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by Adam James Chouinard

Pub Date: March 19th, 2024
ISBN: 9781735167909
Publisher: Proavia Press

In Chouinard’s SF novel, a group of children come of age without adults.

Pee-pop has lived her entire life—nearly 10 years—inside a self-sufficient POD spaceship shooting through the galaxy at interstellar speed. Pee-pop is the de facto leader of the crew of 10 cadets, all of whom have been on the ship since they were literal zygotes. The cadets all have names like Chee-chaw, Plashy, Chop-char, and Dee-dore, and—like the seven dwarves—each has a distinguishing attribute (funny, smart, strong, creative). They all get along, except for Potch, whose descriptor could well be malcontented: “Like the rest of his compatriots, he didn’t choose this life. But unlike the rest of them, he had never accepted it either, and pretty much right from the beginning. Earth was a long way behind them—far longer than their own lifespans, should they ever desire to turn back.” When the cadets’ 10th birthday arrives, the ship’s intelligent operating system, ABRAM (Automated Biological Replication Assistance Machine), reveals something big. As part of the Human Dispersal Project, they—like numerous other PODs—were scattered to the stars in the hopes of spreading human life to distant planets. The planet they’re headed for is called ESUP-9, orbiting Alpha Centauri B. The cadets are now old enough to have access to the Anthropological Records Collection, a trove of information about humankind and its history. The new information astounds the crew, particularly Pee-pop, who feels great responsibility for her fellow cadets, and Potch, who feels more than ever that he’s trapped. In addition, both characters feel like some aspect of the mission remains hidden from them. Can these 10 children and their AI chaperone continue to grow collectively as they speed toward their future? Or will the inherent flaws of their species—fear, paranoia, selfishness—unmake them before they reach their ultimate home?

Chouinard writes kids well; one of the joys of the novel is seeing the microculture the cadets have built for themselves. The hard SF elements are crafted with exceptional detail and verisimilitude. The story is a slow burn, but the author’s prose adeptly massages the tension just enough to keep readers engaged, as here, when Pee-pop watches Potch: “She couldn’t break past that impenetrable shroud he had carried around with him his entire life. He was here. He was helping. But that didn’t undo months of sneaking around, storing secrets in a journal meant for no one’s eyes but his, doing who-knows-what as he snooped around the system.” The book is appended by 50 pages of post-narrative text, which mostly covers the author’s inspiration and writing process (revealing, for example, how many of the character names are drawn from his son’s imaginary friends). Even without this addition, however, the book feels slightly overlong. This is partly due to the general sluggishness of the plot, and partly to the fact that, while the book is not meant for children, it is very much about children. Nevertheless, fans of thoughtful SF will find much here to ponder.

An inventive, thoughtful space adventure about the nature of purpose and community.