Orson Scott Card,
Space Boy
(Subterranean Press, 2007)

Science-fiction author Orson Scott Card is best known for his groundbreaking 1985 novel Ender's Game, winner of both the Hugo and Nebula awards. But what many forget is that Ender's Game started out as a piece of short fiction, Card's first published story, back in 1977.

Card first came to prominence as one of the vibrant new stars of science fiction via a flurry of dynamic short works. But in the years since the publication of Maps in a Mirror: The Short Fiction of Orson Scott Card (1990), Card's reputation as a superb short-fiction writer has been almost completely supplanted as a result of his large body of work at novel length (more than two dozen books in the past 17 years). The appearance of Space Boy does not threaten to change this situation.

Space Boy, like Ender's Game, is a fast-paced adventure with a young male protagonist. But that's about as far as the comparison goes. Space Boy may be fun when considered as a juvenile novella, but unlike Ender's Game it doesn't reach beyond YA's boundaries in an attempt to be something more. It's a tale with obviously limited ambitions.

Space Boy centers on Todd, a boy who wants, more than anything, to be an astronaut -- this, despite his lackluster math skills and generally poor physical conditioning and coordination. Todd, his younger brother Jared and his father are attempting to cope with the fact that Todd's mother mysteriously disappeared from their lives some four years back. Jared, in particular, seems to be having difficulty accepting the new family arrangement, insisting his mother is still alive, that she was sucked into some other world or dimension by a monster in his closet.

Then, while Todd is desperately practicing his baseball pitching in the backyard, a naked "elf" named Eggo appears, seemingly "pooped" out of thin air. With Jared's wild imaginings given sudden credence by the alien scientist's undignified arrival, Todd sets about devising a plan to rescue his mother from Eggo's world. This is a far from simple task. Gravity, time and scale all work quite differently at opposite ends of the "worm" that connects Earth with the planet on which Todd's mother is trapped. But between them, Todd, Jared and their father come up with a daring scheme. Although Todd is about to realize his ambition to travel to an alien world, the questions of whether he'll manage to locate his mother -- and whether they'll be able to get back to Earth -- make the adventure far more desperate and less enjoyable than Todd might have wished.

Space Boy struck me as a story that was written quickly, without the attention to detail I associate with Card's early short fiction. I was left with the impression of a writer who's overly confident of his plotting skills and so doesn't bother to revisit the story to strengthen any first-draft weaknesses. Even the title seemed less than it ought to have been, given that Todd never really experiences space. And the focus on scatological humor, while perhaps appropriate to a pre-pre-pubescent audience, seemed immature for a protagonist approaching his teenage years. This isn't a Captain Underpants chapter book after all.

Space Boy is a forgettable piece of fiction from an author capable of first-rate storytelling. A disappointment.

review by
Gregg Thurlbeck

30 June 2007

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