Completed 5/10/2016, reviewed 5/10/2016
This book won the Gaylactic Spectrum Award in 2001 for positive explorations of LGBT issues in SF, Fantasy, and Horror. I chose to read it in my own little challenge to read as many of books on the Worlds Without End LGBTQ Speculative Fiction Resource list as I could this year. Not all books that win awards are my cup of tea, but this one was very tasty. It’s primarily about the breakup of a family told from the viewpoint of Charles, the middle child. I found it a very good read, but difficult because of the subject matter.
The plot is that a divorced father abducts his three sons during his visitation period and takes them up a massive elevator to a geostationary space station in an attempt to start again on the moon. From the science fiction point of view, the idea has been done before in Clarke’s “The Fountains of Paradise” and Robinson’s “Mars” series. However, being told from the point of view of Charles, Gerrold has the advantage of telling as much about the science as a 13 year old boy would be able to understand and repeat back. It’s hard SF, but not as hard as it could be.
The hardest part of the book was that the father was abducting his children. When I realized that was what was happening, it really affected me emotionally. It brought to mind how as a child I grew up wishing my parents would get divorced and my brothers and I could live with my father. Gerrold exacerbated this feeling for me by making the father a rather sympathetic character. He doesn’t let him off the hook for his actions, and to go into more detail would be a spoiler, but the father isn’t a bad person. He just makes bad decisions.
The LGBTQ aspect of the book is that Charles’ older brother Douglas is gay. To divulge much else would also be a spoiler. His character is handled really well. But the star of the book is Charles, the middle child and narrator. Charles has all the anger and bitterness one would expect of a middle child, as well as being a child of divorce. I could see a lot of my own brothers in the characterizations.
“Jumping Off the Planet” is not a perfect book. At times, it reads a little like a movie script, which isn’t surprising, as Gerrold was involved with Star Trek and Land of the Lost, and is most noted for writing the teleplay for “The Trouble With Tribbles”. This makes it a very readable book. There are times too when I felt like some of the supporting characters were too good to be true. Nonetheless, I give it four stars out of five, for tackling a tough subject and putting it in an SF context.