Nick and Tesla's Special Effects Spectacular
Author: Steve Hockensmith
Publisher: Quirk Publishing
DISCLOSURE: Unlike the majority of reviews in this blog, I've neither bought this book nor borrowed it from the library. This is a "galley" copy ebook, supplied by Net Galley. I'm not receiving (nor will I expect to receive or accept) remuneration for this review. The chance to read a new book is often enough reward aplenty!
Science advisor: Bob Pflugfelder.
This story wasn't for me, but I'm rating it positively for several reasons, not least of which is that it definitely was for the age group (middle grade) at which it's aimed. In addition to that, it has a strong female character who isn't sidelined or dependent upon a male figure (and from a male writer! Why can't female writers do a better job at this? YA authors, I'm looking at you!). In addition to that it has gadgets you can make (and relatively inexpensively), some of which are not really practical to use (such as the grappling hook), others of which are eminently practical, even ingenious, such as the steadicam device.
If there's one thing we need to encourage in our kids academically, it's math and science, and I am on-board with pretty much every book out there which nudges kids in that direction. Science isn't for nerds, it's for everyone, and it plays an important part in everyday life. It can help you to understand the world around you and live a better life in it, with greater understanding of how everything works.
This is one of a series (the first I've read). You do not have to have read the others to enjoy this one. Fraternal (or sororal, why not?!) twins Nick and Tesla Holt are, to be frank, rather neglected in the regard that their parents are evidently always away on projects across the globe, leaving the kids in the care of their "mad scientist" uncle. I had two problems with this: first that this neglect is effectively presented as a good thing, and second that their uncle Newt is presented as your stereotypical mad scientist, always blowing things up. I think that was a bad choice, and a better choice would have been to have kept the kids at home with their parents, and had mom be the engineer/inventor instead of having a clichéd male scientist character.
However, if you're willing to overlook that, then there is a cool adventure to be had here. There's something afoot in the movie industry, and Nick and Tesla have an 'in' to the studio back-lot through a relative of a friend of theirs. Together, Demarco, Nick, Silas, and Tesla solve the crime, and learn a huge amount about movie-making and special effects. I would have loved a story like this when I was that age. Who is leaking embarrassing paparazzi-style footage onto the Internet? Who is sabotaging filming on the set - and why?
I would have preferred a stronger word or two of caution with regard to having kids running around the studio lot (or any place of work, especially where there's a potential for serious injury) unescorted, but that aside, the kids show smarts and responsibility, and they show inventiveness - two of them are making their own movie: "Bald Eagle: The Legend Takes Flight" featuring their own special effects, with which Tesla and Nick are helping. Thus they have the grappling tool, the robo-arm, a stunt dummy and the steadicam rig.
The only big problem I had with this is one which I've had with several other books. The translation of the book into Kindle format sucks! I mean it seriously sucks. Take a look at the sample screen-shot on my blog. This was one of very many such screens which are screwed-up for several reasons: because the text is ragged - failing to run to the full width of the screen, or it's randomly displayed as gray instead of black, or the text randomly changes size for a few words before reverting to its original size, or page numbers appear in the text. All f those issues can be seen in the image here.
There's absolutely no excuse for this shoddy presentation whatsoever, not even in an advance review copy. The novel isn't due out until May - there was plenty of time to finish up the illustrations and get the presentation right! Hopefully the commercial version of the Kindle version will be error-free! However I am not rating this in the presentation of the ARC, but on the writing and the story, which I rate as a worthy story.