2 out of 5 stars
Cut to the Chase:
Jumping Off The Planet attempts to meld a dysfunctional family drama with a hard sci-fi analysis of the ramifications of creating a space elevator in a very dysfunctional world. Unfortunately, the drama feels manufactured and hollow, and the characters are so maudlin, uninteresting, and unlikeable that the book soon becomes a chore to read. The sci-fi elements relating to the space elevator seemed all right to me, although I am by no means an expert on the subject, but the dour picture of the dysfunctional world economy either displays a profound lack of knowledge about fundamental economic principles or relies entirely on mechanics not explained within the book. I was predisposed to liking this book due to my fascination with the concept of space elevators and the great amount of space devoted to writing about them, but the feeble characters and odious melodrama made the narrative laborious to get through, and the economic issues proved too distracting for the good space elevator bits, so I can’t really recommend this book to anyone. I declare it a failure in both concept and execution.
Our protagonist is Charles “Chigger” Dingillian, a psychologically disturbed misanthropic adolescent. The story unfolds as Chigger accompanies his two brothers and his father on a family vacation up the space elevator where the father plans to kidnap the children from their mother, who has primary custody.
It’s really an ugly family drama, and it is made uglier by the fact that none of the characters are at all sympathetic, engaging, or even interesting. The protagonist is the whiniest, most abrasively annoying character I have encountered in years. I suppose that the author is trying to engender some sympathy due to his troubling circumstances, but it is revealed that he has easy access to a solution to all his problems all along which, for some nebulous reason, he chooses not to avail himself of.
I’m not a fan of family dramas in general, but even I know that one of the essential ingredients to a successful one is characters that are either likeable or, failing that, characters you can muster some degree of interest in. Every time the protagonist and his family encountered any sort of adversity, I found myself hoping against hope that they would all die horribly and that the rest of the book was just a glossary or an appendix or something.
Some of the space elevator stuff is fairly well thought out, and for me, at least, it was a fresh take on the subject while getting into the nitty-gritty details of the workings of specific components. This one bright spot was vastly overshadowed by the weaknesses in the author’s economic theory. I’m not sure why it is so common, but it seems like science fiction writers often have a contempt for learning anything about economics that is very much at odds with their treatment of pretty much all other subjects. Maybe it has something to do with the fanbase being more likely to howl for blood if the author misrepresents the behavior of superfluids than if the author details an unbelievable outcome from capital flows, but still, I wish this lapse was not so common as for me it significantly detracts from quite a few otherwise fine books.
Comparisons to Other Authors:
I’m not sure what I can recommend that strictly outdoes Jumping Off The Planet in terms of a combination of family melodrama and big idea, single invention sci-fi. I guess despite the fact that I see it more as fantasy, I would recommend Boneshaker by Cherie Priest for its similarity in its unpleasant family melodrama and annoying adolescent protagonist. I didn’t love this book by any means, but I would definitely rate it higher than Jumping Off The Planet.