Space-based science fiction is, by nature, complicated. When an author sends characters into space they’re going to be using technology that hasn’t been invented yet, journeying to worlds we’ve never been to, and meeting alien races nobody’s ever seen. Describing those elements is a daunting task for the writer, and absorbing all of that information can be a challenge for the reader. And with 200-pages being the threshold for most tween novels, creating a fictional future universe can be darn near impossible.
Rachel Searles takes on this difficult task in her first novel, The Lost Planet. Weighing-in at more than 350 pages, this book isn’t for the casual reader or the 7th grader looking for a quick read for a book report. But middle schoolers willing to invest time and imagination will be rewarded with an engaging space-based story.
Thirteen-year-old Chase Garrity wakes up in confusion and pain on the lawn of a fenced compound on a foreign planet. He has no memory of who he is our how he got there. A computer chip pulled from a nasty wound on the back of his head provides the only clues for Parker, the boy who lives on the property with an ultra-hi-tech guardian/supervisor/bodyguard android Mina. Dodging the stifling, ever-present supervision of the android, Chase and Parker set off across the galaxy to find answers to Chase’s mysterious existence.
And then they’re chased through a marketplace and their planet blows-up and they rescue a humanoid floating in space and well, it gets complicated. Searles does a good job of keeping the story moving along and a lot happens. New characters are continuously introduced and older characters pop-up when least expected. There are aliens and ray guns and rocket ships and conspiracy and just about everything you’d expect in a space opera.
And whew! I’m getting tired just thinking about it!
The story winds-up a bit too quickly as the tone changes from “showing” to “telling” in the last 30 pages. As a reader, I’ve followed Chase for 300 pages, trying to solve his mystery with him. It’s less than satisfying when a conversation with a minor character reveals the secret in two or three pages. Most loose ends are tied-up, but there’s still plenty of mystery for the sequel, The Stolen Moon.
Some tween readers will probably ask for the next book to follow the adventures of Chase, Parker, and little sister Lilli. A copy or two of each book will be good additions to your middle school library. Patient, advanced readers will enjoy the complexity of the plot, setting, and characters.