Remembering Author Nicholas Fisk
Posted by Stephanie Whelan
Once upon a time this young science fiction reader ran across a book that picked me up, set me in free fall and then set me down again with a lot to chew over. It was a book and title I never forgot, and when I was an adult, I tracked a copy down to add to my personal book collection. Today I’ve learned that the author has died and it’s made reflect again how powerfully the writers we encounter affect our lives, our ways of thinking, and our memories.
In January of 2014 I did a flashback Friday post of this title. I’m sharing it again on this post today in memory of Nicholas Fisk.
You’re a super smart super skilled youth in the 22nd century. Children are rare here, so you are special–and you know it. Now the Seniors have assigned you a very important part in their research. You’re to interact with a group of Reborns–people who have been cloned from the past–and report back your findings. What you find will change you forever.
Do you remember:
A Rag, a Bone and a Hank of Hair by Nicholas Fisk (Oxford Childrens, c1980)
Brin is one of the precious super smart children raised in the 22nd century. Because of radiation, most people have been rendered infertile, so children are a rarity and Brin knows just how important he is. When the Seniors, the elders of his people summon him for a special assignment, Brin arrogantly treats the honor as simply what is due him. The assignment he is given is to interact with a group of people who have been “Reborn”. The Seniors have secretly been experimenting with cloning DNA from past history in order to find an answer to the present day infertility. They’ve cloned two siblings, Brian and Mavis and their housekeeper, Mrs. Mossop based on samples they could extract from pre-accident excavations.
Brin is being assigned to befriend these experimental clones–but the catch is that they don’t know that they’re clones. The Seniors have built a WWII era set of rooms for the group to live in and have constructed unconscious memories so that the group actually think they are living during the time of the Blitz in London. Since the shock of bringing Reborns in the future setting is considered dangerous to their psyche, the Seniors implant memories that make them believe they are living in more than one small 1940s kitchen. Brin will pretend to be a child from the era himself in order to continue the illusion. Brin quickly becomes caught up in the limited lives of the children, who hungrily press him for stories about his Uncle (Brin tells them he’s a fighter pilot) and yearn to go outside. His stories get more and more detailed over time until even Brin half believes what he is telling them. But as Brin goes from cocky youth to thoughtful friend and ally, he rapidly begins to question the Seniors methods and intentions. These people are more than a simple experiment, despite being created from “a rag, a bone and a hank of hair” they are real and vital and deserve more than being locked away in a single room. When the illusion begins to shatter, Brin will find that nothing is what he thought it was.
This book stuck with me after I read it–gave me the chills. It’s a story that questions what is truth and what defines real. It’s a story that speaks to the questionable nature of cloning, and where it could lead. It’s a profound story of one boy’s transformation and growth. It touched me enough that years after I had read it, I purposely sought out an out of print copy to buy for my own. While I’ve never read any of Nicholas Fisk’s other science fiction titles for children, I’d like to find some of them to try . Nicholas Fisk is apparently the pseudonym of David Higginbottom and he is a British author who began writing children’s Science Fiction stories in the 1960s and continued writing well into the 1990s. A bio and full bibliography can be found here.
To be honest this is a book that should be as relevant today as it was when written, so I’m sad it’s out of print. A powerful cloning story that’s among my favorites, fans of Anna to the Infinite Power by Mildred Ames might want to give this a read if they haven’t already. As I’ve said, this one is sadly out of print and hard to find on library shelves . . . but perhaps they’ll reprint it one of these days.
Any Nicholas Fisk fans out there? Comments welcome!
About Stephanie WhelanI'm a children's librarian with a life-long love of all things science fiction and fantasy.
Posted on May 11, 2016, in Flashback Fridays, General Posts and tagged Authors, Books, Children's Books, Children's Literature, kidlit, literature, MG Books, Middle-Grade Fiction, Nicholas Fisk, Reading, reviews, Science Fiction, SF. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.