Review by Frank Plowright
There’s no easing into One Trick Pony, which begins as if a continuation, throwing readers directly into Earth’s future and a bunch of young teens scavenging for items of use. They seem to have hit the motherlode when their joy is erased by the emergence of giant insectoid aliens with multiple legs known as Pipers. Escape is via Kleidi, a robot horse who somehow understands the adventurous Strata.
Some pockets of humanity have devolved into violent clans, while others remain mobile in giant trucks, desperate for any salvageable technology. However, getting at that requires creeping into the alien-infested cities, and the aliens are attuned to any form of technology, which makes a robot horse a constant danger.
Nathan Hale’s primary career is producing historical biographies as graphic novels (see recommendations), but he adapts his style and tone for One Trick Pony. The art may be restricted to shades of grey and yellow, but Hale uses far more definition, background shading and detail than is found in his other books. It’s work-intensive, but pays off in the wonder of technology and glorious designs of the aliens who adapt to dangers by taking assorted forms.
He also supplies one hell of an involving adventure story, with Strata and her friends scrabbling over inventively designed ruins, some recognisable, some not, and Strata increasingly confident in controlling Kleidi. The foreshadowed items are carefully included to pay off later, and there’s a constant fear of what people might do to ensure their own survival. It seems as if One Trick Pony is going to be a single visit to a well built world, but while Hale leaves the door open for a sequel, he supplies a complete story here with a definitive set of explanations and a really well-planned and surprising finale. Unfortunately, the actual ending is squashed into too few pages. Four or five more would have explored the emotional and actual consequences with same consideration given to the remainder, but that remainder is so filled with verve and suspense that most readers won’t be that concerned.