Frozen in Time
Style: Weak → Average
Attitude: Unobjectionable → Edifying
In Brief: Lightweight plot from an interesting premise. Nice juxtaposition of old and new attitudes to people and society. Bravery, courage and affection in difficult circumstances. Moderate violence in justifiable self-defence.
Published in: 2009
Age Range: Pre Teens
Setting: Amhill, an English country town
- Ben and Rachel are two young teenagers who have to make intelligent decisions in the face of a surprising discovery and later danger from unknown enemies. Average youngsters, they're neither paragons nor yobbos.
- Polly and Freddy were the same age as Ben & Rachel when they were cryogenically frozen in the 1950s. Reawakened after 50 years, they have not aged, and they have to face up to the changes in the world, the unknown fate of their father, the possibility of illness and death from side-effects of their suspension, and the dangers from unknown enemies who want to kidnap them.
- Uncle Jerome is Ben & Rachel's uncle, Polly & Freddy's nephew and is the only adult relative in evidence. He's a rather stereotyped absent-minded scientist but is concerned for both sets of children.
Ben & Rachel inadvertently wake their Great Aunt and Uncle Polly & Freddy, cryogenically frozen since the 1950s and still 12 years old. Their initial difficulties arise from easing them into the changes in the world and in society over the previous 50 years. The 1950s kids want to find out what happened to their father who disappeared mysteriously at the time they were frozen. But while they are researching, the children are noticed by unknown enemies who then try to kidnap them. To complicate things, it's clear that the suspended animation is having serious side-effects on the health of the unfrozen youngsters.
“Things aren't what they used to be” is the traditional complaint of your grandparents, bemoaning the lack of respect by “young people nowadays” and the fact that everything's more expensive than it used to be. Of course everyone agrees that many things in our society are less than perfect. (Although everyone doesn't agree on how to go about improving those things). But there's a definite temptation to view the past through rose-tinted spectacles, seeing it in a golden light which plays up the glory of bygone days and plays down the problems which have, perhaps, been overcome by technological progress or through a general change in outlook.
This story, in its lightweight way, looks into this contrast of old and new with a dose of realism and a sense of humour. The basic plot belongs to the “Children's TV Saturday Adventure” school of storytelling. The characters, mostly young teenagers, are bas-relief but engaging. The ending is a bit too neat and a bit too quick. But it's a book aimed at pre-teenagers (the back cover has a 9+ label) and its qualities aren't in its literary weight but in the contrast it draws between our society and that of 50 years ago.
It's pretty much a staple of time-travel stories (of which genre this story is an honorary member) that the 5th-dimensional travellers step out of their capsule or whatever and are amazed by the contrast between what they know and what they see now. And the “locals” are likewise amazed by the different attitudes of the new arrivals. This all works whether the visitors come from the past and so are amazed by technological advances; or from the future and are delighted by the lack of pollution and a simpler way of life. In this case Polly and Freddy, newly awakened from the 1950s, have a ready-made pair of guides in the shape of their great-nephew and -niece. It's to the story's credit that neither does it just wow the 20th century kids with the technology of the 21st, nor does it simply bewail the more consumerist and less dignified way of life which the 21st century has brought about.
What it does do is to gently show the two sets of children that each way of life has its advantages. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, Polly has the hardest task in adjusting to life as a 21st century just-teenage girl. She's used to dressing neatly and modestly, not eating as she walks, doing the washing-up and ironing for her brother, and she's a member of the Famous Five club. She's appalled by Rachel's Sweet magazine with its lurid cover, frank discussions of body image, and advice about snogging. And by the family's slapdash approach to household management. And further by the behaviour of the school bullies at the children's co-ed school. But it's not all one way: she stands up for herself, briskly organises Rachel into cleaning and cooking, and gives a school bully a taste of her own medicine.
