by Allen Steele
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Perhaps best known for his creation of a near future inhabited by the space jockeys building space stations and lunar bases as well as his more recent series focusing on the settlers of the planet Coyote, Allen Steele has now turned his attention and skill to writing a young adult novel which owes a debt not only to Heinlein’s juveniles, but also Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. Apollo’s Outcasts focuses on Jamey Barlowe, a young man born on the Moon, but raised on Earth and confined to a wheel chair.
Following the sudden death of the President, Jamey finds himself on the run as his father is implicated in the President’s assassination. Jamey and his sister Melissa find themselves en route to the moon to avoid being arrested and held hostage for their father’s good behavior. On the ship with them are Jamey’s good friend, Logan and three other kids who are also fleeing a possibly vengeful US government. Once they’ve arrived on the moon, Jamey and his six friends set about learning on to live in the alien environment and culture.
Although fraught with political intrigue, Apollo’s Outcasts is really a coming-of-age story, as Jamey learns to be self-sufficient, figures out his changing relationships with his sister, best friend, and the strangers he is thrown into contact with on the spaceship and once he arrives at the moon, and perhaps most importantly, discovers how he fits into society at a larger level. For Jamey, the wonders of the moon are combined with the wonders of his ability to walk without crutches. Placed in a situation none of them really wishes to be in, all six of the kids, even Jamey’s self-centered older sister, Melissa, accepts the need to do public service.
The set up of Apollo, the city on the moon, seems like it could be taken straight from one of Heinlein’s juveniles, with the presence and guidance of adults who don’t interfere with the children’s voyage of discovery, the need to education and public service, and, eventually, the introduction of the Lunar Search and Rescue team, or Rangers, that Jamey and Logan join to fulfill their public service. Steele guides us through their training, making it clear that it isn’t a walk in the park and allows his character to have a sense of accomplishment as they progress through their training even as a political crisis which could have been ripped straight from Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress begins to unfold with Jamey and one of his fellow refugees at its center.
The only times Steele asks his readers to fully suspend their disbelief is in his portrayal of the federal government, which asks the reader to buy into the most paranoid conspiracy theories, and the first contact between the Rangers and the invading Earth forces, in which Jamey demonstrates an ability which seems almost superhuman in contrast to the rest of the novel where Jamey is clearly a sixteen year-old coming to terms with the strange situation he finds himself in and rising to the occasion.
Apollo’s Outcasts presents life on the moon as full of the sense of wonder which so much science fiction seems to be lacking. Rather than presenting some high-concept big idea, Steele presents a story which clearly has some aspects of wish fulfillment for the author, and that feeling that walking and living on the moon is something the author wants to do comes across clearly to the reader. His characters are real and their relationships and decisions are all based on the characterizations Steele provides, none of them made for simply the exigencies of plot. Apollo’s Outcasts is not just a great book to give the teenager you know, but is a great book to read and enjoy as an adult.
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