Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Space Academy, by Hannah Hopkins

The Conrad Press, May 2020

In the last days of a dying Earth, or at least dying human civilization on Earth, Elsie James risks everything to get her infant son onto the colony ship, Mayflower, to head out to what those privileged to be aboard hope will be life on a clean, undamaged new world, called Novum. She has the amazing good luck to discover that the captain of the Mayflower is her old college friend, Alfie Sommers. He takes them both on board, and gives them an apartment on the elite Floor One, along with an unlimited credit supply. The reader, but not Elsie, sees Alfie giving the order that the people intended to have that apartment are not to be allowed to board; that apartment is no longer available.

Thirteen years later, Will is about to start as a student at the Space Academy. This means, among other things, his friend options won't be limited to his tutor group and his across-the-hall neighbor, Spencer. This is a school for which the students have to qualify, and their families have to pay, so they're all smart, and they're all privileged. Will quickly meets Emily, from the Floor Two, some bullies Emily knows but is happy to cut ties with, and Finley, from Floor Seven. Yes, Finley is what we would call a scholarship kid, the first ever in the history of Mayflower, and the Space Academy.
It's here that things start to get complicated in ways that don't necessarily enhance the reading experience. We soon learn that Space Academy is a separate ship. No mention of this before.

We learn that the social structure of Mayflower, Space Academy, and any additional ships that may be part of this colony party is evem nore rigid that we may previously have assumed. Thirteen-year-olds (who are admitted to Space Academy) can qualify for their space pilot licenses, piloting small auxiliary spacecraft. Racing these things is a major professional sport.

One of the most successful racers is Latino; he's the only not-white character I recall encountering in the entire book. I might have missed someone, but it appears that this little colony expedition, originating in the UK, is almost 100% white--which seems wildly improbable, given the ethnic makeup of the UK in this first half of the 21st century. This story is set in the early 22nd century; I'm not buying the idea that the ethnic and social makeup changed that quickly in a direction that would make the population of the colony ship(s), chosen for either essential skills or the ability to pay, would be almost entirely white.

The residents of the Floors One and Two, at least, have servants, people resident on Floor Seven and perhaps other higher-numbered, lower-ranked floors. (Why are they floors and not decks? I have no idea. It literally never comes up.) The James family servant is Derek, who insists on being called an assistant rather than a servant, and is only nominally polite to his employers. Will, who is a nice kid otherwise, doesn't hesitate to show his contempt for Derek. There is no suggestion until quite late in the book, when he has his new friend Finley for a visit, that there's anything wrong with this.

Space Academy, aside from being coed, isn't much different from any other English boarding school you've read about.

We're told Earth first made contact with aliens in 1985. We get no further information about this.

We are told that a major contributor to the need to abandon Earth was a series of wars, that included servant AIs rebelling against their mistreatment. On Space Academy, where all the presumbably brightest and most promising young people are being trained, they're using AI servants in the cafeteria and elsewhere. We later learn that there are apparently AI servants for cocktail parties and such gatherings on Mayflower.

The students have a class called Alien Studies. Their teacher for that class turns out to be the same person who taught Alien Studies at the college Elsie James, Captain Alfie Sommers, and Will's father, Austin de Haviland. What a coincidence!

There are alien animals on board the ship, used in the Alien Studies class. No explanation of how an Earth crashing toward disaster got a menagerie of alien animals that live in Earth atmosphere to send off on Mayflower for educational purposes.

This particular teacher also has illegal alien technology. No hint as to how he got it. Or got it onto the ship. Or how, other than magic, it could do what it does.

Will, Emily, Finley, and eventually Lois, the captain's daughter, are all nice kids, really. I like them. My temptation to say that this should be fun for kids of the intended age group, though, just seems condescending and disrespectful. There are a whole bunch of questions I haven't even hinted at that I'd have been asking when I was that age.


I received an electronic galley of this book from the publisher, and am reviewing it voluntarily.

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