To herald the release of Terra, the debut novel from comedian and musician Mitch Benn, a star-studded trailer featured well-known writers and actors, including Neil Gaiman and Rob Llwellyn, taking turns reading successive lines from the first chapter (though I would have dearly loved to hear any of them pronounce the names “Lbbp” or “ Vstj”, which come later). It was any author’s dream-endorsement and Terra, about a human girl growing up on an alien planet, lives up to its promise. In a natural extension of his talents, Mitch Benn turns the concept of alien invasion around with an instinctual, though ill-advised, act of kindness. A scientist named Lbbp from a planet named Fnrr has been visiting Earth (Rrth) unobserved for many years, collecting plants and puzzling over the behavior of resident wildlife. On this visit, however, his focus wanders:
Since there aren’t many roads on Fnrr (not since they invented gravity bubbles) and since Lbbp tried not to pay much attention to the Ymns [humans] or their little land vehicles (it just got him tense and angry, and that didn’t help him work) he didn’t really know what roads were or how to recognise them. If he had, he might not have been content to let his little spaceship hover just a few metres above the surface of one.
At the same time, the equally distracted Bradburys (Mr. and Mrs. and their still unnamed infant daughter) are carrying on with their usual arguments as their car approaches Lbbp’s position and they are naturally startled (understatement) when he accidentally switches off the invisibility shield. The Bradburys careen off the road and run away screaming, leaving their infant daughter in her car seat. Afraid the child has been left alone, Lbbp reluctantly does the ‘human’ thing and takes her with him back to his home on Mlml, an island on the planet Fnrr. His decision changes both their lives on a personal level but has even more far-reaching effects as Mlml is targeted for war.
Behind the humor in Terra is a contemplation of the concept of home and of what it means to be ‘alien’. The discovery that we all have something to offer makes this novel a truly enjoyable vehicle for a gentle lesson in the advantages of keeping an open mind. Benn’s use of an ‘alien’ lens also allows him to call attention to our inadequate stewardship of this planet—however, if a scientist referencing Star Trek is any indication, the author’s outlook for us all is distinctly positive.
Though Terra is not marketed as a children’s book, its humorous observations and descriptions of daily life on Fnrr make it an excellent read-aloud choice that will make both parent and child happy (just take a moment or two to decide how you want to pronounce the vowel-shy Fnrrian names).
See Mitch Benn’s website for more information about his many creative projects, most recently a song he wrote for a live reading of Neil Gaiman’s Fortunately the Milk.