March 14, 2006




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Ted Butler crafts classic boys" sci-fi tale with his first novel - By D. Roberts Keenan

Longtime fans of science fiction will of course recall that prominent author Robert Anson Heinlein wasn't known just for his adult works. The award-winning author of the classic ``Stranger in a Strange Land'' wrote a series of 12 ``juvenile novels,'' in addition to a number of short stories for Boys' Life, the official magazine of the Boy Scouts of America.
Heinlein's novels, both juvenile and adult, often dealt with militaristic themes -- Heinlein himself served as a lieutenant in the Navy -- and the book considered to be his finest example of ``hard'' sci-fi, ``The Moon is a Harsh Mistress,'' concerned the fight for independence by a colony of lunar settlers.
Local author Ted Butler's first novel, ``2176: Birth of the Belt Republic,'' shares a spiritual symmetry with the classic Heinlein juvies, including a boy thrust into the adult world, a strong military sensibility and rebellion against oppressive forces. Butler, too, served in the military, working with heavy ground radar in the Air Force.
In Butler's book, 16-year-old Gil Klanz is a student at a high school in a space colony. Gil and his friends carry out a prank against their principal that goes wrong and ends up with Gil expelled and his mother fired from her job.
In one stroke, Gil has lost his cushy existence and his academy scholarship. He takes a blue-collar job, where he finds it necessary to defend himself constantly against locals who don't take kindly to outsiders.
The young hero, desperate to prove himself, risks his own life on a rescue mission and returns to some small measure of respect from the settlers. On his return, though, Gil finds the settlers banded together in rebellion against the oppressive and decadent regime of the Belt Corporation. Gil uses his wits and charisma, overcoming the enemy and becoming a leading figure in the newly made Belt Republic.
Throughout the book, Butler employs themes that will be familiar to most readers of science fiction. Teen boys are the most likely to appreciate ``2176,'' as they identify with Gil as he rises into service, putting the needs of the many ahead of his own. Yet Butler, in his first novel, has not offered any female characters worth note. Gil's mother, described as a competent doctor, is barely present and her character, who starts out as an intriguing surrogate mother figure, spends much of the book's third act unconscious. Teen girls, therefore, even fans of the genre, likely will not find much to keep them interested.
Indeed, Butler has written a classic boys' novel, in which circumstances propel the protagonist from childhood to maturity, seemingly overnight. This archetype has been used by many authors and in many genres, including authors such as Charles Dickens (``Great Expectations,'' ``David Copperfield'') and Mark Twain (``The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn''). ``2176: Birth of the Belt Republic'' might take place in outer space, but its themes will resonate beyond fans of science fiction.
Butler's first novel also is the first in his ``Belt Republic'' series. According the publisher, four have been completed; the second, ``Menace Beyond the Moon,'' has been printed; and the author is working on the fifth.
* By Ted Butler
* Young adult/Science fiction
* Blue Works, $14.99
Fans of Ted Butler's ``2176: Birth of the Belt Republic'' also might enjoy:
* The Foundation series, Isaac Asimov
* ``David Copperfield,'' Charles Dickens
* ``The Forever War,'' Joe Haldeman
* ``Starship Troopers,'' Robert A. Heinlein

Last modified: March 14. 2006 12:00AM
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