The Highest Frontier
Includes gay male protagonist. GLBT positive world.
Jennifer Ramos Kennedy is smart, genetically clean, and fabulously wealthy, the youngest scion of America's most famous family. As a college freshman aboard the orbital habitation known as Frontera, she's expected to maintain her grades and social calendar, play on the school's slanball team, and cultivate important political connections, all of which would be difficult enough without the usual freshman complications: bland dining-hall food, romantic entanglements—and signs that her roommate might not be entirely human.
Unfortunately, that's about as interesting as it gets. Jenny doesn't seem to have any goals, neither needing nor wanting anything, so the narrative just follows her around during freshman orientation (which, admittedly, can be weird even here on Earth) and then through a few classes, and some social mixers, eventually switching to the perspective of the college president who holds a staff meeting about fund-raising.
Bored yet? I was. I quit after 160 pages.
Some of the science was interesting, especially when it was used to color the background and make the future seem both fantastic and bizarre. Less good were Jenny's classes, which honestly felt like virtual-reality 'edutainment' cartoons. (Students riding down a DNA double-helix like a roller coaster? Really?) At times I wondered if it wasn't a deliberate satire à la Douglas Adams, or Futurama—everyone 'plays' their taxes at the Native casino; the presidential election campaigns held a First Lady debate, etc.—but it didn't go far enough to be consistently funny.
Slonczewski's early science-fiction novels remain favorites of mine—cleverly devised worlds, thoughtful characters, and wonderful speculation about the human potential to adapt to challenging environments. But The Highest Frontier falls short. It's got some humor, and it's got some science, but what it doesn't have is a strong story—and without that, it's all just noise.
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