“Crater: A Helium-3 Novel”
Author: Homer Hickam
Publisher: Thomas Nelson, Inc.
Price: $14.95 (Cloth)
Over the years Homer Hickam of Huntsville has tried his hand at several genres. He’s done straight nonfiction with books like “Torpedo Junction,” series fiction with his WWII Josh Thurlow of the U.S. Coast Guard books, and of course his several volumes of memoir, set in West Virginia, beginning with “Rocket Boys.”
In a way “Crater” is a return. Just like “Rocket Boys,” Hickam’s first young adult novel is a boy’s adventure story, but this time set in the 22nd century.
The title character, Crater Trueblood, is sixteen, going on seventeen. He was born on the moon, orphaned and adopted, and works happily as a miner. Crater boards with his “Mom,” Q-Bess, whose grandfather had been the last king of England. Her son, Crater’s friend Petro, is, technically, the Prince of Wales.
Hickam, a retired NASA engineer, is a knowledgeable and strong advocate for a vigorous space program and has in fact written a novel, “Back to the Moon” (1999), in which the space shuttle is hijacked.
So, he has already given life on the moon considerable thought. The details of that life are all here. His vision of the lunar future makes this element of the novel of interest to adult readers as well as teens.
The humans live in extended tubes made of “mooncrete,” 20 feet underground, where of course there is pressure and oxygen.
All food is made in simulators, as one saw on Star Trek movies.
Hickam has imagined that while on the surface, humans are protected not by bulky space suits but rather a “biolastic sheath that acted as a pressure suit and also provided warmth and cooling as required.” Under the sheath is a bio-girdle “that takes care of waste products throughout the day.”
On the surface, the miners are scraping, gathering moon soil to extract Helium-3.The whole point of moon life seems to be Helium-3, and in his Notes, Hickam explains that the isotope Helium-3 is perfectly real. The alternative energy source, the fuel to replace fossil fuels, will not be nuclear, solar, wind etc., but fusion, the way the sun works. Helium-3, found not on earth but in abundance on the lunar surface, is “the best possible fuel for earthly fusion reactors.”
Once collected, Helium-3 is containerized and shipped to earth on transports called Cyclers. There are five, three of which are named after Hickam’s heroes: the Werner von Braun, the Burt Rutan and the Elon Musk. (Musk is the billionaire entrepreneur whose “SpaceX” rocket recently resupplied the space station.)
Of course Hickam has a lot of fun inventing and describing the details of lunar life, including roadsters called “fastbugs,” big transport trucks, even a lunar horse. He invents a moon game, “shovelball,” similar to Irish hurling or lacrosse, using a ball and shovels.
And, like imaginative travel writers since Swift in “Gulliver’s Travels,” Hickam indulges himself in some harmless satire. Young Crater comes upon an “olde” style coffee house, serving different kinds of coffee drinks. He is astonished. Crater “had never imagined that there was more than one type of coffee or, for that matter, why there needed to be more than one.” And the people there “sat sipping the hot drink and generally doing nothing except staring at their reads. It was all very odd.”
More seriously, a government man arrives and Crater, in all innocence, delivers a very conservative opinion on government regulation and taxes: no need for any of that. The free market, the naïve 16-year-old is sure, will take care of quality and pricing.
Of course, a boy’s adventure book needs an adventure and Crater has one. Colonel Medaris, owner of The Medaris Mining Company and many other enterprises, needs a courier to retrieve a mysterious package from a Cycler. The Colonel wants someone “honest, naïve, and easily manipulated.” Since Moontown, like the American Wild West, is full of tough sorts and felons on the run from something, the teenaged Crater is chosen.
Crater must travel over a thousand miles of lunar surface. He will overcome not only natural obstacles but also ferocious, genetically altered human mutants, called Crowhoppers, trained to kill and enjoy it. As there must be a quest, so must there be a love interest.
Crater is accompanied by Maria Medaris, the Colonel’s granddaughter, an “amber-eyed” beauty with “long ebony hair.” Crater is the first of three projected Helium-3 novels. Crater is successful and survives, of course, and we will see soon how his relationship with Maria goes and whether all the people he has fallen in with are in fact trustworthy.