In a tale that requires not just the suspension of disbelief, but expulsion of prejudice, NASA sends a group of 1970s fifth-graders to the moon on a secret mission.
Recruited from a Florida orphanage by men in black, Mickey joins a company of peers at the Kennedy Space Center and, after two days of “training,” finds himself headed for Oblivion Base. Why? It seems that the reactor powering the supersecret site has gone haywire, and adult astronauts can’t fix it because a new substance being mined there, pleurinium, somehow makes anyone older than 13 seriously sick. Stanley assembles a crew of standard but artfully tweaked character types (both the hotshot lunar-rover driver and the Apple One–toting computer geek are girls, for instance), and he tucks in memorable set pieces, from some queasily explicit zero-gravity vomiting to an exhilarating climactic race across the rugged lunar surface. Along with the uncommonly strained premise, though, this flashback tale is saddled with pace-killing interludes in which the adult Mickey tries to convince his own skeptical children that the flight actually happened. And despite an extended buildup, he inexplicably fails at the end to produce a certain lunar memento he brought back that would have established his veracity.
An adventure punctuated with moments of hilarity and suspense but overall as thin as the interplanetary vacuum. (Science fiction. 10-12)