by John Varley
Ace, 2003, ISBN 0-441-01015-6
A book review by Elisabeth Carey
In a slightly indeterminate near future, two young Floridians want to go into space. This is an idle dream, as they're making very lackadaisical progress toward their University of the Internet degrees, never mind anything more concretely taking them towards space. Despite their academic laziness, though, they're very bright young men, and capable of work when sufficiently motivated. After they meet a retired astronaut and his brain-damaged, brilliant cousin, not to mention some of the cousin's more interesting inventions, Manny and Dak, and their girlfriends Kelly and Alicia, and Travis and Jubal (the astronaut and his cousin), and eventually some of their respective families, become sufficiently motivated, and start building a space ship that will, if everything works, get to Mars ahead of both the Chinese and the American expeditions, which have already left. Much excitement ensues, and the story c hecks in with reality just often enough that it all keeps working, and it's great fun.
Mark Olson and Bob Devney have both previously reviewed Red Thunder, and have been expressing some disagreement over whether the meeting with the millionaire retired astronaut is enough of a coincidence to snap the thread of that suspended disbelief. I didn't find the millionaire astronaut much of a stretch at all; they're on a Florida beach, and astronauts have to retire somewhere, eventually, and how many of them retire to the wasteland of Houston? And the most casual consideration of recent history will reveal that retired astronauts who want to go back into space are not unfindable. No, the thing that strained my suspension of disbelief is the brain-damaged, brilliant cousin Jubal, who invents everything and possesses a child-like innocence a three-year-old would be hard-pressed to maintain. Despite that, he's a charming character, and this is a fun book.