Starstormers 5: Volcano by Nicholas Fisk

In this, the final Starstormers adventure, our heroes Vawn, Makenzi, Ispex and Tsu crashland their ship on Volcano. While waiting for their parents to rescue them, they must contend with the planet’s strange semi-sentient vegetation and bizarre animal life. Their “magical” friends from the previous adventure, the veils of Moloch, show up to lend a helping hand. Before long, their old nemesis the Octopus Emperor makes an appearance. The Starstormers, accustomed to running, decide to make a final stand against the ruler of Tyrannopolis.

With the exception of the first volume, the rest of the Starstormers saga has been fairly mediocre, including this final episode. That said, I found myself always captivated by the characters, if not the stories themselves. I think children, who are much more forgiving of plot-holes and unoriginality, will have a great fondness for the saga. It was my own childhood memories of volume 1 that led me to take this nostalgia trip in the first place, and I’m glad I did. I can’t help thinking it might have made a great little children’s TV series, given a chance.

Volcano provides decisive closure to the saga. Farewell, Starstormers. It’s been fun.

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Starstormers 4: Evil Eye by Nicholas Fisk

Once again the Starstormers – four children in a home-made junkyard spaceship – blast off into space to escape the onslaught of the Octopus Emperor. Their ship, barely holding together, crashlands on a planet known as Moloch (interesting term, if you’ve read the Bible). Upon exiting the ship, they find themselves in a jungle filled with all manner of Earthlike creatures, although mutated beyond recognition – and many of them hostile. Makenzi and Tsu take on the role of learning to hunt for food, while Ispex concerns himself with locating metals with which to repair the ship. Vawn starts hearing voices in her head, discovering that there is a vast intelligence in their midst. The Starstormers eventually learn that they are not on the planet itself but have crashed into a doughnut-shaped satellite that was placed in orbit – a structure made by mankind as an environment suitable for life, but upon which life has now run amuck. And the Starstormers must restore balance.

One question occurred to me: if you crash through the outer shell of the satellite into its Earthlike atmosphere, how do you avoid evacuating the entire atmosphere into space? Well, let’s just say, if you’ve read volumes 1 to 3 of Starstormers, Fisk isn’t terribly concerned with major plot holes or wacky science. In children’s literature anything goes; it shouldn’t, but it often does. Is it sloppy storytelling? Of course. Should a writer know better than to say to himself, “Ah, kids never notice that sort of stuff”? Yes, he should. Does it ruin the book? For an eight-year-old, probably not. And so, Fisk gets away with it.

I’ve had fun on this nostalgia trip so far, but with volume 4, I’ve started to get impatient and bored. The strength of the book is in the humourous interactions between the characters. It’s just a pity Fisk couldn’t come up with better story material. I’m on the home straight now, so I’ll probably read the final volume, Volcano, just for the sake of completeness.

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Starstormers 3: Catfang by Nicholas Fisk

There are five adventures in the Starstormers children’s space opera, and it has taken me a over year to locate copies of them all. This third adventure, Catfang, finally completes my set. The books are rare and hard to find on eBay, but judging by the amount of search requests my previous two reviews have generated, they are fondly remembered. I was very pleased with the first adventure, not so enamoured with the second, but something just keeps me reading. In part, I guess I’m revisiting my childhood and completing some unfinished business. But the books do hold a certain silly charm for me, even as an adult. The characters of Vawn, Ispex, Tsu and Makenzi (and not forgetting the robot, Shambles) all have their individual quirks, and the interactions between them are frequently funny.

The plots of the stories require a massive suspension of disbelief. If adventures one and two seemed unbelievable, Fisk really goes into overdrive with Catfang. At the end of book two, the Starstormers have escaped the clutches of the Octopus Emperor and are on the run in space. They now discover a stowaway on board: a cat. They name it Fang. Now, I won’t spoil the story by telling you what strange things the crew end up doing with this cat; all I will say is, “Fisk, what have you been smoking!” Because the antics in this book could only seem logical to an author floating several feet above his keyboard. But you know what? I just went with it and I had fun. And I’ll probably finish the series in due course.

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Starstormers 2: Sunburst by Nicholas Fisk

Volume 1 of the Starstormers saga ended with our heroes, Vawn, Ispex, Makenzi and Tsu, reunited with their parents on the colony of Epsilon Cool. Unwittingly they brought the evil Octopus Emperor – a being made entirely of a dust-like substance – along for the ride. Worse still, we learn that one of the Starstormers is a traitor, secretly in league with the Emperor in return for seeing their parents again.

Volume 2 begins with the Octopus Emperor enslaving the Starstormers and their parents and bringing them to his homeworld of dust. The youngsters manage to trick the Emperor and escape in their home-made spacecraft, but they must leave their parents behind. Wandering the stars, they come across a vast deserted starship. Curious, they dock and board, only to learn that the ship is heading straight for the sun. They panic. Why? Good question. Four children who were smart enough to build their own spaceship are apparently too dumb to realise that they can simply undock and fly away. When they finally do realise and attempt to take-off, they’re too dumb to uncouple the docking mechanism, and they assume the larger ship’s gravity is too strong. Oh, brother.

When the kids are finally on their way again, they head for the Octopus homeworld and make a stab at rescuing their parents. The title, Sunburst, is a reference to the encounter with the ghost ship, but this is really only a mini-adventure of 40 pages occupying the centre of this 120-page book. The rest of the volume is concerned with the Octopus Emperor.

The general gist of what I’m saying would lead you to believe I hated this book. Actually, I quite enjoyed it, and read it in a couple of days. Elements of the plot are poorly thought out, some of the writing is sloppy; Nicholas Fisk may well have written the Starstormers saga purely as a money-spinner. Normally I crucify a book like this. Instead, I find I want to chase up the remaining three volumes. The adventure, as a whole, is a fairly decent pulp space opera for kids. I’m into nostalgia in a big way at the moment, and reading Starstormers gives me the same feeling I got reading the likes of the Eagle comic as a kid. Bite-sized throwaway stories; such things have their place.

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Starstormers by Nicholas Fisk

I remember buying this book from a mail-order school book club when I was about eight years old, although I was so uninterested in reading as a child that I probably didn’t consume the book till I was about thirteen, when the reading bug finally bit me. Now, over twenty years later, I’m being bitten by the nostalgia bug, so here we go again …

Four children, Vawn, Ispex, Tsu and Makenzi live in a boarding school on Earth, while their parents are busy building a colony on the planet Epsilon Cool. It has been years since they last saw their parents and more before they ever will. Bored and frustrated, they come up with the crazy scheme of building their own spaceship out of parts salvaged from a spacecraft junkyard. They name their ship Starstormer and blast off. Weeks later, soaring through space on route to Epsilon Cool, they come across an ancient colony ship from earth called the Conqueror. The inhabitants have developed a strange religion, worshipping the “Glorious Ones,” whoever they are. Ispex is first to figure out that there is great peril here for the Starstormers.

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. It’s clear from the beginning that the story requires a tremendous suspension of disbelief, what with kids building a spaceship, but once you accept that, you can get on with enjoying the tale. The four children have diverse character traits that make for interesting drama. I had one worry, initially, about a particular moral stance taken by the book: I didn’t like the way the author had one of the kids resorting to fraud in order to obtain spaceship parts. But the surprise ending casts a new light on the character’s actions. The ending leaves much unexplored, and feels like a cliffhanger from a multi-part drama. And indeed, there are five volumes in the Starstormers saga, each around one hundred pages. I’ve already found and purchased volume 2 on eBay.

An excellent children’s space adventure.

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