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Apollo's Outcasts
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon November 13, 2012
Jamey Barlowe was born on the Moon, but moved back to Earth as an infant following his mother's tragic death. Because his fragile bones can't handle Earth's gravity, Jamey needs a wheelchair to get around, but he has learned to live with his disability and lead a normal teenage life. Then, on his sixteenth birthday, Jamey's father wakes him up in the middle of the night and sends him back to the Moon to escape a military coup in the United States.

Jamey arrives in the lunar mining colony Apollo with five other refugees, including his kid sister and a young woman who seems to be more than she appears. At first it's a challenge to start a new life in an unfamiliar environment, but thanks to the lower lunar gravity, Jamey can now walk independently for the first time in his life, so despite everything he flourishes and finds himself taking on new challenges. Meanwhile, tensions on Earth continue to rise, and the lunar colony soon becomes the world's focus as the new U.S. President sets her sights on the Moon's crucial He3 reserves...

Apollo's Outcasts by Allen Steele is a charming Young Adult novel that should go down well with readers on the younger end of the YA scale as well as older science fiction fans in the mood for a nostalgic trip back to their own Golden Age of SF. Anyone who doesn't fall in one of those two categories may end up disappointed because the novel's plot and characterization are so straightforward and basic that it borders on the pedestrian, but for the right reader this book will be a blast.

Jamey is a great YA protagonist: a disabled teenager, woken up in the middle of the night and immediately cast in an unfamiliar situation. He narrates Apollo's Outcasts in the first person, so it's almost impossible not to empathize and, later, to cheer when he finds his bearings and discovers he can actually walk. (In his own words: "I didn't know whether to laugh, cry, or join the nearest basketball team.") His enthusiasm is infectious, and his willingness to make the best of a difficult situation and contribute to the greater good as he explores the lunar colony is admirable.

At the same time, there are a few aspects to his character that occasionally grate a bit. It quickly becomes clear that Jamey has more than a touch of Gary Stu in his DNA, for one. However, when it's convenient for the plot, his usually sharp intellect seems to fail, e.g. when it comes to discovering the identity of the mysterious sixth refugee--something almost every character figures out immediately, as will most readers. He also ends up in the obligatory YA love triangle--yep, his best friend likes the girl he likes--while at the same time remaining stubbornly blind to the fact that his future true love is nearby and very much into him.

The supporting cast consists of characters who are, for the most part, either too faceless or too recognizable. Jamey's younger sister goes through an all too predictable transformation as the story progresses, and the same goes for a bully who is introduced early on in the novel. Jamey's best friend is a complete blank aside from making up one side in the aforementioned triangle. A cheerful pilot continues to pop up at improbable moments throughout the story to lend support. The villains are introduced early on and never achieve any depth.

Speaking of one of those villains: the name of the Vice President responsible for the coup in the United States is Lina Shapar. Even if that anagram isn't obvious enough, Allen Steele makes it abundantly clear who he's referring to: a former beauty queen from the more extreme wing of her party, who ran on the presidential ticket with an older, more moderate candidate. Surprisingly, there are many more political references in the novel, including thoughts about globalization versus sovereignty, scarcity of critical resources, and China as a rising superpower. I have absolutely no problem with politics in YA novels, but in Apollo's Outcasts it simply feels out of place, maybe because this novel reads like it was geared towards a much younger audience than say, Cory Doctorow's YA novels, in which the political message feels more natural and integrated.

Still, this is a minor problem compared to the novel's characterization and plotting, which rarely rise above the level of a below-average light SF Hollywood movie. Because of this, it may be surprising to read that Apollo's Outcasts is actually a fun read, as long as you're okay with overlooking some of its problems and just letting yourself getting swept along by the adventure. It may be small-scale and a bit thin and predictable, but at the same time, Allen Steele is a talented storyteller who paces the novel expertly and often makes it very hard to stop reading, even when he takes the occasional detour to lovingly describe the lunar colony setting or explain the science behind the story.

