Starcross Book cover Starcross: A Stirring Adventure of Spies, Time Travel, and Curious Hats by Philip Reeve (YA science fiction)

If you loved Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker series and lament the fact that there is no spiritual successor to those books, this Philip Reeve series comes closer to that than anything else I’ve seen. It’s not so much pure comedy as a mix of comedy and adventure, but I haven’t read anything this funny in a while.

Starcross is the sequel to Larklight: A Rousing Tale of Dauntless Pluck in the Farthest Reaches of Space. The premise for the setting is that you throw science out the window. Space isn’t a vacuum; it’s filled with aether, and it can be navigated with alchemy-powered aetherships. All the planets and moons are inhabited by strange creatures, as is space itself. We’re in the Larklight's book jacketVictorian era. The American Revolution failed (put down by Admiral Nelson), and the British Empire, which closely guards the secrets of alchemy, has spread into space and made colonies of several planets.

We follow the adventures of Art and his older sister Myrtle, and the pirate Jack Havock (all of whom are teenagers, I think, though I’m not sure of their exact age). Most chapters are written from Art’s point of view, but we occasionally switch to Myrtle’s, and their brotherly/sisterly sniping at one another is a constant source of amusement.

Myrtle is one of the most original and interesting characters I’ve seen in science fiction. She’s obsessed with being a proper English lady. Here’s a passage from the book that explains her better than I could:


Mother was concerned about Myrtle’s education, too, for it seemed to have been confined to piano playing and deportment. She kept asking anxiously whether Myrtle would not like to study for some Career or Profession, for, as she said, ‘This is the Nineteenth Century, Myrtle, dear, and many avenues of life which were once purely the preserve of men are now wide open to members of the fairer sex.’ Had not Mother’s dear friend, Miss Marian Evans, lately been appointed editor of the Westminster Review? But Myrtle insisted that a lady does not seek anything so common as Paid Employment, and continued playing her horrible piano, and embroidering improving samplers. However, she did agree to learn a little French, for, as she said, ‘then I may write in my diary in French, and if A Certain Person is ever tempted to steal bits of it again, he will be most aggrieved to find he cannot read it!’

The events of the book keep putting Myrtle in danger, and while she always hopes the dashing Jack Havock will rescue her, more often than not, she finds that she has to do the rescuing herself. As it happens, she’s quite resourceful and more than capable of rising to the occasion. This is one of the funniest takes on feminism I’ve ever seen. Myrtle is determined to be useless, but continually proves herself otherwise.

It still blows my mind that so many SFF readers/writers are not reading YA, because there’s a revolution happening in SFF right now, and YA is where it’s happening. We’re getting top-notch writing, fast-paced stories, deft characterization, and wildly original ideas. This book is part of that revolution.