Friday, January 3, 2014

Nick and Tesla's Robot Army Rampage: A mystery with hoverbots, bristlebots, and other robots you can build yourself by "Science Bob" Pflugfelder and Steve Hockensmith

This is the second adventure of Nick and Tesla, twin eleven year olds with an interest in science and a love of adventure. After their parents are sent to Uzbekistan, they go to live in a small town on the Northwest coast with their eccentric uncle. Like the twins, he's obsessed with inventions and science and the story opens with the explosion of his rotten-banana-powered vacuum cleaner.

Nick is worried about their parents' silence since they left two weeks ago. Tesla is more philosophical about it, but when mysterious thefts begin occurring around town, she eagerly accepts the distraction. There's also a new owner at the Wonder Hut, who Uncle Newt has a definite romantic interest in and Nick and Tesla aren't sure how they feel about it, even though they're only with their uncle for the summer. Can they solve the mysterious thefts, help their friend whose family is about to lose their comic store, and survive on Spaghetti O's until their parents finally contact them?

If this description sounds vague and confused, well, that's pretty much what I thought of the plot. Part of this could be that I started with the second book, but I never thought the characters were well-developed and the plot is really just a thin disguise to give the kids an excuse to build robots. Which is totally ok! I have several series similar to this which have, to put it mildly, less-than-stellar literary quality, but inject a lot of science facts and experiments into the plot and kids love them. Not every book needs to be a literary masterpiece that absorbs their little minds into a fantasy world for hours. That being said, the plot was extremely thin and often confusing. The thing that bothered me most was how unrealistic the small town seemed. Now, I live in a small town that is supported almost completely by tourism. I work in another small town nearby that has a little tourism, especially for a couple big yearly events, but nothing else otherwise (really, I mean nothing. it has a great library though (-:) These towns are nothing like what's portrayed here from the eccentric uncle with no visible means of support to the small wacky businesses and right on up to the cartoon policeman. There might be towns like this of course - it's just not my experience. The story seems to fall into that problematic realm where authors who try to write update versions of the kind of kids' adventure story that was written fifty years ago run into modern society. I wasn't really excited about the next book, which seems to take the whole story into the realm of secret agent adventures type of plotting.

Verdict: Don't buy this for the plot or for the writing - buy it for the experiments. I'd hand it to kids who like the Summer Camp Science mysteries or Doyle and Fossey series (although that's quite a bit younger). It's a great book for kids who only like nonfiction but their teachers say they have to read a fiction book.

ISBN: 9781594746499; Published February 2014 by Quirk/Random House; Galley provided by the publisher through LT Early Reviewers; Purchased for the library

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