Friday Reads: Terra by Mitch Benn

I follow Mitch Benn on Twitter. As you do, in these days of, what I believe the young people call, ‘social media’. One day, a couple of years ago he tweeted that he was in London and had a few hours to kill – did anyone have any suggestions as to what he could do?

‘Come to our offices and tell me about the SF novel you’re going to write for us’, I tweeted, half seriously, half jokingly. Of course at this stage I didn’t even know whether Mitch had the faintest interest in writing a novel, let alone whether he wanted to talk about it to someone he didn’t know from Adam.

‘OK, you’re on’ he replied. And so it began.

We met up, we chatted, it transpired that he was writing a novel, we chatted some more, he sent me a sample chapter, we met up again, talked some more, he sent me some more. I loved what I was reading and, in the end, after some four months of passing writing back and forth and talking, we brought the rights to TERRA.

TERRA, it became clear, grew from Mitch having become a father. He wanted a novel that his children could read one day, a novel that would express some of the things about being a father. And he’s done that, with immense charm, wit and insight. But he’s also written a novel about how it’s OK to feel that you are different. You might be alone, everyone else might feel very different to you but that doesn’t mean that you’re wrong. This is a very personal book, but that’s a very big SF theme. As is the theme of how alien we are and how human aliens might be.

And that’s the other thing about this book. It’s a wonderful story about a girl and her father but it’s also a fantastic SF novel, imbued with a passion for the genre (check out those part titles).

And did I mention the obvious? Mitch is known as a stand-up comic, as the writer and singer of those acerbic, triumphant songs on the Now Show. It should be no surprise that this is a very, very funny novel. There’s a sweet humour in it but also a rich seam of satire that mines both SF and the capacity of mankind (and aliens) to be quite ridiculously unaware of how foolish they are being.

TERRA is a wonderful novel from a name you may know already but which many more people are going to come recognise as belonging to a novelist.

Do let us know what you think of it on twitter (@gollancz @mitchbenn) and on our Facebook page.