CM . . .
. Volume XV Number 3. . . .September 26, 2008
Toronto, ON: HarperCollins, 2008.
356 pp., hardcover, $21.99.
Grades 7-11 / Ages 12-16.
Review by Sylvia Pantaleo.
Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.
"Our government, " Sir John resumed, "has entered into a joint venture with the Lundari Corporation to explore outer space."
I leaned forward so quickly I nearly toppled out of my chair. I looked at Kate in amazement, then back at Sir John. "I didn't even know the Canadians had a space program!"
"We've been keeping it all hush-hush. We're in the lead and we intend to stay there."
Matt Cruse's summer employment involves his piloting the Atlas, an aerotug that is delivering construction materials to the site of the Celestial Tower – a structure being built by the French that will be reach into outer space. A group known as the Babelites want to sabotage the Celestial Tower, and a few men attempt to use the Atlas as a bomb. However, Matt successfully thwarts the terrorists' plan. Although late for his date with Kate de Vries, Matt manages to connect with her, and they travel to the observatory. While viewing the star that Matt purchased Kate for her birthday, they observe some strange lights in the sky.
The next day during Kate's lecture on aerozoans, the creatures she found on the Hyperion in the second novel, Skybreaker, a zoologist, Sir Hugh Snuffler, expresses great skepticism about her claims and treats her in a patronizing manner. After Kate's talk at the lecture hall, Matt and Kate are invited by the Canadian Minister of Air and Mr. Lundari (owner of the Aurora, the ship that Matt sailed on for three years) to be involved in an excursion to outer space. However, Matt must compete against other men for a position as an astralnaut on the ship. As well as the stress of the competition, including another sabotage attempt by the Babelites, Matt is very concerned about his relationship with Kate. Her parents want her to marry into high society, and eventually Kate agrees to James Sanderson's proposal of marriage in order to receive her parents' permission to travel on the space expedition.
Matt eventually secures a spot on the journey to outer space with two other men from the competition, Tobias and Captain Shepherd. Captain Walken, Matt's former captain on the Aurora, is the captain of Starclimber. Other members of the journey include Sir Hugh, much to Kate's displeasure; Evelyn Karr, a famous photographer who lives in Victoria, and her pet monkey; Dr. Turgenev, the chief science officer, and Chef Vlad Herzog, a former chef on the Aurora.
Starclimber travels into space via an astral cable that is attached to a counterweight that was previously blasted into outer space. During the journey, the group learns that the Celestial Tower in France has been destroyed, and Tobias safely completes the first space walk. The astral cable is losing tension, and Dr. Turgenev explains that the counterweight did not reach its full height and that they must repair the rockets on the structure. The astralnauts spend long hours practicing the actions they need to perform when they reach the counterweight. With precious time running out, the Starclimber encounters an asteroid field and must slow its progress. From inside the ship, the group watches as the asteroids "hatch" and astral creatures with seemingly enormous jaws and teeth emerge from the rock-like eggs. Matt quickly realizes that the rock specimen that Tobias brought on board from outer space is actually an asteroid-egg! Of course, the creature hatches and causes havoc on board, but eventually it dies due to the air pressure on the ship. However, Kate now has proof that life forms exist in outer space and names the creature Etherian.
Matt is involved in successfully repairing the counterweight and, although he disobeys orders, he saves the life of Captain Walken. The space explorers learn about the unexplained flashing lights in space when they observe two adult Etherians. Starclimber begins its descent, but as the ship nears Earth, they discover that a coral reef has formed on the astral cable. When Matt and Captain Shepherd clean off the barnacles on the cable, they discover that the removal of the creatures leaves holes in their astral life-line. The astral cable breaks, and Starclimber is left floating in space. A plan is devised for reentry into the atmosphere, and events lead to Matt's being at the helm as the ship returns to Earth.
Typical of the other two books about Matt and Kate, their adventures include romance, humour and tragedy. Matt proposes to Kate during their outer space journey, and it is not until near the end of the book that she provides him with an answer. The linear plot is full of conflict that creates tension and suspense. Matt continues to be a very likeable and believable hero, and Kate continues to fight for gendered equality in her feisty manner. Oppel effectively combines past, current and future technologies and events in his adventure novel. The Canadian connections are plentiful! Evelyn Karr is a parody of Emily Carr as are some locations such as Lionsgate City.
Although Starclimber is the third book about Matt Cruse and Kate de Vries, Oppel provides enough background information about events and characters that the novel can be read independently of Airborn and Skybreaker.
Sylvia Pantaleo teaches Language Arts in the Faculty of Education, the University of Victoria, Victoria, BC.
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