________________ CM . . . . Volume XII Number 10 . . . .January 20, 2006


How to Be a Hero on Earth 5.

Rob Payne.
Toronto, ON: Penguin Canada, 2006.
262 pp., pbk., $12.99.
ISBN 0-14-305198-9.

Grades 7-10 / Ages 12-15.

Review by Ann Ketcheson.

**** /4

Reviewed from uncorrected and unpublished proofs.



Anxiety wrenched my stomach and my subconscious began to prod my mind with the idea that maybe the situation was not quite... normal. The air suddenly felt hot and humid, and I could smell melting plastic. My mind knotted at the thought of fire in the electrical system and the plane plunging from the sky.

Just then, the disturbing woman pulled at my shirt sleeve and blabbed something nonsensical about the future. As she spat the words, dizziness rippled through my head, and I felt a horrible sensation - like a creature was inside me, tickling my spine and jangling my heart at the same time. The woman leaned closer, obviously not happy at my attempt to pretend she didn't exist. her eyes were watery and red, like she hadn't slept in weeks, and as her wet mouth slid open, a bloated, grey tongue darted across her lips.

"Turnips," she said. "They sent me here to tell you."


What might have happened if you'd been able to catch that particular flight last summer? Perhaps you'd have been the victim of a terrible air disaster. Or what might have happened if you'd decided not to go to that New Year's party? You might never have met the love of your life. Could there be a planet similar to ours where a parallel world exists? What would life be like if we switched, willingly or otherwise, from one to the other?

     These are the sorts of questions posed by Canadian author Rob Payne in his new young adult science-fiction novel, How to be a Hero on Earth 5. But Payne doesn't treat this as some sort of physics question or philosophical problem. Instead, we join John Fitzgerald on what is intended to be his first solo vacation - to England to visit relatives he's never met. Little does he realize that the odd noises and movements of the plane en route are an indication that he has accidentally flown through a rip in the space-time continuum and ended up on Earth 5, an alternate universe.

     Payne then leads his readers on an wild and wacky adventure which, since it takes place in an alternate world, is not at all hampered by ordinary constraints. John meets an Earth 5 version of his own father as well as an entire group of displaced teens, or "non-dimensionals." They follow a variety of clues on a sort of underground railway through England and Scotland in order to finally escape and return home to their own world. The task isn't easy, and battling man-eating hair or participating in a 'killer' TV game show are only small parts of the excitement! Such complications are the work of DIMCO, a government agency dedicated to preventing interdimensional travel, among other conspiracies.

     The novel is inventive, creative, zany. Once you accept that life is very different on Earth 5 and almost anything can (and does!) happen, it is easy to suspend disbelief and just go along for the ride ... rather like enjoying the thrills of an almost out-of-control roller coaster! Payne's writing includes plenty of description as well as lots of dialogue which helps the reader gain insight into the personalities of the various teens John meets along the way. The dialogue is natural both for the age group of the characters involved and for the beginning of the twenty-first century. As well, the book is very humorous. For example, on page 226:

“And almost certainly DIMCO will pick up your wave signal and attempt to hack the equation. They'll use the most nefarious force know to humanity to penetrate your minds and redirect your thoughts toward destruction.”

“A virus?' Delores asked.


“Radiation poisoning?”

Ben shook his head. “Worse. Advertising jingles.”

     The novel is fairly long, but chapters average only six to eight pages. The weird and wonderful plot could easily lend itself to all kinds of related activities, picking up on the main theme of interdimensional travel, for example.

     Payne has written a terrific book which has enough science fiction to appeal to that group of readers and enough adventure and page-turning thrills to capture still others, and the whole is interspersed with irreverent humour on almost every page which serves to spice up an already interesting story. It is a winning mix and is sure to appeal to both male and female young adult readers.

Highly Recommended.

Ann Ketcheson is a former teacher-librarian and teacher of high school English and French. She lives in Ottawa, ON.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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