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The Tomorrow Series
John Marsden
Houghton Mifflin Co.

Volume 1 Tomorrow, When the War Began
Volume 2 The Dead of Night
Volume 3 A Killing Frost

Tomorrow, When the War Began
The Dead of Night
A Killing Frost
John Marsden
John Marsden was born in Melbourne, Australia. Marsden was educated at Australia's oldest and strictest school, King's School, Paramatta, and in 1969 began an Arts/Law degree at the University of Sydney. Leaving school he held odd jobs including working in a mortuary. In 1978 he became an English teacher at All Saint's College, Bathurst, and has continued in this capacity at several institutions in Australia. More recently he has devoted himself to his literary career and to encouraging young adults in their writing efforts.

John Marsden Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: A Killing Frost
John Marsden Tribute Site
John Marsden Tribute Site
John Marsden Tribute Site
John Marsden Tribute Site
John Marsden Tribute Site
John Marsden Tribute Site
John Marsden Bio-bibliography
Another John Marsden Bio-bibliography
Critical Essay: The Tomorrow Series
Review: The Tomorrow Series
Review: The Tomorrow Series

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Georges T. Dodds

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I could simply tell you these novels are about teenagers conducting guerrilla warfare against the army that has invaded their country, but they are so much more than that. How can I tell you how incredibly good these books are? If you follow my reviews you will have noticed that I'm fairly critical of most new works of imaginative fiction. I can't begin to find all the adjectives to tell you how good these books are. I can tell you that they are amongst the best imaginative fiction I've read in the past 10 years, and I read close to 80 books a year. I can tell you that within five minutes of finding out an additional three books were available in Australia, I was already e-mailing my Australian "contacts" to send them to me.

These books are for young adults, but are so well written that even edging 40, I ignored my wife and children and read the last two non-stop until 5:30 a.m. What is sad is that they were leftovers in the SF Site reviewer bin, and none of the major bookstores in Montreal stock them or know of them.

Tomorrow, When the War Began, The Dead of Night and Killing Frost (originally published in Australia as The Third Day, A Frost) are the first three of a projected seven books in the Tomorrow series, and the only ones published so far in North America. The sequels Darkness be my Friend, Burning for Revenge, and The Night is For Hunting (published October 1998 in Australia) are published by Pan- Macmillan Australia. The final volume of the series, as yet unnamed, is due October 1999.

The first book in the series, Tomorrow, When the War Began was rated the 4th best loved book in Australia in a survey of over 40,000 Australians. It has been translated into five languages, sold over three million copies in Australia alone, and has received several awards. Nonetheless, Marsden and his work are largely unknown in North America.

The series is narrated by an intelligent and resourceful teenage girl, Ellie, who tells the story of a group of seven small-town teenagers who return from a camping trip in the Australian bush to find their country invaded and their parents imprisoned. Constantly on the run from the invaders, they manage to commit some telling acts of sabotage. I could tell you more of the plot, but it can easily be found at the fan sites on the Internet. Rather, I will tell you why these books are the classics they are, and why you must read them.

First, this is no namby-pamby Sweet Valley High novel; these are kids stuck in a terrifying situation, with real bullets flying, real assault helicopters sending down air-to-surface missiles to blow them up in their hideout. In terms of the portrayal of the evolving psychological makeup of the young Ellie and her friends, the story could be compared in quality to Alexei Panshin's Nebula-winning Rite of Passage (1963). However, this series is much more graphic: it is about kids killing soldiers with little more than a knife or belt. The violence, the blood, the fear, the insanity of war are depicted with incredible realism. Then amongst all the carnage, these kids manage to maintain a semblance of sanity, though they occasionally breakdown, each in their own way, but together they support each other, learn about each other, love each other and make love, argue and support each other. They learn about courage, bravery, honour, altruism, mutual respect, along with the thrill and sadness of killing another human being, and the shit-in-your-pants fear of being shot or blown apart.

Secondly, this isn't your typical American war movie where the good guys arm themselves with bazookas and whatever the latest US technology is and ram more tons of ordinance down the enemy's throat than is needed to blow up the moon. These kids are underdogs, they're not going to win the war, they're more likely to end up dead in a ditch than send the enemy retreating, but it's their land, their parents and friends in prison camps, they give a damn and they'll rather die trying than give up.

Thirdly, the quality of the description of the harrowing escapes of Ellie and her friends tearing through the bush, dodging bullets, immediately reminded me of Buchan's hero Richard Hannay running from the enemy agent through the English moors in The Thirty-Nine Steps. This high-intensity pace is sustained throughout the books, and is well on par with any modern thrillers and even older spy-adventure classics like, Erskine Childers' Riddle of the Sands, or Geoffrey Household's Rogue Male. But just as well portrayed are those equally harrowing moments where they must be perfectly silent, perfectly still until their legs are cramping so hard they want to scream, but if they do, they know they'll be dead meat.

Even better, unlike many adventure-thrillers, these books portray the emotional and physical aftermath -- the post-traumatic stress -- of the daring raids and subsequent days of being hunted. They detail the development of the group's love-hate relationship with fear, the addiction to the adrenaline rush, but also the withdrawal symptoms. These are kids who are well on their way to developing what was once called shell shock, and nowadays appears so frequently in Vietnam vets' accounts of flashbacks and nightmares.

Lastly, and perhaps the factor that makes these books so realistic and so far above the other books out there, is that they don't have happy endings: not that the novels have a noir, Cornell Woolrich-feel, but rather that bad things happen in a war: people get shot, maimed, killed and worse. I would hate to see Hollywood, with it's moronic "must have a happy ending" mentality, make the movie or mini-series version of these books. In the first novel one of the girls in the group is shot near the spine and ends up in coma, while her boyfriend who takes her to the occupied hospital is beaten to a pulp, then put on a chain-gang. This plot element is placed soon after the successful blowing up of a bridge and the group's subsequent celebrations. It is the similar elation-to-devastation roller-coaster in the subsequent books that make the books work. Reading them you can never be quite sure that one of the characters you've become emotionally attached to isn't going to end up dead. The end of the third book, where a member of the group selflessly sacrifices her life for the others to escape to safety is -- literally -- stunning.

So, I don't care if you're a teenager or a middle-aged businessman, these books transcends age barriers. They entertain, they make you think, and they won't let you put them down. And having said all that, I still don't think I've praised them enough.

Copyright © 1998 Georges T. Dodds

Georges Dodds is a research scientist in vegetable crop physiology, who for close to 25 years has read and collected close to 2000 titles of predominantly pre-1950 science-fiction and fantasy, both in English and French. He writes columns on early imaginative literature for WARP, the newsletter/fanzine of the Montreal Science Fiction and Fantasy Association.


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