Saturday, January 24, 2009

Conspiracy or simple error?

Theodora Baumgarten is a motivated teen who knows exactly what she wants as far as her future is concerned. Unlike all the other students at her high school who are utterly obsessed with attending the vaunted IASA (space academy), Theodora wants nothing to do with it. "There's no air, you're squashed into a ship the size of a juice can, and it takes years to get anywhere interesting. If you get there and aren't killed by a meteor or a solar flare or a systems malfunction."

So while everyone else is frantically cramming all the courses they believe will appeal to the admissions officers at the academy, Theodora is calmly following her own chosen path - to attend UCLA - and stay on terra firma. When all the students at her high school are called into the auditorium for a mandatory assembly, Theodora is irritated at the waste of time but duly joins the student betting pool, putting her money on the most obnoxiously gung-ho astronaut wannabe in her class. She is understandably shocked when the Admiral from IASA calls out her name as the one and only student from her school to receive the coveted academy appointment.

Theodora is not happy. Nor is she given the chance to protest. No one turns down an academy appointment - and her protests that she never filled out the application are ignored. Before she knows it she is swept up in a rush of packing and sent up in a nauseating trip to the RAH (the Robert A. Heinlein space station), where she is to present herself as a new cadet. How could this have happened, she wonders furiously. Her only hope of uncovering the conspiracy is her best friend Kimkim, computer hacker extraodinaire. If only they can get through the security codes and succeed in communicating with each other, Theodora knows she'll be able to get to the bottom of the matter - and return to earth - and get to UCLA, which is far superior to being ordered about and lied to up at the RAH.

This is a very short book - a novella, really, and while it is a delightful story, a clear homage to the Heinlein juveniles such as Have Space Suit Will Travel, I'd advise picking it up at your local library rather than paying the $20.00 cover price for a book you'll be able to read in less than a half hour. I thoroughly enjoyed the story - as I do everything by Connie Willis - particularly the character of Theodora. She is a strong, intelligent, resourceful heroine, and she has an open mind and a willingness to see things from a new perspective. I loved the futuristic setting, which is presented so matter 0f factly and with fun little details that are dropped here and there along the way, creating a very believable sense of place. While this novella is marketed to young adults, it has appeal for all ages and makes for a fun, short futureworldly visit. If you haven't read Connie Willis, pick up one of her books as soon as possible. Her collection of short stories Impossible Things would be another great one to try, especially for those who have joined Carl's Science Fiction Experience 2009.

D.A. by Connie Willis; illustrated by J.K. Potter (Subterranean Press, 2007)

Also reviewed at:
Mouldering Earths and Book-Dust: "Willis manages to keep the pace quick and the humor plentiful. Also, I am a sucker for a plucky heroine, and Theodora Baumgarten certainly fits that bill (with a name like that, how could she not?)."

12 comments:

  1. I've read (and really enjoyed) two of Connie Willis's books, but none of her "hard" science fiction (i.e. no spaceships). This sounds interesting, though; I'll have to see if my library has it.

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  2. Fyrefly - To Say Nothing of the Dog is one of my other favorites - have you read that one? This isn't really science fiction at all, aside from being set in the future - she might just have well substituted an exclusive college or government organization for the space academy, and it wouldn't really change anything. It's still lot of fun, though!

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  3. This does sound interesting, but yeah, probably not worth $20.

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  4. Nymeth - yes, you have to wonder a bit what the publishers are thinking - it is a nice edition, hardbound and everything, but still - I'd rather have something that's going to last a few days at that price. Nice when libraries are available, though!

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  5. Ugh, I hate it when you spend more than $5-10 on something that takes less than two hours to read- no matter how good it is!

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  6. All right, you've convinced me - I've got to try some more of Connie Willis's books. I didn't care for Doomsday book, but I've heard so many good things about others of her books. I'm going to get To Say Nothing of the Dog out of the library.

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  7. Ladytink - Now that I think of it, I do make exceptions for graphic novels - they might be quick reads, but at least you get the wonderful artwork. But still, it would take something pretty amazing to get me to fork over $20!

    Jenny - Oh, you'll have to let me know how you like it. I hope you will! I've been meaning to give that one a reread one of these days.

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  8. i love that the space station is named after Heinlein.

    i know you're not supposed to "judge a book by its cover," but let's be honest: markteing matters. you're not going to buy free-range organic chicken soup if it's in a white can with only a bar code, even if it's the most healthy soup on the planet ever made and blessed by angels. if "Shakespeare in Love's" poster was of a tudorian drawing of the Globe with a giant heart on top, it would not have raked in the cash or prestige it did. if Obama's logo was just a flag with his name and the catch phrase, "vote for me," we'd have a different president. so i have to wonder who okays some of these covers? with every other book that i could read, as well as other media vying for my attention, why would i be drawn to a book that looks like teen pulp sci-fi from 1976?
    i'm glad you enjoyed the read and that you posted a review because, no doubt, it'll throw more traffic its way. but i'm not sure that cover would appeal to anyone beyond a very-specific subset of the ComicCon enthusiast.

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  9. The two I've read were To Say Nothing of the Dog and Doomsday Book, although Bellwether just arrived from Bookmooch over the weekend! :)

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  10. Molly - great comment! I found the cover to be rather unfortunate myself, although it bothered me less after seeing the other interior illustrations in the same style. But yes, I can't imagine such a cover would prompt the majority of potential readers to pick up the book - you have to wonder, as you say, what they're thinking!

    Fyrefly - I haven't read Bellwether yet - I'll be interested to hear what you think of it!

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  11. This is one I am really wanting to read at some point. Of course I should probably read the other Connie Willis books I have on my to read pile first. LOL!!!

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  12. Carl - I'll be interested to hear what you think when you get to this one. Every time I read one of Connie Willis's books I really feel the need to read all the other ones she's written that I haven't read yet!

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