Scavenger 1: Zoid by Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell

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Scavenger 1: Zoid by Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell

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Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: While a lot has been done before, the craft and energy – and illustrations – in this sci-fi for tens-to-fourteens have a lot going for it. These much-loved creators have turned to another genre with success.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 272 Date: March 2014
Publisher: Macmillan Children's Books
ISBN: 9781447231486

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Somewhere out in the further reaches of the galaxy is a spherical construction, speeding the last few surviving Earth humans on their way to a different, new home, a giant biosphere acting as the one remaining Ark for what's left of humankind. And its purpose is even more important as, somewhen, somewhere and somehow, during its flight, the robot inhabitants – the cleaners, butlers, farmers and mechanics – rebelled. Since then they have evolved themselves, and ignored all their original programming, and are intent on wiping out humans instead. We, of course, are fighting back, but when the tiny community of little more than a hundred that serves as the whole world for the young worker known as York gets wiped out, he gets the clearest picture yet of how difficult that battle will be…

Yes, this book does form an amalgam of two major sci-fi tropes – that of the remnant community of humanity in a fight for survival, and that of the robots-gone-bad dystopia – but it does it well. If you have to have just one leftover of a major robot onslaught you might as well have York – a resourceful scavenger, perfectly adept at killing off zoids, as they’re called, and recycling the relevant tech from within them. But as you would easily expect, and as the cover will strongly suggest, he will not be alone in his quest for long.

Still, there are very unlikely links formed across his journey, and that's proof of the way the authors have taken their insular, isolated world and run with it, building it up, down and in all directions. Even when you've read several books set in a spherical Ark-type craft you find something new enough here. It's almost a sci-fantasy, with the metallic world encroached on by odd species of both plants and animals, allowing for a very varied landscape for the action to play out in. Nothing is purely inorganic.

Where the book doesn't quite succeed is in the idea that it has what is 'new enough', as I suggested earlier – nothing is particularly bold or inventive enough to stand out. It all goes some way and no further. It's also hampered by a very poor style in the opening chapters, where the authors just pile on tech-speak after future-talk after neologism after new-fangled vocabulary to the point you do pity the younger reader. Satzcoa is probably ersatz cocoa, and who in the target audience would absorb that fully, especially when there are ten or twenty such odd constructions thrust at us on each page. You almost feel it's a good thing when the assault happens, York is left on his own and the language can settle down to him just describing what he needs to in terms we can all live with, which he does throughout in an energetic present tense.

Still, to counter all that are many positives. Chris Riddell's illustrations and character design are on top form, as usual, but it's not only the high picture content that speeds the pages past. Even if you know that this will only be the opening portion of a trilogy or even larger series, you should certainly find enough that will gun you on towards the ending, which is a very nice one, with enough closure yet obvious sequel room. It's not all pell-mell action, but neither is there ever really a hiatus, meaning that you're drawn from unusual location to unlikely scenario to unexpected happening with brio. I still think there was room for something more with the world-building, a little je ne sais quoi, but that aside this is a very decent series opener, and I'm sure the full cycle will be a clever and fully engaging saga. I would certainly look forward to being proved right in that.

I must thank the publishers for my review copy.

For a slightly older audience we found Tesla 1 by Mark Lingane to be action-filled steampunky sci-fi.

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