Crater Trueblood is an up-right, low-key teenage hero. He is born and raised on the Moon with an unworthy best friend, a crush on a girl he only argues with, and – soon after the story begins – a new job he can’t seem to get right. He also has a gillie – a fascinating “biological machine” that sits on his shoulder (even the shoulder of his space suit) and runs his communications. At first gillie seemed to be simply an odd detail in Crater’s life, but as the story progresses, gillie becomes more significant and I enjoyed him – it – whatever.
Hickam’s whole story is like the gillie. It starts as an idea about mining Helium-3 to sell to an energy-starved Earth (if you care about how Helium-3 is used, read Hickman’s science-based note at the end) – a nifty look at the characters, dangers, and technologies involved in a Wild West sort of mining colony. Then Crater joins a convoy on a dangerous journey across the lunar surface to retrieve a package for the mine boss, and the story expands. There are dangers, big and small, along the way, and several groups of lunar inhabitants, including some humans who have been genetically tweaked to be very different from normal people.
Hickam’s writing style is straightforward and sparse and he weaves in facts about the Moon.
At the end of the story, Crater has achieved a lot but is uncertain about his future. Hickam leaves other loose ends that will lead into the next book in the Helium-3 series. A few of the unexplained elements are important, like the motivation of the bad guys and the welfare of friends, but since the main plot line is resolved, I thought the ending worked.
The standard writing bugaboo of “show, don’t tell” get’s ignored a few times –
sometimes as straight “telling” but there is also a side trip with tourists to Tranquility Base, the first lunar landing site. Since that trip is tangential to the main story, it’s close to a “telling.” But it was short and interesting – there’s a factoid about the fate of Neil Armstrong’s first footprint on the Moon that I must look up sometime to confirm.
I had a couple issues with the book. My Epub version had quite a few places where a new paragraph began in an odd place – like the middle of a sentence or in a block of dialog. While I noticed this, it didn’t interfere with my reading, so no big deal.
Towards the end, Hickam uses a technique I happen to dislike. After allowing me to ride along inside Crater’s head, privy to his thoughts and feelings, a character tells him something that Hickam won’t share with me. I realize this adds suspense for some readers, but it just annoys me. Especially since the story would have worked just fine if Crater had been left in the dark until Hickam was willing to tell us readers, too. And then he did it a second time! Sheesh.
Crater has a four star rating on Amazon, with 117 reviews. I guess not many readers are bothered by the trick of keeping secrets from the reader. I only noticed one negative review that specifically mentioned it. Some reviewers thought it started too slow. Others noted it was “geared towards a younger crowd,” and I do think younger tween readers will enjoy it (though there is death and destruction), as well as older readers who simply want a light read. Some reviewers noted the book reflects conservative ideas about society and Christian Values, but I think those themes are included with a light touch.
On balance Crater is a pleasant summer read.