RogerBW's Blog

Earth Flight, Janet Edwards 10 November 2016

2014 young adult science fiction, third in the Earth Girl trilogy. Jarra is Handicapped, unable to leave Earth for any of the colony worlds where most of society now happens, but she's also a famous hero. Which means she's now become a symbol, both for those who want to bring the Handicapped more into society and for those who resist that trend.

Yeah, it does get kind of Messagey. The Handicapped are quite specifically no different from anyone else except that they can't live anywhere except on Earth, but people are prejudiced against them nonetheless! For no reason! Yeah, we get it; but it would have been more interesting if there had been some more complexity to the anti-Handicapped viewpoint, much as real-world popular racism encouraged and was encouraged by studies supposedly showing the lower intelligence of black people compared with white. Instead, everyone who dislikes the Handicapped is still a simplistic Bad Person, and in such a minority that when some measures are taken to change the situation it's a landslide in favour of Team Good.

So why didn't this happen years ago? Is Jarra really the first Handicapped person ever to have done anything interesting?

This time she doesn't even do all that much - because she's become a symbol, everyone else is fighting and dying on her behalf, and everything she does comes out easily. (Mockingjay, the conclusion of the Hunger Games series, handled this rather better, including looking at the downsides of being a symbol used by people of whom you don't particularly approve, beyond merely not wanting to be on camera and having Good Guys and Bad Guys.) There are some sequences of what a film rating board would call "mild peril", but I never believed she was in significant danger. She even gets her Handicap cured (something which was apparently always possible, just too expensive and dangerous to try before) – which leaves her even more extra-special and beautiful. To me, that rather devalues the entire point of the series.

The nature of the Handicap has changed a bit too - it's still a matter of immune system jitters, but apparently it's also something to do with stellar radiation, and… well, basically it does what it needs to do for the plot to work. Oh dear. Also, the Military feels free to ignore any inconvenient laws whenever it wants to, but nobody worries about this. Not even a little bit.

Eh. Maybe I wasn't in the right mood for this, but it felt like a step down from the second book, which was a step down from the first. Is it unfair of me to say that the wider off-Earth society seems to become less and less advanced or rational as we see more of it? Or is that meant to be Jarra's viewpoint changing as she learns more?

There's barely any archaeology in this book, which is also a shame. But the actual writing is always good, the tin-eared future slang is ladled on relatively gently, and I think that if Edwards were a bit keener on worldbuilding and a bit less enthusiastic about the author's message she could write something truly superb. That's why I'm frustrated: this isn't a rote fantasy or throwaway mil-SF of which I would have minimal expectations, it's a potentially brilliant author writing below the standard of which I know she's capable.

Read Earth Girl, because it's great. If you love it, go on, but don't be afraid to drop the series; alas, it doesn't manage to maintain its quality.

Recommended by Colin Fine.

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