a review by Nalini Haynes
Singing the Dogstar Blues by Alison Goodman is a science fiction comedy thriller YA (young adult) novel set in Melbourne in the future. Joss is a spoilt rich girl rebelling against authority by hanging out in the seedier side of town with Underbelly-type people while studying at an elite time-travel school. Joss shows up to a rescheduled ceremony late only to pair up with an alien, a new ally of Earth, for her studies.
Mavkel is an alien from a planet near the Dogstar. Mavkel’s race is obsessed with duality; they are both male and female, they have two noses, two mouths and two thumbs on each hand. More importantly for the plot, Mavkel’s race are formed as twins who are life-partners in an asexual way. Mavkel lost his twin so it is essential for Mavkel to find a replacement partner. Mavkel’s people also want him to be admitted into the time travel program on Earth so they can acquire this new technology.
No explanation was given for humans pairing up so rigidly for study purposes; students live and work in pairs, increasing the risk of losing two candidates instead of one in the event of accident, failure or life choice. This sociological faux pas annoyed me to the point that I had to remind myself: ‘Comedy!’ as I could see the tapestry that wove the rest of the story together cohesively. Apart from that one element, Singing the Dogstar Blues is entertaining while exploring coming-of-age and teen-conflict-with-authority-figures tropes with humour and heart, a difficult mixture to achieve effectively.
Time travel for the sake of time travel (“Look! Shiny!”) is cliché these days, but Singing the Dogstar Blues was published well before Hollywood’s overuse of the trope killed it like video killed the radio star. The purpose of the time travel in this story is the paradox, which is how it should be unless you’re writing for Doctor Who.
The focus on pairing human students in the near future was the story’s Achilles Heel. The time-travel paradox was well thought through, and the comedic elements of this story shine. Part slap-stick, part nasal humour combined with a coming-of-age story in a science fiction setting, Singing the Dogstar Blues is a recommended read for YA audiences. I think it’d make a good family movie or mini-series for TV too. I emphasise this point because I was visualising Singing the Dogstar Blues as a movie or TV series while I read the novel; this is very unusual for me.
Harper Collins (the publisher) says:
SINGING THE DOGSTAR BLUES won the 1998 Aurealis Award for Best Young Adult Novel, and was shortlisted for the 1999 Victorian Premier′s Literary Award for Young Adult Fiction. It was also listed as a Children′s Book Council Notable Book, and an American Library Association Best Book (2004).
Harper Collins lists the book for ages 14 and over, but I’d be happy to give it to a younger reader. If Singing the Dogstar Blues was on TV, I’d expect it to be in the 5 to 6 pm timeslot on ABC.