REVIEW SUMMARY: Fun reading for younger and older audiences.
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: A teenager and his family escape the collapse of Earth by traveling to an outer world colony.
PROS: Keeps the reader hooked; lots of science; a quick read.
CONS: Last of the series?I want more!
BOTTOM LINE: An immensely entertaining ending to a worthwhile series.
Leaping to the Stars is the third installment of Gerrold?s juvenile science fiction trilogy ?The Dingillian Family? (which started with Jumping off the Planet and continued in Bouncing off the Moon). Like the other books in the series, this was a thoroughly enjoyable book.
Charles ?Chigger? Dingillian is the thirteen year old middle child of a dysfunctional family. His parents are separated and he hates both his younger brother Robert (?Stinky?) and his older brother Douglas (?Weird?). Earth is on the brink of economic and social collapse and the family escapes ?up the line? to the moon with the eventual destination one of the outlying colonies. Leaping to the Stars deals with the journey from the moon to the Outbeyond colony on the starship Cascade. Along for the ride is the coveted artificial intelligence named HARLIE who lives inside of the younger brother?s mechanical monkey.
If I didn?t know any better, I would think I was reading one of Heinlein?s juvenile novels from the 1950?s. The lead character is a minor who is essentially thrust into a grown-up world and forced to deal with adult situations. And, like Heinlein, the story is infused with scores of technological bits and pieces that give even the adult reader the sense of wonder that should be expected from any good sci-fi. There are tunnel communities, space elevators, artificial intelligence, laser communication satellites, space travel, various forms of interstellar propulsion, hyperstate drives, space colonies, terra-forming, you name it. What makes it good is that Gerrold doesn?t just use them as givens either; he explains each technology and makes it believable.
The collapsing Earth provides the background that gives Charles an environment in which he can mature, a common theme in literature targeted towards younger audiences. Although, he?s faced with some situations which just didn?t exist with older juvenile novels, to the best of my recollection. Among others, these include divorce, murder, homosexuality, religion, emancipation, commitment, sacrifice, and the death of a family member. Maybe this is a sign of the times that children are dealing with these things at an earlier age. Or, maybe the book is just targeted at older children. Either way, it makes for a good story.
Gerrold provides a quick-reading, fast-moving plot that keeps you hooked. Basically, Charles is faced with one problem after another. There?s always some situation that has to be worked through whether it?s trying to avoid capture by lunar authorities and off-world colonists (who want to keep HARLIE for themselves) or dealing with the Revelationists (who see HARLIE as a tool of the Devil). Charles? discussions with HARLIE were logical and fun (this, by the way, was the only thing I cared for in Gerrold?s 1972 fix-up novel When H.A.R.L.I.E. Was One, which I read two months ago as a backgrounder for this series). Particularly interesting in Leaping to the Stars are the constant reminders of life in space and on a spaceship. For example, characters don?t just walk to the gym; they pull themselves along webbing since they are in free fall. All of this helps the reader get into the story.
The book is arranged in relatively short chapters (3-8 pages) so I kept finding myself saying ?just one more chapter?. Before I knew it, I was 230 pages into the book. It was really late, so I had to save the last 40 pages for the next day.
This is an immensely entertaining ending to a worthwhile series.