Summer Space Reading Camp Pt. III: The New High Frontier

Summer Space Reading Camp
-The New Moon: relatively newer (and available) titles to directly appeal to today’s youth
-The Old Moon: classics from another time
-The New High Frontier: newer tales of the exploration of the Solar system
-The Old High Frontier: classic names which will never be forgotten


In the last two weeks we looked at a number of Moon-specific stories meant for youngsters. This week and next we will be taking a look at the high frontier in general – asteroids, space stations, rocket flights and more.

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First up we have First in Space by James Vining. This is a recent graphic novel that tells the story of Ham, the first American chimpanzee in orbit. Historically accurate, it reads almost like a monkey sized version of ‘The Right Stuff’, with all of the testing and training through the first part of story, and Ham’s date with history and glory at the end. It is supplemented with additional links to online learning materials, making it an excellent alternative to the polished gloss of ‘Space Chimps’. Speaking of polished, for youngest readers there’s a new Wallace and Gromit story, Plots in Space. Wallace finds out that his local greengrocer has sold out to MegaCorp. When Wallace goes to get his mechanical shelf-stacker back, chaos is unleashed. After a hard day fighting the corporations, he returns home to find a letter inviting him up to the orbiting space station R.A.D.I.S.H. where they’re growing enormous vegetables, and where the meteor-swatter Wallace invented has proven quite useful. On the station he experiences all sorts of microgravity hijinks, but when the space chimp goes bad, only the dog Gromit is smart enough to outsmart him. Personally I think this one is more fun than their visit to the Moon.

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Space Station Rat by Michael Daley (who also brought us ‘Shanghaied to the Moon’) tells the story of a lavender lab rat that has been Modified with a higher level of sentience. She manages to stow away on a space station, and there befriends a young boy, Jeff, as part of her search for food. Soon, though, the rat is discovered, and the ship goes on high alert to eradicate the rodent. Can Jeff and rat outsmart the Nanny robot? In our second story by the same author, Rat Trap, our protagonists have outsmarted the Nanny robot, but she is in the process of being reassembled. Additionally, the evil scientist from whom rat had escaped is coming to the space station to recapture her. Their efforts are relentless, and soon the whole space station is imperiled! This pair is best read in series, as Rat Trap makes a lot of back references to the first book.

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Tom Swift, young inventor, returns to space in The Space Hotel. Swift Enterprises has been a major investor in a specially designed orbiting hotel, APOGEE, that will serve the space tourism industry. Tom and his sister Sandy have been invited to the newly opened hotel, where they learn all about weightlessness, and even play a game of micro-g badminton. But when one of the guests, a billionaire no less, goes missing, Tom is on the case to solve what may be a space kidnapping! Tom explores another aspect of the NewSpace industry in the next book, Rocket Racers. Tom has developed a rocket-plane with his pals Yo & Bud, and thinks he can set a new world record in an upcoming competition. During test runs at the competition, many of the best planes start crashing. Is it faulty technology, or are foul saboteurs foiling the competition? Tom is on the case! These are a couple of nice updates to the Tom Swift brand, bringing the character into a much more modern context with scenarios that aren’t too far removed from reality.

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Another traditional series for the young men is The Hardy Boys. From 1985 we have The Skyfire Puzzle. Someone has been sabotaging efforts for the next space shuttle launch, so the Hardy Boys hop in their new Supervan and head to the Cape to investigate the mystery. It also involves espionage, taking the mystery to a whole new level, and the boys soon find themselves on a shuttle up in space, on a trajectory for destruction! The boys next adventure in space takes place at Space Camp in Mission: Mayhem where the Hardy Boys are in pre-astronaut training. The missions may be simulated, but to a twisted mind they can nevertheless be deadly dangerous. Someone’s out to sabotage their mission, but who?

Ah, the good old Hardy Boys. I remember reading through at least the first fifty or so of them as a kid, but was on to other things by the time these came out. There are certainly a lot more stories available now for young readers, and I’m glad they did at least two on space mysteries. Hopefully the publishers will consider a few more, especially in the manga-style graphic novels they’re now doing.

