Flashback Friday: The Freedom Man danced out of the Ark, over the hills so shady, Into the light and out of the dark to be with his red-haired lady . . .

You’re  this misfit girl of your class . . . growing up inside a society that has honed it’s psychic abilities to allow everyone to connect with each other and use their abilities to maintain harmony and well-being.  But you just keep messing up the link, keep imagining things that others don’t see or hear.  You just don’t fit–but maybe that’s because you’re meant to be something different–and what you’re hearing or seeing isn’t your imagination at all, but another community out there somewhere–others that may be like you.

Do you remember:

The Dream Catcher by Monica Hughes (Atheneum, 1986)

The second book in a loosely connected SF 2-book series about communities created in “Arks” to survive worldwide disaster.  Each Ark molded itself around different ideals and abilities, creating and honing a completely self-sufficient community within.  I encountered this title long before I found the first book in the pair, but it’s readable as a stand-alone.  I  wanted to flashback on this particular title because it has remained a favorite of mine.  I’ve always gravitated to misfit tales and this one perfectly captured the feelings of being different in ways that were difficult to explain or come to terms with.

Ruth is a young teen in a community where every adult has the psychic ability to connect to the “Web”, a harmonic link between all the adult minds in the Ark.  She and her classmates are learning to do this as well, practicing with focus and meditation.  Soon they will be old enough to join the adult community themselves.  In this fairly egalitarian society of peace and harmony, Ruth is something of a sore spot.  She has trouble concentrating, strange images and songs pop into her head.  She can’t make herself join in the Web link without nearly shattering it when her concentration falters.  Ruth doesn’t know what’s wrong with her but she fears she’ll never be able to fit in at Ark Three.  Things change however, when it’s discovered that the things Ruth is distracted by aren’t just because she’s going mad or imagining things, they’re messages from outside.  Possibly one of the other Arks.

(This particular cover made my first Unfortunate Cover Art list, I’m sure you can see why)

In the first book of this pair, Devil on My Back (Atheneum, c1984)  readers are introduced to an Ark that has chosen to focus on the computers and technology to guide them through.  But the society created in this Ark has become a nightmarish one.  An upper class of elites and slaves, with everything controlled by an oppressive master computer.  Ark Three is practically the definition of a Utopia by comparison, although it’s clear even their society has its flaws and weaknesses.  Ruth and her companions from Ark Three follow the “dreams” Ruth is receiving and come into contact with the dystopian society from the first book–and naturally find themselves in great danger.  

One of those science fiction stories that imagined what future communities might become, and how the powers of technology could become dangerous.  This was the kind of thing I devoured in my middle grade years.  I couldn’t get enough of these types of stories and scenarios. Monica Hughes delivered, time and time again.  Brilliant, thoughtful and human science fiction.  Perhaps what I liked best about this author’s work is her ability to capture the human condition.  Basic struggles that continue to happen no matter how alien the environment or advanced the tech.

Hughes was a prolific writer for young people, not only of science fiction and fantasy, but children’s nonfiction and fairy tales.  She’s one of the powerful and influential voices from my youth that influenced my love of science fiction and my speculations about possible futures.  I think all of her works are sadly out of print, but hope that may change in time.  For those of you interested in her other titles you can find more of them listed here.

Any other Monica Hughes fans out there?  Give a shout-out!  Comments welcome.

About Stephanie Whelan

I'm a children's librarian with a life-long love of all things science fiction and fantasy.

Posted on September 20, 2013, in Flashback Fridays, General Posts and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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