Still, the biggest strength of this novel is its sheer innocence: from Jamey's perspective, Steele writes convincingly about the adventure of going into low orbit and experiencing zero-g like it's something brand new and exciting. Jaded SF fans may roll their eyes at this small-scale stuff, but if it catches you at the right moment, you may end up enjoying it and feeling more than little nostalgic. For a new or young SF reader, Apollo's Outcasts will be a captivating adventure and possibly a great gateway into the genre. Older readers should probably approach it like one of Heinlein's juveniles: sure, it may be easy to poke holes into it and point out its flaws, but if we're being really honest... wasn't reading SF more fun back when we were gobbling these books up as quickly as we could find them?
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on November 24, 2012
... because Apollo's Outcasts begins with a desperate flight to the safety of a Moon Colony and the action doesn't end until the hero saves his family, the Moon and Earth. Of course he manages to get the girl and do it with realistic and Golden Age SF appropriate adolescent clumsiness. And yes I was concerned when I began reading the make-out scene but yes you will see more explicit scenes on broadcast TV and Steele's prose is more age appropriate than some of Heinlein's juvies.

I'm going to be donating my copy to the local library. If you don't have an adolescent who needs to be lured away from vid-games why not buy a copy for yourself and then donate it to YOUR public library.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on November 24, 2012
I never miss a new book from Allen Steele. His Coyote books are hands down the best sf series of the new millennium. Granted, we've got well over 900 years for someone to top it, so that may happen--who knows? So, naturally, I was curious about this two-time Hugo award winner's effort into young adult territory.
No surprise--the novel is terrific, as usual. APOLLO'S OUTCASTS has been compared to Heinlein's young adult books. This is pretty high praise, but it is well deserved. Reading OUTCASTS, a tale of teenagers who barely escape capture to become political exiles on the moon, brought back my own youth (a long time ago) when I first became addicted to science fiction by reading SPACE CADET, PODKAYNE OF MARS and others before graduating to STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND. My 11-year-old niece will find APOLLO'S OUTCASTS in her Christmas stocking this year, and when my grandchildren are old enough, they will be reading it, too. I am counting on Allen Steele to make them science fiction addicts like me.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on March 30, 2014
Apollo's Outcasts (2012) is a standalone SF novel. The USA and other nations establish an International Space Consortium to mine helium-3 from the lunar regolith. The mining operations are based at Apollo, a large habitat built within Ptolemaeus Crater.

In this novel, Jamey Barlowe is the son of Stan and Connie. He is a loonie, conceived on Earth, but taken to the Moon before anyone knew his mother was pregnant. Now he suffers from Lunar Birth Deficiency Syndrome.

Jan Barlowe is Jamey's oldest sister. She is attending college at a local school so she can to tend to Jamey.

Melissa Barlowe is Jamey's next oldest sister. She is called Meemee for good reasons.

In this story, Jamey is awakened before dawn by his father. He is told to get dressed and pack a carryon bag. Jan is waking Melissa.

Melissa refuses to get up. Jan turns on the light, so Melissa puts the pillow over her eyes. Then Jan issues an order that Melissa cannot refuse.

Their father drives the family to Wallops Island. On the way, they hear an announcement that the President is dead. The Vice-President is sworn into that office.

They enter the ISC spaceport on the island and drive to the terminal. They get out of the van and meet three other ISC families. Then their father tells them the new President has him and other ISC employees on her black list. So they are sending their children into orbit.

They start to enter the building, but pause as a limo enters the employee lot. A teenaged girl gets out of the limo. Her escorts have a discussion with the parents and other ISC employees.

The ISC shuttle only has six seats available. The new girl would be the seventh passenger, so someone has to stay behind. Jan volunteers to give up her seat. The children are suited up and loaded on the shuttle.

Jamey has a loonie seat with gel filled balloons to cushion him on each side. His seat is contained within a case the size of a refrigerator. Jamey wonders how long his father has been planning this escape.

This tale takes Jamey and Melissa into space with four other children. Jets are sent to intercept them, but the shuttle outruns them. Once they are in orbit, the Lunar Transfer Vehicle is released for the voyage to the Moon.

Then an anti-satellite missile is launched from another jet to shoot them down. The pilot fires the main engine and maneuvers to avoid the oncoming missile. It explodes and a piece of shrapnel causes a leak in the LTV.

The pilot tells his passengers that they are going to Apollo. Anywhere else would only find them under arrest and send back to the USA. Apollo is an ISC facility and will give them sanctuary.

This story continues a long tradition in SF of voyages to the Moon, starting with Jules Verne and H.G. Wells. Invasions of a Moon colony are also a SF tradition (see Robert Heinlein).

Jamey learns that he can stand on his own is the lesser gravity. This volume does not have a sequel as yet, but the author has written many other space adventures.

Highly recommended for Steele fans and for anyone else who enjoys tales of space voyages, lunar habitats, and a bit of romance. Read and enjoy!

