Children's books: Invasion of the body (and book) snatchers

Jack Martin (aged eight) and Andy Martin wrestle with The Angel Factory
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A: My one complaint about this book is that my son keeps running off with it.

J: My complaint is that it makes me late for school. And my Dad is the one who nicked it.

A: My other complaint is that Blacker is inciting children to revolt against parents.

J: That's the good thing about it. It's about this boy called Thomas Wisdom. He's 12, I think. He has a very nice sister. And two very nice and normal parents. Except they're not.

A: I rather like the idea that parents are "angels".

J: The trouble is "angels" are like robotic aliens. Tom and his best friend Gip hack into his Dad's computer and find a secret file. Gip gets their maths teacher to decode it, even though Tom doesn't want him to.

A: It turns out that there is a plot to take over the planet.

J: Well, not really to take over the planet, but just to make it a better place. Very nice. Or are they? Tom has to help the angels. Will he?

A: Tom has to face the difficult question: can good sometimes be bad?

J: Bad can be good.

A: Blacker, you are encouraging a generation of moral relativists.

J: "All is good. All will be resolved." That's what is says in the book. Spooky.

A: Tom gets the opportunity to save the whole world from the hideous fate of being systematically improved. But what about the parents' point of view? One of these days, Blacker might come up with a heroic Dad – but I doubt it.

J: My favourite character is Gip. He has a limp so when he runs, he almost skips. Everyone in his school thinks he is very weird. He lives in a "squat". Thomas finds out something very amazing about him, but my Dad says I can't say exactly what it is. Tom also finds out something weird about himself, but I'd better not say anything about that either. What can I say, then?

A: How about something to do with Cy Gabriel?

J: Cy Gabriel is this boss of the whole "Project". I think he's called Gabriel because there was an angel Gabriel in the Old Testament. And Cy is short for "cyborg". He seems very nice, like all the other angels. The Angel Factory is this place in California where all the angels are made.

A: The book is a kind of satire. J: Satyr!?

A: Let me rephrase that. My theory is that Blacker is having a go at the evangelical mind. This is an anti-evangelical gospel. He has it in for American evangelicals, especially when they are President. Perhaps he is also making fun of certain forms of science fiction (The X-Files, and 2001) which seem to be crying out for earthlings to be improved. Leave us the way we are, warts and all, seems to be the idea. But he manages to have it both ways – echoing The Body Snatchers, but exploiting tales of resurrection.

J: So Gip is Jesus – and Tom is Mary? That can't be right.

A: Blacker is also pretty tough on good-looking surfer dudes (like me).

J: Yeah, right!

A: Tom's father says that "'an intelligent surfer' is an oxymoron". On the other hand, I agree that computers are part of a fiendish conspiracy to brainwash everyone.

J: I'm glad that Terence Blacker has written another book because I've already given all my friends 'The Transfer'. (I like it because it's all about football and computers.)

A: Why did he write The Angel Factory? The jacket says he was inspired by "a family of five walking down the pavement in a London suburb... utterly, perfectly, dangerously content". Plausible. But the narrator also says that his new friend Matt's "stories about meeting up with some girl he met on a camping holiday in France were kind of funny, if a little tame compared to what I had been doing that summer". I think all of Blacker's fiction comes from a desire to score over friends who have been bragging about meeting girls on holiday.

J: 'The Angel Factory' is so exciting – even the back cover. It was so exciting, I hardly dared open the book.

A: I recommend that you buy two – in case anyone else out there runs off with your copy.


Terence Blacker, 'The Angel Factory' (Macmillan, price £9.99)