This is the first book I’ve read by Walsh. I think she’s best known for a children’s time travel novel, A Chance Child, and official Lord Peter Wimsey fanfic.

Earth has been environmentally devastated and is about to be destroyed; it’s unclear if that’s because of war or something else. Many people have already fled in spaceships. The book is from the point of view of a very young girl, Pammy, whose family is with the very last group to flee, in a low-grade spaceship and with minimal preparation and supplies. The mad scramble to get out results in everyone being allowed to bring exactly one book, but no one consulting with each other to prevent duplication; this has major repercussions on the planet they end up on.

This is children’s sf, very short, written in clear, simple prose but with some remarkably beautiful imagery. It’s written from the point of view of a very young girl, Pammy, but she uses “we” and “Pammy” rather than “I,” reflecting that she’s part of a community of children.

The best aspect of the book is the evocative descriptions of the alien world and its landscapes and ecology. I absolutely love this sort of thing, and the world here is my favorite type: dangerous, strange, and beautiful. The book was worth reading just for that. It also has an excellent ending.

I had some problems with the plot, both because some crucial points required everyone to be idiots and that some things needed more explanation to be plausible or emotionally resonant.

The rule about bringing only one book is supposedly because of weight/space issues, but a tiny children’s paperback and the complete works of Shakespeare are both considered “one book.” This makes no sense. It should have been determined by weight or mass, as those were the reasons for the restriction.

Other issues are spoilery. On the planet, they worry that the plant life might be poisonous. So they feed the possibly poisonous grass to their rabbits to check. All the rabbits die. Oops! Now they have no rabbits. Why didn’t they feed the grass to ONE rabbit?

A huge deal is made of the wheat grown on the planet looking alien and dangerous. This is really nicely done and ominous. The characters are so sure the wheat will kill them that they’re preparing to commit suicide rather than starve. But the kids try the wheat and survive. Yay! They’re all saved! But they do this only out of desperation, not out of a perception shift that the wheat might not be as alien or dangerous as it looks, and we never get that perception shift. This was especially frustrating because there’s earlier set-up of alien moth-people seeming dangerous but turning out to be harmless, and of the kids finding that sap from the alien trees is edible. You can extrapolate that this primed the kids to try the wheat, but the moment where the wheat no longer looks scary is missing, and it feels like it needs to be there.

The lack of books and entertainment means that everyone sits around like zombies, bored out of their gourds, when they’re not working. The implication was that their society was used to getting all their entertainment from books and computers and so forth, and had no concept of sports, games, socializing, etc: when they finally start telling stories, that’s clearly an unfamiliar activity. But this didn’t get any previous set up, so it seemed weird that everyone defaulted to zombie-sitting rather than doing any of the normal off-time activities people do in low-tech settings. Especially since the kids were playing outside in the day—why didn’t they also play inside at night?

In both cases, I could see what Walsh was going for, but I would have liked a little more set-up.

The Green Book
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