Friday morning saw a historic moment in the history of space exploration. SpaceX's unmanned Dragon docked with the International Space Station, making it the first privately funded spacecraft to undertake a mission outside of Earth's orbit. What remains to be seen is if the Dragon can also splashdown without incident. It's expected to land in the Pacific on May 31st.
The SpaceX company was founded in 2002, meaning their goal to create a commercially viable spacecraft took 10 years to realize. The 2012 launch of Dragon comes two years after their 2010 demo flight made them the first privately-held company to successfully launch, orbit, and recover a spacecraft. With a company that consists of less than 2,000 employees and an average employee age of 30, not only is space back in a big way, but it is again the domain of the young, opening up possibilities of future exploration among the stars.
I've been predicting a return to space-based fiction for young adults for some time and have seen murmurs of this possibility in the market often as an offshoot of the recent craze for dystopian titles. While science fiction has often been a genre youth readers explore, the following five titles all have one thing in common besides their extraterrestrial themes: they are all being written for and marketed to the youth readers by mainstream presses that do not exclusively publish genre fiction.
Across the Universe (Across the Universe Series #1) Beth Revis's Across the Universe is currently one of the most visible deep space titles; it involves a passenger on a sleeper ship who wakes early to find the residents of the ship have developed their own culture while the rest of the passengers slept. Revis' book --- though it relies on a number of dystopian tropes, including population sedation, fertility control, and a kind of warped dictatorship --- is not particularly science-based, but it does work with some interesting ideas. It and its sequel, A Million Suns, mesh deep space travel and dystopia with a good old-fashioned murder mystery in a mix that has proven irresistible to teen readers.
Glow (Sky Chasers Series #1) - Amy Kathleen Ryan's Glow is also a deep space novel involving a female protagonist named Waverly, who's part of the first generation to be conceived in space. Her ship Empyrean is traveling to a location known as New Earth. Part of her role is to marry young and have children who will continue the mission on their legacy ship. But a shocking betrayal by their sister ship called New Horizons puts all of Waverly's certainties at risk. New Horizon's leaders plan to reach New Earth first. Essential to their plan is a need for all of Empyrean's young women to help populate the planet. It's notable that in a genre often noted for its lack of female writers that both Glow and Across the Universe are written by female authors about female protagonists and take on the thorny issue of female fertility as it relates to the needs of population control.
Black Hole Sun by David Macinnis Gill is set on Mars. Sixteen-year-old Durango leads a band of mercenaries whose mission is to protect miners from a cannibalistic threat called Draeu who covet the miner's treasure. Durango's second-in-command is Vienne, a feisty female mercenary with which he has a strong chemistry, and he also interacts with Mimi, his former chief now implanted in his head. Black Hole Sun is action-packed with a high body count. If Gill's world-building is a little odd (he blends a number of Earth tropes like Valhalla and Nirvana to create the religion, politics, and culture of Mars), Black Hole Sun is a riveting read filled with plenty of plot twists and a satisfying ending that leaves plenty of room for a sequel.
Losers in Space by John Barnes - In the year 2129, celebrity is everything. Susan and her friends are celebutantes, the famous children of celebrities. In an effort to boost their ratings --- and earn enough money to support the luxurious lifestyle to which she has become accustomed --- Susan and nine others stow away on a ship bound for Mars only to become lost in space when part of the ship explodes. 'Info-dumps' of hard science pepper each chapter, orienting readers to the deep space realities its characters face. Losers in Space is about what happens when nine slackers find themselves lost in space. Equal parts survival narrative, space story, and social commentary, will these nine “losers” find the strength and character they need to survive?
Crater by Homer Hickman - In 22nd-century Moontown, the orphaned Crater Trueblood is already a seasoned Helium-3 miner providing resources for a war-torn Earth. Only 16, Crater hopes one day to become a foreman in the helium mines, but the owner of the mines has other plans for him. Sent into thousands of miles of “wayback” to retrieve a prize that has already killed two others, Crater is joined on his adventure by Maria, the Colonel's daring granddaughter, and his gillie, a sentient clump of slime mold. Crossing rivers of dust on a lunar convey, being thrust into space by a lunar Cycler, and encountering creatures programmed exclusively to hunt humans, makes for a riveting lunar adventure, the first in a planned trilogy.
What are your favorite deep space titles, new or classic, for young readers?
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