Bowman Press (2011)
Reviewed by Guy Salvidge
Perth writer Simon Haynes has been writing Hal Spacejock novels for years, but this is his first venture into Young Adult territory. Hal Junior: The Secret Signal is a spin-off from the other Spacejock series, featuring an intrepid young adventurer by the name of Hal Junior. The nature of the relationship between Hal Junior and the Hal Spacejock of the earlier novels isn’t specified, but enough hints are dropped that the reader should be able to figure out who Captain Spacejock really is. The Secret Signal is intended for readers in the 9-12 age group, although it reads fine as an adult piece too. The book is a brisk read and I can recommend it wholeheartedly to younger readers.
We open with Hal Junior piloting the spaceship Phantom X1, only the spaceship is really a paper plane. He does live on a space station though, in an unspecified future time where tigers are extinct and paper is a historical oddity. Hal Junior is supposed to be doing an assignment for his robotic teacher, but he ends up in trouble straight away when he almost loses his work (the plane) down the recycling hatch. After some amusing buffoonery, Hal and his friend Stinky retrieve the plane by reversing the space station’s gravity. This is the first in a series of largely self-inflicted trials that Hal Junior undertakes in The Secret Signal, and it’s all good fun.
The story ambles along for a while, introducing us to Hal’s parents and their plan to move to a different part of the space station, before the main plot-line cranks into action. One morning, finding that Teacher has been replaced by the mysterious Mr Thimp, Hal and his classmates are taken on an excursion to the Tiger, a supply ship currently docked at the space station. It turns out that Captain Thimp intends to kidnap the children, and more importantly Hal’s mother, who is an important research scientist. Thus begins the major part of the action, in which Hal Junior evades the clutches of Thimp and his cronies by virtue of his ingenuity and the assistance of a friendly ship’s computer.
It wouldn’t be a Simon Haynes novel without some technical gadgetry, plenty of shipboard hijinks, and in this case a filing cabinet used in lieu of a guided missile as a means of preventing Captain Thimp’s dastardly plans from coming to fruition. Hal Junior turns out to possess many of the attributes of the legendary Captain Spacejock, an amusing blend of quick thinking and impulsiveness. The Secret Signal also contains a number of simple illustrations that help to keep the pages turning at a rapid rate, and the whole thing is over before you know it. If Simon Haynes intended to produce a short novel for reluctant (or enthusiastic) younger readers, then he certainly achieved it here. This isn’t Hal Spacejock #5, but it’s the next best thing.