By Aaron Starmer
Published by Delacorte Press
Copyright © 2011
Fans of young adult science fiction and fantasy books will enjoy this new book from Aaron Starmer and Delacorte Press. I’ve read space travel and time travel, but what we get in “The Only Ones” plays tricks with the space time continuum and gives us something a little different.
Martin lives with his father on a small island off of what one would assume is the coast of Maine. Every since he can remember he and his father have been building a machine, and to keep that machine safe and private they keep to themselves. They have little to do with the other year round residents of the island and they certainly don’t interact with the islands summer occupants. They just keep to themselves and build the machine. The only thing is neither of them knows exactly what the machine does.
One day Martin’s father leaves the island so that he can go out and retrieve the last piece that he will need for the machine. He promises to be back on or before his son’s 11th birthday which is only a couple of months away. Martin waits but his father never returns. Oddly though he begins to realize that the summer residents haven’t returned, and he hasn’t seen any of the year round residents either. For two years Martin plods around the empty island by himself, but he knows Something has happened and he is going to have to leave the island to find out what. When he gets to the mainland he finds it just as desolate as the island. Cars, homes, and businesses have been abandoned.
After days of travel he finds a town named Xibalba which is actually inhabited. Its 40 residents are all teenagers and they seem to be the only people left on earth. Martin soon learns about “The Day.” That one moment the earth was normal and full of people, and then the next moment nearly everyone was gone. Did they die? Did they dig a tunnel to the center of the earth? Were they kidnapped and taken to space? All of the teens have their own theories, but it is only Martin and his machine that can really answer the question.
“The Only Ones” is a science fantasy book that attempts to bend the space time continuum. It certainly succeeds in bending it to the extent that I believe it is almost broken. Starmer’s explanation of how and why everyone disappeared seems so illogical that I can’t quite follow it. Fortunately, that is not the main thrust of this book.
I really enjoyed this story for the plot which is slightly “Lord of the Flies”-esque. In “Lord of the Flies” a ship full of children are abandoned on a deserted island and soon begin to develop their own hierarchy to govern themselves, and they slowly sink into savagery. “The Only Ones” has a similar story arc, however the savagery in this book is much less pronounced. Of course I could be giving “Lord of the Flies” too much credit.
I really did appreciate how the interaction of Starmer’s characters highlight our desire for self-preservation and thus our inherent selfishness. Martin’s innocence and kindness are juxtaposed against the residents of Xibalba who only help others to get something in return. This, sadly, is so typical in society today. Yet this is offset beautifully by having a gift be the thing that unlocks the answers in this story. A gift, something that is given to someone simply to give them pleasure, or to show gratitude, it is a completely unselfish symbol. This realization on the part of Martin not only brings the moral around, but it helps to bring the story full circle.
Starmer’s characters and story premise were engaging and thoughtful and I recommend this book to readers who are interested in human nature and science fantasy. Science fiction enthusiasts might be thrown too much trying to figure out the science of Martin’s machine.