This series opener has the potential to turn its young readers positively cynical.
The titular Project Alpha is designed to solve an energy crisis. The members of the project travel in enormous fleets of SUVs and Humvees and attack helicopters. The kids competing to join the project have to face holographic dinosaurs and gorillas. This seems like a huge waste of power at a time when there are government-mandated blackouts every night to save energy—even at Disney World. And as in any good thriller, the government turns out to be keeping deep secrets. When the man behind the project says, “There is no danger whatsoever,” it sounds more than a little ominous. MacHale has thrown in every monster and gadget an adventure fan could want, including spaceships and robots with lasers. But the plot twists are so familiar the action seems a little generic. The characters even have stock soap-opera names like Dash Conroy and Carly Diamond. A robot who speaks in 1980s catchphrases adds some humor (“We will party like it is 1999!”), but it’s funny mostly because none of the kids get his references, which means that many in the book’s intended audience will probably be likewise clueless. The story is thrilling but rarely surprising.
This book may teach readers to distrust the government, but the real fear is that they’ll put the novel down halfway through out of boredom. (Science fiction. 8-12)