Twilight In the Land of Nowhen
by Nury Vittachi
Published by Allen and Unwin
168 pages, 2006
Buy it online
A Hiccup in Time
Reviewed by Sue Bursztynski
Nury Vittachi is best known for his series of humorous crime tales about the Feng Shui Detective, a sort of modern Asian Sherlock Holmes who solves mysteries in between designing feng shui-correct offices and homes with an enthusiastic young Australian girl as his Watson.
In Twilight In The Land of Nowhen, he changes genres, from crime fiction to science fiction and writes for children rather than adults. There is still a mystery involved as the hero tries desperately to find a solution to his nasty problem, which could see him end up as literally a non-person. Intriguingly, the entire premise of this piece is centered around a scientific theory: in this case the Theory of Relativity. The end solution depends on physics, which is unusual in a children's book.
Simon Poopoo has a serious problem, quite part from his embarrassing name, which is actually about a Hawaiian snack manufactured by his father rather than a toilet joke. He had been conceived out in space by his astronaut parents, resulting in his father losing his job and his mother being demoted to running supplies between the moon and the asteroids and at some time during her pregnancy, out in space, something happened that affected both her and the unborn Simon. Simon hasn't been able to ask his mother about it; he has been raised by his father and told his mother had died.
As the result of what had happened in space, he has been born with a glitch in his amygdala, resulting in a condition called displacement, fourth-dimensional synchronitis or time-sickness. In other words, he is three seconds ahead of everyone else in time. He answers questions before they have been asked. He reaches for things before they have been handed to him. This makes it utterly impossible for him to make friends at school; even those students who started off being friendly to him become annoyed at what they perceive as his weirdness. His teachers are also unimpressed, though he is good at his studies -- a genius, in fact. His father is too busy going out with new girlfriends and working on his souped-up flying car (this is the not-too-distant future) to be interested in Simon's troubles.
But Simon needs help urgently. Bad as it is, the time displacement problem is getting worse. Simon's only friend at his new school, the janitor Ms Blit, is more than she seems. She is a Stitcher, or "celestial seamstress," one of 20 women responsible for "sewing up" holes in time. She helps Simon to control his problem to a certain extent, but tells him that, firstly, it's incurable and secondly, if it gets much worse -- it's already the worst she has ever seen -- Simon will find himself in the condition known as Nowhen, disappearing from history altogether. He will never have been born.
Can Simon's urgent problem be solved before he fades away and is forgotten? Can the souped-up car be used for time travel? Can the pair convince Albert Einstein that they are more than a toasted-cheese-induced dream?
Despite the humor, there are serious issues at a deeper level. Time-sickness could just as easily be a real-world fatal illness with no cure. Simon's frustration with his father, who just won't listen, and his deep wish to find his mother, are believable. It's a nice idea to introduce children to the theory of relativity, and the scientist behind it, via an entertaining adventure story. Hopefully, some of this book's young readers might go off and look up the background information. And who hasn't had trouble with school bullies at one time or another?
Recommended for children in late primary school to early secondary. | November 2006
Sue Bursztynski is the author of several children's books, including the CBC Notable Book Potions To Pulsars: Women Doing Science and Your Cat Could Be A Spy. Her fiction has been published in various SF magazines. She publishes two blogs, a general one at http://greatraven.blogspot.com and a review/SF blog at http://suebursztynski.blogspot.com. She lives in Australia.