Freddy has it easier as boys' attitudes have changed less in the intervening 50 years. He astounds the class (and the teacher) by standing politely when the headmaster enters the room, but can stand up for himself in the playground and proves to be adept on roller skates (in a scene which makes him appreciate the 21st century's smoother road surfaces). He's the first to suffer the side-effects of long-term cryosleep but makes the others promise to keep quiet about it so as not to alarm his sister. He and Polly, once over their initial shock, face up to life in the 21st century bravely, accepting what they have to accept while to some extent challenging attitudes and ideas which to them seem wrong.
The 21st century youngsters are obviously on home ground, but admire the courage of their older relatives and tacitly recognise the justice behind some aspects of their old-fashioned shock. Rachel forces Polly to teach the boys how to iron their own shirts, but is shamefaced when Polly points out how dirty and disorganised their kitchen is. And she persuades the older girl to teach her how to make a cooked meal, a real contrast to the family's usual microwaved convenience diet. This is both a graceful move to help Polly feel more comfortable and a recognition of the value of the properly-prepared meal. It's clear that it's the 1950s kids who are going to have to make more adjustments in their outlook, but the traffic is not entirely in one direction.
One episode illustrates this quite well: the children decide to go on a picnic by bicycle. Freddy & Polly unearth their 1950s bikes from under some sacking in the garage. The bikes are usable (if old-fashioned) but Polly's carrier basket is mouldy with age. Rachel, child of a consumerist society, is all for throwing it away. But Polly insists that it just needs some soap and water. Rachel provides a 21st century alternative: an antibacterial cleaning spray, which impresses Polly and speeds up the cleaning process. As they cycle off, the older bikes with their thinner tyres on 21st century tarmac easily outstrip the newer bikes, and the 20th youngsters are fitter than their 21st counterparts. But as they enter the woodland where they're going to picnic, Polly and Freddy have to get off and push while Rachel and Ben's chunky tyres and many gears mean they can freewheel.
Unfortunately, the story also starts to freewheel here a little, as the author exploits the comedy value of having Polly & Freddy confronted by the cost of bottled water, lip-studs, junk food, the internet, Rachel's slutty Chatz doll and other fruits of our age. There is a thin plot which keeps the story moving forward, resolving itself by a series of action set-pieces which are fairly effective and have the children defending themselves violently from real danger just as the damaging side-effects of the cryosleep manifest themselves the most. (The children's fingernails have already started to fall out and they are coughing blood. But here Freddy is rendered briefly blind and Ben has to defend them both).
The final scenes are a little too neat, but — ironically, perhaps — the book smacks more of the 1950s attitudes it gently parodies than of the grittier tales which are produced for modern youth.
- Cryogenics: is it a good thing?
- Changes in society: good, bad, and ugly
- Loyalty to one's country: how important is it?
The current was worryingly strong by the time he reached the middle of the river and the first unwelcome tingle of panic moved in Ben's stomach — but through the splashes his hands were making he could see Freddy, still powering through the water like a champion, and he was determined not to be left behind. He'd just thrown caution to the wind, hadn't he? There was no going back. The far side of the river reached out to them now — a protruding bank with trees and shrubs, ready to hide them when they reached the bank. He heard a shout from the bridge— then a whistle. But he realized, even through the rush of the disturbed water all around him, that these were not hostile noises— they were curious, even impressed noises. He must remember not to look up towards those noises when he got to shore.
Freddy helped him out of the water at the other side and for a moment Ben just stood, shivering with excitement and delight. Keeping his back to the bridge, he glanced back to the other side — he had just swum the River Am! 'Good fun, yes?' said Freddy. 'Me and Poll used to do it all the time with local children, in the hols. We used to have races. Don't you do that here any more?'
Ben shook his head regretfully. 'Council doesn't allow it.'
Freddy made a scornful snort. 'Sounds like your council members are a bunch of lily-livered old codgers to me! Where on earth did you get them from?'
'Well... er... most of them probably used to swim the River Am with you,' said Ben.
Freddy grimaced. 'Oh. Well, pretty poor show then, the lot of them!'
Monday 15th March 2010