Book Review: Crater by Homer Hickam

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Homer Hickam is probably best known for authoring the book Rocket Boys, which was made into the 1999 movie, October Sky starring Jake Gyllenhaal. Hickam is the son a coal miner who built rockets as a teenager, and grew up to be an engineer at NASA.

Crater is a mesh of Hickam’s mining past, and an interesting take on the future of living in space, as seen through the eyes of Crater Trueblood, a teenager working as a Helium-3 miner on the moon. Crater is asked to undertake a mission to retrieve an important artifact from an incoming transport. Crossing the moon to get to the nearest space elevator is dangerous in the best of times. But when Crater finds out there are plenty of people willing stop at nothing to make sure he fails in his mission, the danger is taken to a whole new level.

From a strictly science-fiction standpoint, there are dozens of fascinating ideas in this book regarding what it will take to live and work on the moon, and in space in general. Obviously, a lot of effort went into anticipating how current technology must change, and what new technology must be developed in order to meet the challenge of living in such a harsh environment. Hickam does a wonderful job with describing this technology: the adaptive space suits, the vehicles, the food processing, etc. For a details oriented reader like myself, this book fed right into my wheelhouse, and was one I bought months ago in anticipation of finally being able to read again (this is only the third book I’ve read since my vision has started to come back after my encounter with Guillain-Barre Syndrome).

Unfortunately, Crater really could have used another line-edit. A thorough line-edit would have caught major issues with repetitive use of passive verb tense (i.e. “were working” instead of “worked”, “There was”, “There were”), changes in point of view within paragraphs, and stilted dialogue. Critical passages of action were glossed over in just a sentence or two, while backstory permeated the entire novel.

Perhaps, because I am in the middle of line-editing two books of my own right now, I am hyper-sensitive to these issues, but I found myself injecting more active verbs into sentences as I read, just to keep myself from putting the book down.

What I hoped would be a Heinlein-esqe type book, quickly turned into more of a Johnny Swift type experience. A very simple edit could have greatly improved the entire experience, and fixed three or four of the above issues in just a couple of weeks. Yes, this is a “Juvenile-Fiction” book, but that does not mean the writing shouldn’t aim for the same quality as more adult type books.

I had very high hopes for this book, and it does have enough ideas in it that it could be a good book. We need books with the science of Crater to get teenagers excited about space and space exploration. But and science and ideas can’t support poor editing. Hopefully, these issues can be fixed in Hickam’s future work.

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