Star Runners (Amazon UK, Amazon US) is a YA science fiction adventure tale by L. E. Thomas focusing on Austin Stone, a teenager coming up to his high school graduation. With no place to go other than community college and his friends all heading off across the country – including his best friend, Josh, going with a full scholarship – Austin is left to work in order to pay his way. Escaping online to compete in the elite league of the Star Runners video game, Austin soon does the impossible: he defeats the undefeated legend, Scorpion. Not long after this he finds his way to the top of the leaderboard, and the glory and kudos that brings with it. But things are about to change, with Austin receiving a letter offering him a scholarship, and study at a real college finally in his sights. As he leaves his life behind to embark on his studies, Austin can’t even begin to imagine what’s ahead for him, and just how important Star Runners actually is.
Star Runners is a quick and enjoyable read, aimed mainly at the YA age range, but with enough going on within its pages to appeal to many a science fiction fan. The first half of the novel focuses on Austin, building his character and defining what he stands for, but it is a little slow to really get going. However, this background and scene-setting ultimately helps once events are moved off-planet with the revelation that Star Runners is anything but a simple video game. It is here that the meat of the story lays, with Thomas doing a thorough job of bringing the reader up to speed with events on a galactic scale, and bringing a video game to life through Austin’s eyes.
Not without its faults, Star Runners is a book that can be picked up and read quickly, letting the story and characters carry you along in that ‘just one more page’ way. When events finally climax, we’re left with a sense of satisfaction, but also of unfinished business. Recommended.