The Sky Inside, by Clare B. Dunkle
Ginee Seo Books (Atheneum Books for Young Readers), New York, 2008. 229 pages.
Martin gets a dog for his birthday, but this is no ordinary dog. In fact, he gets an Alldog — “Large or small, sleek or fuzzy — all the dogs you ever wanted rolled into one.” Martin’s “dog” is programmed to please Martin, in doglike ways. Later, when Martin discovers his dog’s abilities go beyond the “normal” simulated dog, he finds some intriguing things the dog can do for him.
Meanwhile, Martin has to stick up for his little sister Cassie and their friends. Cassie is a “Wonder Baby:”
“Never had the arrival of the stork brought such excitement. Overflowing with charm, brimming with intelligence, Wonder Babies were like nothing the suburb had seen before. But that didn’t turn out to be a good thing.
“Wonder Babies didn’t wait around to be raised. They got involved in their upbringing, wanted to know about their feeding schedules, and read voraciously before the age of two. Worst of all, Wonder Babies — or the Exponential Generation, as they preferred to be called — wouldn’t stop asking embarrassing questions. No amount of time-outs, missed snacks, or spankings could break them of this awful habit.”
Martin’s suburb, under a big dome, is a place where kids dream of getting mediocre test scores so they can get a factory job and hire a robot to do the work. This community gets tired of the Wonder Babies quickly. Martin doesn’t fit in too well himself, always trying to find things out.
When a man comes to take away the Wonder Babies to a “special school,” Martin thinks he may have found out too much about their real destination.
One of the things I love about Clare Dunkle’s other books, The Hollow Kingdom Trilogy and By These Ten Bones, is how real the settings seem. She builds worlds that feel like true history, with all the details twining together and making sense.
Oddly, that was exactly what bothered me about this novel — it was hard to get a grasp on the world Martin was living in. There are lots of ideas, maybe too many:
What would it be like to live in a domed community, afraid of the world outside, which is reported to be only blowing sand?
What would it be like when robots can do most of the work?
How would genetic engineering affect communities?
What if game shows were used as punishment? (That’s not at all far-fetched. After all, isn’t that what Rome did with the arenas?)
What if only a select population were allowed to live in perfect, planned communities?
What if robots could be programmed to change their appearance as well as their behavior?
In one place, Martin asks what fire is, then calmly watches someone prepare food over a fire. I didn’t quite feel I really understood where Martin was coming from….
However, I still recommend this book. It takes the story of a boy and his dog to an entirely new level. A lot of fun, and with some intriguing ideas. Like all good science fiction, this book could spark some interesting discussion, with plenty of food for thought. What would such a world be like?
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