I am always on the lookout for solar system exploration fic, which is difficult to find, because aliens are king in contemporary space opera. I wish I liked classic SF more than I do; a lot of the old stuff was solar system specific. The oldest I’ll go back is 1990’s/ turn of the turn-of-the-millennium, and even that stuff seems dated. To a book, late 90s solar system fic is cynical. Not the writers; but their characters. The writers are desperate and sad: “We’ve given up on space!” They produced desperate and sad fantasies about characters fighting to get back to space against big odds. Nowadays, we get gee-whiz stories like The Martian, reflecting the greater optimism of the SpaceX and ISS era.
This book, written in 1996, tries hard to inject the pessimism with optimism, but the author has a political ax to grind, and the book has more than a little Fountainhead subtext, a naive belief in the benignness of privatizing not only space ventures, but public education as well.
Although I have my doubts about privatization as some panacea–removing ventures in the public interest from public oversight and lock-stepping the evaluation of their success with the profit motive–I’ve always shared the particular frustrated impatience with government progress in space. It is too cautious, too hamstrung by goal-lessness. But this book peppers its privatization with potshots at NASA, environmentalists, and straw-man liberals.
Which is too bad, because underneath that peppering is an complex near-future (now alt-history) world peopled with interesting characters, and despite me, I’ll probably read the next book in the series.