Losers in Space
by John Barnes
Plot: In a future where celebrity status is regulated by the government, a group of teen celebrity offspring stowaway on a ship to Mars in order to get media attention and boost their recognition scores enough to qualify for celebrity status. To the teens, it’s just another party, until things go very, very wrong! Adrift in space with only their own skills to draw on and a sociopath on board, the teens must learn to rely on themselves and each other as they try to survive and find a way to get home.
- *Susan Tervaille. *Protagonist and first-person narrator. Daughter of a classical actor, Susan was interested in science at a younger age, but gave it up when she realized that science was never going to achieve celebrity status for her. Now, she focuses on partying and “styling” for the camera, but as much as she tries to deny it, “Crazy Science Girl” still lives inside her.
- Glisters. Initially portrayed as a fairly repulsive boy who makes porn videos, Glisters turns out to be one of the best characters in the book. He’s incredibly intelligent, and really sweet in a bit of a geeky way.
- Derlock Slabilis. Susan’s almost-boyfriend and de facto leader of the little group. Arrogant and self-centered; if it weren’t for the fact that Susan is using him as much as he’s using her, it would be hard to understand what she sees in him.
- Fleeta. Formerly Susan’s best friend and another former science girl. Fleeta destroyed her brain taking the drug happistuff, and now she’ll never be more than a child mentally.
- Every character in this book is interesting, unique, and thoroughly developed.
Worldbuilding: A well fleshed-out dystopian future. Barnes developed the social aspects as thoroughly as the science, and did a great job of portraying the customs and language.
Things I liked:
- The best thing about this book is watching the teens develop. They start the book as spoiled, self-centered teens who are only interested in partying and fame, but the crisis forces them to grow up. Most of them turn out to be quite exceptional and likable people; not only do they each grow individually, but they bond and develop real friendships in a way they never could when partying was their primary focus.
- After the first hundred pages or so, the plot is also quite suspenseful and exciting.
- The first hundred pages were difficult to read, and honestly, I probably wouldn’t have finished this book if it hadn’t been so highly recommended by a fellow Cybils panelist. I’m truly glad that I did, because it turned out to be one of the best books I’ve read, but that first 100 pages makes it a difficult sell to teens. First, the characters are not very likable, not even Susan. This is intentional and necessary in order to see the dramatic growth that they experience over the course of the story, but reading about these self-centered and superficial teens partying and posing for the camera was difficult.
- The other thing that made the first part of the book difficult is what Barnes calls the “Notes for the Interested.” His intent was to segregate the difficult science and social concepts into separate notes, where anyone interested can read them and anyone not interested can skip them. I think that it doesn’t work, though, because every time I hit one it yanked me out of the story. I’m actually interested in the science, but would rather see it incorporated as part of the story, as is usually done in science fiction.
Who would like this book:
- This is difficult because of the first hundred pages problem. I actually think that a wide variety of readers would enjoy this, because it manages to be both hard SF and character-driven fiction. But the problem is, I think, that some of the people who would enjoy the hard SF aspect won’t enjoy reading about the partying teens, and some of the people who would enjoy the social/character aspects of it might be put off by the science, even if it is in skippable notes.
- In the end, I think both types of readers will enjoy it, so if you are a teacher or librarian, all I can say is recommend it highly to students, possibly with a caveat about the slow beginning, and hope for the best.
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FTC required disclosure: Reviewed from library copy. The bookstore links above are affiliate links, and I earn a very small percentage of any sales made through the links. Neither of these things influenced my review.