Review of Darok 9
Reviewed by: Marianne Dyson, July 2007
I was introduced to Hilary Ralles by the International Space Development Conference (ISDC) 2007 co-chair Ken Murphy, who came across her work via a book signing in Dallas where they both live. We quickly recruited her to participate in the National Space Society's Reading Space book sale at the ISDC in Dallas, where I picked up a copy of Darok 9.
This book takes place in a future where the human survivors of a devastated Earth live on the Moon. Darok 9 focuses on a young scientist named Hank who has developed a substance called SH33 that supposedly allows humans to internally recycle their own water. Because water to support the lunar communities, called Daroks, must be imported at great expense from Earth and then decontaminated, water is always in short supply. The water supply is also at risk because of attacks by a government called Fourth Quadrant, one of four "political" quadrants into which the territory of the Moon has been divided.
The book opens with an attack on the research lab where Hank is secretly developing the SH33. He takes his research notes on computer disks and all of the existing test tubes of the substance with him. He arrives at his apartment in Darok 9 to discover it is being ransacked. Afraid that the secret nature of his project has been compromised, he enlists his sister to hide several of the test tubes, and has his nephew, Will, copy the disks. He then reports to the general in charge of his project, only to discover the man has been killed, and he is being framed for the murder. Hank is held hostage by the murderers who threaten his nephew's life unless he hands over all copies of his notes and tubes of SH33. But thanks to Will and his mother's resourcefulness, their threat is not so easily accomplished.
The idea that a substance could allow a person to live without water is pretty hard to swallow (sorry, couldn't resist!). But fantastic "what ifs" are a staple of science fiction. The author wisely does not attempt to explain how this substance works, just uses it like impossible warp drives to tell a tale of people doing what they have to do to survive in a harsh world. And who knows, perhaps one of the children reading this book will be inspired to one day invent something to reduce our need for water (and warp drive, too!).
Educators will appreciate the way the author wove the "scientific method" and "the ethics of science" topics into the plot. The issue of drug testing, animal trials, and the use of controls are all covered as Hank struggles to find a way to avoid putting his nephew at risk. He and his family must also put themselves at risk to guard the greater good of society, realizing that even medical research designed to save lives can be used as a weapon in the wrong hands.
The book clearly shows that the Moon offers humanity a "fall back" position if the Earth ever becomes uninhabitable because of war, extreme pollution, or a cosmic calamity. (In the book, the reason is a worldwide nuclear exchange.) This is an important idea to introduce to children. The author includes mention of how the colonists have gotten along using oxygen and metals from the lunar regolith. We get glimpses of a possible lunar life in descriptions of Will's one-day-a-week school, Hank's use of an underground bullet train, and his sister's trip to the hospital where she works.
The straightforward chronological plot, the stereotypical characters (the villain is pretty "cartoonish"), and the uncomplicated language should make this story easy to follow by upper elementary students. The violence is all "off stage" and there is no sexual content to distract young readers from the action.
Fans of Darok 9 will be happy to discover that it has a sequel, Darok 10, published in 2005.
I give this book a half point for plausibility of facts (the idea of humans not needing water is not very plausible!), 1 point for descriptions of technical subjects, 1 point for a new perspective on settling the Moon, 1 point for readability, 1 point for science use in the plot, and half a point for the characterizations. Total points: 5. Recommended. Darok 9 is a fast-paced enjoyable adventure for young readers.
Title: Darok 9
Author: H.J. Ralles
Retail Price: $9.95