by Orson Scott Card
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
One of the major problems with much young adult science fiction is that youthful protagonists have a tendency to exhibit insufferable ability far beyond their years. While this may be reminiscent of how many teens see themselves, it tends to detract from the overall believability of a story. While science fiction requires the suspension of the disbelief, too many areas for suspension tend to intrude on the story.
Orson Scott Card has long written stories with juvenile protagonists who have had a variety of abilities. However, even his übermensh Bean has exhibited signs of being an adolescent that many authors have forgotten. In Space Boy, Card introduces Todd, a teenage boy whose mother disappeared five years earlier. The broken family has its problems, and none of the males remaining in the family can fully talk to each other. While Todd’s younger brother maintains fantasies of a monster in the closet having eaten their mother, Todd finds himself seeing a succession of therapists.
Todd has dealt with the strange circumstances of his world by focusing his attention on science, and, while dreaming of becoming an astronaut, he is realistic to know that he isn’t made of the right stuff. His understanding of the world, and his chance to visit another world, alters when he meets a strange dwarf-like creature in his backyard. In the course of a highly antagonistic talk, Todd learns his mother might still survive in another world.
Todd’s reaction to this news refocuses the story on his relationship with his father and his brother as he tries to explain what he believes he has learned to them. While many of the überkinder in science fiction are capable of handling all their problems alone, Todd, in his realism, knows that for his plans to succeed, he needs to enlist the help of his father and brother.
Even when Todd goes off on a quest to find his lost mother, Card’s story is about relationships. Off on his own, away from his father and brother, Todd still relies on those relationships to pull him through his adventure. Furthermore, Card makes it clear that none of the characters in the novel, including the dwarf who started Todd on his adventure, could hope to have any success without the assistance of others.In Space Boy, Card has created a very pro-family science fiction story that does not fall into the trap of over-sentimentality. His characters all act their ages and are aware of the people who share their lives, none of them living in a vacuum.
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