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While the bulk of space stories for youngsters have young male protagonists, although often with a young lady friend who ‘assists’ in the adventure, there are a few that are written to the interests of young women space pioneers. In Journey Between Worlds, by Sylvia Engdahl, young Melinda has her whole future planned out, or so she thinks. Marriage to Ross, go into teaching, and live with her family in their ancestral estate. Life has a different plan for the weave of the tapestry of her life, and Melinda soon finds herself a pioneer on the grim frontier of Mars. This is a story of how the challenges of the frontier shape her character as she matures as a young woman. Originally released in 1970, the author updated the text and re-released it for a new generation in 2006. L5: Behind the Moon, by Steve Tracy and from 1995, brings us the story of young Amelia, wheelchair bound since the accident killed her mother. Her father works at the L5 station, a giant space colony located in the Moon’s orbital path, but 1/6th of an orbit (60°) behind. She is sad to leave her grandparents behind after their doting care of her in the absence of her father. At the station, she finds all kinds of new marvels and wonders to discover, but also a crisis that threatens both the L5 station and those on the Moon. It’s been a long time since I’ve read this one, but I do remember enjoying it. Perhaps because she visits the Moon during her adventure, or perhaps because as an Air Force brat I can empathize with having a father who’s always absent for work (and moving hither and yon). For those interested in learning more about how ‘handicaps’ are not necessarily so in space, your friendly Lunar Librarian advises a visit to the ‘Going to Space with Disabilities’ chapter of Kids to Space.

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In the 1990s, several authors got together and decided to write a series of juvenile fiction stories set in space telling the kinds of adventures that would make Heinlein proud, the Jupiter Novels. Two in particular have really stuck with me. Higher Education, by Charles Sheffield & Jerry Pournelle and from 1996, tells the story of a bad seed smartmouth trickster punk who goes one step over the line with a practical joke gone horribly awry. Kicked out of his house, he has nothing and nowhere to go. Until a strange offer sends Rick out into space in the mad rush to claim the resources of the asteroids. He faces the dangers of space, but also other corporations looking for any edge they can get in the scramble for the material riches found in space. This whetstone of danger sharpens his character into that of a leader, and sooner than he realizes he is the seasoned old hand having to get the young punks to toe the line and shape up to face the dangers of the asteroid business. In Outward Bound by James Hogan and from 1999, young Linc is a kid from the wrong side of the tracks on the wrong side of LA. Absent direction in his life, he’s prey to making stupid decisions, such as when the guy in the Caddie offers him a chance for some quick cash. Labor camp is the only possible result, and Linc is looking at a long future of hardship and back-breaking work. That is, until a psychologist offers him an unusual opportunity to trade his punishment for a chance to possibly die advancing the space cause of humanity. Who wouldn’t leap at the chance? And so Linc soon finds himself facing dangers he never expected.

These are both quite meaty tales, but the authors keep them near-Earth and near-future. Both involve the kinds of ‘troubled’ youth who a couple hundred years ago would have been sent to the frontier to put their aggression to good use. The protagonists grow into their responsibilities, and generally try to show that there is an argument for redemption, or at least recognizing that young men need something to which to apply their mad skillz, and so need to be directed by society into activities that benefit both the ‘troubled’ individuals and society as a whole. Sometimes those activities will be harsh, but they also help to identify who the leaders are in the group. Higher Education is one of the few sci-fi titles that I have read multiple times just because.

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What list would be complete without a Choose Your Own Adventure book? In Space Patrol, you command the Space Rescue Emergency Vessel III, patrolling alone the spaceways to render assistance if needed. You get a call – space pirates are attacking a ship and it needs help! How do you respond? In Space Station ICE-3, by Bruce Coville and from 1987, our young protagonist is Rusty, who lives on a dull, routine, and boring space station where nothing exciting ever happens. Or so he thinks. One day he haphazardly spots a body in the station’s recycling systems, but when he tries to report it, the grown-ups dismiss his concerns. Everyone’s alive and accounted for, how could there be a dead body? But Rusty knows he’s right, the only problem being that the more he investigates, the more he finds his life in jeopardy. Will he survive to solve the mystery?

