The Blurb On The Back:
When eleven-year-old Georgie befriends an eccentric retired scientist, she becomes the test subject for a thrilling new experiment: a virtual-reality 3D version of the future.
But then a deadly disease threatens the life of every dog in the country and Georgie’s beloved dog, Mr Mash, gets sick. And that’s only the start of her troubles.
Soon, Georgie and Mr Mash must embark on a desperate quest: to save every dog on earth, and maybe even all of humanity …
… without actually leaving the room.
The Review (Cut For Spoilers):
It’s the near future. 11-year-old Georgie Santos lives in Whitley Bay with her dad, her dad’s girlfriend Jessica (who works as a scientist, finding antidotes to global pandemics) and 16-year-old brother, Clem. Georgie’s mum died when she was little, one of 12 people who died during a ‘cow flu’ epidemic but the family still holds a memorial for her every year at a cherry tree in a field near their home.
Georgie is crazy about dogs and even had her own for a short time – Mr Mash, a mongrel with a wind problem and a tendency to eat anything – but Jessica turned out to be allergic and so Mr Mash had to go back to St Woof’s (a rescue centre). Georgie wasn’t crazy about Jessica before that and now she’s even more ambivalent. Still, she’s allowed to volunteer at St Woof’s, which means that she gets to hang out with Mr Mash and all the other dogs and when she isn’t there, she’s with her best friend Ramzy Rahman who came to Britain with his younger brothers, his dad and his Auntie Nush (a fierce woman who doesn’t speak much English) after his country disappeared due to a war.
One day, Georgie and Ramzy are walking Mr Mash and a number of other dogs from St Woof’s on the beach when Mr Mash eats the swimming cap belonging to Dr Emilia Pretorius, a scientist who recently bought a building on the pier and whose renovations were the subject of intense speculation. Dr Pretorius asks the children to help her with an experiment. She’s built a virtual reality simulator that can send people into the future and she needs someone to test it. Georgie and Ramzy reluctantly volunteer but neither are really convinced that the experiment has worked until a disease known as canine-borne Ebola breaks out in Britain and threatens to make the transition to humans. The only way to cure the disease is to use the simulator to go into the future, find the cure and bring it back. But the simulator has some unusual bugs and Dr Pretorius herself isn’t in the best of health and when the canine-borne Ebola strikes St Woof’s, the stakes are higher than ever …
Ross Welford’s delightful SF book for children aged 9+ revisits the idea of time travel that he first wrote about in the excellent TIME TRAVELLING WITH A HAMSTER but this time takes a dog-mad protagonist to a grim future. The world building is great, Welford makes some excellent points about privilege and refugees courtesy of the ever optimistic Ramzy and Dr Pretorius is an interesting morally ambivalent character. This book is worth your time.
Georgie is a well drawn character whose love of all things dog really comes off the page. I liked her coolness towards Jessica with Welford showing how Georgie’s feelings towards her are complicated, partly because Jessica herself is a little awkward. Also good is the relationship between Georgie and Ramzy, both of whom are misfits in their own way. My favourite scene in the book is where Ramzy, usually a cheerful, confident optimist, calls out Georgie on her privilege because she doesn’t realise how difficult he and his family have it as refugees and how tight money is for them. It’s a real wake-up call that carries an emotional thump in a book that is filled with lump-in-throat moments (be aware, dog fans, that there are some doggy casualties in the book).
The world building is great – this is a believable near future where things are familiar enough to be comfortable but the promises of technology, such as virtual reality sensation rooms and increased use of drones, cast a long shadow. The scenes where the dog plague take hold of the country and stark and chilling and I like how Welford doesn’t sugar-coat what a pandemic would look like.
The mysterious Dr Pretorius adds to the vague sense of menace – clearly brilliant and driven (and, importantly, a dog lover), she’s also manipulative and can be snappish and harsh. She’s not exactly an antagonist but Welford equally makes clear that she doesn’t have the children’s’ interests as her main priority and Welford creates a tantalising sense of mystery as to who she is exactly and what those bugs really are in her system.
All in all, I found this a gripping read with a lot of heart and characters who I cared about. There’s something here for all readers and not just those in the target age group and I think it’s well worth a few hours of your time.
Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the review copy of this book.