In the year 2129, the United Nations’ Permanent Peace and Prosperity governs the world and 96% of the global population allows robots to do their work and lives on the social minimum, a government allowance comparable to two million dollars a year today. With the rise of boredom, entertainment is what really rules the planet. Only celebrities with the most media play are deemed eligible for professional celebrity status and employment beyond the social minimum. Celebrities’ children, however, must prove their own celebrity status, mostly by “styling” attitude and emotions, and as a result, special schools exist to prepare them for celebrity potential exams.
In this brilliant adventure, Printz Honor-winning author John Barnes balances real science with humorous jibes against today’s obsession with social media, including swapping out the “infodumps” of hard science fiction for periodic “Notes for the Interested,” which can be skipped (but why miss the fun?). He also knows how to tell a thrilling story. Susan Tervaille and eight of her fellow classmates at one of the elite prep schools have little chance of raising their recognition scores until Derlock, whose lawyer father has become famous for getting violent offenders freed due to media interest, comes up with a scheme to make them even more famous than their parents.
The plan—to hide out on a spacecraft that facilitates transportation between Earth and Mars—is interrupted by an accidental explosion that leaves only the nine teens and an illegally “geneered” horton (yes, from Dr. Seuss’ elephant-like creation) alive. They can’t communicate with the outside universe, and they have a limited window to approach Mars or spend two years in orbit. When classmates suddenly find themselves in other life-threatening situations, Susan begins to wonder if the “accident” was part of Derlock’s plan. Fighting for survival while disconnected from the media, the teens begin to realize the importance of feelings over styling, teamwork over status and education over entertainment. Hang on, readers, for one wild ride.