The first science fiction novel I remember reading was HAVE SPACESUIT – WILL TRAVEL by Robert A. Heinlein. After that I read a lot of young adult SF, by Heinlein, Isaac Asimov (the Lucky Star books), and the various hands who wrote for the Winston SF line, the one with those great endpapers.
Back in the Nineties, Tor Books tried to recapture some of the magic of those old YA books by starting a line called Jupiter Novels. These featured younger protagonists and lots of space adventure. To launch the line, they chose the novel HIGHER EDUCATION by Charles Sheffield and Jerry Pournelle. I had read quite a bit of Sheffield’s work and liked it, and I’d enjoyed some of Pournelle’s collaborations with Larry Niven, although I don’t think I’d read any of his solo work (and still haven’t, as far as I recall). So I read HIGHER EDUCATION and liked it a lot. Sheffield wrote several other Jupiter Novels, which constitute a series only in their similar tone and marketing; other than that they’re stand-alones as far as I can tell. And then the Jupiter novels went away, probably because they didn’t sell as well as the publisher had hoped. By that time, I’d read another of Sheffield’s novels, THE BILLION DOLLAR BOY, and enjoyed it, too.
Which brings us at last to THE CYBORG FROM EARTH, one of the Jupiter Novels I hadn’t read until now. The young hero (probably in his early twenties, although his exact age is never specified) is Jefferson Kopal, a member of an immensely wealthy and powerful family that builds all the spaceships for the Space Navy. All of the Kopals are expected to serve in the Space Navy before becoming part of the family business, but unlike all his dashing, athletic, ultra-competent cousins, Jeff is a screw-up and misfit (as the heroes of YA novels nearly always are), who gets into the Navy by the skin of his teeth. And then promptly, you guessed it, screws up and gets caught in the middle of an outer space rebellion, as some of the colony worlds try to break away from the Solar System government. Before this book is over, you get some space battles, some political intrigue, a little romance, and the hero’s discovery that, hey, he’s not such a screw-up after all. There’s also a big plot twist near the end, concerning the true identity of one of the characters, that’s telegraphed ‘way, ‘way early, and pretty heavy-handedly at that.
I didn’t think this novel was as good as HIGHER EDUCATION or THE BILLION DOLLAR BOY because it never rises above that predictability. However, Sheffield’s prose is nice and smooth and does a good job of explaining the science that’s tied in with the plot. And even though the big revelation at the end comes as no surprise, it’s still fairly satisfying to see it play out. I liked the book enough so that I’ll read the other Jupiter Novel by Sheffield that I haven’t read, PUTTING UP ROOTS, but I’m not going to get in any hurry to do so.
A Conversation with Brent Towns
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