February 21, 2020

Review: Apollo’s Outcasts by Allen Steele.

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It’s time to go back to the Moon. With the recent passing of Neil Armstrong, it’s a bit disconcerting to think that in a decade or so to come, we may inhabit a world where no living human has walked on the Moon’s surface.

But this week’s review gives us a fascinating look at what could be. Apollo’s Outcasts by Allen Steel out from Pyr Books portrays a near future America in turmoil in the year 2097 A.D. and a family caught in the middle. When his researcher father is threatened by a change in government, Jamey and his siblings are whisked off in the night to live on the Moon. Jamey was actually born on the Moon, and although handicapped on Earth, makes his way easily in the low-gravity environment of the Moon. We see the culture and life of the Apollo lunar colony through his eyes, as he works to fit in while political and military pressure from Earth is placed on the residents.

It’s ironic that last week’s review was a Heinlein novel, as Apollo’s Outcasts harkens back to such classic young adult tales as Heinlein’s Space Cadet. One can also trace the hard science fiction lineage of Apollo’s Outcasts back to another great, that of Arthur C. Clarke. The author pays homage to Clarke as well, utilizing him as Jamey’s computerized in-space suit personality. Clarke would make an excellent tour guide of the Moon!

Apollo’s Outcasts is grounded in some real science as well, from the magnetic catapult (magcat) that launches Jamey and his siblings out of Wallops Island Virginia to the Helium-3 based mining economy on the Moon. Incidentally, a real-world mission to the Moon named LADEE (the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer) is launching out of Wallops this summer, and there are future ideas to exploit Helium-3 formed on the lunar surface by the solar wind for nuclear fusion. This has also been expanded upon in other works reviewed on this site such as the indie sci-fi flick Moon and the book Red Moon.

We love it when science fiction can turn a brave new frontier such as the Moon into a real place, somewhere to adventure and explore.  Ptolemaeus and Ammonius crater where the Apollo colony is located are both real locales, as is Cabeus crater near the Moon’s southern pole where lunar water is mined in the book. If Cabeus sounds familiar, that’s because it was the impact site of the LCROSS mission in 2009 that was searching for lunar water on the permanently shadowed crater floor. The book also incorporates the remains of the Ranger 9 spacecraft which impacted the Moon on March 24, 1965, which we thought was a nice touch.

Will we ever return to the Moon? Certainly, there will be many technical challenges to overcome before we can put a self-sustaining lunar colony on the Moon’s surface. Read Apollo’s Outcasts to explore what life on our nearest celestial neighbor might be like… hopefully, more tales from Lunar Search & Rescue in the year 2097 are forthcoming!


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