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Ticket to Orbit Book One: Alpha City 2050, by James Gillam & Julie Johnston and from 2005, is an interesting book. It was written by an educator, and so is designed to appeal to middle schoolers, or older students have difficulty reading (such as ESL). It follows the adventures of Jax Janssen and his friends across the Solar system, and is written in scene-based, or episodic form versus a traditional chapter structure. Each of the three books in the series comes complete with Teacher Guides for those needing assistance on how to incorporate the books into their lesson plans. A recent addition to the Lunar Library is 2176: Birth of the Belt Republic, by Ted Butler and also from 2005. It tells the story of Gil, a 16-year old about to graduate from high school in the belt and head to the Naval Academy on the Moon. At least until the practical joke with a swimming pool and a significant quantity of gelatin goes awry, leaving Gil blacklisted by the Belt Corporation. This leaves him no choice but to join the independence movement, just in time for open hostilities!

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Firestar, Rogue Star, Lodestar, and Falling Stars, by Michael Flynn and published over five years from 1996 to 2001, offer up an amazing space opera set in a very plausible day after tomorrow. Mariesa van Huyten is a wealthy heiress who lives on a sufficiently large estate that she doesn’t have to worry about the kinds of light pollution the International Dark-Sky Association is fighting against, and so can indulge her passion for astronomy. She’s got a tricked out observatory and computer set-up, and is fixated on the idea of a big rock from space destroying civilization. When her worst fears are confirmed she tries to put together a program to combat the threat, only to find that the talent pool doesn’t exist, and the school system can’t provide her with adequately trained workers. She decides to set up a private foundation to run charter schools to provide a sufficient talent base, and the early crops of loser punk kids form the main characters for the development of the rest of the story, becoming worldwide heroes and leaders in the race to save civilization. It’s a magnum opus at just over 2,500 pages in paperback, and so has its ups and downs as the story develops, just like with Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars series, but nevertheless offers inspiring role models for disaffected youth. The threat of asteroids is real, but doesn’t need to be if we can put a decent space-capability infrastructure in place. If we mine away the obvious threats, reducing them to their constituent elements for use in whatever application, we can then get to work on the non-threatening space resources. This is one that sticks with you, especially what they learn at the end.

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Escape from Earth: New Adventures in Space, edited by Jack Dann and the renowned Gardner Dozois and published in 2006, is a compendium of short stories and novellas on the theme of Juvenile Sci-Fi. This is another new addition to the Lunar Library, so I haven’t had a chance to look it over, but it got a generally positive review over at Tangent Online.

This list should not be considered exhaustive, but rather is meant to show that there are a lot of relatively recent Juvenile Sci Fi books that are set right here in the Solar system. Next week we’ll take a look at some of the titles from the 50s and 60s.

Thanks for reading!

3 thoughts on “Summer Space Reading Camp Pt. III: The New High Frontier

  1. I found the latest version of Tom Swift (at least the first two books, I did not read the two you listed) to be so bad in terms of consistency, science, etc., that they made the Tom Swift, Jr. series I grew up with look like pure literature. SF for kids can be better!

    I believe Baen will be reissuing the “Jupiter” series (Higher Education, etc.) next year.

    I’m also a big fan of the Michael Flynn series. Good stuff.

  2. Hi Fred!

    I agree that the new TS stories aren’t necessarily up to snuff as compared with the older ones, but I do appreciate the fact that they touch on some NewSpace topics. I wish I had more and better books to share, but it looks like this particular niche is a bit sparsely populated. The only way we’re going to get more and better space books is if people start buying more space books, both fiction and non-.

  3. No mention of Simon Black ?

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