2015’s Exo is the fourth book in Steven Gould’s long-running Jumper series.
Cent is one of just three humans able to teleport; the other two are her mother Millie and her father Davy. The ability allows the family to treat the entire planet as their home. It has also led to decades of persecution (stalking, abduction, imprisonment) by those determined to control and exploit the trio.
So far, they have survived by hiding. Only a handful of people know what the three can do. Thanks to Cent’s current hobby, that’s going to change.
Fresh off a romantic catastrophe, Cent has her eyes on the stars. Or at least on Low Earth Orbit. Getting to orbit is easy enough for someone of Cent’s abilities. Surviving airlessness, cold, and radiation is more challenging.
Luckily for Cent, she has financial resources and she knows the name of a researcher who might be able to help her. Thanks to some nasty academic rivalry, Doctor Cory Matoska is currently between jobs, so he’s willing to listen to an ambitious young woman with an envelope full of hundred dollar bills. All the more so because she can teleport herself into his prototype spacesuit.
Once the life support issue is solved, Cent is free to become Space Girl, a one-teen Earth-to-orbit transportation company. She can deliver payloads quickly and comparatively cheaply; she can transport an ailing cosmonaut to a hospital on Earth. Take that, Elon Musk!
The only tiny flaw in her plan is that it’s hard for a world-famous celebrity to maintain the low profile that her family has adopted for so long. But it’s not her fault that the pursuers have finally found the teleport family. Or rather, one of their refuges. Which is then targeted by a drone armed with two Hellfire II missiles.…
Hey, another example for my “I’ve probably never get around to writing it” list of works wherein an author of a long running series moves on to the next generation. See also Dominic Flandry’s daughter Diana, Fletch’s son Jack, and Travis McGee’s daughter Jean. These inter-generational attempts to extend series often fail, for reasons ranging from “the kid is a bit boring” to “the author died the year after the character appeared and did not have the chance to develop the relationship”1. Lois McMaster Bujold is a notable exception; Cordelia Vorkosigan’s kid Miles is not entirely unpopular with readers.
Cent isn’t Davy Mark II. It would have been pretty easy for her to be, since she’s been hunted since before she was born. A certain level of ingrained paranoia would be a perfectly reasonable response. But Cent does not share her father’s entrenched caution … perhaps because unlike Davy, she has loving parents who have invested a lot of time, money, and love in raising her.
This novel did not work for me. I thought that Gould was trying to do two mutually exclusive things in this book.
One is to explore many cool implications of this particular form of teleportation2, including those that might apply to space travel. Nothing wrong with that; I have fond memories of Exercise in Speculation: The Theory and Practice of Teleportation. Who doesn’t like stories about plucky girls revolutionizing space travel? Aside from everyone who didn’t buy Nojiri’s Rocket Girls or the sequel Rocket Girls: The Last Planet, that is?
However, because Gould set this in his Jumper continuity, he has to tie up a loose end from previous books: the Daarkon Group’s quest to track down and enslave Cent and her family. These are Big Bads. Gould couldn’t just write them off with “Oh, they got bored of losing all the time and stopped3.” Well, he could have, but readers might not like the “not with a bang but a whimper.” I felt that this reader service detracted from all the cool space stuff. My editor disagrees.
I also found it implausible that the various world governments are going to be OK with a family of teleports who could assassinate anyone at whim. Instead, this book features an incredibly reasonable US government and military (not so much in the first novel, but that was then). Just imagine President Trump finding out about Space Girl …
How Cent Revolutionized Space Travel Using Only Pluck, Ingenuity and Magic Psionic Powers is an interesting story. It just shouldn’t have been set in this particular universe.
1: John D. MacDonald’s family was offered and turned down the opportunity to have someone other than MacDonald write more Travis McGee novels. Probably for the best, since it’s hard for even the most diligent writer to nail someone else’s voice.
2: An ongoing theme in the book is that people can learn how to teleport. Thus far the only people who have been exposed to the trick often enough to pick up on it are Millie and Cent. Assuming the series continues, this world could very easily head in a The Stars My Destination direction.
I don’t think anyone has thought to strap an atomic clock to Davy, Millie or Cent to see if their power breaks relativity.
3: Or just offered Davy enough money to work for them. [Editor’s note: but he wouldn’t have worked for them, because they’re bad guys, and Davy, after an initial bank heist, doesn’t do bad.]