Female SF authors write teenage girls having science fiction adventures – a type of read I wanted as a teen but wasn’t available!
The last few months have seen several great new teen science fiction adventures come into our review pile, all featuring a female lead character (although one really has a male as co-lead) and all written by female authors. Given the rarity of female focused science fiction adventure and female science fiction writers work being reviewed, I thought it was proper to give them a column all their own. A special thanks goes to Flyleaf Books for their panel in April called Girl Power! where we got to meet the authors of two of these books.
Review of Glaze by Kim Curran (Jurassic-London, May 22, 2014)
This is the story of Petri, a 15-year-old girl from London whose mother thought the name was a good way to tell everyone that her daughter’s father was a petri dish. Petri does have a father figure in her life, Max, her mother’s boss at the company which controls all the hardware and software of the biggest social media company on the planet. You can’t have the hardware installed until you are sixteen, so Petri can’t join her classmates in using the network, called Glaze.
Petri follows some of her classmates (including a boy she thinks she likes) to protest a school closure. Because she isn’t on the social network, when commands are sent out via the network she doesn’t follow them, and this leads to her arrest. This ultimately leads Petri to fight against the system with some new friends she met after the protest. Ultimately, she chooses between the good of everybody versus the good for Max and her mother Zizi. Zizi and some other people get hurt in the process and Petri comes to regret her initial decision.
When Max and his cronies get desperate and resort to inducing violence via Glaze, Petri and her friends must decide how to respond. What they decide to do and how they decide to do it has far reaching consequences for their society and for them.
This book explores the advantages and disadvantages of being connected via social media. It will certainly make readers think about their own connections on social media. Petri is a well-developed character who sucks you into her world very quickly. There is fast action and a little romance, but no sex (she actually acts like a 15-year-old, and so is still a bit confused about which boy she likes, primarily because, being teenage boys, they have all done things which hurt her ). The teens are very independent by American standards but normal for British ones so US teens will enjoy the differences. The setting is modern day London and nothing really seems to be different except for the presence of the Glaze network, so it feels like she is running around familiar territory. This gives the reader a chance to pay more attention to what Petri is thinking and feeling as she is running around.
Kim’s previous books have been well-received by US audiences, so I hope they find this great e-read on Amazon. The print copies are very few in number and must be shipped from the UK. See the not-for-profit-publisher’s special site here: www.jurassic-london.com .
Review of Salvage by Alexandra Duncan (hardback Greenwillow Books April 1, 2014)
This debut novel is about sixteen-year-old Ava’s journey from a very female-restrictive society on a ship to a futuristic earth which has a more female-friendly culture (basically a futuristic version of North American culture as far as female freedom is concerned), even if some of Ava’s deceased family members tried to ignore that aspect of things.
Ava falls for a young man named Luck from another ship’s crew and hopes to marry him. She is told she will marry someone from his ship and she gives herself to Luck, but his father has other ideas and Ava and Luck find themselves in big trouble.
She meets a female ship’s captain, Perpétue, who helps her get to Earth and adapt to the heavier gravity. One of her society’s restrictions was females were not allowed to exercise to adapt for a one-gee environment, so if they did manage to leave it would be hard on them and the men could catch them. Perpétue has a young daughter named Miyole, whom Ava comes to care about like a little sister. Miyole teaches Ava to read as she adapts to the gravity and this opens up a whole new world for Ava. Ava mourns for Luck because she believes his father killed him, as hers tried to do to her.
Eventually Ava strikes out for Mumbai after she discovers the university where her aunt teaches. She meets another teen named Rushil, who helps her get around and survive in the big city. Eventually their friendship turns to love as they work together to restore Ava’s ship (it was damaged when there was a disaster and they were getting away). She is quite happy living with her aunt and working with Rushil to get the ship working. She eventually must choose between the worlds because when she takes her restored ship to the space station her crewe uses, she finds out the fate of family and friends she left behind when she ran to Earth to avoid death. When she finds Luck is alive and had killed his father, not the other way around, will she give up her ship’s captaincy, her aunt and Rushil to go back to being a lowly female on Luck’s ship?
Ava is a wonderful character who grows and changes as she is presented with new situations. She takes on a motherly role for a time and also learns what love can really be like when both parties have freedom to walk away. She fell in love with Luck when she viewed marriage as the only way onto another ship away from her father and female relatives, so although this is shown as being love at first sight which is very unrealistic, I think that says more about the character’s view at that point than about the author’s romance writing skills. Ava’s romance with Rushil is done well and her relationship to Miyole and Perpétue can cause the reader to have some tear-jerking moments.
I would love to see adventures of Ava and Rushil in later books. This is a good science fiction romance adventure story, with character growth being more important than plot, since that is rather simple. The ship society depicted is interesting and I would love to see if Ava manages to cause changes now that she has a ship and can reach the station where the ships trade. There is not much future tech in the book, but hopefully as Ava learns more it will be shown to the reader.
