Inverarity (inverarity) wrote,

Book Review: Apollo's Outcasts, by Allen Steele

A fresh Heinleinesque juvenile, a boy's adventure on the Moon.

Apollo's Outcasts

Prometheus Books, 2012, 311 pages

Jamey Barlowe has been crippled since childhood, the result of being born on the Moon. He lives his life in a wheelchair, only truly free when he is in the water. But then Jamey's father sends him, along with five other kids, back to the Moon to escape a political coup d'etat that has occurred overnight in the United States. Moreover, one of the other five refugees is more than she appears. Their destination is the mining colony, Apollo. Jamey will have to learn a whole new way to live, one that entails walking for the first time in his life.

It won't be easy and it won't be safe. But Jamey is determined to make it as a member of Lunar Search and Rescue, also known as the Rangers. This job is always risky but could be even more dangerous if the new US president makes good on her threat to launch a military invasion. Soon Jamey is front and center in a political and military struggle stretching from the Earth to the Moon.

It's hard not to suspect that Allen Steele's agent told him "Hey, you should really jump on the YA bandwagon" for this book, but you can't blame him. Steele seems to have been producing mid-list adult SF for a long time, and suddenly he writes a YA novel, a pattern I've seen a lot of mid-list authors following lately.

I'll forgive him, though, because this is just the kind of YA I like. It makes no bones about being written in the spirit of a Heinlein juvenile, but updated for the 21st century.

Jamey Barlowe has Lunar Birth Deficiency Syndrome as a result of being born on the moon, but brought back to Earth as an infant. His bones aren't strong enough to hold his weight in Earth's gravity, so he's spent his life effectively crippled.

When his father, a scientist for the International Space Consortium, signs a letter with other ISC scientists opposing U.S. Vice President Lina Shapar's anti-science, anti-space policies, it puts him on her political "enemies' list" when the President's death gives her a pretext for declaring martial law.

Trying to remove his children to safety, Jamey's father smuggles him and his sister onto a lunar rocket bound for Apollo, the ISC moon colony.

Most of what follows is traditional space adventure in the Heinlein tradition. Jamey overcomes challenges, proves himself, learns a lot of science and lunar survival skills, and gets a chance to be a hero and get the girl. The science is plausible and the story moves at a brisk, YA pace.

Of course it's not an adult SF novel, so characters mostly follow very obviously telegraphed roles. Several chapters are spent with Jamey and his fellow refugees pondering the "mystery" of who the girl who was smuggled aboard the rocket with them at the last minute is, even though it's very obvious to an adult reader the moment she shows up. Lina Shapar is a cardboard dictator, vast, sweeping political turmoil is summarized and resolved in a few paragraphs, and the moral conflicts are likewise all painted in fairly black and white terms.

Apollo's Outcasts was not as awesome as John Barnes's Losers in Space. It's still more complex and nuanced than Tau Ceti, though. Allen Steele writes decent if not spectacular sci-fi, and this YA effort was better than most.

Verdict: A damn fun novel for anyone nostalgic for old Heinlein juveniles. Highly recommended for anyone fond of YA SF, or looking for some good YA for boys.

Also by Allen Steele: My review of Coyote.

My complete list of book reviews.
Tags: allen steele, books, reviews, science fiction, young adult

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