Genre: Science fiction
Rating: 4 pints of blood
(I apologise for the dagginess of this cover image upload - I couldn't scan my own cover and this was the only one online that I could find. I also can't see it right now, it's just an empty box with a question mark in it. Hate it when that happens! I'll just have to trust that it really is there!)
I much prefer this cover to the original UK one, which is rather loud and ghastly. This one captures the comic humour complete with its irreverent quality, and is relevant too. (Well, the UK one is too, but it's just not as colourful or pretty.)
I've had this ARC sitting on my shelf for a few months now, and if I'd known how much fun it would be and how much I'd like it, I would have read it as soon as I got it. But it's a new author for me, and the blurb didn't make it sound all that interesting. Since this North American edition is due out early next year, I thought I should probably get reading. And it turned out to be just what I needed: a funny, laugh-out-loud, wistful and rollicking ride that reminded me at times of Roald Dahl (more on that later).
Liam is only twelve, but his growth spurt hit early. Now taller than most adults and sporting a new batch of stubble, he's mistaken for the new teacher on his first day of grade 7 at a new school. That lasted only so long as it took him to try to incite a walk-out, but it's only the first time he's mistaken as an adult. Since he looks about thirty, Liam and his classmate Florida have great fun doing things that kids can only do with adult supervision - until his dad, a taxi driver, catches him about to test drive a Porsche.
All that practice at pretending to be Florida's dad comes in very handy when he wins a competition to be among the first people to visit a new, state-of-the-art space-themed theme park in China. Faking a letter to his parents about his class going to the Lake District for a school trip is easy enough. The only problem is, he needs someone to be his child, to take along with him, because the competition is for a parent and child. Convincing celebrity-gossip-obsessed Florida is only part of the problem: when they arrive their host, Dr Drax, tells them that it is the four children who will be going into space. Their fathers will be staying behind.
To come so close and not realise his dream! He manages to convince Dr Drax that the children should have an adult present, but Dr Drax decides to let the children vote on which Dad they want with them by voting on them after a series of challenges. Problem is, why would the kids want a computer-game obsessed "dad" with them when they know he'll hog the controls?
Frank Cottrell Boyce is better known as the author of Millions, which was made into a movie. I haven't seen it, or read the book. Other reviewers have said it's a better book than Cosmic - considering how much I enjoyed this, perhaps I should read Millions too. Cosmic is an utterly delightful read - and I've been waiting for ages to say that about a book!
Liam is a funny, engaging narrator, a mix of precocious child and wise adult who is obsessed with the Waterloos of the world and a role-playing computer game called World of Warcraft (which comes in very handy for navigating his way through encounters with grumpy adults). He carries the novel easily. When you remember how much practice Liam has at pretending to be an adult, and of having adults who know he's a kid always expecting him to behave better, "big lad like you", it's not all that surprising. Sure, sometimes his voice was a little too mature, but it also has that naïve youthfulness that you leave behind before you hit 20. Usually.
The humour renders the implausibility of the plot unimportant, in that Hitchhiker's way. This is one of the first books I've read in ages that made me laugh out loud. It was a breath of fresh air, lightening my week, and some of the irreverence transferred to my own life - there's nothing better than the ability to laugh at the absurdities of our own lives.
The story is told by Liam from space, and is the story of how he got there. I haven't been so entertained in ages. It really is a silly story, and yet poignant at times too - it's no shallow, brittle kind of humour, but earnest, which also makes it just that little bit sad. There's also this pervading sense of ... something, possibly bad, because all through the book you know that these five children are stuck in space, orbiting the moon, completely cut off from Earth and home and their parents. It certainly did prove how bad an idea it was of Dr Drax's to send just children into space - they messed up their task because they were fighting over who got to press the green button.
This is a great book for all ages - as an adult I enjoyed it immensely. It reminded me of Roald Dahl not just because of the humour but because the five fathers and five kids winning a competition to visit some exciting new place and do challenges is highly reminiscent of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. This is the first North American edition and I do wish they'd left the spelling alone. It's very jarring to leave the British vocabulary but not the spelling, and seriously, when you hear or picture British people talking, they do leave the "U"s in!