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Friday, November 8, 2013


Charming, fast-paced and funny action thriller not without serious insights and socio-political observations. (Review by Keith Millar)

The Space Race is Alex Latimer’s first novel. He is, however, very well-known as an illustrator and author of children’s picture books. It may seem at first as if the two genres are far apart but, despite the content which is obviously not aimed at children, The Space Race has much of the same originality, quirkiness and wry humour that is part of the charm of Latimer’s illustrated stories for children, such as the delightful Just So Stories (soon to be reviewed on artSMart).

My first reaction when starting this book was that I was reading a farce. A light-hearted romp about a fanciful situation. However, when people started getting killed and then a particularly evil villain appeared on the scene, I was brought back to earth and realised that I was reading something a touch more existential and not a little thought-provoking.

Vastrap Airbase deep in the Kalahari Desert near the Northern Cape town of Upington was the site of South Africa’s nuclear development and testing programme. This programme was discontinued in the 1980’s due to international pressure. This much is fact.

However, in Latimer’s story the apartheid government of the time is determined to extend Afrikaner history as nation of passionate pioneers. So, far from disarming all the bombs, they have secretly poured millions into a project to develop South Africa’s first nuclear powered spaceship. They intend to send a specially-selected crew to a newly-discovered and habitable moon, colonise it on behalf of the Afrikaner people.

Implausible? Well, yes. Unless you start thinking of some of the weird and wonderful schemes perpetrated by the apartheid government. Then, just maybe ... there is an element of truth in there somewhere.

The secret of the activities at Vastrap is discovered by the over protective Charlotte who follows her sister’s potential suitor to the Airbase where he is an engineer. In no time at all, Charlotte and the engineer, along with the sister and another engineer they meet along the way, are on the run from the evil villain mentioned earlier. He aims to kill them all and nothing will stop him

Ultimately their only chance of escape is to hijack the space ship - another South African touch - and blast off into space.

The Space Race is a charming, fast-paced and funny action thriller. However, some of the humour is pretty dark and the story is not without serious insights, and socio-political observations. At only 200 pages this is a quick and entertaining, easy read and has a very authentic South African feel about it.

A bonus is the colourful Alex Latimer illustration on the front cover as well as the delightful flip-page animations which move a space craft across the front of the pages and eventually out of the top of the book.

The Space Race is published by Umuzi. The ISBN number is 978-1-4152-0388-0. Recommended retail price is R180. – Keith Millar