The Highest Frontier
by Joan Slonczewski
Edited by David Hartwell
Cover Artist: Photo by: Altrendo Travel / Getty Images
Review by Harriet Klausner
Tor Books Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780765329561
Date: 13 September 2011 List Price $25.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK
Global warming continues its ecological destruction of the planet as the oceans have arisen dramatically and the black death solarplates have the southwest United States and the Amazon as expanding death belts where nothing grows. Other geographical terraformations have also occurred. Everyone knows someone who died in one of these natural disasters that have devastated much of the globe. Yet ironically some leaders remain allegedly in denial of human causal effect on the environment.
Botanist student Jennifer Ramos Kennedy still mourns for the death of her twin brother, Jordi, who with many other casualties died when the sea broke through the New York City wall; his being from the influential Kennedy clan failed to keep her sibling alive.
Still, life goes on so grieving Jennifer applies and is accepted as a freshman botany student at Frontera College whose campus is a spacehab tied to the Pacific. Like many first-year college students, Jenifer initially struggles to adapt to school. However she begins to acclimate to her environment and the class load. Jennifer also becomes friends with her autistic roommate, and falls in love. She also learns a lesson on the downside of being a Kennedy as some people envy her, others ridicule her, and some pretend to be friends so they can use her. Finally the wannabe botanist deals with the terrorist terraforming cyanide producing ultraphyte aliens as she muses that this is only her freshman year.
Extrapolating current trends in science, politics, and society, Joan Slonczewski provides an enjoyable satirical science fiction tale as she amusingly mocks those who abuse their power for personal gain by preferring bumper sticker pseudoscience over scientific data. This cynical approach especially holds forth when the evidence affirms the ultraphytes changing the planet so that humans become extinct. The descriptions of the earth are bleak enough even before these aliens begin cyaniding the atmosphere; while the spacehab school is vividly pictured so that readers will believe they reside in a dorm there.
The secondary cast including the deadly ET species enhances understanding of the heroine who keeps the intriguing story line focused and moving forward. Although school is hard enough, Jennifer faces the challenge of the aliens even knowing she is just a teen trying to prevent pandemic destruction of her species in between studying for exams. Readers will enjoy this coming of age tale as the adventures of Jennifer as a freshman at college has her wanting to run home to mommy and daddy.