“I wish I could tell you how cool this is.”
With those words uttered by his best friend during an online chat, Austin Stone, a high school senior, forces himself to accept the fact his friends are leaving him behind.
With average grades, less than stellar play in baseball, and a single mother struggling to make ends meet, it looks as if Austin’s only way to continue his education would be through some kind of miracle.
His only escape is playing an online space simulation, Star Runners. It seems to be the only environment in which he excels. However, being a champion Trident Starfighter isn’t something you want to brag about in public nor will it help earn a scholarship.
But as soon as Austin is about to give up on college he reaches the top of the elite server. He receives an invitation from a school shrouded in secrecy promising to unlock his hidden potential. With no other options, Austin takes the offer.
What Austin doesn’t realize is that his dream of going to college has just opened up the cosmos and will challenge everything Austin thinks he knows about himself and the universe.
This is another one of those books that I bought on a whim since it popped up in my recommendations. I honestly do not remember if it was on one of my Goodreads friends lists or if I saw it in my Kindle recommendations but in any case, this book was a very pleasant surprise. The previous book that I bought on a whim like this was Cadet and that one was not bad but not really anything to write home about either.
This book is another one of those young person discovers that there are aliens, spaceships and all kinds of great and not so great things out there. I do like those stories so I may be a bit biased from the start. However, this book was certainly one of the better such books that I have read. The author himself classifies this as a young adult story but personally I have to say that it could very well have done with a not so young audience classification.
The story, the writing and the characters are quite well done. One thing I really like about this book is that it does not rush it. It takes its time to develop the story. Many books with this kind of story just rushes over the surprise moments and the learning curve in a few chapters and then all of a sudden our hero is a full fledged starship pilot or something. This book is really spending time building up the story and spends quite a lot of time on the characters and character development. For a good third, or even a bit more, of the book the main character still thinks he is going to a school on Earth for example. The truth is only very slowly revealed. For the reader it is fairly obvious where it is heading of course but then you can deduce that by the title after all.
Even when the truth is revealed the book continues to properly develop the context and the characters. The education continues and you do not become a star fighter pilot overnight in this book. Actually it is not until the very end that Austin earns his wings and the road to that is a bumpy one. This is another good thing with this book. It is not all fun and games. Friends are lost along the way and Austin is not always sure whether he wants to go on or not. In some books these episodes are just forced in to create some thrilling moments which is quite annoying but in this one they come naturally as a part of both the story and the character development.
One thing that felt a bit strange though was that the entire universe seemed to be made up by humans or at least humanoids identical to the ones developed on Earth. The word “alien” is mentioned once in the book and then it is discarded as a stupid question. That did irk me somewhat but it is really a minor thing. The hard code science fiction readers out there might also regret that there is very little science and certainly not much in the form of technical explanations in this book. This book focuses almost entirely on the story and the characters. That is not to say that they wonder about and talk all the time. The book is far from devoid of action, both during the training and the real stuff.
A very pleasant surprise and excellent reading indeed. This book is one where I definitely will pick up the next one if a second book is published.