Oct 16, 2011

Book Review–The Secret Signal (Hal Junior Book 1) by Simon Haynes

The Secret Signal is the first book in the Hal Junior series from Perth based Australian author Simon Haynes.
Simon’s more well known for his adult fiction, the Hal Spacejock science fiction comedy series that earned him a comparison to Terry Pratchett.

While reading The Secret Signal I was trying to think back to the sort of science fiction I read in my middle primary years, to find some a touchstone or point of reference for myself, to give the book a review from a straight reader point of view without my teacher or librarian hat on. 

That might have been a futile task considering how long ago that was.

In the distant past 
But I do have fond memories of The First Travel Guide to the Moon which seemed to me to be on the borderline between speculative fiction and futurist extrapolation. The connection between that and Hal Junior is the description of what it is/might be like living off planet. With the added benefit that Haynes gives us a little bit more high stakes adventure.

Real science plus space adventure
Simon Haynes has done a really good job of describing life living on a space station and including scientific facts as part of that description i.e. a spaceships manoeuvring jets firing but the viewer not being able to hear but rather feel the vibrations.

Being a children's book we don’t have complex relationships or down and dirty fight scenes, but we do have action aplenty.  Haynes gives us a proto-larakin (because Australian’s will live in space too) in Hal Junior, the kid that has the potential to get up to mischief and often does, & believably named nerdy sidekick in “Stinky” Binn.

The action scenes are all non violent to my recollection and prove that if you have sufficient skill as a writer you can write engaging, action packed children’s fiction that’s enjoyable by adults as well.

Are there girls in Space?
The story is a bit “girl” lite (there are no female child characters of consequence) but Hal’s mum is chief scientist, while his dad works in maintenance and another sympathetic adult is also a female trainee technician. I am hoping that in the next couple of Hal Junior books we might see the introduction of a female sidekick character alongside Hal.

Production values
Before I forget, the production of the Hal Junior paperback is top quality as well. The cover  is by Dion Hammill it’s age appropriate and conveys a sense of movement and action.

The interior artwork by the author himself, is naff (and deliberately so) and somewhat tongue in cheek(I really enjoyed the running joke).

What sets it out from the rest
What I think marks this out as top quality children's fiction is that it gives the child protagonist agency.  It manages suspense and pacey action without resort to cliche or violence and it has a firm basis in science (enough to fool this armchair science supporter anyway). Despite being a book intended for children I thoroughly enjoyed the read.

Adventure, science and entertainment in one nice little packet. I’ll be donating my review copy to my local library.

Did you enjoy this review? Would you like to read more? You can subscribe to the blog through a reader,by Email or Follow me on twitter.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...