a science fiction format that will engage readers who like that kind of exciting action drama.
Helen Eddy

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