|Epiphyte Book Review||up to review index|
Jerry Pournelle and Charles Sheffield have collaborated on a new young adult novel, Higher Education. It's a "Jupiter Novel", a line that wants to bring into the 90's the classic skiffy of yore, when men were men, small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri were small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri, and rigorous science and math oozed out from between every line. This book tries so hard to be a Heinlein juvenile that it's painful to see. The high school the protagonist, Rick Luban, attends, emphasizes self-esteem over the teaching of reading and 'rithmetic, to the point that most of the student body can barely read. It's the high school from Have Spacesuit, Will Travel, with all its faults raised to ridiculous levels and without any redeeming features.
After Rick is expelled due to a practical joke, he signs up with a company that's mining the asteroid belts. (Evidently it's cheaper for the mining company to train subliterate teenagers than it is to hire skilled labor.) Rick and the reader are exposed to lots of basic physics during his training, and the only redeeming feature of this book is that it manages to keep the science fairly interesting.
Bringing Heinlein juveniles into the 90's appears to mean "we added sex, drugs, and a welfare system that is only worsening society's evils." Rick is a Disenfranchised Youth who isn't above a little assault and rape. He is also entirely unlikable until more than halfway through the book, and I found myself wishing someone would stuff him out an airlock.
I've never regarded Heinlein as a subtle writer, but lord, at least he kept me amused while bludgeoning me with his philosophies.
However, I have never liked Pournelle's writing; fans of his may enjoy Higher Education more than I did.
-- Christina Schulman.
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