-Arthur W. Jordin
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on November 18, 2012
This is not a science fiction masterpiece. But it's a fun read and a page turner. It accomplishes what it sets out to do, and I think it would be a fine introduction to science fiction for a tween or teen. That's why I gave it five stars.

This is clearly intended to be in the spirit of Heinlein's juveniles, and it succeeds at that. The main character, Jamey, is sympathetic and interesting. Most other characters are at least two-dimensional. Remember, we're seeing them from a teenager's eyes, who doesn't have the life experience to see much nuance in others.

The exceptions to this are the villains. They're one-dimensionally evil. But that provides the fuel that drives the plot. As with all science fiction, you need to suspend a bit of disbelief.

And yes, the politics clearly parody some of today's players, even though the book is set well after all of them will have passed away. The name of the evil VP who becomes president is an anagram of Sarah Palin.
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VINE VOICEon June 15, 2013
Allen Steele has turned out a marvelous YA SF novel called Apollo's Outcasts that reads like a modern-day Robert A. Heinlein. That's kind of an oxymoron because Heinlein wrote about space and the future (even some that's set in the halcyon days of the 1990s!).

When I was a kid, I read every Heinlein juvenile SF novel I could get my hands on at the library. A librarian took me over to a shelf filled with Heinlein and Andre Norton, and I lived quite happily on those books for all that summer, and summers afterward. My first Heinlein novel was The Rolling Stones.

But I digress. Steele emulates Heinlein's plot devices in this novel: 1) young hero - check, 2) thrown into action almost immediately in an adventure that takes him out of this world - check, and 3) there's a boatload of political overtures that's definitely slanted. If you want to see that last quickly, examine the villain's name. Lina Shapar is an anagram of Sarah Palin. I don't think Palin would ever turn out to be the villain Shapar is in the book, but the point is clear.

Jamey Barlowe is an immensely likeable character. Because he was born on the Moon, his bones are too weak to support him on Earth. He's a cripple, only at home in the water. Instead of being depressed and lost, Jamey is a vibrant individual. Only a smidgen of his life on Earth is revealed in these pages, but it doesn't take much to figure out the parts that aren't there and what it's been like for him.

When the President dies and the Vice President assumes office while accusing others of murder, Jamey gets shipped to the Moon with other kids. The journey to the Moon, like the rest of the book, has a lot of scientific reality in it. Steele knows his stuff as a scientist, and he knows how to give just enough details to the readers without stopping his narrative dead in its tracks. The science underscores the threat and the majesty of Moon living.

Enough real life is wrapped into the adventure that the story "feels" real. The lunar world is easily imagined and filled with wonder and potential hazards. While dealing with the transition to the Moon, getting his legs under him for the first time, Jamey ends up becoming a major player in the political arena even though he considers himself just average.

That feeling of normality about the characters is a staple in Heinlein's juvenile science fiction novels, but the truth of the matter is that they're all exceptional kids. Jamey is too in the end, and it's a lot of fun watching him discover that for himself in this book. He goes from broom pusher on the Moon to being one of the Rangers, an elite security team formed to protect the colonies' interests.

I've got a 15 year old at home and I have often wished I could give him that sense of wonder I had when I was a little younger than him and discovered Heinlein's books. But I can't. His world is already too close to all the science that Heinlein reveals in his stories. The effect just isn't the same. However, Apollo's Outcasts hits all the same buttons with a fresh perspective that I'm sure he will enjoy. The book is a great starting point for reluctant young males readers.
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on February 3, 2013
“On my sixteenth birthday, I went to the Moon.”

This isn’t the way it is supposed to be. Turning sixteen should be a special, memorable time for any teenager. It should be unforgettable. And for Jamey Barlowe, it was. In the early hours of the morning of his sixteenth year Jamey and his two older sisters are unceremoniously awoken by their father and rushed out of their home under cover of darkness. In the midst of the chaos and confusion the children are able to discover that the President of the United States is dead, an incident that is being reported as an assassination and the Vice President, Lina Shapar, is calling for the detainment of a group of American citizens that she believes may have a part to play in the President’s death, a group that includes Jamey Barlowe’s father.

Jamey Barlowe was born on the moon. As a result he suffers from a condition that has left him crippled for the majority of his life. If Jamey ever dreamed of returning to the place of his birth it was not like this. But for Jamey and the five other young people leaving with him, this isn’t a time for dreaming, it is a time for cold hard reality. Their destination is Apollo, a mining colony on the Moon, and although they are being sent their for their own protection they will soon discover that safety is all a matter of perspective and the Moon holds harsh challenges for each and every one of them.

