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Monday, 13 June 2011

YA: Talking horses, throwbacks, self-harming, and underage sex…

What on earth am I talking about?
Well… obviously the Mode Series by Piers Anthony.

So, why the reactionary title, you may ask? Well it’s a reactionary series, and one of the most… interesting works I’ve ever stumbled across… up to a point.
I read my first ‘Mode’ story not long after I was out of my teens, and it was this book that made me want to further explore the strange universe created by Mr Anthony.
There are officially four books in the series. Although some would argue that there are still really only three. The first three books were released one a year from 1991 to 1993. These being: Virtual Mode, Fractal Mode, and Chaos Mode. Eventually DoOon Mode was released in 2001, a full ten years after the original instalment. Why eventually? Well, read on…

The series revolves around the relationship between, Colene our 14 year old protagonist and, Darius her thirty-something year old ‘friend’ from another world, or ‘mode’ of existence. OK, I’ll stop you there. This isn’t going the way you may think. At this point the series is very much about them not having a sexual relationship, a bone of contention in and off itself, and this is one of the main themes running thorough the series. The other theme is one of low self-esteem and self-harm. Yes, this is definitely one of Piers Anthony’s darker series, if not his darkest. And he did take quite a bit of a beating for it at the time. Some versions of the books have a rather frank addendum detailing some of the flack he had received, which lead to the eventual abandoning of the series after book three: Chaos Mode.

At this point I have to say that this was very-much a series read by many teenagers, especially teenage girls, of the time. People who were just that bit younger than myself when the series first came out. Now, I’m not here to condemn nor condone the morals of the series, nor the target audience, I would leave that to your own judgment, but as a series that can lay a strong claim to being YA, it definitely, or should that be defiantly, stands out from the crowd.

The story revolves around Colene’s struggle to come to terms with her low self-worth caused by a gang-rape. She wanders through the ‘modes’ a series of interconnected realms or realities that overlap and intersect each other, in a journey of self-discovery and healing. Although by no-means a unique theme this travel is implemented in a rather unique and interesting manner thorough the series. During this internal and external quest she meats a large range of characters, both friend and foe, from a range of very different worlds, each with their own physical and social rules. And there you have it. Because this is very-much one of those social-commentary works, and a lot of people disliked, disagreed with, and some said miss-read, the comments. Do the first three books condone or encourage underage sex? This was one of the main accusations raised against the series. I would personally say no, but then I personally quite liked the first three books…

Which brings us on to DoOon Mode, the forth book and eventual conclusion to the series. Ok, I wanted to read this book, if for nothing else than to see the series concluded, and I have to say that after reading I mostly wished I hadn’t bothered. But, hay, that’s just my own personal opinion, right?
Technically DoOon Mode seemed a bit rushed to me, but more than that the story seemed to get lost in an over indulgence of sexual dwellings, and the message edged a bit more to the wrong side of what I considered moral. I suppose in a way it did its job, in that it made me think, even if it was of things I didn’t particularly wish to think of. But where it seriously fell down, for me, was in its almost dismissive ending to the whole saga; which dealt with serious themes that shouldn’t have been so easy to dismiss. I was now beginning to see those ‘wrong messages’ that others had interpreted much earlier in the series.

Over all I would recommend reading this rather overlooked, and possibly intentionally lost, series of books. There are a lot of good things in there a well. When the very different fantasy worlds are done well, they are often done very well. The series covers a lot of different conventions from the supper sci-fi technical realms of the DoOon mode, to the out-and-out fantasy, talking-animal, and lost/alternate evolutionary modes. This introduces some truly wonderful worlds and some truly interesting and strange characters. But be warned, if you thought the undercurrents to Twilight were dark, this is positively pitch!

Overall, this was an interesting series, let down by a weak ending.

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