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The Jupiter Novels
Charles Sheffield
Tor Books

Charles Sheffield
The winner of Hugo and Nebula Awards (for the novelette Georgia on my Mind) and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award (for the novel Brother to Dragons), Charles Sheffield is an established author. He writes science articles and books, as well as novels in the horror and thriller genres. Aftermath, his next novel, is expected in the summer. By training, he is a mathematician and a novelist. He lives in Maryland, MD.

Charles Sheffield Website
ISFDB Bibliography
Excerpt: The Billion Dollar Boy
The Omega Point
Convergence - An online story

Past Feature Reviews
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.

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 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 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 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 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.

Copyright © 1998 by Rodger Turner

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.

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