Apollo’s Outcasts by Allen Steele is a near-future YA following Jamey, a ‘looney’ who is crippled on Earth because of his lunar birth, as he and five other political refugees flee to the moon to escape a suddenly hostile US government. As Jamey and the other teenagers struggle to control their new trajectories, they learn that even the moon is not far enough away to escape Earth politics.
Jamey finds new freedom in lunar gravity, where he can finally walk unassisted, and where he is already old enough to vote. Yet with these rights come the responsibility of formalized Colony Service, as well as an advanced school curriculum in a no-nonsense school. The constant demands of a harsh environment plus the cost of importing items from Earth mean that living on the moon is no cake walk. (It’s, you guessed it… a moon walk). This lends a seriousness to the tone of the novel and tests the characters’ courage. Add in the explosive politics surrounding the characters, and you have a rare book that actually makes you fear for the good guys. Allen Steele’s moon is a harsh place made habitable only through extraordinary cooperative efforts of the human race, and even a magnificent space dome can be decimated by the proverbial thrown rock. In Apollo’s Outcasts, there is a politician somewhere out there willing to throw that rock with fanatical glee.
The believable political and military developments in Apollo’s Outcasts solidifies my respect for and enjoyment of the book. Allan Steele brings us to a near future where the US President has just died, leaving in charge a Vice President who is morally corrupt. Earth soon finds itself in turmoil when the former Vice President starts putting out false press reports and Apollo sets up an embargo against the US. The duplicity of the US government reminds the reader of government’s power to deceive while also spelling out the limits of such efforts. Meanwhile, the lunar colony ups its defenses by militarizing the Rangers, an elite search and rescue team. By that time, the reader knows that Alan Steele means to put those laser guns to work. When Jamey joins the Rangers, where his life is in danger even during training, it feels less like watching an escapist fantasy where you know the hero is going to survive, and more like watching a soldier write a letter home, knowing that it might be his last.
Not surprisingly, Apollo’s Outcasts is serious on politics and light on romance. Character development has a strong presence in the book as the teens must redefine what is important in their lives. Existential angst, such as wondering what kind of clothes to wear, rapidly fades from their concerns as they come up against bigger problems. Jamey’s older sister, in particular, begins the book as a whiny teen reluctant to listen to good advice, but by the end of the book her perspective is realistically matured. Jamey starts out as comparatively more mature, yet he too must reevaluate his priorities when he finds himself attracted to his best friend’s almost-girlfriend. Because of the teens’ packed school and community service days, there is very little time for dating and the characters find themselves preoccupied by the imminent danger to the lunar colony.
All in all it’s easy for me to say to whom I would recommend this book: Apollo’s Outcasts is perfect for any reader who has ever dreamed of going to the moon, because Allen Steele takes you there with detailed, accurate science and believable military and political developments Every little detail, from the refugee’s first low-G experience to Jamey’s luckless paragliding adventure, conveys the wonder of science and human ingenuity.
Visit Steele’s website at http://www.allensteele.com to listen to a podcast reading of “The Emperor of Mars” and buy Apollo’s Outcasts.
Michelle Ristuccia writes short fiction of all speculative fiction genres in between chasing her toddler from tree to tree. The shorter the work, the better, because 200 words looks very long on her cellphone and that keypad is very, very small. You can find out more about her rabid love of spec fic, podcasting, and raising future geeklings at her blog, wakingdreamsblog.blogspot.com