The idea of Tanith Lee writing juvenile/young adult fiction is one that stopped me for a moment. Lee was the “crown princess of fantasy” who appeared on the scene in the 1970s with dark, moody, lunar works such as Anackire, Volkhavaar, and The Storm Lord, followed by such fevered masterpieces as Night’s Master. Hmm, I said to myself; this should be interesting.
Jet Latter at fourteen is the youngest of three daughters, the oldest of whom, Turquoise, has been cast in an exceptionally minor role in a film being shot in the film capital of the known galaxy, Ollywood. The whole family, including Jet’s SC Deluxe robodog, Otis, travel to Ollywood for the filming. There Jet, through boredom and a certain resistance to indoctrination, manages to get herself abducted to a strange land below the Subway, which is where the has-beens and almost-weres eventually find themselves. It turns out that the Subway is subject to mysterious disappearances: people just disappear, never to be seen again. They go, as it turns out, tos Indigara, a supersized, overscale, high-budget B movie, complete with bad dialogue. Jet realizes that the people she is meeting are the movie versions – perhaps the hopes and aspirations – of the failed actors she had met in the Subway. She also finds a way back, which is where, she decides, she really wants to be.
If the story sounds thin, that’s because it is, even by the standards of young adult fiction. (The book is age-rated at 12 years and up) Frankly, this one was a vast disappointment.
Ollywood is such an extreme caricature as very nearly to defy description, incorporating every cliché writ large: the monomania, self-absorption, blatant hedonism, and opportunism that have constituted our fantasies of movie-making since the origins of Hollywood itself are all here in cartoon-like magnitude. Indigara is a series of set pieces, some mysteries that don’t remain mysteries for very long, scenes in which all is made clear by the simple expedient of someone explaining it to us. Characters are largely automatons. The realization and resolution are so obvious and simple-minded that one wonders why anyone bothered. The one segment of the book that contains any meat at all, at least potentially, is the small sequence set in the Subway, where Jet meets a few people who might, indeed, be real people after all – except it turns out they are shadows of their dreams. And one wonders, ultimately, what the purpose of including Otis was.
I’m not sure there’s enough here to hold the interest of readers of any age. If it weren’t such a short book – a novella, coming in at roughly 190 pages of loosely set type – I probably wouldn’t have finished it myself. The frustrating thing is that I know Lee can do so much better.