The image to the right is the Science Fiction Book Club's omnibus edition of these books, unfortunately no longer available directly from them, but you might want to look for it in a used book store, or Ebay or some other online seller. The mass market paperbacks pictured below are also no longer in print, but available from various marketplace sellers through amazon.com, so if interested click on the titles here.
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The last thing I want to do with this article is to spoil the books for those of you who have yet to read them, so this will be relatively brief. Other sites (including amazon) are identifying these books as the Starsiders trilogy, but I refer to them as The Dingilliad because that is what David Gerrold is calling them on his website. It derives from the last name of the books' narrator, Charles Dingillian, a thirteen-year-old musical genius who lives in a "tube-town" near El Paso, Texas. I can't recall any specific dates mentioned, and I'm too lazy right now to double check, but I would say these stories are set at least two hundred years into our future, perhaps a bit more. There is mention in the last book of the "former United States of America," so obviously there have been a number of changes, political and sociological as well as technological, to the world as we know it.
This series of novels - up to three books at this time, I hope there will be others - is excellent, echoing much of the flavor and qualities of Robert A. Heinlein's juveniles, although they deal with subject matter and themes RAH was unable to put into his early books due to editorial constraints. Jumping off the Planet includes some strong language, along with discussion of sexual situations, but nothing so extreme that it should concern most parents or hinder enjoyment of these books by most teenagers or young adults. It is apparent that Gerrold grew up on Heinlein's books, as so many others have, and I can recall only one other juvenile (Alexei Panshin's Rite of Passage) that came close to capturing the same excitement that RAH instilled in so many readers. Gerrold's description of the technologies of his future scenario exceeds what RAH usually included, but his characters will seem extremely familiar to anyone who has read any of the Grand Master's work.
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I don't want to belabor the point about the similarities between the two writers, so I best get it all out of the way here at the beginning. This work by Gerrold is at least equal to the best, and certainly better than the majority, of Heinlein's young adult tales. For those of you familiar with my opinion of Heinlein you will know this is extremely high praise indeed. There are also quite a few direct references to RAH in these books. The orbital elevator prominent in the first novel is nicknamed The Beanstalk, which is what Heinlein called a similar technology in his later novels Friday and Job: A Comedy of Justice. One of the settlements on the moon is called Heinlein Dome, the lunar inhabitants are referred to as Loonies and they are ruled by the Lunar Authority, and one of RAH's most famous slogans is referenced in a paraphrase - "There ain't no such thing as a free launch."
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As with all of the best SF, the future society portrayed and the new technologies featured are mere window-dressing for the most important aspect of the story - the characters. After all, if the characters are not interesting and sympathetic how can we have any real interest in their adventures and predicaments? Charles, along with his two brothers Douglas and Bobby (more commonly addressed by their nicknames, Chigger, Weird and Stinky, respectively) are well-defined characters, of whom more and more of their complex natures are addressed as the story develops.
Their father is a world famous composer and conductor, from whom Charles has inherited his love for music and also received much instruction. One of the most fascinating things about these books is the amount of profound thoughts Charles is able to impart just in discussing his love and understanding of music and how it relates to the situation at hand. His mother is a former singer whose loss of career because of her family has made her an extremely bitter woman. The parents are divorced, with the boys residing with their mother. Visits from their father are few and far between, and most of their meetings are emotionally strained and draining for all involved. Charles views his mother as an angry, constantly shouting presence, from whom he takes frequent escapes by biking out to the desert to be alone and listen to his music in peace. His father seems to be the type who always promises so much but delivers so little, so the boys are extremely skeptical when on his latest visit he enthusiastically declares, "I've got an idea! Let's go to the moon!"
I'm not going any further in the discussion of details of these books. Suffice it to say I would not be writing this article if I did not whole-heartedly recommend them. They are the kinds of books that helped me fall in love with the genre so many years ago, and it pleases me no end that there are still writers around who remember those thrills and wish to recreate them. So many current Hard-SF writers seem to be more concerned with wowing us with thoughtful speculations on technology and change. What I want to see are more books like these, that treat the humans involved as the most important things to explore.
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There are only two things I can think of right now to criticize about The Dingilliad. First, it gets a bit tedious in the second and third books for him to rehash events from the preceding volumes. If I had read these books on their initial publication, with a year in between each volume, that might not have struck me as odd. But I read them one after the other in the span of a little more than a month, so it got old even the second time he reiterated something with which I was well familiar. The segués between books are relatively seamless, and I think it is best to regard this as one long novel, so such passages do nothing more than clutter up the narrative.
Second complaint - it isn't long enough. The series encompasses just about six months in its characters' lives, and even though there is much action, the end comes too abruptly and the reader knows there is so much left to tell about the Dingillian's adventures. The cover blurb on my copy of the second volume is a quote from Orson Scott Card, referencing the first novel in the series: "If there is not a sequel to Jumping Off the Planet, I'm going to be so %@$$*# off!"
After reading all three books, I share that sentiment if Gerrold does not return to this saga - and soon!.
UPDATE: It took longer than I was hoping, maybe longer than Gerrold anticipated, but he has finally sequeled this trilogy. Hella could possibly be the beginning of another trilogy. It's very good.
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