||A review by Rodger Turner
When I was but a wee sprout, I discovered what we now know as the Heinlein juveniles.
They changed my life. No small statement, you may be thinking. They taught me to take responsibility
for my actions, that I can do what I set out to do, that authority -- while sometimes well-meaning --
is invariably focused on maintaining the status quo. These and many other lessons shaped the
person I am today. Periodically, I slip one or two off the bookshelf and while away a quiet Sunday
afternoon to see whether the magic is still there. Disregarding the PC element, I admit to myself that yes, it is.
Copyright © 1998 by Rodger Turner
Tor, via the talents of Charles Sheffield (along with Jerry Pournelle for the first of the novels),
is publishing The Jupiter Novels. Building on the same universe with intriguing techno-development
(nodes for FTL travel, helium as a currency medium, matter synthesizers for food and clothing, etc.), the
publisher describes them as:
The Jupiter series will give readers of the 90s the same thrills and inspiration that
Robert A. Heinlein and Isaac Asimov provided for previous generations.
Higher Education (with Jerry Pournelle)
Higher Education, the first novel, follows the travails of Rick Luban. His foolish prank leads to expulsion
from school and into the Vanguard Mining training program for the mining of asteroids. There,
he meets others of his ilk (he starts out as quite a strutting showoff -- you'll recognize the type
immediately) who must pass testing and an apprenticeship before going on.
Failure will lead to an aimless Earth-bound life (it's pretty
grotty without an education or a trade). Does Rick measure up? Well, he works hard, using
the skills he develops and abilities he didn't know he had. He stumbles but he overcomes.
More importantly, does this novel measure up to the Heinlein juveniles?
I'd say yes. The novel is rife with adventure, rigorous science, terrific characters.
The single line plot rarely swerves and, of course, treachery (my fave) abounds.
The Billion Dollar Boy
The second book, The Billion Dollar Boy, is the story of Shelby Cheever V,
one of the richest people of the 22nd century. He is a pampered, spoiled, roly-poly, venal twerp
with no sense that other people in the world have anything to do but to cater to his whims.
His vague mother reinforces his anti-social behaviour. When he takes a
cruise to the outer planets, he's bewildered why the staff don't jump to his tune
when events don't go as he expects them to. In a fit of pique and somewhat blasted (he's a secret
drunk), he decides to visit a nearby node -- the FTL transfer system -- and gets sucked through.
Waking up in a mining harvester ore bin, he's stunned to find that nobody knows or cares who he is (and
that he's alive). He's promised a return to the other side of the node in return for helping out as a crew
member. Quickly, he learns that it isn't what you say but rather what you do that will make people
recognize your worth. Despite a few prickly incidents (after all, he's had no role models and nobody
would stand up to him in his short, worthless life), Shel finds that giving, contributing and helping
isn't all that bad once you get the hang of it (he'd never had to do it before) and what you get in return
has value beyond price.
Putting Up Roots
The third, Putting Up Roots, is the story of Joshua Kerrigan. Unlike the other
protagonists in the other books, he's a likable teen, lonely because his actress mom is always
dragging him around looking for that next big break, precise because of the lack of stability and
cautious because he's met his share of glad-handing, easy-talking losers over the years.
Mom dumps him with farming relatives who, in turn, send him off to a farming planet. Their
livelihood is dying due to encroaching agri-business. With him goes his autistic cousin
Dawn. Complicated but semi-communicative, she and he get along with the other travellers -- three
brothers pushed away by their family and four sisters, found on the street and shipped off for their own good.
Landing on Solferino, all are quick to find out that things are not as they should be.
Instead of being trained in farming, the work seems more like prospecting; the other
colonists are supposed to be in a medical treatment centre but no signs of them ever being at the site are found.
Their leader, a big, gruff army-type seems more concerned about moving them around the planet than showing them
how to set up a permanent base. The constant chatter about the lack of intelligent life seems contrary
to what they observe in the local fauna. How will they survive so many light years from home? Well, there it gets interesting.
All seem to find that they have talents, albeit fledgling ones. Coming to grips with the situation
seems to require co-operation, trust
and a degree of responsibility they weren't given a chance to develop back home. Most interesting is Sheffield's
depiction of Dawn's autism. Others have said that his loving portrayal could only come from someone who
understands the confusion, dismay and frustration one must manage by having a close relative with the condition.
The Cyborg From Earth
The fourth, The Cyborg From Earth, is the story of Jefferson Kopal, heir to a powerful transportation
dynasty ruled by his parents. With the recent death of his father and the tragic injuries to his mother, his uncle makes
a play for control. This coincides with Jeff's entrance exam into the Space Navy (all Kopals are expected to serve).
Jeff's big problem is that he's never lived up to his extended family's expectations. He doesn't seem able to do anything
right. Virtual failure of the exam (powerful connections sure do help) leads to a posting into the far reaches of space
where the mythic cyborg rebels rule. During an attack, Jeff's ship is disabled, he is blamed and left behind as a hostage when
the others escape. In his captors' hands, Jeff finds out that things are not quite as B&W as he expected. When you don't
question the norms and willingly cede your opinions to those in charge, often times it is at the expense of
your ability to perceive what is right and fair. How you understand the nature of society and the contributions
of those who struggle to make it better is often based upon who you are rather than what you are. These are choices
everybody must make.
Rodger has read a lot of science fiction and fantasy in forty years. He can only shake his head
and say, "So many books, so little time."
More of his opinions are available on our Book Reviews pages.