Starclimber by Kenneth Oppel
Sequel to Airborn and Skybreaker.
Eos/HarperCollins Publishers: NY, 2009.

The race is on to outer space, and Matt Cruse wants to be a part of it. The story starts with the building of the Celestial Tower in Paris, a huge platform for docking aircrafts, rising ambitiously into the sky. Matt ends a plot of Babelites to destroy the tower and earns a chance to train for an astralnaut position on the Starclimber, a space elevator. The trainees undergo testing and training much like astronauts.

Meanwhile, Matt and Kate are dating, secretly because if word reaches Kate's parents that would be the end of her freedom and studies. While Matt trains for his astralnaut experience, Kate is appointed a spot on the ship as an expert in aerial zoology, that is, if she doesn't blow it with foolhardy activism. She trades a promise of marriage for her parents' permission to travel to outer space. Sparks fly between Matt and Kate, since the engagement is not with him.

Kate's professionalism is tested as she must find a way to deal with the other expert zoologist onboard - an overbearing, narrow-minded, entrenched expert. Sir Hugh is certain there will be no lifeforms to investigate. Unfortunately for them all, Kate is proven right. Two complications cause their mission to be abruptly and dangerously terminated.

Evelyn Karr, a bored and edgy photographer is aboard to record the first foray into outer space. She's more interested in the conflicts with Kate at the center, but may prove useful before their flight is over. Evelyn continues the theme of the feminists of the time period, but also looking back from a position of experience and even some regret.

Each book in the series has been different. Starclimber is more mature, with the dating, engagement, etc. It also focuses on an aspect which leans more towards the future. The description of the astralnaut training is close to what I have learned of astronauts - mostly through movies such as The Right Stuff and Apollo 13, but also from James Michener's novel Space. The space elevator concept I learned about through an Isaac Asimov short story, and in recent years there has been a push to make the construction possible through nanotechnology (for ex. the Elevator: 2010 Space Elevator games). It's exciting to see a more futuristic concept viewed through characters from a historical setting. A setting not strictly bound by history nor by today's ideas.

I may like this book the best of the series. It's been a while since I read the others, but I think this one is more complex. Especially the characters.

related-space race, space elevator, aerospace training, life in space, feminism, alternate history

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