In this young adult novel, fourteen year old heroine Skye Object 3270a (the awkward moniker refers to the astronomical designation given to the drifting lifeboat she was discovered in) is found to have "puzzle pieces" in her blood, building blocks for a plague that could wipe out Silk, her home in space.
While Skye's blood contains a potentially lethal infection, Nagata's story has spliced, into the usual literary base pairs of the juvenile, aka young adult, sf story, a more benign packet of information: a collection of memes designed to rewrite the tastes of young readers.
I refer to the usual formulaic elements of the young adult story. There is the group of teens, sometimes cunning and sometimes rather clueless in the operation of the physical and social worlds: Skye, orphan and wild girl who has spent a lot of time under the surveillance of cute companion/robot/pet/city- designated overseer Ord and who lives with the city's oldest citizen; her friend Zia, slightly older than Skye with parents who grow the octopoid lydras, creatures genetically engineered for construction work in the hard vacuum in space; the boisterous Buyu, would-be planetary explorer and victim of unrequited interest in Skye; Devi, a sixteen year old suffering from an overprotective mother who has cloned him from a brother dead far in the past. It will come as no surprise that young romance crops up between Devi and Skye. Adults are, of course, rather clueless to the threat to Silk.
You will note, I didn't say these are clichés. I am not a fan of the young adult stories or, generally, stories with young protagonists, but I liked this story. I found the teen characters realistic and not annoyingly plucky or unrealistically competent.
Part of my enjoyment came from the story setting. Silk, you see, is on the midpoint of a space elevator with its anchor being Deception Well, a planet full of alien nanotech, and I've always found space elevators a nifty alternative to the more conventional rocket travel. And there is the back story of Deception Well's original inhabitants and their enemies, the alien Chenzeme. With some of Nagata's scenes hinging on concepts of gravitational acceleration and rotational velocity, some actual science and math is introduced in the manner of Robert Heinlein's or Robert Silverberg's juveniles. My adult brain was kept intrigued and entertained. The heavy use of genetic engineering and nanotechnology, realistically presented with a surprising amount of detail for a juvenile work, further added to my pleasure, and, I suspect, a young reader might find those elements and the space elevator intriguingly and realistically different from the wonders of the juvenile fantasy genre.
In short, Nagata, I think, has a good chance with this work to accomplish her goal of infecting the next generation with the meme of science fiction, the love of plausible speculation and the wonder of science. And adults like me will be happy to follow along.
I didn't exactly miss Nagata's work the first time around. I bought, on the strength of reviews, her first two novels which, coincidentally, are set in the same universe as this novel, but I didn't read them, and they definitely are not prerequisites for jumping into this story.
[Review based on copy of work provided by author.]