March 20, 2006

Red Thunder by John Varley

picture of mars overlaid by space ship blueprints overlaid by mission badgeI've been a Varley fan for a long time, but his novels have always been hit or miss for me. This one is a hit. In a near future, a couple of space crazy late teens go joy riding on the beach with their girlfriends after watching America's first manned mission to Mars lift off. They narrowly avoid squishing a very drunk ex-astronaut and start a friendship with him and his eccentric genius cousin. Through the magic of some sufficiently advanced technology, some nationalistic fervor (a Chinese Mars mission is going to beat the Americans there), and a suspicion that the American mission's new drive technology has the potential to fail catastrophically, this unlikely group determines to build a space ship and head to Mars themselves.

The "teenagers build a spaceship" thing has been done repeatedly in the history of SF, but in my opinion never with as much credibility and humor as Varley pours into this tale. The characters are somewhat charicatured, but they do have personalities that make them feel real despite the cliches. Plus, the fun of having a semi-plausible wish fulfillment fantasy like this story going on pretty much swamps any such minor concerns. And it looks like the fun will continue as Red Lightning is slated to come out in April.

Posted by jeffy at March 20, 2006 08:31 PM

The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet,
Cameron, 1954, is the only other story that I can
recall where juveniles build a spaceship from
scratch, not that my experience is that wide.

I'd like to hear about more of them. I bet they
cluster heavily after 1958.

Posted by: Dan L at March 21, 2006 12:28 PM

Way to call my bluff. Mushroom Planet was the one I was thinking of. Wallace and Gromit's A Grand Day Out ;-) Seems like there was some 80s tween movie that did this, but I don't remember the title. Written stuff, I don't actually know of any others, I just think there must be cause it's such an irresistible idea...

Posted by: jeffy at March 21, 2006 03:03 PM
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