Customer Review

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Space is Still an Adventure, 24 Oct 2003
This review is from: Red Thunder (Hardcover)
Those who became entranced with science fiction by way of Heinlein’s juveniles will find in this book a return to that same sense of wonder, the feeling that man can accomplish almost anything he sets out to do, that everyday troubles can be overcome, that will make you proud to be a member of the human race.
Just how do you build a spaceship in your back yard (or even a rented warehouse)? As a starting point, it greatly helps if you have a power plant that can deliver effectively unlimited power, the invention of Jubal, Travis Broussard’s highly eccentric cousin. Travis, as an alcoholic cashiered astronaut, provides both some of the necessary capital and the experience level to make such a project a possible reality. For labor, four ‘kids’ (they’re 20+ years old) who are motivated and highly intelligent, who already have some skill sets that are quite relevant to the task are quite willing to learn more. Building the ship occupies a good two thirds of the book, and some of the details of how it’s done in a hurry-up, make it work (while really testing for safety) fashion make for fascinating reading. The actual flight of the Red Thunder, while still interesting, is not quite so fascinating, and the space rescue that the crew performs on an American attempt to reach Mars smacks a little bit of melodrama, but it had me turning pages till two in the morning.
The power plant device, the ‘Squeezer’, is highly improbable, and violates quite a few principles of physics (as known today), but it is the basic element that both allows the space ship to become a reality, and due to its inherent power, drives the reasoning behind building the ship as a private enterprise, as such power, in the wrong hands, could become a nightmare. This helps drive one of the thematic messages of this book, an almost paranoid anti-government (of any stripe) stance, a reflection on the reality that all humans are not inherently good, kind, or peaceful. Offsetting this message are some others: people really can and often do help one another, people do better when they have a definite goal to work towards, your family is a major influence in your formation, but is not the only or final determiner of just what type of person you become.
Varley pays some definite homage to Heinlein here, with a plot line that is very much a re-working of Heinlein’s Rocket Ship Galileo (Heinlein’s first and probably his weakest juvenile), updated to today’s world (and so becoming far more believable). There are more references to Heinlein in the character’s names (Manny Garcia, Jubal) and John D. MacDonald (Travis, McGee and the Florida setting). This book is not technically a juvenile, but it has that same feel, and is readable by almost anyone over the age of fourteen or so (there are some references to sex and some portrayed family relationships that are probably not appropriate for younger readers).
The characters are well fleshed out, and the portrayed interpersonal relationships ring with veracity. It’s easy to get very caught up in Manny’s (the first-person narrator) life, his relationships with his mother, his girlfriend Kelly, his best friend Dak. A very fast and highly entertaining read, one that will forcibly remind you of just what a pleasure reading can be.
--- Reviewed by Patrick Shepherd (hyperpat)
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