It is the year 21,043 AD. Pya, Zumie, Jafet and Trist – known as the Hatchlings-live in tiny Cells, are cared for by their tutor-holos, and can only communicate via their avatars. Pya narrates how the giant computer ComCen sends their real bodies back to the mid 21st (2043 AD) Century where they meet the twins, Rio and Charlie. But even if these six very quarrelsome youngsters manage to survive in a very dangerous world, they must also achieve Independence and Co-operation.
From Chapter 1.
… Our avatars stroll along a riverbank lined with weeping willows until we come to a village. We head into a park lined by shady maple trees. The path leads us to a pool where huge goldfish swim from side to side, their plump bodies courting the afternoon sun. The scent of jonquils, narcissi and jasmine mingle. Bee-buzz fills the air. Birds and butterflies colour it. From here we look down on a main street straddled by a mossy stone bridge and see thatched roofs just beyond.
But soon the village starts to grow. Time speeds up. The goldfish and pool vanish. The park gradually shrinks. Tall buildings rise. Chimneys belch out fossil fuels. Trains reduce the countryside to shreds. Cars, planes and copters foul the air. Cranes and skyscrapers block out the sun. Throngs fill the streets. Some wave banners. Soon we hear machine guns rattle. Bombs explode. Lethal chemicals fill the air. We move inland to where smoke from burning forests pollutes the atmosphere. Landslides engulf whole towns. Surf pounds the coasts. Whole islands disappear. Most fauna and flora vanish. The ground lies parched and eroded. Those few survivors are hungry and sick. They die in droves. Mushroom clouds fill the skies. Cities glow in a nuclear nightmare.
We know this as the coming of the “Great Disaster”.
Review from Reading Time, the Australian Book Council Magazine
In the year 20,043, Planet Terra is on the cusp of The Great Disaster – fossil fuels are being wantonly consumed, flora and fauna are vanishing, war is erupting. Four ‘hatchlings’ – human life forms from the year 20,043 who have previously known only isolation within the metal walls of their individual cells – enter this 21st-century world. The hatchlings are a contrary bunch comprising two ‘fems’ (Pya and Zumi) and two ‘mascs’ (Trist and Jafet). They are tasked with learning about cooperation, and their arrival on Terra sees them joined on their quest by two Terran children, twins Rio and Charlie. In the face of societal breakdown, these six 13-year-olds join forces in a bid to survive.
The six adolescents encounter humans living in widely differing circumstances: some live in violent gangs, some form quasi-religious communities under the rigid control of a dominant male, some return to a sustainable agrarian life. As the hatchlings and the young Terrans respond to these groups (and to an array of terrifying non-human creatures), they gradually learn the benefits of working together.
Author Goldie Alexander is particularly adept at conveying the sensory experiences of the hatchlings in the natural world. (They have previously grappled with life outside their sparse cells only via ‘endgames’ completed by their avatars.) Tactile engagement with a non-sterile world is quite startling.
Cybertricks is narrated through Pya’s first person voice. Alexander provides her character with opportunities to wrestle with new concepts like rebellion and submission, free will and personal responsibility, and attachment and empathy. The storyline also includes hints of John Marsden’s Tomorrow series (the group has to resolve internal conflicts in order to survive) and Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games (the hatchlings and Terrans are pitted against a shape-shifting beast for the entertainment of a vast, unseen audience).
The full extent of the hatchlings’ mission is revealed in Cybertricks’ final pages. It is encapsulated in the hope that humans may yet create ‘a place where justice and harmony will always prevail’.
Cybertricks offers a fast-paced action adventure that cleverly combines science fiction motifs and philosophical musings in a novel suitable for an upper primary–lower secondary readership.
For ages 11+
Reviewed by Tessa Wooldridge
Review: Cybertricks by Goldie Alexander
Four cloned 13-year-old children named Pya, Zamia, Jafet and Trist live in the year 20,043. These “hatchlings” live solitary lives in tiny, sterile cells. Their days are dictated by a computer, CommCen, and they are taught by tutor-holos, so the closest thing to having a human interaction is in their Virtual Reality lessons. But even then they are represented by avatars.
When one such session sends them to the beginning of the Great Disaster in 2043AD – when the Earth’s population is starting to become infected with plague – the hatchlings befriend Rio and Charlie, who are also thirteen. As the division between Virtual Reality and Reality blurs, the hatchlings inexplicably find themselves in their real bodies and unable to return to the safety of their cells. They must quickly develop the skills they need to survive, as they are faced with numerous perils, including the extremes of nature, attacks from violent gangs, and terrifying monsters. The six children must overcome their fears and individual differences to work as a team, for they are quickly learning that it is only through cooperation that their impossible goal of survival can become possible.
In this imaginative science fiction novel for children, Goldie Alexander deftly weaves an environmental theme into an exciting adventure story for young independent readers. Despite alluding to the perils facing our own time, such as disease and climate change, the story does not descend into doom and gloom. Rather, there is a pervasive and positive message that, if we can all learn to work together, it is possible that we can avert disaster to achieve a fresh start.
Julie Murphy 2016
Glam Adelaide Review by Rod Lewis on October 28, 2016
It’s a bleak and bizarre future that Goldie Alexander has envisaged for her middle grade readers, but it’s also one full of wonder, fun and adventure with many of life’s lessons being taught in unique ways.
Set in the very distant future, when most of Earth’s population has been wiped out in The Great Disaster, four hatchlings live in tiny cells, only communicating with each other through avatars during their daily lessons. Their lives are ruled by a great, hidden computer known as ComCen, and they’re cared for by tutor holograms.
The hatchlings struggle to get along in their lessons, which are mini-adventures trying to teach them about life. Then one day, their avatars are sent back to the year 2043AD, just before The Great Disaster, to observe a traditional family. When something goes wrong, the four hatchlings materialise and find themselves stuck in the past with no way home.
Aided by local twins Rio and Charlie, the narrator, Pya, and her fellow hatchlings Zumi, Jafet and Trist must all learn to work together if they are to survive in the real world after being left behind in an evacuation.
Through a series of challenges and dangers, the six young people progressively begin to understand that working together helps everyone and achieves much more than working alone or being selfish. Bonds are formed, and collectively, they grow into a smart, brave team with a greater understanding of life and friendship.
The complexity of Alexander’s future world takes a few chapters to sink into. Told from Pya’s perspective, it takes time to begin understanding her world and how it works. The reader is bombarded with unexplained colloquialisms from the start – the first half page alone mentions ComCen, Weirwolf, Tutor-Henny, Cell-Q3 and food-tube with no context of what’s what or where we are. As the story progresses, it all becomes clear but it’s only then that the wonder and adventure take hold.
Once settled into Alexander’s imaginative world, Pya’s story is a delight. Alexander has filled her future Earth time periods with enough detail to make them seem real, and the more supernatural elements, such as the Shape-Shifters, meld nicely into the more standard characters and elements of an apocalyptic Earth. Her characterisations are all recognisable and age-appropriate, as is the dialogue, and it’s easy to identify with all six of the heroes, even the selfish ones like Zumi.
Filled with excitement, danger and a generous sprinkling of laughs, it’s great to read a novel where there is collective growth, not just the personal growth of a single, central character. Having a strong female lead and having the story told from her perspective is also a bonus, as it seems so rare in juvenile science fiction.