Allen Steele’s young adult novel is being hailed as a successor to the great Robert A. Heinlein and if Steele did not pen this as a loving homage to Mr. Heinlein’s juvenile fiction then the only plausible explanation is that Steele is Heinlein reincarnated. From start to finish Apollo’s Outcasts reverberates with the heartbeat of Heinlein’s best and creates a contemporary sense of wonder that will have you daydreaming all over again about a future that includes human habitation on the Moon.

Robert A. Heinlein’s juvenile novels stand the test of time because they were written for young readers in a mature voice that held high expectations for the reader. They presented a fantastical future that did not seem all that fantastic because the sense of wonder they created was grounded in plausible scientific speculation. Those novels did not shy away from their attempts to educate young readers in a way that encouraged them to pursue an education that would allow for them to be an integral part of an amazing future that included a presence amongst the celestial bodies in our solar system. Allen Steele captures that same spirit in admirable fashion with Apollo’s Outcasts.

I won’t be coy with you, dear readers, I was smitten with this book from the start and that feeling of attachment grew at a steady pace all the way through to its final pages. Apollo’s Outcasts is lovingly crafted and it speaks to its intended audience with the dignity and respect that today’s young reader has come to expect from good fiction. At the close of the novel Steele acknowledges the many sources of inspiration for his creation of a mining colony on the moon that feels so plausible that adults who grew up gazing at the heavens with longing and anticipation will feel a genuine ache that this is not our present reality.

Apollo’s Outcasts follows Jamey Barlowe and a group of young people as they travel to the moon, learn to acclimate to an environment unlike anything they are used to, and discover that the Moon is a place where hard work and a community spirit are necessary for survival. It is also a novel that presents a very scary, equally plausible, political environment of social unrest and government abuse of power. The combination of these two major plot threads creates a tension that keeps the novel exciting while at the same time avoiding the cliche of non-stop action that sometimes taints the entertainment options offered today.

It can be argued that good science fiction contains good science and Allen Steele delivers on this account. By the same token I will argue that good science fiction contains good characterization and Steele populates Apollo’s Outcasts with a strong, engaging cast. He takes some risks, including a main character who is crippled and a side character who is mentally challenged, and he does not shy away from the fact that life involves tragedy as well as triumph. I certainly felt the full range of emotion while reading this novel and came out of the experience with a deep respect for Allen Steele’s talent as a storyteller and a warm glow from the knowledge that this style of science fiction can be made relevant for today’s audience. I have a list of adults and children a mile long that I would love to gift this book to. I can only hope that the book creates some of that same sense of wonder that Heinlein’s juvenile novels did in their era. Time will tell, but I cannot help crossing my fingers in hopes that this novel will be a success and will spawn similar efforts from Steele and others.

Effective young adult authors know their audience and walk that fine line between underestimating their audience and writing a novel for adults masquerading as a book for kids. Apollo’s Outcasts is a great example of doing it the right way. Steele packs a lot of information and adventure into 300 pages while practicing the kind of economy of words that will keep younger readers engaged. At the same time this is a book that I think adults will enjoy. I did, very much.

Apollo’s Outcasts is a winner. Solid storytelling, plausible scientific speculation, and emotionally satisfying characterization combine here for a 5 star rating. Buy it. Read it to your kids or read it to yourself. You will not be disappointed.
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on January 12, 2013
Short of a seance taking dictation, Apollo's Outcasts is probably as close as you going to get to a Heinlein juvenile with the possible exception of some of Steven Gould's work ( e.g. 7th Sigma or Wildside ). The reader gets hooked in the opening pages where Jamey Barlow and his family are introduced to us and the hook isn't out at the end of the book. They are faced with needing to flee their comfortable suburban Washington DC home. They need to escape from the government taking them hostage after the death of the President and the Vice President assuming power. The Vice President wants a war with China, control of Lunar sourced energy and eventually an implied authoritarian US and possibly world state. So, grab the children of potential opposition like the staff of the International Space Consortium to neutralize them. Jamey is considers crippled on Earth because he was born on the Moon. He's wheelchair bound and the escape takes him to a place where he is not a cripple, the Moon. The gritty little details like hovertanks, toll booth scanning of license plates and toll tags and a nuts and bolts description of a spaceship head ( toilet ) are there just as in the Heinlein juveniles. The big technology details like the catapult to boost a spaceship into orbit, the spaceship that is capable of an Earth to Moon transit and the very well realized Lunar Colony are there too; again, very Heinleinesque.

