by Housuke Nojiri
The Solomon Space Agency, a semi-private enterprise trying to put a man in orbit, has a problem: their newest rocket design just doesn't work. It keeps exploding on the launchpad. With their backers threatening to cut funding, Director Nasuda decides upon a desperate course -- they'll switch back to an older, more reliable model. The only problem is, the old rocket doesn't have enough payload capacity. By stripping down the capsule to bare essentials and putting their astronaut on a severe diet, they should be able to get into orbit by the end of the year.
Unfortunately, astronaut Yasakawa isn't too keen on this plan -- he thinks 110 pounds is a little to thin. But the SSA has a stroke of luck when they stumble upon young Yukari Morita, a Japanese school girl who came to the Solomons to look for her dad, who went missing many years before on his honeymoon. Twisting her arm, Nasuda soon has Yakari in astronaut training.
Sound silly? It is. Yukari is the only sane person in the entire book -- rocket scientists, physicians, even cosmonauts, behave like boobs. Nor is it simply that this is a YA novel where the kids are smart and adults idiots, because when SSA recruits a second teenage astronaut, she proves just as spacey as everyone else. I had a hard time with the humor at first, but that changed around page 40 when Yukari had her first class with Flight Director Kinoshita, who couldn't believe that a 14 year old girl didn't know integral calculus and reverse Polish notation.
"It doesn't have an equals button."
"Of course it doesn't!" He looked like he might burst a vein. "Haven't you heard of reverse Polish notation?"
Yukari brought her hand down on her desk with a bang. "Obviously not!"
"Then I'm going to spend the next five minutes drilling it into your head. When I'm finished, you'll never want to touch a normal calculator again."
I don't know why, but that scene flipped a switch in my head and suddenly I got the humor. When the next scene came and the chief of security put Yukari into a live-fire exercise on her first day of survival training, I had no problem with the absurdity.
Yet despite all that, the book is hard-SF -- Nojiri strains plausibility occassionally, but the technology is mostly stuff that exists, only better. The biggest stretch (so to speak) is the skin-tight spacesuit SSA designs for Yukari. It's only intended for use in the capsule, but it does work in vacuum provided the wearer is shaded from the sun. Nojiri notes in his afterword that when he originally wrote the book in '95, he considered the suit to be impossible tech, but MIT is conducting research into similar technology.
Overall the book reads like an old fashioned Heinlein juvenile, except Yukari could kick Podkayne's ass back to Mars.