Tuesday, October 27, 2015

MiNRS by Kevin Sylvester

Science fiction over the years has reflected the fears and concerns of society. In the 50's, 60's, and 70's there was hype over landing on the moon and exploring space, the fear of alien invasions and nuclear war. The cold war fizzled in the 90's and the war on terrorism and technology exploded. Books such as "Fahrenheit 451," by Ray Bradbury reflected fears over the invention of the television while more recent novels like, " Hunger Games," by Suzanne Collins mirrored reality-TV shows and the Iraqi war. From biotechnology to artificial intelligence, science fiction dances across a gamut of topics exploring scientific, political, and social implications in a speculative society. Kevin Sylvester's book, "MiNRS," shows the political ramifications of one company controlling resources needed by a future Earth that has been destroyed by humans. When a war breaks out, the story unfolds from the viewpoint of one boy who is trying to survive and make sense out of violence.

Christopher Nichols appears like a typical kid, going to school and thinking about homework while adults run a mining operation for metals and minerals in his town-like setting; however, there is one itty-bitty detail that is far from typical... Christopher's "town" is a small space colony plopped on the asteroid named, "Perses." For a kid with a slant toward science and math, his life is not only cool, he absorbs the information and world around him like a hygroscopic substance. Perses threatened to collide with Earth until a scientist, Hans Melming, was able to use rockets and gravity to propel it into a habitable part of orbit. He terraformed the planetoid's surface and sent up humans to mine the ore. About twenty children live on Perses and Christopher is one of them.

As time passed, Earth depleted its resources and left Melming Mining Company with the golden rod or rock of invaluable resources. The colony seems unaware of the target on its back but some are worried, like Christopher's parents. Christopher has everything he needs and leads a privileged life with his parents who work as supervisors at the mine. He idolizes Melming and every year the school watches a propaganda movie about the great contributions Melming has made to the survival of Earth.

The inhabitants on Perses are readying for a blackout caused by solar interference and know that communications with Earth will be knocked out for a month. The colony is protected by the Melming Mining Company from Earth but the blackout means no protection or warnings. Their worse fears are realized when they are attacked by "Landers," an unknown group from Earth, intending to steal the ore. They bomb the facility and the adults are killed with only a few children able to seek shelter underground. Christopher's mathematical and scientific brain immediately goes into survival mode and makes plans. His parents had a backup plan if something went wrong during the blackout, except the plan was in code and Christopher is having a hard time deciphering it. With the aid of his friend, Elena, the two seek help from Earth and retaliate against the Landers.

Futuristic or science fiction novels speculate what the world would be like in a different setting. A common trope in these novels is an authoritarian government that is in control with a naive protagonist that accepts the status quo. The government is seductively attractive until the protagonist unravels serious flaws in the system. Such is the case as Christopher believes the propaganda at first before slowing realizing that all is not idyllic. Others are in forced labor and oppressive conditions but this has been hidden from the 20 children. When discovered, most of the other privileged children don't see what is wrong with it but slip into superior, prejudiced views that do not value other human beings. As Christopher's ideal world is exposed to harsh realities, he has to choose right from wrong and it is these internal battles that give the novel depth. Not only is Christopher dealing with problems on a personal level, but he has to analyze and think critically about the political and social issues of how the asteroid was governed and maintained by the adults.

The surviving children are suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome. They have seen family members blown up by bombs and shot at and respond in different ways. Elena tries to take comfort in military strategies and attacking the enemy. Christopher makes plans and tries to think of the survival of the group. Another character cares medically for the others, while another hoards food. Everyone reacts differently to traumatic events and it adds to the authenticity of the characters. The attack and subsequent deaths are traumatizing making it difficult to move forward each day.

The world-building is well-done and not so scientific that young readers can't follow it. The reader never discovers who the enemy is and the end suggests that the government is seriously messed up down on Earth. I wanted more back story but enough was given to tease me along. While I would normally want to know who the attackers are rather than have these faceless, pirate villains that never interact with anyone, I didn't think it detracted from the novel. I think it was left out to entice the reader to the sequel, but I would have preferred more clues as to who the Landers were that so violently attacked Christopher's community.

The subplot of Christopher's budding romance with Elena adds another emotional element to the story, but is not overpowering. Elena's jealousy of the grinder is never realized in this novel and the cliff-hanger ending leaves more than just that question. The adults that Christopher thinks he sees raises new questions as well. This reminds me a little of the book "Shipbreaker," but less violent. Not that this one isn't. It is. The action adventure will appeal to many of my students along with Christopher's ability to use math and science to survive in dire circumstances.

5 Smileys

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