Despite the campy title, Barnes (Tales of the Madman Underground, 2009) spins a space-travel tale with scientific and emotional substance.
In 2129, most humans are economically comfortable, but the big money and cachet is in entertainment. In hopes of gaining a fast-track to celebrity status, charismatic Derlock persuades a group of loser “moes,” including narrator Susan, to stow away on a spaceship bound to Mars. So begins an adventure filled with tense action, double-crosses, the rhythms of daily life in space and the evolution of characters from insecure teenagers to thriving (or not) members of a team. Nothing is sugarcoated here—readers see deaths, murders and rampant sexism (most of the ways for girls to get famous involve videos of bouncing breasts)—and the author successfully balances the moes' processing and grieving with their ultimate need to survive. The book begins with an explanation of hard science fiction and a promise that “infodumps” will be placed in skippable “notes for the interested.” Nevertheless, some dialogue is heavy with math and science particulars, and less scientifically minded readers may find themselves skimming conversations about the mass and acceleration of mud or the statistical likelihood of a distress call being received.
Overall, accessible, gripping and poignant. (Science fiction. 14 & up)