But, this book is more than gritty little details and big technology. There are big, human themes too. Friendship, love, maturation, the struggle for freedom, the search for truth; those are all here too. There are a few things missing; Clifford Geary illustrations for one. The language is another. As I said in a review of "Hex", I feel that Steele writes more in the mode of Arthur C. Clarke rather than Robert Heinlein. That is to say he is more cerebral and remote while Heinlein is more visceral and direct. This book, to me, shows movement from the Clarke mode to the Heinlein mode. And, again in my opinion, the Heinlein mode is more engaging to the prototypical juvenile reader. When I read a Heinlein juvenile, I get clear distinct mental images about what is happening. The images here are not as clear and distinct. But, as counterpoint, the language in Heinlein's earlier juveniles such as "Rocket Ship Gallileo" compared to those in some of the later books such as "The Rolling Stones" or "Starman Jones" shows a clear and distinct evolution. Reading Apollo's Outcasts makes me feel that Steele may be moving from a Clarke mode closer to a Heinlein mode. One other thing missing from Apollo's Outcasts is the mystical McGuffin. The note from the Galactic Overlord in "The Rolling Stones" and the walker wagon from "Farmer in the Sky" are two examples of mystical McGuffins. These are Heinlein's way of saying that the Universe is stranger than we imagine and, in spite of our egotistical assumptions about Humanity, there is more that we don't know than we do know. Those add depth and texture to a Heinlein juvenile. And, that is something that I would like to see from Steele.
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on December 21, 2012
Apollo's Outcasts, a strong narrative with heart-pounding action and political suspense, will offer young readers a fresh taste of futuristic science-fiction. Allen Steele takes readers on an adventure that will call to the scientist in every reader as well as entertain.

Jamey's story has several unique aspects that pull interest from a wide range of readers. Jamey was born on the moon, but raised on Earth and confined to a wheelchair. When his father sends Jamey and his sister to the moon, to protect them from the extreme plans of the new president of the United States, Jamey finds that life on the moon is a new experience in itself. Not only will Jamey, and the other children who fled with him, have to learn a new lifestyle, but Jamey will also have to get used to being able to walk on the moon, with his own two legs.

The plot is tight with tension as soon as the story begins. Jamey wakes to find that the United States' president is dead and the new leader, Lina Shapar, has declared a national emergency to search for and arrest the citizens who had recently opposed her. The flight to the Moon is an emotional experience for the group of kids who will have to leave their parents and venture to a place that may either become a refuge or another place of great danger. Steele does an excellent job of capturing these teens in such a confusing state where some, like Jamey and his best friend Logan, are determined to remain strong, and others are more prone to panic or disinterest.

While at times Steele may get a little wordy when it comes to the history of Apollo, its purpose and all the facets of life there, and relations between the US and other nations, the colony has an innovative atmosphere that spills over the pages. The lines blur between fact and fiction as this city on the moon comes to life and the fate of Jamey and his friends rests on their ability to learn how to survive. Jamey is a fantastic character with a wise head on his shoulder. Joining the Rangers, who will serve to protect Apollo from possible invasion from the US, shows how much of an inspiring character Jamey is for all readers.

Steele gives Apollo's Outcasts a serious edge, but behind the danger and deceit rests a grand amount of hope, romance, and sense of togetherness. This story does not disappoint; it's the perfect example of creative, adventurous science-fiction.
*Copy of novel provided via publisher in exchange for an honest review*
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on March 4, 2013
When I first heard that Pyr Books would be publishing a book by Allen Steele, I was very excited. A few years back, I had read all of his Coyote books, and he had become one of my favorite authors. I finally was able to get his most recent book a few weeks back and have just finished reading it.

Apollo's Outcasts is another slam dunk for this author. It begins with Jamey Barlowe, the main male character, and his sister being sent to the Moon, along with five other kids, after a political uprising in the United States. One of the other kids has a secret which is revealed once they get to the Moon, and the book follows Jamey's adventures as he becomes adjusted to a new way of life.

I think the author does a good job of getting inside the head of a sixteen year old boy. As I have a sixteen year old boy myself, I know a little bit of what I'm talking about. :) The parts of wanting to appear grown up to the people around him, but still being scared of what is happening back on Earth, make the book engaging for its intended audience. In fact, I have recommended this book to my son for these very reasons.

I also think the science in the book is well researched, but still understandable to the layperson. In fact, if we, as a society, would get serious about funding space exploration, I could easily see a place like Apollo actually being developed.

This book gets five stars from me, and I can recommend it for its intended audience as well as those who are older.
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