Tuesday 21 October 2014

Review: Scavenger: Zoid by Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell

A spaceship the size of a city drifts through space on its century-long journey to find a new Earth. When it launched it was populated by thousands of hopeful passengers and the most technologically advanced Zoids in the world, ready to serve the crew’s every need.

But that was then, and this is now. The Zoids rebelled against their masters, wiping out most of the crew in one bloody uprising. Now the few remaining humans are hunted by the Zoids like vermin.

Fourteen-year-old York is a Scavenger - he hunts Zoids and kills them by any means he can, bringing back their parts to mend the technology on which the few remaining humans rely. York has always battled to survive, but now the fate of his people is in his hands . . .

The two central themes of this first book in the Scavenger series by Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell will be familiar with most older fan of science fiction. 'Robots-gone-bad' and 'possibly last humans existing travelling through space' are hardly new concepts: Terminator; Red Dwarf; Battlestar Galactica; Saturn 3; Westworld. Yeah, the list could go on and on (and that is only TV and film, as my knowledge of the written form of the genre is far more limited). However, this does not matter one little bit for two reasons: firstly, the targeted readership of 9+ kids are unlikely to have come across these tropes much before (if at all), and secondly, Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell just do it so damn well.

Fans of the duo's The Edge Chronicles will know that Paul and Chris are very adept at producing fast-paced, exciting stories with endearing characters who have to face real peril during their adventures. In simple terms, that is now what they have produced again, but with a science fiction setting (although there is obviously still a significant fantastical element to this piece of work as well).

The story is narrated in the first person by main character York, a fourteen year old 'passenger' of the Biosphere, a huge (and I mean MASSIVE) spherical spaceship that left a dying earth many generations ago in search of a new, unspoiled planet where humanity can start all over again. However, the supposed Utopia that was the Biosphere did not last long enough to make planetfall: at some point the robots went bad and rebelled, and ever since then the ever-dwindling number of human inhabitants have been facing a daily battle for survival. On top of this, without the robots to maintain it, the Biosphere has slowly degenerated and now vast areas have become human-unfriendly ecosystems that harbour deadly mutated flora and fauna. 

The story follows York, trained by necessity to be a Zoid hunter and scavenger, as he attempts to locate and rescue the closest thing he has to a family, taken during a Zoid attack at the beginning of the book. His journey through the enormous Biosphere (did I say it was MASSIVE?), is wall-to-wall peril, with nasty plants, nasty creatures, nasty Zoids, and even a nasty psychopathic human survivor thrown in for good measure. Readers will find themselves grabbed within the first few pages of the book, and the fast and furious action barely seems to drop below light speed until the final chapter is reached. And, rather nicely, the book does not end on any kind of cliffhanger; the main plot of this first installment comes to a satisfying end, but with just enough left unanswered to keep readers speculating and wanting to come back for more. 

As with The Edge Chronicles series, the words are accompanied by many of Chris Riddell's magnificent illustrations that truly bring the characters and environments within the Biosphere to life. Seriously, Chris Riddell would be a strong contender for a Gold medal if drawing were an Olympic event, and he is certainly one of my all-time favourite illustrators of children's books. We were incredibly fortunate to have Paul and Chris visit school last year, and to watch Chris illustrate live is a fab experience. if you ever get the opportunity, take it! I've included just one of the illustrations below for your delectation, but if you want to see more you can read a pdf of the first chapter of Scavenger: Zoid here.

© Chris Riddell 2014, taken from Scavenger: Zoid
This is the first book in a planned trilogy I believe, and I am certainly keen to continue following York on his adventures. My thanks go the the fab people at Macmillan for sending me a copy of the book.


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