Thursday, 15 July 2010
Review: The Prometheus Project by Douglas E. Richards
Since I started writing this blog I have received quite a few emails from authors asking me if I would like a copy of their book(s) to review on my blog. Due to the pressures on my time because of work I often have to decline, but when I received an email from author Douglas E. Richards six weeks ago I was intrigued. The main reason for this was that Doug is based in the USA and his books have not yet been picked up by a UK publisher, and I hadn't realsied until this moment that my blog was gaining more and more readers from across the Atlantic (I now have my little globe widget below which shows a really cool number of visitors from the US). A quick google showed me that Doug's books were receiving some rave reviews Stateside so I wrote back and within a week the three books in The Prometheus Project series were in my hands.
As I have mentioned before on this blog, traditional 'humans meet aliens' science fiction stories for children are in very short supply in the UK these days. As evidence of this just look no further than The Reading Agency's 2010 Summer Reading Challenge. This year the theme for the challenge is entitled Space Hop, and yet when I look down the list of books for older readers that they have recommended to libraries there are many titles that I would suggest aren't even science fiction, let alone have a connection with the space theme. If The Prometheus Project books were more widely available in the UK then they would certainly be on my list of Top Five Space Hop books. Just take a look at these synopses:
Book 1: Trapped
Ryan and Regan Resnick have just moved to the world's most boring place. But when they discover their parents are part of an ultra-secret project called Prometheus they are plunged into a nonstop adventure: one that will be the ultimate test of their wit, courage, and determination. Soon they are under attack and facing hostile alien worlds, alien technology, and unimaginable dangers at every turn. Now, with their mother facing certain death, they must race to solve a seemingly impossible mystery to have any hope of saving her. But if they save their mom, they will have no way to save themselves. . .
Book 2: Captured
Ryan and Regan Resnick are the youngest members of a top- secret team exploring the greatest discovery ever made: a vast alien city buried deep underground - as potentially deadly as it is astonishing. When the city is captured by highly trained soldiers led by a ruthless alien, the adult members of the team are taken hostage. Now, Ryan and Regan are the team's only hope of survival. With the future of the world at stake, the Resnick Kids must do the impossible: outwit the brilliant alien, free the prisoners, and thwart an unstoppable invasion. But not everything is as it seems. And time is quickly running out. . .
Book 3: Stranded
When Ryan and Regan Resnick journey through a portal to a primitive alien planet, what begins as an ordinary day will quickly become a nonstop fight for their lives. Soon they are stranded on the distant planet, surrounded by vicious predators, and in the path of a raging river of lava. But surviving on the deadly planet might be the easy part. Because if they can get back to Earth, they will have to face a ruthless adversary who controls a mysterious alien device. A device that is the most powerful, dangerous, and unstoppable weapon the world has ever known . . .
I loved these books and I think they are perfect for boys, whether they are reluctant readers or not. The author used to work in the field of biotechnology and his obvious passion for science shows throughout his work. Yes, these books are educational as well as really great fun to read. From my years in the teaching profession I could name many boys who we would label as reluctant readers of fiction, yet they love their science lessons and when they occasionally venture into the library are more likely to pick up a non-fiction book or something like the Guinness Book of Records. They often tell me that they don't see the point in reading 'make believe stuff', and I am certainly not going to criticise as I am just glad they are reading something. We need more books like the three in The Prometheus Project series; books that can help bridge the gap between fiction and non-fiction by bringing elements of science into stories. As an adult reader these educational parts stand out and some may feel they are over-educational in places, but I am not sure boys of 9-13 will notice this. I certainly found them interesting and learned quite a lot myself.
The stories focus on the adventures of brother and sister Ryan and Regan Resnick. Due to work their parents have recently (and very suddenly) relocated the family from a big city to a small town in the middle of nowhere and the two siblings are very resentful of this. However, as a result of an overheard conversation they discover that there may be more to their parents' work than they had realised and very soon they are breaking into the grounds of their parents work place. More through luck than judgement they manage to get through the complicated and extensive security measures and discover that underground beneath the company buildings scientists are working on mankind's greatest discovery - a huge alien city. Readers will have to suspend disbelief in places as the plot at this stage relies very much on coincidence rather than any mystery solving abilities the children possess, but younger readers will not find this an issue as their interest will be held by the fast pace of the narrative, aided by short chapters, each ending with a cliffhanger moment. Thus begin the adventures of the Resnick children as they set about discovering what the alien city has to offer.
The first book in the series is, in my opinion, the weakest of the three. Much of what happens is there to set the scene for the later books in the series, both of which have far more action and would definitely fit into the category of science fiction thrillers. Trapped definitely has its fair share of tense moments and nail-biting peril but in my opinion Captured and Stranded are vastly superior in these areas. I also feel that the quality of the author's writing develops and matures throughout the three books as he becomes more practised at plotting, writing dialogue and developing his characters. The opening chapters of both sequels include a short review of what has happened previously, and could be read as stand-alone books, but I would strongly recommend starting with book one in order to get the most out of them.
There is something distinctly old school about the characters of The Prometheus Project; they are Blyton-esqe in places but with a 21st century feel to them. Sometimes as a reviewer I have been critical of an author's ability to develop realistic characters and situations, sometimes forgetting that many reluctant readers just want an exciting story that will keep them wanting to turn the pages over. Dialogue and characterisation are not Mr Richards' strong points, but I am happy to overlook that in this case as he has delivered a trio of books that could help get young readers excited about science fiction. The plots are fast paced, with enough twists to keep readers guessing, and the alien worlds and technology are well created and utilised. I have many adult friends who love science fiction, and this is exactly the sort of series that they would have loved to be reading when they were kids, before graduating onto Heinlein and Asimov.
As I said ealier, these books are not yet published in the UK. However, if you look hard enough you can get copies of Amazon and they are worth the effort. Of course, being US publications they are written in American english and therefore some of the spellings will be different and the kids refer to their 'Mom' rather than their mum. I hope Mr Richards is not going to stop on three books and that we will see more from the Resnick siblings in the future.