First in the Red young adult science fiction series set in a futuristic Florida.
We start with the four best friends, Manny, Kelly, Dak, and Alicia watching the Mars-bound VentureStar rocket take off with its Ares-Seven crew. It’s a special event for the four as both Manny and Dak dream about going into space. This summer they are, okay, so they’re trying to, studying hard to pass their online college courses. Online because neither of them can afford to go to a real college. But that night changes their lives when they almost run over a drunk, Travis, on the beach. A drunk who turns out to be an ex-astronaut with a brilliant but messed-up brother, Jubal, who has invented perpetual energy.
A fuel source that can power a rocket forever. A rocket the six of them decide to build when Jubal does the math and realizes that the Ares-Seven is probably never returning to Earth. Its design flaws will either cause them to be shipwrecked on Mars or sent off at a tangent into the stars. While it hurts Travis to think of this happening to his ex-wife, one of the Ares-Seven crew, the fact that the Chinese rocket which also launched for Mars is likely to arrive on Mars first is the kicker that fuels them into action.
I loved this story! It’s all underdogs who make good thumbing their noses at the Establishment. Four just-out-of-high-school students, an idiot savant, and a drunk of an ex-astronaut plan to build a rocket and reach Mars in two months using off-the-shelf materials.
A good chunk of the story is a shopping list of buying and building that will crack you up. The last bit is of their flight, the confrontation with the Chinese and how they outmaneuver the politics ending with the rescue of Ares-Seven and their life afterwards. A great story for the maverick reader. I cannot wait to dive into Red Lightning. I am dying to know how these characters carry on.
For all that, this was a very back-and-forth story. The prologue started in the future while the main story started in the past and we kept leap-frogging back and forth. It did sort of make sense—I normally hate this sort of thing, but Varney made it follow-able at the same time that he used it to make the story more interesting.
The cover epitomizes the story: the building plans for Red Thunder under their crew badge.