cover image The NCF Guideto

and Fandom

Fourth Edition
Edited by Robert Runté

back home next

Books by Monica Hughes

Reviewed by Douglas Barbour

  • Crisis on Conshelf Ten
  • Earthdark
  • Keeper of the Isis Light
  • Guaridan of the Isis Light
  • The Isis Pedlar
  • Ring Rise, Ring Set
  • Crisis on Conshelf Ten and Earthdark

    Hughes' first two books, Crisis on Conshelf Ten and Earthdark (Methuen), are essentially straightforward adventure stories set in 2005 (in a future which probably looked likely in the early seventies when these books were written; less so now). They are both narrated by 15 year old Kepler Masterman, the first human born on the Moon, son of the Moon Governor, and just the overcurious sort of fellow to get into interesting trouble wherever he might find himself.

    In Crisis on Conshelf Ten, Kepler finds himself on Earth when his father seeks to convince the U.N. to make Moon an independent state. Unable to handle Earth's gravity, he is sent to visit relatives in an undersea research colony where he discovers a revolutionary plot which could kill Moon's chance for independence as well as that of the undersea colonies. The narrative is suspenseful though simple; Hughes has done a good job of both characterization and contextualization: Kepler and his friends are emotionally complex, and the technological environment of this particular future is well thought out and carefully detailed.

    These traits are also found in Earthdark, where Kepler and his designated bride-to-be (Moon has a small population in a confined space and young people are computer matched to avoid problems; it is also a fairly conservative society, which is usually the case with frontier communities) discover that the mining company which has exploited the Moon till now is trying to retain control of the newly independent nation. In tier presentation of Kepler's difficulties in readjusting to Moon life after his adventures on Earth and handling his discovery that his father can and will lie to him, Hughes deepens his character and confronts some of the basic fears and problems faced by adolescents in any society.

    [Reviewed by Doug Barbour, Reprinted from NCF, Vol 1. #4, January 1982, and from Toronto Star]

    Return to Monica Hughes entry in Author Listings

    Keeper of the Isis Light

    If these two books are good entertaining sf for young adults, The Keeper of the Isis Light (also from Methuen) is something more, and better. Set in a more distant future, on a planet circling a distant sun, it is a near tragic tale of love and rejection. Again, Hughes fills in her background well (Earth is pessimistically seen to have wasted its resources; it is overcrowded and ugly), but she is subtler than ever with some of her effects,

    Olwen, the Keeper of the Isis Light (a beacon for starships travelling elsewhere), is ten Isis, sixteen Earth, years old. Since her parents died when she was three, she has lived alone with Guardian, but now colonists have come to destroy her happy isolation. After they land, she meets and falls in love with Mark, who apparently responds in kind, especially to a spirit so in tune with his own. But he has never seen her outside a special suit Guardian has made for her, and when he does by accident he sees what is to him a monster, a human being genetically adapted to Isis as the Earth-born colonists are not. Neither he nor the colonists can ever quite accept Olwen, and in the end she leaves them to their safe valley, where the thick air protects them from the harsh sun of Ra, and moves off to other mountains with her Guardian, whom she now recognizes is a benevolent robot.

    The Keeper of the Isis Light is a moving and humane study of young love and prejudice. There is at least one sequel, The Guardian of Isis, but it is only available in hardcover at present. I look forward to reading it, for if it's as good as its predecessor it will be a fine book indeed. Hughes is not afraid to tackle tough moral and emotional subjects, yet she never forgets to tall an entertaining and well extrapolated science fictional story that can appeal to all readers. She recognizes the universality of human emotions and deals with them in a clear-hearted as well as clear-headed fashion. She deserves the accolades she has won elsewhere and should finally receive them in her home country.

    [Reviewed by Doug Barbour, Reprinted from NCF, Vol 1, #4, January 1982; and from the Toronto Star]

    Return to Monica Hughes entry in Author Listings

    Guardian of Isis

    Fleet Publishers, 140pp

    Isis Pedlar

    Fleet Publishers, 121pp

    Monica Hughes' Isis trilogy is a great example of science fiction for young adults and this is a difficult kind of fiction to do well. In Guardian of Isis and The Isis Pedlar the Edmonton author completes the story she began in The Keeper of the Isis Light. It is a story of young individuals passing through ethical rites of passage, but it is also the story of a whole community as it loses touch with civilization and then finds the chance to begin creating one of its own.

