REVIEW SUMMARY: Good sf with an awkward ending
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Teenager comes of age in a research station orbiting Jupiter.
PROS: Lot’s of science; good sense of wonder; good job at mimicking Heinlein’s “juvenile” writing style.
CONS: The main story line abruptly switched near the end.
BOTTOM LINE: A quick, fun Heinleinian read.
“The Can” is a research station orbiting Jupiter populated by scientists and their families. Their mission is to monitor incoming signals for signs of alien life. For seventeen-year-old Matt Bohles, who was too young to remember living Earthside, The Can is the only home he knows. When budget cuts threaten to send him back to an overpopulated Earth, Matt must prove his worthiness while dealing with family, friends, enemies and lots of space hazards.
Project Jupiter is Gregory Benford’s homage to Heinlein’s juvenile novels, specifically Farmer in the Sky. At least that is what is to be believed by the first Amazon reviewer of Project Jupiter, who identifies himself as the Benford. Actually, he does a pretty good job at it. It (mostly) reads like early Heinlein and even has lots of physics thrown in. For example, the space station is accurately described as “The Can”; it’s cylindrical in shape with a hollow core (shuttlecraft and a makeshift squash court are kept there) and each successive rotating layer imposing a higher degree of gravity until the 1G outer level. Positioned at the end caps are pancake-shaped bags of water to block space radiation. And the opening scene, showing a squash game between Matt and Yuri, is cool and helps evoke the sense of wonder that prevails throughout the book.
The story is mainly about a rite of passage of a teen into adulthood. Here Matt must prove himself worthy to the ship’s captain as well as his dad. His main competition, Yuri, is a backstabbing, conniving cheat who knows how to play the game of politics very well. There’s a love interest, too, where Matt eventually gets to experience another rite of passage, if you know what I mean.
The story maintained a consistent pace until about the last 15% of the book when things went into high-speed mode. This was a good thing as far as pacing goes, since I thought the first 85% could have moved a bit quicker. But as far as plot goes, it undermined the whole story line of Matt proving his worth. Or maybe it’s more accurate to say that it seemed superfluous to the main story line. At that point, it’s like Benford was trying to launch a new story. According to Benford’s Amazon review, his later novel Against Infinity, is a quasi-sequel to this novel where Matt is an old man, so I suspect the launch of this new story line was intentional. I just thought it was too much of a gear change at this late point in the story. It probably would have made a better opening for the next book.