THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 629, July 24, 2011
"The 21st century Rosa Parks"
The Tomorrow Series, by John Marsden
Attribute to L. Neil Smith's The Libertarian Enterprise
Recently, I became aware of a series of young-adult books from Australia called The Tomorrow Series. While they're big sellers in Australia and New Zealand, they're not nearly as well-known here in the States; the first three books of the seven-book series didn't sell well, and the last four books were only recently published here. Whether this is due to their setting in rural Australia, the publishers' incompetence or failure to properly market them, or other factors, is not something on which I feel competent to speculate. I was lucky to find all seven books in a library I patronize.
Having read them, I can see why they're big bestsellers in Australia. They are the story of seven ordinary Australian rural teenagers who go on a camping trip in an outback valley... and come back to find everything changed. Over the course of the books, they change, and adapt, and grow, dealing with challenge after challenge, until they're adults in all but chronological age. You learn to know these young people, to like them, and to mourn their deaths and empathize with their suffering.
Summed up, the story sounds rather like Red Dawn (which I also liked, although the original script, which I have read, was much better... John Milius or whoever meddled with it has a lot to answer for)*: Ellie Linton (the narrator) and a group of her friends decide to skip the annual Commemoration Day celebrations, having seen them many times already, in favor of a camping trip in the bush. They wind up camping in a remote valley called "Hell," which is almost never visited, due to it being very difficult to get into.
While they're in Hell, Ellie and her friends notice military jets flying over, and Ellie thinks it's odd that they're flying without lights, but they think nothing of it. However, when they return to their homes, they find them deserted, with the stock either dead of neglect or in desperate need of attention. This alarms them, and they're more alarmed when one of them finds a message her father faxed home, saying that odd things were happening at the Commem Day celebration, and telling her that he hopes to be back home to tear the message up... but if he isn't, and she finds it, to "go bush."
While they were camping out, they discover, Australia was invaded. Since their district is essential to the control of a bay the invaders are using heavily, everybody was rounded up and confined to the fairgrounds. Commemoration Day made it easy; almost everybody was there already.
Ellie and her friends decide that they have to fight back. They have some guns, mostly single-shot .303s, and know how to survive and move around in the bush much better than the enemy does. They don't go into big patriotic speeches about how much they love their country, but you can feel their pain at seeing Australia invaded and occupied.
Over the course of the next books, Ellie and her friends slowly morph from frightened near-children to guerrillas with an international reputation. It isn't easy. They lose people, sometimes in stupid ways. They have days and days when they're just lying low in Hell or somewhere else, and are so bored and irritated that they peck at each other just for something to do. They long bitterly for the life before the war, and wish the adults would show up and take over, but the adults they find either are in no position to help, or betray them cruelly. They face combat, capture, and death... and measure up fully to every challenge they meet. They aren't superhumanly competent, but they learn quickly and use every bit of their knowledge to best advantage.
To a libertarian, one thing that sticks out is how "anarchistically" Ellie and her friends wage war. They have no uniforms, no chain-of-command, no assured source of supply or weapons, and they still manage to do a great deal of damage to the other side.
Ellie Linton, herself, is a heroine Robert Heinlein would not have been ashamed to create. She's quite competent to run a "station" (Australian idiom for what we'd call a "ranch") by herself, she knows the bush well and can survive in it, she's fully the equal of any of her male companions without making a fuss about it... and she's also a very realistic teenager, falling in and out of love, wondering what her life's about and what it's for, and mourning the deaths of her friends who die. One scene in particular, when she learns of the death of the girl who was her best friend all her life, is utterly heartbreaking. She is by no means tireless or fearless, but she just sucks it up, overrides her fear, overcomes her weariness, and goes on with what she feels she needs to do, whatever that may be... an attack on an enemy installation or a serious discussion with one of her friends.
These books aren't perfect. Marsden is obviously fairly uncomfortable with guns, and goes to some lengths to make sure that his protagonists don't get to keep any they find for too long. To be sure, the protagonists' own idea for what to do in case of capture is to pretend that they're just harmless teenagers who were caught away from home by the war, but this is one thing I'd have done differently. It's also fairly obvious that after the success of the first three books, which form a tightly-written trilogy by themselves, Marsden decided to go on and do more, although the later works have merits of their own. The ending of the series is bittersweet, but realistic.
Marsden also didn't do his research; some of the things his heroes do would not work at all in real life, and he doesn't know about how modern airplanes are built. He's also very vague about just who the invaders are, but that's not important... they could be anybody at all. I've commented on a discussion board that the invading humanoid aliens from the old Gold Key comic MARS Patrol: Total War would work just fine for invaders, if only because their habit of popping out of nowhere does eliminate the obvious question of just how one would go about invading Australia in the first place.
The first book, Tomorrow, When the War Began, has been made into a movie, and is doing very well in the Australian market. I don't think it'll ever make it to American theaters, but the next two books are in the process of being filmed, and I'm looking forward to the day when I can buy DVDs that will work in my machine. [It is out in all-region Blue-Ray disks at Amazon.com if you have a Blue-Ray playerEditor]
The Ellie Chronicles (following Ellie's life after the war):
While these books are not always easy to lay hands on in the United States, anybody who loved Heinlein's juveniles and likes a good story without a tacked-on happy ending will probably enjoy them. I plan to pass my copies on to my nephew when he's older.
Was that worth reading?