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FFCC66: Orphans traveling off road through time: 09/12/18

FFCC66: Orphans traveling off road through time

Today I will be comparing and contrasting five road narratives that share the same three components: orphans (solo travelers), a uhoric destination (one that's out of time or through time), and an off road route. The five books are All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai (2017), The Care and Feeding of a Pet Black Hole by Michelle Cuevas (2017), Emily the Strange: Dark Times by Rob Reger (2010), Little Robot by Ben Hatke (2015), and Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut Jr. (1969)

All of these books are science fiction and use travel to explore modern day societal issues across or outside of time. Though the road doesn't feature in any of these novels, it is there through the implied or explicit travel. Two of these books are written for adults. One is YA. One is for middle grade readers. The last one is for young children.

Tom Barren (All Our Wrong Todays) and Billy Pilgrim (Slaughterhouse-Five) are both traveling through time through some of the worst moments of recent human history. Tom's travel is one of self exile, having through his own apathy broken the best of the world timelines and has stuck us with our current (meaning Trump as President) reality. Billy Pilgrim's situation isn't self made but he still suffers the same personal disconnect from seeing WWII and other horrible or odd things first hand. Both men come to appreciate the absurdity of life after seeing so many different options play out.

Stella Rodriguez (Care and Feeding...) is traveling through time — or more precisely versions of the present — for her own doing. Unlike Tom Barren, she doesn't have a time machine. Instead, she has a black hole, a semi-sentient space entity. Her isolation — her self imposed (but temporary) orphaning is one of grief and anger. Ultimately her story is one of coping with grief after the death of a parent.

Emily the Strange (Dark Times) has a limited amount of time travel capability to go back in time to save her town and her family legacy. Whether she succeeds or fails, she will probably end up orphaned (or separated from her mother and friends in the present). Emily's travel is a celebration of Goth culture, heavy metal and skating — in the same way that Bill & Ted are late 1980s slackers and late glam rock aficionados.

The Girl in Little Robot is alone for unstated reasons. She lives in a time of robots (near or far, undetermined future). Her story is about befriending and fixing an escaped factory robot. Though unstated (as the book is nearly wordless), the illustrations provide commentary on present day consumerism and car culture (via all the junk left behind) and a warning about war (via the robots who seek out the missing robot).

All five books use the route between now (the now of when the books were written/published) and either times past or future to comment on the human condition and the good and bad of present day society. Narrative focus is kept simple through the use of a solo traveler-protagonist. By comparing five books across different age groups, I hope I've shown how similar narrative building blocks can be tailored to tell a wide range of stories. Despite the differences in intended audiences, the building blocks are still the same.

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