Far-fetched fiction

24th August 2007 at 01:00
Transport yourself to other worlds and times with these mind-boggling novels, advises Michael Thorn

Escape From Genopolis by T. E. Berry-Hart (Scholastic pound;5.99) is, as the title suggests, an exciting escape adventure, but it is far from being escapist fiction. Indeed, there's no rule that says a good holiday read should not make us think as well as entertain us, and this book certainly does both in equal measure.

Set in a future post-apocalyptic dystopia I know, there have been too many of those novels but, take my word, this one is sufficiently different the citizens of Genopolis feel no pain and are therefore politically compliant. Children, known as Gemini, are farmed to provide organs for ageing owners.

This is Berry-Hart's first novel. She writes extremely well and, despite the futuristic theme, readers will have no problem identifying with the plight of the two main characters Usha, an escaped Gemini, and Arlo, a Natural who still has the old feelings.

Michael Coleman's The Cure (Orchard Books pound;8.99) is another fine, page turning adventure with a moral, philosophical and religious theme. The publicity for this book calls it: "A compelling and thought-provoking novel about faith, humanity and being true to yourself," and it is exactly that. Whereas Berry-Hart's book is fundamentally a work of science fiction, Coleman's is a skilful satire which dares to get young readers questioning the assumptions of a purely scientific, rational explanation of the world.

The year is 274AD (After Darwin). All citizens subscribe to a simplistic creed of niceness, making the daily promise to be "cheerful and kind".

It is anathema to believe in a divine creator and if anyone shows signs of questioning the Mother Republic, they are sent to a correction clinic to be "cured". This is what happens to Raul, who has been openly defiant, and also to his sister Arym, who may have her brother's genetic tendency latent inside her.

The two discover the journal of a monk recording the last days of a holy order. Its contents prompt a dramatic confrontation and denouement.

No less dramatic, but somewhat lighter and more purely entertaining are The Spook's Battle by Joseph Delaney (Bodley Head pound;9.99) and Tunnels by Roderick Gordon and Brian Williams (Chicken House pound;6.99).

Delaney's book, the fourth volume in the Wardstone Chronicles, has Tom, the spook's apprentice, confronting witches and continuing to fight evil and secure the safety of his family. It's fine good versus bad fun, with as frightening a creature as you will come across.

Tunnels' peculiar stylistic awkwardness, perhaps stemming from its joint authorship, adds to the book's narrative charm, giving the adventure about a parallel world underground the ambience of a period novel by Jules Verne

Michael Thorn is deputy head of Hawkes Farm Primary School in Hailsham, East Sussex

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