A futuristic novel set in a bleak landscape involving an eccentric family of putative criminals and, eventually, a strange odyssey across America.
At his mother’s insistence, narrator Rowan Van Zandt is enrolled at the Old Miamy School for Drugs and Doctors in an effort to improve his rather sorry lot in life, for he lives in an area of urban violence and general dreariness. Pop, Rowan’s father, worked at Airplane Food until he killed a threatening little thug named, ironically enough, I Murder, by throwing him in a vat of boiling eggs. Then Rowan and his twin brother, Faron, got into their own brand of trouble in an altercation at a local zoo. This is all upsetting to Rowan and Faron’s hardworking mom, Umma, when a smooth deus ex machina named Terry Nguyen offers a devil’s bargain—he’ll reunite the family (and grant amnesty) if they will “volunteer” to be part of a crew to test the Orion spaceship. After some hesitation, Umma agrees to the terms. The Van Zandts start to train at an abandoned launch pad at Cape Cannibal (aka Canaveral) with Bill and Mae Reade and their daughter, Sylvia. After Umma commits suicide, Rowan goes on the lam, wandering out West to escape Terry. Rowan seeks out observatories such as Mount Wilson and Lowell, which have become historical landmarks in a culture both ignorant of and hostile to astronomical knowledge.
Although Rotter’s novel is conceptually interesting, Rowan’s journey becomes tedious, and the forces he tries to evade are of little interest.