Helen M. Hoover is one of the better writers of sf juveniles. Her books tend to be set in dystopian futures -- exceedingly dystopian in some cases, but more commonly in futures which aren't repellent, so much as lacking. Many of the books feature technocratic societies which aren't oppressive, but don't have a great deal of heart, or much room for nature or art.
In a way that's a trap for an author, especially a writer of juveniles, because it's too easy to generate reader identification by making the main character a young person who doesn't fit in, and whose values are better suited to our own society. Hoover tends to lean less heavily upon this short cut in her better novels. Among those are
"The Rains of Eridan" (*** on an uncalibrated four-point scale). This novel has what is almost the default Hoover setting -- a corporation-sponsored scientific expedition on a new world. Something has gone wrong with the Eridan expedition, however, and members are gripped by a growing and irrational panic that culminates in mutiny. Theo Leslie, a Xenobiologist, is out in the field at the time, and witnesses the murderof two of the expedition leaders, and the escape of their daughter, Karen Orlov. Typically for Hoover, that's almost the last we hear of the mutiny, except in passing. The rest of the book follows Theo and Leslie as they pursue the scientific mystery of the panic, and as they come to appreciate Eridan for its beauty and wonder, and not just for its profit potential.
"Return to Earth" (***) also follows the pattern of showing a young protagonist from the viewpoint of an older one. The latter, in this case, is Galen Innes, governor of one of the major space habitats, who wishes to retire on backwater Earth. The former is Samara Lloyd. When Samara's mother is assassinated, she inherits the directorship of Continental Lloyd Corporation. (In practical terms, this means she inherits North America.) She also inherits the enmity of the Dolmen -- the cult leader probably responsible for the assassination. The book follows her initial clashes with the Dolmen, and her effort to bring him down. It leaves unanswered the question of whether she can cure the cultural malaise that allowed him to come to prominence in the first place.
"The Delikon" (***-) is set in a future in which the casual exploitation of other worlds backfired. The Delikon, a technologically advanced and quite alien species, got fed up, conquered Earth, and set about to reeducate humanity their way. Their way isn't particularly onerous -- when you're that powerful there's no need for cruelty -- and in part it involves bringing up the human children who will be humanity's next generation of leaders. This training is most successfully conducted by Delikon children -- adapted to a humanoid form capable of surviving on Earth. Varina is the best of these trainers, which is why she's had the job for as many decades or centuries as she has. Yet, after all this time, the Delikon have still not succeeded in bringing Humanity around to Delikon norms -- a failure which is brought home when Varina finds herself in the middle of an uprising against the Delikon.
A couple of other books could have been as good if Hoover had been able to resist the temptation to write down to her readers. "Another Heaven, Another Earth" (**+) takes place on a dying colony. After five centuries, time has done away with most of the colony's higher technology, the planet's heavy metals have reduced fertility and life expectancy, and each generation is smaller than the one before it. Then a new expedition comes to the planet -- arrogant, condescending, offering a rescue the colonists never sought. "The Lost Star" (**+) features another failed colony -- in this case that of an alien species which human researchers don't even recognize as sentient. The intelligence which was to have guided that colony takes a chance and uses the last of its power in a gamble that a young human might be able to make a difference.
Writing down is Hoover's besetting literary sin. Her blacks are too black, her whites are too white, her settings have no depth, her stories have simplistic morals -- and she likes to make sure the reader will understand the moral of the story. (Authors like Duane and Jones stand as proof that a book can clearly be a juvenile and still not be written down.) Engaging characters, an avoidance (usually) of unnecessary melodrama, and a focus upon the human, rather than the technical side of her projected futures make Hoover's better novels worth reading, but she has yet to make the jump from good to excellent.
%A Hoover, H.M.
%T The Rains of Eridan
%T Return to Earth
%T The Delikon
%I Avon (paperback reprints)
Dani Zweig email@example.com