Science fiction novels these days are an odd mix. Most tend to be tied into television shows or movies. A few have roots in video games. Others have science so ingrained and specialized that weaving a story through all the information overload can be tough.
I grew up on science fiction novels by Robert A. Heinlein and Andre Norton that were inventive, inviting, and a lot of fun. Heinlein’s juveniles often stayed within the known solar system while Norton ventured far, far away. Sadly, however, few children’s science fiction novels are being published these days. But thankfully, some authors and publishers are holding the line.
Michael J. Daley’s Shanghaied to the Moon is a fun romp that’s often reminiscent of early Heinlein and Norton. Thirteen-year-old Stewart Hale wants to be a space pilot like his mom, who died in a fiery crash. Since that time, he’s been in the care of a virtual counselor that has been controlling his academic performance and actually keeping him from achieving that goal.
Stewart has started suspecting that something is going on that no one talks about. He’s become convinced that there’s a big secret the school, the virtual counselor, and his dad are keeping from him. With his older brother’s help, he discovers that the virtual counselor has altered his grades, is preventing him from remembering some events in his life, and is keeping him from getting qualified for the Space Academy. I love conspiracy stories, and I really didn’t know there was one in this book until I landed squarely in the middle of it.
At the same time, Stewart’s memories of those forgotten events start surfacing in dreams. Daley weaves a mystery about everything that happened to Stewart after his mother died. Although the book is crammed with action and interesting tidbits about the history of space travel and fictional exploits regarding the same, I found myself turning the pages faster and faster, not only to see how things turned out, but to find out what the big secret was.
Even as Stewart’s dreams begin again and his curiosity propels him to solve that mystery, he meets a washed-up spacer who offers him a chance to go to the moon. Knowing that there’s a conspiracy to keep him out of space and wanting to go more than anything else in the world, Stewart takes the guy up on his offer and blasts off.
However, the spacer has an ulterior motive that Stewart hasn’t been able to guess at. I was constantly kept on my toes trying to figure out what was going to happen next and what was truly going on. The adventure takes some really interesting twists and turns along the way.
Daley has produced a book that’s a lot of fun to read. The first-person narration is first-rate and given more immediacy by the present tense spin. In addition to the adventures and dangers, the author also provides a lot of interesting details about the space program that got the United States to the moon in the first place. The rapid pacing guarantees readers will stay with the book, and the mysteries will solidly hook them.
Shanghaied to the Moon is a great read, and it’s a book that elementary school and junior high school librarians should put on the shelves. Fantasy stories still dominate that market at present, but there’s plenty of room for science fiction adventures like this one.