Sunday, February 15, 2009

Gay science fiction, with the young-teen spin: Jumping off the Planet

It's fairly easy to find gay novels suitable for teens these days. There are actually whole ranges dedicated to teen gay fiction, or "young adult gay fiction." For example, without hesitation I could recommend The Swordsman for sixteens -- and incidentally, if you're in a jam, needing to buy something and wondering where to turn, here's a very good starting place: Great Gay Teen Books ... good hunting!)

But what about books for a kid who's growing up gay and is maybe 14? 13? Now you're treading in ticklish territory, because you're really, thoroughly, in PG country. It's gets tougher to make the recommendation. But if the kid you need to buy a gift for was an SF fan (and which kid isn't?) you could think about Jumping off the Planet, by David Gerrold.

It's a book that can be read by anyone, anywhere, and unless the reader is hopelessly prejudiced, so homophobic that they belong in scripture class, it couldn't possibly give offence. It's also a book that will be appreciated on six different levels depending on the age of the person reading it. An intelligent 12 could read this: it's an easy easy with a clear writing style that benefits younger readers ... and a story that is deceptively complex. It sets out in simple style, and gradually becomes more and more intricate until it's a real Gordian knot by the end -- and even old Aunt Maud ought to enjoy it.

The "gay content" also sneaks up on you, and it's written so "naturally" that it's part of the landscape, part of the ambiance of the story. It's also very touching now and then.

The story concerns a father and his three sons who're making a journey to the ultimate elevator ... the elevator to space! Amazing technology surrounds the characters, and Gerrold is a master at depicting this kind of thing. (He cut his professional teeth on Star Trek, eons ago, if you recall the episode about the cute fuzzy little life forms that can eat a civilization into extinction in an afternoon!) The story focuses in tight on the middle son, Charles (his nickname is "Chigger"). He has a little brother, Bobby, whom he calls "Stinky," and a big brother, Douglas.

Charles is just pre-teen, and he's "the middle kid," always the difficult case. Stinky is just a little one, definitely his Dad's responsibility ... and Douglas is seventeen, absolutely on the brink of adulthood. And gay.

Jumping... presents the world through Charles's eyes. He's exasperated with his kid brother and all he can do is watch from the sidelines as Douglas struggles to grow up. The world these kids are growing up in, also, is wrecked. They come from a rat-hole called Bunker City in El Paso, TX, in an environment that's well and truly busted. Mankind is heading off the planet, people are trying their luck elsewhere -- hence the "elevator to space."

So, this dysfunctional family is headed for the space elevator, and the kids have more than their fair share of problems. First stop is Geostationary, the space platform at an altitude of several miles, which is also the departure point for the Moon and planets. The kids are excited about the trip; and Dad?

The father is hiding secrets. Nothing is what it seems to be. And Charles is a bright kid, up to the challenge of guessing that something, somewhere is wrong. Stinky is just along for the ride ... but Douglas -- seventeen, highly intelligent, gay and caught in an unenviable situation -- is about to grow up in a hell of a hurry.

The book is marvellous. Unless you're looking for gay content on every page (very few dedicated gay books offer this!), or steamy sex (there isn't any), you can't not love this book. (Well, not unless you really hate SF, I suppose! And such people do exist...)

Highly recommended. Would give this as a gift to a young gay teen without a qualm. AG's rating: 5 out of 5 stars. Good deals are available at Amazon right now...