Stranger than fiction

14th April 2006 at 01:00
Fearful, fat and on medication. Do the alienated children Jennifer Baker wants to write about in her futuristic fantasy seem familiar?

I am going to write a book. It will be a futuristic fantasy in which the main protagonists are children - children who rule the world - a sort of updated version of The Midwich Cuckoos, or even 1984 in places. It will be peopled by children who have the latest technology at their fingertips - knowledge that is exclusive to them and way beyond that of the adults in their society.

For the most part, the children will not be allowed to exploit their knowledge. In fact, the adults who teach them will be so limited in their understanding of the technology available that they will actively prevent the children from using what they know in their classes. So the children will use their expertise to form an exclusive popular youth culture greater than that of any previous generation. In the story, it will be hard to work out who are the villains and who are the heroes.

I will write about the eternal struggle between generations and probably the reader will empathise with the generation that he or she belongs to but the roles of each character will be ambiguous so that goodies and baddies will emerge on both sides.

For instance, many parents will work during all the hours of day and will hardly ever see their sons and daughters. Breakfast clubs and after-school clubs will be formed where paid professionals will look after children in kibbutz-style communities until darkness falls and the exhausted and acutely stressed adults will come to pick up their offspring.

In the crazy society that I envisage, the adults will be working in order to finance the professionals to look after their children while they are working. The professionals will not be allowed either to chastise or to comfort the children in any way. If they do, the adults will sue them in courts throughout the land.

The children will be kept at all times indoors by their carers because the Government and the media (which will be all-pervasive and therefore excessively powerful) will frighten the whole populace with stories of roaming perverts who will corrupt their children mentally and physically.

There will also be warnings of other threats to their safety such as traffic that will kill them, sunshine that will give them skin cancer, or birds that will infect them with a deadly virus. Thus will materialise a generation which will be terrified to take any risks at all.

There will be educators who will want to take children out into the world to face danger on mountains, on water and in urban streets and teach them how to deal with it, but they will be too afraid of the horror of the ever-present culture of blame should anything go wrong as once in a while it will.

Thus, many of the children will grow frustrated and fat. They will, with the approval of parents who see them infrequently, regard any kind of authority as oppressive and respond with, at best, rudeness, at worst violence. Those adults who do care about an uncared-for generation of children will eventually give up and withdraw from their various educational roles as they will see only a minefield of litigation. They will retreat to places such as rural France and use their considerable intellects to farm, or paint or write and they will forget about all the neglected children.

Back home things will be getting worse. Parents, terrified of a government which may imprison them for smacking their own children, will take their badly behaved offspring to doctors who will prescribe drugs which will calm the children and cause them to be docile. It will be rumoured that, in the near-fantasy future, as many as one in six children will be administered the drug.

Adults will devise sneaky things such as using high-frequency sounds, audible only to the ears of children, in public places where children like to congregate to keep them away as if they are dangerous wild animals. The children will return to darkened rooms to exercise their technology bringing about violent and gory deaths of virtual characters on the screen.

So advanced will be the technology that the children, unbeknown to their parents and teachers, will create on screen the likenesses of those same parents and teachers and dispose of them imaginatively.

And what fair-minded reader of my book would blame them? I'm not sure yet how to finish. Perhaps the society will collapse into anarchy, or perhaps the generation of children will grow up and determine that they will never bring up their own children in a world totally lacking in common sense and responsibility for its young. I'm still waiting for inspiration on that one.

Jennifer Baker is a freelance writer and part-time supply teacher

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