Fiction Reviews

Apollo’s Outcasts

(2013) Allen Steele, Pyr, hrdbk, £15.99, 312pp, ISBN 978-1-616-14686-3


Apollo’s Outcasts is a young adult (YA) science fiction novel by triple-Hugo winner Allen Steele. It is hard SF, and the rear cover blurb tries to make a strong connection to Robert Heinlein, which is a good steer in terms of subject matter, if not in execution. Like Heinlein’s early young adult books, the plot is near-Earth / near-future, and gives us a teenagers take on an action-adventure. And like Heinlein’s novels it is easy to read, which makes it a good page turner, with a steady pace and lots of action.

An American teenager, Jamey Barlowe, wakes up on his sixteenth birthday to find his father hustling him and his sisters down to the local spaceport. Dad’s a high-up in the Government, but the President is dead and the Vice President is consolidating her power by claiming a conspiracy – including Jamey’s father – was responsible. The other twist is that Jamey is wheelchair-bound, because he was born on the low-gravity Moon. So Jamey, one of his sister and some other children and young adults escape to the moon. Dad and Jamey’s older sister stay behind and get arrested, but Jamey is supposedly safe.

Except he is not, of course. The Vice President assumes the Presidency and starts to turn America into an aggressive, media controlled military dictatorship. The escapees have the potential to break her tenuous hold on power though, because they know the truth about the dead President, and she declares war on the moon. Jamey joins the Defence Corps and the Moon’s residents prepare for invasion. Can the small, poorly armed group of young, inexperienced ‘loonies’ of Luna fight off Earth’s spaceships?

On the Moon Jamey’s free from his wheelchair, and, in defending his new home against an attack from his old one, he begins to find his true place, and if he could read the signals properly, he’d find true love too. But then he has to go to war, and nobody really expects to get back alive...

This is Steele’s seventeenth novel, but it does not read like that. At times the pacing feels wrong, and there is more repetition than necessary, despite the age of the target audience. He lost it for me, though, with the book’s mid-point reveal which was clumsily telegraphed right from the opening chapter, not that any of the protagonists worked it out. The reveal is central to the plot, unfortunately. The other main problem for me is the way the action peters out once war is declared and battle commences. The action unfolds unconvincingly and leaves you wanting something more meaningful. Moreover, the book lacks the sharpness of most contemporary YA books and (probably deliberately) reads like it was written much earlier. Back to Heinlein, then. Though this is no classic. For ‘new’ YA Heinlein go to John Scalzi or, better yet, check out the originals. I would recommend The Tunnel In the Sky, Space Cadet or Time For The Stars. Don’t go to Allen Steele.

Mark Bilsborough

See also Peter's take on Apollo's Outcasts.

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