Review of These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner (Hyperion, hardcover, released November 20, 2013)
Okay, first of all, I didn’t get this book initially because the cover turned me off completely. It looks like a typical teen romance cover, although if you look closely he sort of looks like he might have a dark colored uniform but it doesn’t look military. Not a cover expected for a stranded-on-an-alien-planet story about two young people who are definitely not a couple (none of which I knew until I met one of the authors at a book signing, because I hadn’t bothered to pick up the book to read the blurb before). So, art director take note: not everyone is turned on by the girl in the giant fluffy dress, and if she is going to have the dress you might want to make it a little less new looking so it is clear that it is a survival story! Also, a soldier needs to look like one; he is depicted with a monochrome outfit and no gear, which clearly is not the case in the book. The cover makes him look like a bouncer, not the war hero he is supposed to be.
Once I actually got past the cover, I loved Tarver and Lilac, the alien planet they are stuck on, and the entire walk through the wilds to the larger crash site plot. Seeing inside the Icarus (great name for a ship that’s going to crash into a planet) both before the crash, when it’s like a luxury liner and afterward, when it is full of carnage and treasure (food, water clothing and medicine) was a great contrast and really shows how the characters views have changed since the beginning.
Having Lilac in a fancy dress makes an interesting contrast to the engineering and science skills she shows in the pod, but having Tarver be surprised she knows anything about her father’s pride and joy and that she has the skills to do something to save them does young women an injustice. No daughter who loved her father and spent hours with him as she grew up could avoid learning skills to help him with his favorite vehicle, whether it is a starliner or a Jeep. She clearly knew the ship well, because she led them to a crew pod which was closer than the ones they were slated to get into, so it should not have been a surprise she had knowledge of the internal workings of the ship. Her father obviously had technical skills or he would not have been running a starship company, at least not as successfully as he appeared to be doing. The knack for technical things tends to be inherited, so if she knew the ship layout very well, it would be likely she inherited his technical gifts.
The parts of the story on the planet were wonderful, the characters complex and changing, the setting interesting, and the way they gradually communicate more of their real selves to each other is realistic. Tarver on the pod needed a good smack for his attitude toward women.
And Lilac’s dad’s attitude as described? No, just no; there is no reason to depict a future where female teens are treated that way. You could have left out that part about the former boyfriend’s death and made a perfectly wonderful story with dad disapproving because Tarver was from the military or a colonist. The secrets Tarver and Lilac must keep about the planet in order for Lilac’s dad to not be in trouble should have been enough to resolve the “what-happens-when-we-get-rescued” question. This is a people versus nature and time story, and there was no need for a parental villain too, and his addition offset some of the good parts of the story. The story is well worth a read even if there were some issues, just take some of the male attitudes with a grain of salt.
Review of Earth Star by Janet Edwards (Pyr hardback, April 15, 2014 release; previously released in the UK in 2013 by Harper Voyager)
Jarra Tell Morrath is an Earth girl, a girl whose immune system will only let her survive on Earth. Earth Star is the second volume of her adventures. In the first one, Earth Girl, she entered her freshman year of college in an archeology program for a university from off-Earth (all the first years of archeology programs are taught on Earth), but she didn’t tell her classmates that she is from Earth. She became the leader of her student dig team and coordinated a heroic rescue of the crew in a downed spaceship.
In this book, she and her crewmate/boyfriend Fian are activated by the military for first alien contact. They have an interesting time leading a civilian team of experts to discover information about the alien ship which is hovering over earth.
Jarra meets some of her extended family in this story and this will cause even more family issues with Fian’s family if they find out. The relationship between Jarra and Fian matures some in this book because Jarra is finally able to communicate some reasons for her opinions about some issues. They end up back on Earth at a dig site and have the usual hair-raising adventure against Mother Nature.
The semi-destroyed Earth is a very interesting setting for a book, particularly when you have different groups of humans from off-world all having different cultures, but Earth basically not having enough people for a normal culture. It works out to be that the Earth girl is like an alien to the other humans and humans from different areas are alien to each other. Personal space, nudity and sexual taboos are some of the most obvious differences. Luckily for Jarra, her boyfriend Fian’s behavior doesn’t match the norm for his very standoffish Deltan culture.
The teenagers in love are handled very well and are realistic for their ages (college students). The relationships with older adults are varied, with not every adult being thrilled to take input or orders from a teenager, even if she is knowledgeable. In my experience this is much like the reception women get now in some professional settings so it seems realistic for future teens.
I really like the futuristic archaeology technology. As an engineer who took her humanities credits in art history and archaeology, I found it fascinating. This is an area of future tech which has been rarely explored in science fiction and it certainly makes this adventure series stand out from others, even those under general SF instead of YA SF. This is definitely a series which could be enjoyed by all ages. It is my favorite SF adventure series so far this year.
Volume 3, entitled Earth Flight, is scheduled for release in 2015.