Explorer X-Alpha

Reviewer: Susan Shepherd

Author: L. M. Preston

Published: 2009

Reviewed: 2011-06-14

Publisher: Phenomenal One Press

"Explorer X-Alpha" is a deeply frustrating book. It has bits of
interesting world-building and some neat technology, as well as a wide
cast of teenage and pre-teen characters, some of whom felt quite real.
But it suffers from the lack of an experienced editor, and will
probably be a lot more fun for the young readers it is targeted at
than for adults who regularly read science fiction, and readers should
be aware that it is better classified as science fantasy than straight
science fiction.

The book follows a group of young people assigned to the same team at
an exclusive summer camp. A company called Technical Exploration and
Genome Research Corporation, or TEGRC, has sponsored the camp for its
employees' children in order to get the kids interested in space and
technology. This year is something of a test run, and the company
plans to use the feedback they get to improve the camp facilities so
they can start advertising it to a wider audience. Okay, so far so

The plot gets weirder and choppier soon after the main character,
Aadi, arrives at camp. His assigned group is introduced, and so are
their assorted neat abilities. The kids learn of an insidious plot.
There is a certain amount of teenage male silliness where females are
concerned. There is a section that does nothing to advance the main
storylines, but shows the characters using the skills they've learned
and figuring out the best way to ambush and fight one another. About
two-thirds of the way through, an event happens that throws two of the
characters into a whole new setting, and after that the story gets a
lot darker and more violent (this is not a spoiler, as the back cover
blurb tells even more of the plot than what I just wrote).

I had some fun with this book. Some of the characters were neat. One
of them impressed me because I figured out pretty quickly what their
Big Secret was, but the other characters never found out or
guessed---and that's very cool to see, since most of the time new
authors want their main character to learn everything about the world
of the story. And a convenient plot element that I initially
dismissed as ridiculous and poorly explained later turned out to have
a good explanation.

That said, the writing is terribly uneven. The publisher is very
small and quite new, and it is unclear whether the book saw an editor
before it was published. Homophone errors abound ("Your but is mine!"
he roared. [sic]) and there are way too many convenient special
abilities for my liking. Many of the technological explanations given
are wrong or improbable (DNA does not make oxygen, okay?) and the
antagonists aren't really personified.

Basically, it was a very flawed book, but I had some fun with it. If
you're willing to put up with those flaws, it might be worth reading.
It's not nearly as good as, say, the Heinlein juveniles or the
Animorphs series, but the weird world, hand-wavy science and unusual
characters weren't all that much different from what I've read in
K.A. Applegate's series "Remnants," so I think kids from, say, age 10
to 15 would probably find this book pretty interesting.