Wednesday, July 14, 2010

BOOKS: Rite of Passage by Alexei Panshin

Okay, back today with another recommendation from Jo Walton at Alexei Panshin burst onto the science fiction scene with four books published in 1968 and 1969 and then has done very little novel-length since them. One of those books in that initial explosion was Rite of Passage, which garnered both the Hugo AND Nebula Awards. And I was sure I'd read it back in high school.

I hadn't, a fact made absolutely clear by Walton's review. So, I put it on the stack to get to and about three weeks later, it reached the top. And it's absolutely easy to see why it won all the awards.

Okay, quick precis. Young girl living on a spaceship in the future where needs are few and lives long, reaches the age where the ship's routine forces her to undergo the rites of passage from youth to adult. In the rigorously population-controlled society of the ship, there's a little of the survival of the fittest approach to keeping the numbers down in their idyllic society. So, the kids have to spend a month dirt-side, living on often hostile planets before earning their societal rights as an adult. The kids are trained in riding, woodsmanship and fighting. That training, a horse, a bedroll, a tent, some rations and a raygun is all they get to survive the wilds they get dumped in.


When our heroine, Mia, goes through her trial, she quickly loses the one other piece of equipment she's been given. The call-home device. Without it, she has no chance to getting the pickup at the end of the month, even if she's hale and hearty. So, despite a disinclination to do so, she teams up with another of her trial mates (in every sense of the word) and recovers the device he'd lost too, in time to be picked up.

Of course, she learns a lot about herself and about her attitudes while doing this. She really does grow up and there's no question she will make a positive contribution in ship society in the future. A future Panshin never outlined. Oh well.

What I've described to this point actually only takes about the last third of the book. Panshin does a superlative job of outlining the society on the ship and how it came to be in the millennia leading up to the events in the book. Panshin was obviously worried at the point of this book's writing about out of control population growth. This book was a clarion call to that potential disaster. There are signs his worries, while legitimate, have been abated in the 40 years plus since, as there are signs that growth has slowed waaaaaaay down. Some countries are actually experiencing negative growth at this point.

Regardless of the politics of population growth, Panshin has a delightful way of setting up the reader. Right off the bat, Mia says she's pretty sure of the main facts of this book. She sdmits that some of the stuff, she's forgotten exactly what happened and who said what. So, she says she's going to make up stuff to get around those parts. It's all done with tongue in cheek by Panshin and adds immensely to the book's charm.

It's a GREAT book, very recommended to teenagers (boys and girls alike). Hey, don't just take MY recommendation. There were two learned selection committees who agreed with me. Back in the day.

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