|Outward Bound: A Jupiter Novel|
|James P. Hogan|
|Tor Books, 220 pages|
|A review by Rich Horton
The protagonist of the novel is Linc Marani. Linc is 15 or so as the book opens. He makes money by acting as collection muscle for a local thug, and his only ambition is to advance up the ladder of crime. His parents are ineffectual losers, and his sister is involved with an abusive older man. One of his collection assignments turns out to involve a police plant, and he's arrested. All the legal help his boss had promised proves nonexistent, and he's sentenced to the labor camps. But he's offered an alternative: an entré into a mysterious program, with the promise he can quit at any time.
The rest of the book details the steps of this program. They are pretty much what you might expect: a touch of discipline, learning about unsuspected skills (naturally including leadership), and learning about responsibility, for his own life and for others. The other main characters are a typical set: the sidekick, the girlfriend, the rival who does Linc wrong but isn't without ability, the weaker rival who Linc turns to his side. Linc progresses through the program, overcoming several obstacles: his problems with the bullying rival, resolved first by violence, subsequently by earning his respect; learning a cherished skill and facing disappointment when he learns he might not be good enough to make a career of his skill; and finally a return to his home, where he learns that his problems on Earth just aren't important anymore.
The point of the training program, easily guessed from the beginning, is to recruit people to work in space. The angle that motivates the story is that the recruitment isn't really just for workers: its goal is to find citizens for a new society, and to train them to be responsible citizens. To abandon the shackles of decadent Earth civilization, if you will. This isn't exactly an unfamiliar message, and it certainly echoes some of Heinlein's themes, though Hogan's take is not by any means standard-issue libertarianism or rugged individualism. (Not that Heinlein's was either.)
Hogan is a good storyteller, and the book was enjoyable to read. But nowhere was I surprised: the whole thing unreeled exactly as I expected from the onset, with perhaps one minor twist. Nor was I intrigued by the setting, which is pretty much standard issue 21st Century Earth plus limited Solar System colonies. The characters held my attention, but they were all from Central Casting. The plot brings to mind Heinlein's Space Cadet and, to some extent, Starship Troopers, as well as the first Jupiter novel, Higher Education, by Charles Sheffield and Jerry Pournelle. The message was a bit understated, perhaps even too much so. While it was a relief to avoid the heavy-handed political screed of, say, Higher Education, and while the general point (that accepting responsibility for self and others is a good thing) is a fair enough message; once again there wasn't a compelling enough theme to really demand attention. When Heinlein got on his soapbox, as in Starship Troopers, he could be annoying. He could invite argument and disagreement, or full-throated praise, depending on your viewpoint or mood. But he definitely held your interest. Hogan here doesn't really hold the interest with his theme, or his plot; and the characters and storytelling voice are interesting enough to make the book an OK read, but not to make it memorable.
Rich Horton is an eclectic reader in and out of the SF and fantasy genres. He's been reading SF since before the Golden Age (that is, since before he was 13). Born in Naperville, IL, he lives and works (as a Software Engineer for the proverbial Major Aerospace Company) in St. Louis area and is a regular contributor to Tangent. Stop by his website at http://www.sff.net/people/richard.horton.
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