Two excellent science fiction titles today, both featuring teen male protagonists.
Lockstep is a hard SF romp that, despite its sophistication, could have been published for a YA audience. Karl Schroeder is a well-known and respected Canadian science fiction author whose output is entirely adult, so his publishers probably did well to keep him in that category. The concept of The Lockstep gives the reader several fascinating worlds to experience via Toby’s adventures, and a terrific challenge wrapping one’s mind around the concept of entire worlds hibernating 360 month for every one month awake–not to mention the consequences for societies that do not participate.
Peyton Marshall‘s debut, Goodhouse, is a dystopian novel that comments on a possible United States, a few decades in the future. While there isn’t much to the author’s world-building that is unique, the novel is very well-written, featuring a strong, young protagonist legitimately struggling with both past trauma and hopes for the future. No matter how good his intentions, the corruption of the Goodhouse system makes it impossible for James to “graduate” successfully, and that is going to madden his teen readers! And guarantee their interest in finding out what happens to him.
In other SF news, I’ll take this opportunity to remind you that the second in Mira Grant’s Parasitology series, Symbiont, comes out later this month. I reviewed Parasite last December, and although I don’t anticipate reviewing Symbiont (purely due to time crunch), if you have teen fans of the first you will want to order the second.
For the last few years, young Toby McGonigal and his family have been homesteading on a small, icy exo-planet just outside of the Solar System. In order to maintain a monopoly, the family must claim stake to any orbiting moon they find. On his way to claim one such moon, Toby’s ship’s hull is breached, placing him into emergency deep hibernation. And there he sleeps, lost in space until his ship is pulled into orbit around a planet that appears dead. Luckily for Toby, the world below is not dead, frozen yes, but thriving nonetheless because it is part of the greatest and largest human civilization to ever exist, the Lockstep. The Lockstep has endured and thrived by institutionalizing a rigorous cycle of hibernation in which every member of the civilization lives together in 360 months of hibernation for every one month awake. Toby is shocked to discover that while he has been asleep for over 14,000 years, the Lockstep has been ruled by a single family since its creation: his own. Lockstep is one of the year’s best works of hard science fiction, based around an intergalactic civilization bound by the Speed of Light. Against the backdrop of Toby’s fight to rectify the sins of his family, Schroeder explores complicated topics such as the administration and economics of great empires, the effects of cultural diffusion, the relationship between governance and institutionalized religion, relativistic time, and the complications caused by functional immortality. This title will be especially appealing to advanced readers of science fiction, who will appreciate the opportunity to move out of the worlds of the “Force” and Warp Drives, and into a thriving empire that is well within the theoretical possibilities of human achievement.—Ryan Paulsen, New Rochelle High School, New Rochelle, NY
This propulsive dystopian novel is set in the Goodhouse system—boarding school-like juvenile detention centers created in the near-future to house and educate boys whose DNA inclines them toward criminal behavior. At age three, James was placed at La Pine. Now he is 17, and has just transferred to Ione, one of the only survivors when La Pine was burned to the ground by Zeros, radical opponents of the Goodhouse movement. In preparation for their release from the Goodhouse at 18, Ione boys are loaned out to local families to help with chores. During his first placement, James meets Bethany, a teenager who uses her technical prowess to stay in touch after he returns to campus. Meanwhile, James is changing from model student to violent troublemaker. One night he is abducted and taken to the exclusion zone, an area between Ione and the Mule Creek prison next door, and forced to fight to the death against prison inmates. From then on James has no idea whom to trust. He doesn’t know if he’s hallucinating when he sees the man who shot his best friend the night of the La Pine fire, but he fears that Zeros may be infiltrating Ione and planning another attack. After he learns that the man is Bethany’s father and a doctor at Ione, his suspicions multiply. James’ first-person narration sets this novel apart; he is a strong, sympathetic character who seems to be a pawn in a larger struggle that neither he nor readers understand until the very last pages. Fans of Veronica Roth’s Divergent ready for a literary dystopian read are the ideal audience.—Angela Carstensen, Convent of the Sacred Heart, New York City