    In Guardian of Isis, the community of settlers on the planet Isis has stayed in one valley where Mark London, the boy who could not face Olwen, the young Keeper altered by surgery to survive on Isis, has achieved complete control over the people. By telling them myths, creating taboos about where they can go, and hiding all technology, he has forced them back to a Primitive Agricultural Phase. Only Jody N'Kumo, grandson of the youngest settler, has an inquiring mind, and this gets him into trouble, especially with President London. London finally sends him from the valley to seek out the Guardian, who appears to have helped him solve some small problems, but he intends for Jody to die in the oxygen-poor highlands.

    Jody not only survives, he finds Olwen and her golden robot companion and tells them much they don't know about the community they have lived apart from for seventy years. In return, they tell. him the truth about his origins. Jody has to go back, both to save the valley from flooding and to prepare himself to be a leader one day with the kind of knowledge his people will need. How he does and what he learns from his experiences form the emotional of the novel.

    The Isis Pedlar takes place sixteen years later. Both Olwen and Mark London are dead, but London's backward-looking rule is carried on by his son. The pedlar of the title is an interstellar who defies Quarantine on the planet to attempt a massive 'sting' on the simple inhabitants. There are protagonists: David N'Kumo, Jody's nephew, and Moira Flynn, the daughter. Both must pass through trials in order to save the community from its own greed and Michael Flynn's manipulation of it. They do so, and fall in love as well. At the end Jody N'Kumo becomes President and is wise enough to see that Isis must take its own time and its own way to civilization if its people are ever to control their own destiny. Moira elects to stay with Jody and help in the rebuilding.

    What raises these books far above the average are Hughes' skills as a writer. Her characters are well developed and they think as well as feel; her descriptions of alien landscapes are evocative; and her narratives never slacken. Finally, the moral dimension, while never obtrusive, is always present.

    [Reviewed by Doug Barbour, Reprinted from NCF, Vol 1, #6, January 1983; and from the Toronto Star]

    Return to Monica Hughes entry in Author Listings

    Ring-Rise Ring-Set

    Methuen Magnet Books; 122 pp.

    Some of the best writing for young people today can be found in the genres of fantasy and science fiction. One of the most interesting and highly thought of writers in the field is Canada's own Monica Hughes, whose books have won the Canada Council's Children's Literature Prize for the past two years.

    Many children's authors use basic sf themes, but lack narrative complexity. They focus on a single character; their language and syntax and moral quests are simple; they are like extended short stories. Hughes demonstrates her clear superiority to the general run of such writers in Ring-Rise Ring- Set, a real though small novel, full of varied characters, two well-described cultures, and a tough, individualistic protagonist who learns from her own mistakes to make large moral choices which affect not only her own life but the lives of those closest to her. What is really exciting about the book is that it shows her learning who those closest to her really are.

    Ring-Rise Ring-Set was a deserving runner-up for the Guardian Award in 1982. It is set in the not too distant future, after a near- collision with a huge comet has left a ring of particles around the Earth which blocks out the sun's rays for much of the year. In northern Canada, one group of scientists work out of an underground City studying the rapid glaciation, while in space others work to find a way to remove the ring. Life in the City is highly regulated, and women and children have been forced by circumstances back into earlier roles.

    Liza, a fifteen year old born and raised in the City, is too imaginative and bored to conform, so she stows away on a scientific expedition to the glacier fields. The sled she chooses is left behind as a supply depot for the return trip, however, and Liza seems doomed by her foolish act until an "Ekoe", a young Inuit, finds her and takes her back to his tribe. His people have reverted to their old ways and they have already made up myths about the Ring and the new heavy winters. They see her as a returned dead child and they offer her a felt love she never knew in the City. She becomes Iriook, the missing daughter, because it's her only way to survive but also because she learns to give back love for love.

    Later, when the scientists in the City begin to use a new deadly virus to destroy the snow, they are unaware that they are also destroying a whole culture's way of life. Liza must return to the City to try to stop the scientists, but they insist they must act for the greater good of all humanity. At this point Liza/Iriook makes some very hard decisions, and Ring-Rise Ring-Set turns into a superb and moving study of ethical and emotional coming of age.

    [Reviewed by Doug Barbour, Reprinted from NCF, Vol 1 #8, October 1985, and the Toronto Star]

    Return to Monica Hughes entry in Author Listings

    Letters About
    Monica Hughes
    Links to
    related sites
    Send your

    back home next

    This page last updated: June 22, 2000

    Colophon Credits and copyright information.