Children's fiction: Plainly scary stuff

The Xenocide Mission
By Ben Jeapes, Doubleday pound;10.99

What makes ideal holiday reading? For many of us, it is a fantasy book that fleshes out our innermost impulses.

Do you want to save the galaxy? Here's your chance, with added power portals, half-friendly androids and laser weapons. Do you want horrible aliens that turn out to be all mushy deep down? Here they are, with added tentacles. Tingle with love interest? Here she is, with added perfect figure, deep blue eyes and world-beating bravery.

Add a bit of chippy boy-humour and a snap-crackling pop of a plot, and you have a good recipe for keeping teenage and sub-teenage boys occupied on a dull summer's day.

Although Jeapes's second novel rises above such formulaic plains, it is based on an understanding of the formulae. The blurb reads: "From the first totally unexpected laser bolt" (totally unexpected?).

Jeapes canters through the territory with gusto, telling the tale of a young astronaut trapped on an alien planet with a bolshie android and two extra-terrestrial prisoners, he learns a bit about preconceptions. Back home, his middle-aged but gallant hero father sets out to rescue him, despite politicking opponents.

The aliens, who turn out to be a kind of hybrid of your mum and an octopus, worry about just who will hurt whom on the "Dead World" (that's us). Luckily, it all turns out well.

The Xenocide Mission will entertain, and not only boys aged 10-15 who can read about any number of phasers and transporters without being irritated by their implausibility. Other young readers will also enjoy this escapade, hung as it is on the strong thread of the father-son bond, over the churning abyss of futurama.

For more reviews, see this week's edition of the TES.

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