Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Crater by Homer Hickam

A mining colony on the moon, a teen sent on a deadly mission, and a secret bigger than two worlds. It’s the 22nd Century. A tough, pioneering people mine the moon for Helium-3 to produce energy for a desperate, war-torn Earth. 
Sixteen-year-old Crater Trueblood loves his job as a Helium-3 miner. But when he saves a fellow miner, his life changes forever. Impressed by his heroism, the owner of the mine orders Crater to undertake a dangerous mission. Crater doubts himself, but has no choice. He must go. 
With the help of Maria, the mine owner’s frustrating but gorgeous granddaughter, and his gillie—a sentient and sometimes insubordinate clump of slime mold cells—Crater must fight both human and subhuman enemies. He’ll battle his way across a thousand miles of deadly lunar terrain and face genetically altered super warriors in his quest to recover an astonishing object that will alter the lives of everyone on the moon.
Crater was written by Homer Hickam, the author of the autobiography Rocket Boys that was adapted in 1999 as the film October Sky. I saw the film years ago and loved it, and that's how I instantly became interested in this novel when I heard that Homer wrote it. The story of October Sky was about Homer's life as a young man: his father was a coal miner and wanted him to become one as well, but Homer saw his future along a different path, and eventually became a NASA engineer. Many years later, after the events of his autobiography, Homer retired and became a writer of both fiction and nonfiction. Though at this current time I've only read this one that he's penned, the book descriptions of many of his books imply that he uses much of his knowledge from both his life as a coal miner's son and his life as a NASA engineer when writing his stories. This is definitely one such story.

Crater is of a lower reading level than I have read in a while—young adult, for sure—and sometimes it just seemed childish or cheesy. The narration would often mention some key piece of technology but would fail to even hint at what it actually looked like or how it worked. Sometimes it would fail to mention what certain things even did. A lot of the main character's mission that was assigned near the very beginning of the book doesn't make complete sense until you know what exactly a cycler is and how a works—and that's something you don't find out until you have about fifty pages left in the entire book. These aren't details that would be considered plot spoilers; these are details that the narration seems to think readers should already know from the beginning but can't, because it's usually referring to technology that the author himself created.

In addition, several parts of the story were cliché. Early in the book the protagonist, Crater Trueblood, enters a sort of futuristic race, and his main opponent is one that everyone knows will win. The opponent is the type that uses as many forms of "foul play" as they can while making sure not to officially break any rules. With the help of his gillie and some ridiculous luck, Crater barely crosses the finish before his opponent. By that time they'd been the only two competitors still in the race. Does that sound familiar? Also, the main character is just a teenager, but he's extremely smart and can think of (and design) improvements for almost everything man-made he comes across. I suppose in the next book it will be revealed that General Caesar Augustus Nero—a character who, as you can obviously tell from his name, will turn out to be evil—is actually his father, long thought dead. (Yes, that is sarcasm.)

Crater is full of inconsistencies, clichés, and sometimes just ridiculousness, but in all honesty, it was the first book I've read in a long time that I've actually enjoyed reading. I read a lot of books recently that I loved, but it was the story or characters or ideas or setting or author's writing ability that I loved, not the actual reading part. For nearly a year and a half now reading has been a chore for me. I've grown to hate it, but I press on anyway to enjoy the wonderful worlds and tales that I fall in love with. My ability to read left entirely with my ability to focus, so even reading a little bit takes an excruciating amount of effort and time. Crater, though at times it was difficult to get through, (to an average person it could be probably read easily in a weekend) is a super easy read. I enjoyed reading it like I haven't for any other book I've read in a very long time.

The book had its faults, but enjoying the reading part of it really helped me to enjoy the rest, and the faults weren't nearly bad enough to ruin the book. The story and setting, when you look past the thin outer skin, is actually incredibly cool. Sometimes the book seemed a little bit like an Isaac Asimov novel, though of course on a far less mature level. The main character, Crater Trueblood, changed a lot throughout the story. He sometimes really surprises the reader, either with his level of immaturity or his level of maturity.

The author, Homer Hickam, harnessed loads of his scientific knowledge into the novel. Putting a bunch of techno-babble into a book geared toward the reading level of Crater is absolutely ridiculous, but for those of us who enjoy reading books at this level and also know a decent bit about science (so we can barely grasp what some of the techno-babble is about), this book a very enjoyable experience. Homer is a wise man, and I often felt myself wanting to save entire paragraphs or conversations as quotes, rather than just a character's line or two, as is traditional for quotes.

In the end, through its faults that I have probably made sound far worse than they actually are, Crater was a fun novel with a great story, cast and setting. If you enjoy young adult fiction and science fiction, check it out. I was expecting a lot from the author, so for a while into the reading I can't deny that I was disappointed. By the end, however, I was wondering when Hollywood will get enough sense to make this into a movie. I definitely can't now deny the awesomeness of the story and setting. Homer Hickam might not be an expert at converting his knowledge into all the correct words for a novel everyone will love, but his knowledge of space and the moon makes the technology he created seem all the more believable. I look forward very much to the next novel in the Helium-3 saga.

Crater: A Helium-3 Novel was published on April 10, 2012.
This book was sent to me for free from Thomas Nelson Publishing.

If you read this review within the first couple days of its posting, you can follow this link for a chance to win Crater on Free Book Friday. The link also includes an interview with the author. Enter soon, though, because the giveaway ends on April 20.

Update 7/4/13: I gave this book a second review. You can read it here.

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