Children of the 23rd Century
The Secret of the Lost Planet

Author: Mel Hogan
Athena Press
RRP: 6.99, US $11.95
ISBN-13: 978 1 84748 042 2
ISBN-10: 1 84748 042 X
Available 04 June 2007

In the not so distant future mankind has retreated beneath their domes, away from the pollution, away from the light. With their world in its last death throws they turn their eyes to the heavens to find a new home. By a quirk of fate the destiny of the human race rests in the hands of Aurora Gazers and Ethan Knight and, although they do not know it, their story will also be the story of earth's demise or its eventual resurrection...

Children of the 23rd Century: The Secret of the Lost Planet is the first in a six book series by new novelist Mel Hogan. Hogan had already made a name for himself as a musician, but after an unforeseen accident decided to turn his talents toward works of fiction for children.

Okay. So I'll come right out and say that I did not like this book. Although it only runs to around two hundred and twenty pages, it took forever to wade through the leaden prose. When I did eventually get around to writing the review it was so negative that I decided to wait, until I could come up with something more constructive to say, and start again. I am, after all, of the opinion that talent should be nurtured and anyone who has gone to the trouble of writing at least deserves an honest appraisal.

The book contains a number of problems, which could conceivably be remedied in future instalments. First off there is an almost complete lack of description of the environment in which the story takes place. Vehicles, places and people are labelled but very rarely are they examined or explored. Dickens may have been justifiably lambasted for his overlong descriptive passages, but to have almost none leaves the story effectively happening in a vacuum. I suppose a case could be made that, the less description one gives the more the imagination of the reader is engaged. Lets face it, Tolkien gave almost no description of his most famous creation, the Hobbit. However, even given that example, the lack of detailed description of the hobbits was set against one of the richest and most realised fictitious worlds ever published - a world rich in descriptive detail.

The next problem is the language. I'm not really sure what access Mr Hogan has to sixteen year olds, but having had way too much access whilst my daughter was growing up and filling the house with her friends I have yet to meet any that spoke in such an anachronistic manner. I have to question just how many teenage girls Hogan has met - his take on their language patterns is most unusual. They use terms like "Hoot" and call each other "girl". You're only five pages in when you come across such highlights of teenage English prose as:

'You look fab and dangerous, you foxy lady. Oh! I do like that on you babe,' Crystal said laughing...

I presume that she was laughing as she appears to have turned into the linguistic equivalent of a melding between a '60s movie villain and a '20 airhead flapper. The male characters fare a little better, but can still be found spouting the odd "blimey" and "flippin' 'eck", I kept waiting for Dick Van Dyke to leap upon the page and sing "Me Old Bamboo". Whilst Hogan's portrayal of his female characters is fairly one dimensional, his male characters do not seem to know whether they are wide-eyed, nave youths or space captains. Their gravitas, and our insight into their character, should come from the language that they use, but if that language is inconsistent the characters start to merge into one.

Another problem with the book is that Hogan starts his characters at the height of their powers. Both Ethan Knight and Aurora Gazes have nowhere to go, as far as their ambition is concerned, nor do they have any tests of spirit and character to get them there. At the start of the book Ethan, at sixteen, is already up for the captaincy of his own starship, and Aurora is an accomplished physicist and geologist. Sure they go on an adventure - and to be honest this part is not too bad - but where is the youth plucked from obscurity that goes on a spiritual and physical quest? Joseph Campbell would be spinning in his grave.

The PR blurb states that the book should appeal to: "readers of Harry Potter, Bladerunner, Laura Croft and Lord of the Rings", which explains a lot about quality control. Two are works of fiction (which can be read), one is a computer game (and movie franchise) and one is a film, neither of which could conceivably be thought of as having readers (unless they meant Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep in which case I'd be interested to know what The Secret of the Lost Planet has in common with a classic book about identity written by a speed addict).

I read an interview with Mr Hogan where he claimed that he had never read a book before - much less written one. If this is true then it explains a lot. At the end of the day, for a novelist, Mr Hogan makes a great musician.

Charles Packer

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