Apollo’s Outcasts by Allen Steele is a pleasing science fiction adventure for young people, in the mold of Robert Heinlein’s YA work. It takes place on a near-future Earth and on the lunar colony, Apollo.
Jamey Barlowe was born on the moon but returned to Earth when he was an infant. Jamey’s bones never developed properly in the moon’s lower gravity. On Earth, he is crippled, needing crutches and an automated “mobil” to move about.
When a ruthless politician stages a coup d’état in the US, Jamey’s father, a prominent scientist in the International Space Consortium manages to smuggle Jamey and his sister off-planet. His other sister, Jan, is scheduled to go as well, but at the last minute she sacrifices her seat to a mysterious girl named Hannah. Jamey assumes they are going to the space station, but he is wrong; they are going to the moon.
Steele’s conception of the lunar colony is interesting and plausible, as is the lunar shuttle and the mining operation that runs on the moon. Jamey and his self-centered sister Melissa struggle to fit into the very Heinlein-like democracy of the colony. Meanwhile, on Earth, their father is taken prisoner by the new regime. The action shifts between the political struggle on Earth and the preparations for a battle at Apollo.
Steele likes science and his delight in creating a lunar colony shines through. Little details matter; the colonists grow trees under the colonies dome, but they are to help re-oxygenate, and wood is expensive to ship, so furniture and fabric is made from bamboo. Water is carefully conserved (Melissa is horrified that she can have only three five-minute showers a week.) The authenticity and plausibility here help buoy up the political plot, which is slightly less believable.
Jamey is an imperfect human being facing real problems. He makes mistakes and he learns from them. While Jamey and Hannah in particular are vital to the plot and end up being the heroes of the book, Steele creates competent, caring adult characters around them. They do not save the universe at the expense of stupid or oblivious grownups, which sometimes happens in young adult works. As someone with a few decades of reading behind me, I thought the plot was predictable, but I enjoyed the book anyway, and I think a younger reader might find a few surprises as the story unfolds.
This is an engaging read that elevates science. It ends on a positive note, even though there are real losses in the book. While the story wraps up completely, this is such an interesting world that Steele could easily set a few more stories here. I think young teen readers will really enjoy this.