The first book in Edlund’s (A Woman Warrior Born, 2013) middle-grade sci-fi series chronicles the adventures of an 11-year-old boy whose family has just relocated to a new planet.
Keelic Travers dreams of being a pirate—commanding his own ship and traveling anywhere he wants—but his current existence has none of that glorious freedom. As the new kid in school, students (and teachers) relentlessly bully him, and at home, his overprotective parents make it difficult for him to have any fun. But two events irrevocably change his life: he befriends a little alien creature named Thotti that communicates telepathically by using images and emotions, and he discovers an abandoned base while exploring the remote areas surrounding his home. Almost 300 years have passed since the Galactic War ended, but Keelic finds that Alpha Base, a secret command center that trained the crews of “super-ships” for the Terra Corps, is still operational and hidden in a massive sinkhole. Its old simulator, in particular, becomes a sanctuary for the boy—a place where he can forget about his miserable life and study military history and strategies with his sidekick, Thotti. This book is tonally reminiscent of Robert A. Heinlein’s juvenile novels, such as Space Cadet (1948) and Red Planet (1949). However, there are a few minor flaws that impact the story’s overall effectiveness: the era’s back story could’ve been more clearly explained, and the overall worldbuilding and character development are lacking. That said, the storyline is strongly constructed, the narrative focused, and the pacing brisk. The character of Keelic is endearing, and his struggles are easy to identify with (feeling alone, being bullied, having a first crush). But, as in the aforementioned Heinlein classics, it’s a sense of wonder that powers this story, which is magnified by the fact that the events are seen through the eyes of a boy. Some better description could’ve made this novel an extraordinary reading experience, but as it is, it’s still very good.
A fast-paced, action-packed, and undeniably fun middle-grade tale.