Self-published (WA author)
Reviewed by Alison Spicer-Wensley
Despite being suitable for upper primary aged readers, Hal Junior: The Secret Signal has a much wider appeal and will be enjoyed by many secondary school students and even adult fans of the Hal Spacejock series. The setting of this story in space, with the attendant characters of the ship’s computer and the robot teacher marks it as Science Fiction but its main focus is on humour and Hal’s adventures. Hal is like any boy with an active imagination who is good natured at heart but has little sense of responsibility. Much of the humour derives from the contrast between reality and the world as Hal imagines it. Readers of the older readers’ Hal Spacejock books may observe that this tendency to live in his imagination is something that Hal never quite grows out of.
The story starts fairly gently with Hal’s fantasies of being the mighty Captain Spacejock saving everyone from sinister villains. However, his real life aboard Space Station Oberon is far less exciting, mostly involving getting into trouble for his inattention to his schoolwork. Some necessary pages are spent establishing the characters of Hal, his parents, his teacher and his best friend Stinky and the bossy security chief but then the pace builds dramatically. Kidnappers take the whole of Hal’s class hostage and it is only by a mixture of bravery, cunning and dumb luck that Hal, his Dad and Stinky save the day.
The plot of Hal Junior: The Secret Signal is much simpler than those of the older readers’ Hal Spacejock books and the tone is less cynical and more optimistic. However, fans of Hal Spacejock will enjoy Hal Junior: The Secret Signal as a prequel offering some insight into Hal’s young life and character as well as an encounter with an intriguingly familiar shipboard computer with an interest in chess. The humour is cheesy but affectionate. Line drawings are interspersed throughout illustrating Hal’s view of things such as signs saying ‘Forbidden’, ‘Beware’, ‘Warning’ and ‘Do Not’ or ‘Thickonium’, Hal’s answer to the question ‘Name the heaviest element on the periodic table.’ The pompous are objects of fun and the sometimes dull and frustrating adults turn out to be not so bad after all.
Able upper primary and lower secondary students will enjoy Hal Junior: The Secret Signal as well as older readers who do not take themselves too seriously. The somewhat slapstick humour will particularly appeal to boys although I suspect many girls will enjoy this new series too.