Reviews: Hive Mind

Hive Mind by Timothy J. Bradley (Argosy Press, 2013)

Sometimes books just happen to find you.  That’s a much rarer occurrence since I started my job as a librarian and began to keep sharp track of many upcoming titles. It still happens though.  That’s the way it happened with this book.  I was busy at my job re-alphabetizing the “B” section of the middle-grade fiction shelf and this book took a tumble to the floor.  I picked it up and thought ‘huh, I haven’t seen this one before, must be a new title.” And, as I do with new titles, I tucked it under my arm to look at when I had a spare moment.  Sometimes the things I discover this way can make a science-fiction lovin’ blogger very happy indeed.

Hive Mind is the first book in this author’s new Sci Hi series for younger middle grade readers.  This futuristic story opens somewhere in the relatively near future where young Sidney Jamison has just taken apart his mother’s Voxpod.  Sidney loves to take things apart to see how they work.  He’s constantly asking questions and wondering about the hows and whys of things.  He’s terribly frustrated with school where all he sees is the same material covered again and again.  Sidney wants more.  And he’s about to get it.  Sidney’s just been invited to become a student at the legendary Sci Hi school–a special school that most kids don’t even know exists.   And how cool is it to go to a school with it’s very own rocket launcher?  Sidney quickly befriends Hari,  and Penny and the three of them become a first year team tackling assigments together.  But things are going to get a bit sticky when the trio are part of a field trip that takes them inside a bee colony . . .  Factual science combined with science fiction gadgetry and upbeat adventure make for an enjoyable and informative ride!

At the back, the publisher has included a few pages dubbed the “Reader’s Guide”  It contains  two pages of a question and answer session with the author.  The next two pages are devoted to a discussion of the actual science in the story, talking about colony collapse disorder, bee balls, bee communication and some cutting edge technology in development.  The next two pages include projects readers can create if they’re fans of the work (suggesting things like creating  their own book trailer about why they liked the book). The final two pages include a Pop Quiz to find out which character you’re most like and a guessing game.  It’s worth mentioning that Timothy J. Bradley does all the illustrations for his book.  And the visuals help to bring the whole story together–particularly for younger readers.

There’s a reason I’m excited about this, despite a number of issues that I’ll touch on in a bit.    And that reason will be one you’ll recognize if you’ve been reading my blog for a while.  In A Swift Proposal I mention what how Tom Swift has influenced science and technology over the generations, and how we need more such books.  I’ve also brought up  Danny Dunn and his scientific adventures.  And I’ve lamented over the fact that I haven’t seen anything like them on the shelves for new generations. Well, now I am.   This new Sci Hi book is pretty darn close to what I’ve been looking for in many particulars.  First and foremost,  it’s for young middle grade readers.  Clocking in at less than a hundred and fifty pages, it’s a perfect  bite sized read for kids just graduating from simple chapters and ready to try new stories.  These are the stepping stone books that begin a reader’s inspiration with a genre.  Secondly, this story is focused on adventure and science fact.  There are plenty of series out there, but many of them tend to be fantasy , or focused on character relations rather than the nuts and bolts of science and tech. Thirdly, it’s upbeat.  There are a lot of futuristics that explore the negative futures for mankind and paint dystopian landscapes–Sidney’s world is close enough in the future to be relatively familiar, and there’a a positive spin on science.  It’s being used to study and learn and solve problems. And Fourth, the author appears to have done his homework with the actual science in this book.  All of the information on honeybees is stuff that kids can likely find out more information about with a little research.

This is the kind of fiction that teachers can pair up with nonfiction assignments to inspire real interest and excitement.  Just throw in some of recent articles or books on bees.  Or a book or two on parasites.  With all the need to expand nonfiction, it’s important to remember that fiction can help offer the inspiration for readers so that they want to pursue information on a topic.  Give a kid a story to explain what’s going on with honeybees, and it will reinforce the actual information they learn.  Make an adventure out of science and kids will associate scientific exploration and discovery not simply with homework and school, but with the widespread possibilities for their future.

I think it’s also important to note that the author has  made certain there is some diversity to our trio of friends.  While Sidney is white, Hari is Indian and Penny is British with dark skin and hair.  No idea if the series will continue have Sidney as the focal character, but it would be interesting to see  the series switch focus to Hari or Penny for the second.

Okay, now to the not so good stuff.  While this book gets a heck of a lot right, I felt there were two main concerns.  The first is the method of information delivery in the story.  There is a lot of specific info being dropped into this short book. Almost all of it is delivered by blocks of dialog.  Characters speak in entire paragraphs rather than quick responses back and forth.  While it’s not always a bad idea to deliver information in dialog, having everyone speak in paragraphs gets clunky and loses the immediacy of what’s going on in the story.  There needs to be more balance between short snappy sentences and the occasional science explanations.  And “show, don’t tell” may be practically cliche,  but it applies here.  Some of info dump dialog, particularly where the characters are talking about themselves and why they’ve come to Sci Hi, could have been handled a bit more subtly and concisely.  I’m hoping the author may balance out the text a bit better for the next book so that readers aren’t caught up short by regular blocks of dialog explaining all the details.  The other concern is I’d like to see a bit more  to the actual conflict/adventure.    While clearly there was some set up required for the introductory book, the bee adventure is the in the titles and the focus of the prologue.  I would have liked a few more pages devoted to that part of the story, particularly the part when our characters are facing the hornets.   Secondary characters could have used a little more depth and development in the story.  A lot of Sid’s teachers were indistinguishable from one another and it would be helpful to have a few  key pieces of characterization to make them distinct people for the readers.

I think this series has great potential if it can reach it’s target audience.  With a little polish of the writing and a bit more depth this may prove both an entertaining and useful fiction series.  The next title in the series: Ripple Effect will be published March 2014. Looking forward to seeing what our protagonists will be exploring next!

For readers who want some companion volumes of nonfiction to match with this text, here are a few recommendations:

Publisher: Argosy Press

Publication Date: October 2013

ISBN13:    9781480721883

Recommended for grades 3 t0 5

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About Stephanie Whelan

I'm a children's librarian with a life-long love of all things science fiction and fantasy.

Posted on January 26, 2014, in General Posts, Reviews and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

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