Today I read Up and Down by Terry Fallis. In 2013 this book was a finalist for the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour and won the Ontario Library Association’s Evergreen Award and the CBC Bookie Award for Most Hilarious Canadian Book.
David Stewart has quite a challenge ahead of him. He’s just taken a job at the Turner King PR agency, and they’re going after a new out of this world client–NASA. They recently surveyed people and found that more people would rather go out for lunch than watch a space shuttle launch. They want to return to the good old days, when the Space Race was exciting and the entire country would shut down to watch astronauts leave the earth, not to mention when their funding was plentiful to match the intense public interest.
Trying to impress his new boss, David throws out an idea during a brainstorming session–the Citizen Astronaut contest. Every astronaut from the start of the space program has been a highly trained, brilliant, athletic, highly skilled specialist of some sort–they are extraordinary people. So how are ordinary people supposed to relate to and be interested in their work? The Citizen Astronaut would be an Average Joe or Jane, a regular person who would go into space and contribute to the mission, someone to rekindle popular interest by being the embodiment of the dream that anyone can go into space. It’s bold, it’s innovative, it’s attention-getting.
Well, his boss hates it. Unfortunately, it’s all they have to run with after NASA shoots down their more conventional ideas. David’s boss orders him to make sure that the randomly selected Canadian winner of the contest is young, photogenic, and your basic flannel-clad hockey-loving lumberjack stereotype. Unfortunately, the real winner is a 71-year-old lesbian bush doctor pilot with a father who disappeared 40 years ago and who is so obsessed with space that she built her own centrifuge outside her remote cabin to train herself to handle extreme G-forces. David is so compelled by her story that he pushes (and prods, and shoves, and maybe does a few other things he can’t admit to) for Dr. Landon Percival to be announced as Canada’s Citizen Astronaut. But can a senior citizen really go into space? Can David spin her story so that not only TK and NASA, but the Canadian public will embrace her as their representative on the space shuttle? And can he do this without getting fired really, really hard?
This is the book that I got at the inaugural Wines and Lines event last year. I did attend this year as well, but it was basically a repeat of the first year with different authors so I didn’t see the need to write a review of the event.
I picked this one of the three choices because it was supposed to be funny, and it is, but it’s not really a comedy book, even though it is. It’s very funny is a realistic way–as though the events could happen (except NASA’s lawyers would probably have a collective apoplexy if someone proposed something like the Citizen Astronaut contest in real life). The title is very apt in several ways. David and the rest of the characters go through many ups and downs in their lives over the course of the book, as well as the characters who literally go up and down from Earth to the Space Station and back again.
This was something of a departure for me, since I tend to read a lot of genre fiction or children’s and YA books since I just spent a year as a school librarian. Still, I enjoyed this book very much. Like any science fiction fan, I feel a little bit ripped off that we don’t have moon colony yet, and Star Trek assures me that first contact with an alien species is due to happen in less than 50 years. The Citizen Astronaut contest, if it was real, is definitely something that would grab my attention.
David is a great character. He’s very well-rounded and realistic, and he careens from one challenge to another feeling like he’s barely treading water but rising to every problem. He’s still very young–only in his mid-twenties, and this is his second job after university. He’s inexperienced, and young enough to be little crazy, and he’s a great contrast to Landon Percival who is old enough to be comfortable being polite to everyone while getting her own way.
This is more of a quiet chuckle book than a laugh out loud one, but it’s very well-written and entertaining, while being a quintessentially Canadian humour (which is definitely spelled with a ‘u’).