Ladybird Books, £0.60, ISBN 0-7214-0725-0
The Energy Pirate is part of a four-series Ladybird Books titles by Fred and Geoffrey Hoyle for kids. Yes, it’s for kids, but I recall this series as a successful effort to capture the wonders of the science fiction genre to light up the imagination of kids everywhere.
Just open this book and you will be greeted with this image.
Sorry about the crease, I had to take the image myself with my phone as this book is so long out of print that there is practically nothing about it other than sales listings on eBay or used book stores. Really, though, look at it. Martin Aitchison’s illustrations are gorgeous, intriguing, and all around awesome. I read this to the kids back in the 1980s, and the illustrations always fascinated them. Yes, those are hats and caps shooting laser beams.
Let’s have the plot out of the way first, Will, our normal lad hero, is on his weekly trip down to the village shop to buy his favorite candy, Neutron Chocolate Bar, when he comes across a most curious scene. First, all the sweets and candies displayed in the shop have vanished, and the shop owner is gesturing wildly at the delivery truck drivery from the Neutron Chocolate Bar factory. And then, just as the police constable arrives, there is this loud metallic tearing sound, and poor William hits his head against the window so he can’t make out what is happening. When he can finally see, the truck door has been ripped off its hinges and all the chocolate bars in the truck are also missing.
William flees before he gets implicated in the mess. He meets up with Kiryl, the feisty daughter of the town mysterious scientist, Professor Gamma. He knows her and her father, so he tells her what has just happened. Intrigued, the two kids go talk to Professor Gamma, who deduces that the missing candies and sweets may be the work of Zuchario, a sugar bandit that operates across the universe.
After witnessing Zuchario’s army of laser-shooting hats descending upon the Neutron Chocolate Bar factory to steal everything else, Professor Gamma decides to take the fight to Zuchario itself. He and the two kids soon find themselves on what seems like a post-apocalyptic industrial planet in the middle of civil war between the good Engineer Helmet faction and Zuchario’s fancy hat mercenaries.
The Energy Planet is composed of many tropes familiar to science fiction fans, from the professor with myriad fascinating gadgets and knowledge of the universe to Skynet-like computers, with the fun factor of impossibly absurd warring hats going all pew-pew on one another. It’s all so fascinating and, more importantly, fun. Whether it’s Professor Gamma’s fancy bike or pipe or the ever-replenishing chocolate bar, there is no shortage of things that make me go, “Oh! That’s really cool… especially for a kiddie book!”
Oh, and the language is simple but never feel dumbed down or patronizing, and kids will learn a few idioms and long words in the process.
I thought I’d lost the books in this series years ago, so imagine my thrilled surprise when I came across this one while packing away stuff for the grand moving. I had to comb through this book again and yes, while I’m definitely far older than its intended audience, it’s still channels the wide-eyed exhilaration one would feel upon seeing the gorgeous illustrations and realizing that this story is a fun, imaginative trip into a truly exciting world.