Letter From The Editor - Issue 42 - November 2014

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Writing Fantasy

  
The Science of Wonder
  Book Reviews by Jamie Todd Rubin
November 2012

Title: The Cassandra Project
Author: Jack McDevitt and Mike Resnick
Publisher: Ace

Quite possibly one of my favorite things in the world is discovering a novel that pushes all of my buttons at once. There are only a handful of combinations of these buttons and millions of novels in the world, so the overlap is pretty small. But when it happens, it is magical. It happened recently when I read Jack McDevitt and Mike Resnick's new novel, The Cassandra Project.

The Cassandra Project is based on a short story by Jack McDevitt, published in the debut issue of Lightspeed Magazine. I enjoy science fiction novels, of course. I also enjoy the increasingly elusive "stand-alone" novel. Don't get me wrong, series of novels can be fun, but there is something satisfying about knowing that once you've read the last page of a book, you know everything you'll ever need to about the story that was told. I love mysteries. And I have always been fascinated by the U. S. space program - and the Apollo missions in particular. These ingredients - science fiction, mystery, Apollo, and stand-alone - all go into making The Cassandra Project such a fun novel.

The story involves the public affairs director for NASA, Jerry Culpepper, who accidentally uncovers a mystery surrounding some of the pre-landing flights to the moon in the late 1960s. There are some discrepancies in the transcripts from those missions that don't quite make sense. Culpepper teams up with a billionaire to try to discover the truth behind what happened on the moon leading up to the first moon landings. And what they end up discovering - well, I don't want to give anything away, but the discovery is worth the journey.

The Cassandra Project paints a new history for NASA. The novel explores where NASA has been and where it is going. It wraps that history in a thrilling mystery that, in part, provides an explanation for what the Watergate scandal was really about.

Best of all, McDevitt and Resnick make for a perfect blend and while there are elements of their distinct voices sprinkled throughout the novel, the fusion of their styles makes for a story that charmed me as well as intrigued me. It was clear that McDevitt and Resnick had a lot of fun writing this novel. There is one chapter, for instance, in which Culpepper is immersed in the publishing world, and McDevitt and Resnick poke good-natured fun at every layer of the publishing world from the publisher right down through the lowly author.

And if you've read "The Cassandra Project" in Lightspeed and think you know how it ends, you are likely to be surprised.

This novel was a sheer pleasure for me to read. It pushed my buttons in just the right combinations. It made me laugh, made me curious, kept me guessing, and best of all, gave me that sense of wonder that attracted me to science fiction in the first place.

Title: Apollo's Outcasts
Author: Allen Steele
Publisher: Pyr

What if you were awakened in the middle of the night, had to scramble to dress, and then were whisked away by your father, who wouldn't tell you exactly where you were going? What if, further, you learned that the President of the United States was dead and that your father and his friends might be suspects, and that where you were going was somewhere that no one could touch you? Finally, what if you learned that "somewhere" turned out to be a domed city on the moon?

That is how three-time Hugo Award-winner Allen Steele's latest novel, Apollo's Outcasts, opens, and the excitement is just beginning. For the next 300 pages, Steele takes readers on a fast-paced adventure that is quite literally out of this world. Apollo, one of two settlements on the moon, is virtually self-sufficient and we get to see what life is like on the moon through the eyes of Jamey Barlowe. Jamey was born on the moon (he is a "loony" by birth) but returned to Earth as a baby. Because of this, he has always required mechanical assistance to walk on Earth. Once back on the moon, he is freed from this assistance thanks to the lower gravity. And he soon finds out that he can help with the political upheaval back on Earth by becoming a member of the Lunar Search and Rescue team.

Apollo's Outcasts is billed as a YA novel. I'm not sure what criteria make a novel "YA," but Allen Steele is a master storyteller and his abilities shine in this tightly-written adventure. Steele manages the perfect combination of adventure and technical details. Young readers won't find the novel weighed down with technical details that slow the story. Indeed, Steele weaves scientifically sound details into the narrative to make them feel like a natural part of the story. In one scene, for instance, shortly after Jamey and his cohort arrive on the moon, they are taken on a tour that circles around Apollo, which was built in the Ammonius crater. Reading this scene, I could see, quite vividly, what Steele was describing, as if I was sitting on the tour myself.

The moon seems to be the perfect setting for a YA novel because it is probably the heavenly body with which younger audiences are most familiar with. What's more, there is a certain amount of awe when we learn that humans have actually walked on the moon. It makes a story like Apollo's Outcasts all the more plausible, and for this reason, the novel works very well as an ambassador to science fiction for younger readers. But I don't think the audience should be limited to just younger readers. I haven't had so much fun reading a book billed as "YA" since Heinlein's Have Spacesuit, Will Travel. Apollo's Outcasts has made me reconsider the YA sub-genre as something that deserves a closer look, especially when a talented writer like Allen Steele is at the helm.

Read more by Jamie Todd Rubin


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