Recently, Alban Lake Publishing sent me a trio of middle-grade sci-fi books to review. If your kids are looking for fun, quick reads–and you’re interested in supporting an independent press–check out Debby Yeo’s Meet the Mercusons and Tyree Campbell’s series, Pyra and the Tektites.
Meet the Mercusons is a collection of short fiction, poems, and songs describing the feline, cave-dwelling, tail-digging, technologically advanced inhabitants of the dark side of Mercury. I enjoyed the thorough, often tongue-in-cheek world building, from the Mercusons’ ancient history on Pluto (until a careless clerk altered the planet’s orbit), to heroic ballads and their unusual dwellings, food, and pets.
About halfway through Meet the Mercusons, two characters are introduced, brother and sister Pelo and Rela. An outspoken rule breaker, Rela rails against the patriarchal culture that favors her twin brother, yet her words and actions make little impact. Meanwhile, Pelo concedes unfairness but revels in the perks of his successes without consequence. I would have liked more character development along these lines, but any potential conflicts or growth remains loosely sketched. I’m not sure whether there are more Mercuson stories, but this book serves as an intriguing introduction to a unique world.
From the Pyra and the Tektites series, I read Aquarium in Space and The Unicorn Stone. Both are fast-paced, engaging sci-fi stories for young readers. The story begins when almost-13-year-old Pyra hides from her parents in a shuttle pod after a bad math grade. (The girls-bad-at-math cliche rubbed me wrong, but later Pyra proves her aptitude in piloting, navigation, and problem-solving.)
When Pyra’s pod is pirated (say that 5 times fast), adventure begins. My favorite part was the zero-gravity aquarium where she rides a space-porpoise among giant water bubbles to avoid drowning. Unique situations like this keep the action moving, though Pyra rarely acts from her own motivations, which begins to make her feel flat as a character. In The Unicorn Stone, however, Pyra develops and puts into motion a plan to escape space smugglers.
By staying calm, relying on her smarts, and gasp using math, she realizes that she knows more than she thought. The more I engaged with Pyra’s inner life, the more I cared about her as a character, which enhanced the imaginative (but not-too-scary) danger she regularly confronts. As the series grows, I hope Pyra does, too!
My thanks to Alban Lake Publishing for offering fun, creative spec fiction books for younger readers!