“Lunar Pioneers“ by Robert A. Black
To be distributed in 2008 by Blue Works, it weighs in at 233 pages. One homonymic error noted.
The time is the near future. 13 year-old Blair Kelly has a new life ahead of her, much different from the Nebraska farm on which she has grown up, reveling in the tales of her pioneer forefathers who tamed the savage frontier as told by her grandfather. It is her correspondence with her grandfather that opens each chapter in the book, providing the thread that binds the narrative together. Her mother has been working as some kind of electrical engineer on the Moon, and has petitioned together with her father, a teacher, to transfer the whole family to our Moon and renew the pioneer spirit on the next frontier. While awaiting the final decision, she has to attend a year of Moon School to learn the basics of how to live on the Moon. It’s not always easy, but there is this cute boy, Carl, that she may end up seeing on the Moon…
The decision arrives, and Blair must leave everything thing she’s known behind, except for what will fit in a small cargo crate. All of her friends, all of her extended family, all will be left behind as she sets out into the new frontier. A two-stage to orbit (TSTO) vehicle carries them to Chaffee Station in LEO, where they transfer to the large Moon ferry that will take them to Aldrin Station, where they’ll take a taxi down to the Moon. The large ferry offers opportunities for things like playtime in the microgravity gymnasium and a spacewalk. She also starts to make new friends, and the various situations in which she finds herself start to awaken the leader in her.
Once at Clementine Colony near Shackleton Crater at the South Pole of our Moon, life begins to take on some regularity. She’s got school and getting to know the other kids (including some born on the Moon!), and she makes herself useful working in the greenhouses, cultivating Earth’s life to send to other Moon bases. There are even clique issues to deal with, though of course on the frontier it is the skills and competencies of a woman that count, not some notion of ‘beauty’ or ‘popularity’.
Before too long, she feels called back to Earth when a disaster strikes the family farm. Increased warming of the atmosphere has meant more energy for storms, which have increased in their fury and destruction. The farm is mostly okay, but grandpa…
Soon there’s a mystery to be solved, as there seems to be strange goings on out at the old abandoned Prospector Colony, whose inhabitants had died from a lack of adequate radiation shielding . There’s said to be ghosts over in yon base…
Learning the secret comes at a cost, and crisis strikes. Will she find the pioneer spirit in herself that ensures that she not only survives, but that the colony continues to prosper…?
Pioneering new frontiers has been described as a romantic way of finding new and more gruesome ways of dieing. Pioneering the Moon will be no exception, and no matter how safe we try to make the world, there will still be dangers for 13 year-old girls. Going to the Moon merely creates new dangers, and it is a test of her inner strength to overcome the challenges of adapting to those dangers. In many respects Blair reminded me of the protagonist’s daughter in “Postcards from the Future”. Actually, her Mom sounded a bit like the Sean Everman character, who is an electrical engineer on the Moon in PftF. That it would be a female in that role in this book doesn’t surprise me in the least, as I’ve met a number of lovely electrical engineer ladies whilst doing space stuff over the years.
I think this is a terrific book for middle-schoolers. It covers a lot of educational material without coming across that way, and my only concern there would be that students miss some of the lessons unless they’re reinforced in accompanying lesson plans (or additional readings of the book). Homeschoolers have a lot more flexibility in their educational approach, and so the book could provide literature analysis lessons as well as science lessons, the same sort of approach that World Space Week took with Heinlein’s “Have Space Suit – Will Travel”.
In my view Lunar Pioneers compares favorably with other Moon fiction for young ladies. I get the same sense of moral foundation that I got from “Countdown for Cindy”, with less of the “let’s put on a show” drama artifice found in “This Place Has No Atmosphere” (with all due respects to the late Ms. Danziger). I also think it compares well with my favorite of the youth Moon books, “Moonwake” by Anne Spudis, though Lunar Pioneers doesn’t have quite the same amount of Moon information conveyed. Understandable given that the author didn’t have Dr. Paul Spudis as a domestic consultant. Both titles share an ethos of finding a way to contribute to one’s community that seems more in tune with the zeitgeist of today’s pre-teens. (when they’re not enveloped in fantasy)
Put in the context of additional works out there, as noted in the first part of the Summer Space Reading Camp article: The New Moon, and the Update on space anime and manga, there is a growing collection of modern Moon-set stories, ones more appealing to today’s youth.
I’d say Lunar Pioneers is a strong addition to the team, one that earns its Full Moon rating.