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The Highest Frontier

3.41 of 5 stars 3.41  ·  rating details  ·  319 ratings  ·  84 reviews
One of the most respected writers of hard SF, it has been more than ten years since Joan Slonczewski's last novel. Now she returns with a spectacular tour de force of the college of the future, in orbit. Jennifer Ramos Kennedy, a girl from a rich and politically influential family (a distant relation descended from the famous Kennedy clan), whose twin brother has died in a ...more
ebook, 448 pages
Published September 13th 2011 by Tor Books (first published September 1st 2011)
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Female Hard SF Writers
28th out of 149 books — 25 voters
Buddy Holly is Alive and Well on Ganymede by Bradley DentonRendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. ClarkeThe Highest Frontier by Joan SlonczewskiThe Dervish House by Ian McDonaldThe Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi
The John W. Campbell Memorial Award
3rd out of 45 books — 4 voters

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Community Reviews

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It’s been about a decade since Brain Plague, Joan Slonczewski’s last novel, came out, but I’d bet good money that more people remember the author for a novel that’s by now, unbelievably, already 25 years old — the wonderful and memorable A Door into Ocean, which won the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for Best Science Fiction Novel, and which Jo Walton wrote about on here.

Now, ten years after her last novel, Joan Slonczewski returns with The Highest Frontier, another insightful explorati
Jenny Ramos Kennedy is the heir to two presidential families and a great deal of wealth. After her charming and extroverted twin dies, Jenny feels overwhelmed by the expectations of the world. Seeking to escape them, and to flee her fears of the increasingly frequent natural disasters on Earth, Jenny decides to go to college on a spacehub. There, her botany experiments, social life, and the upcoming elections all create a situation in which Jenny may either take the easy path of non-resistance, ...more
4.5/5 stars

Despite the minor frustrations some readers might find regarding biology speak and some confusing concepts that take time to figure out, The Highest Frontier is quite an amazing, thought provoking book about a dystopian earth and how society has evolved to fit that vision. Slonczewski’s world is vibrant and well realized. Every detail of her future vision is well thought out in riveting detail. The plot is tight and quickly flowing and Jenny is a wonderful character to follow. Many re
Catherine Siemann
Academics in literature departments write novels about academics, usually satirical. Academics in science departments possibly write hard science fiction. Slonczewski, chair of the biology department at Kenyon College, has written something that's both, and political satire besides.

As far as plot and characterization goes, it's decent but not exceptional. However, the narrative successfully plays with multiple strands of speculation, ranging from genetic engineering and 3D printing to climate ch
I could not get into this book, so I will not be finishing it. I found it very off putting by all it's weird scientific technologies. Oh, well, we can't love them all.
Elliott Bäck
I would give it 5 stars, but for the endless repetition of "DIRG" and "amyloid".
I made it about halfway through this book. I was looking for some new SF to try, which is unusual for me, and so I sifted through my "to read" shelf for something that looked a little different. This one certainly fits the bill. After reading reviews on Amazon and elsewhere, I was aware that many found the book lacking in plot but well written, and for me I usually prefer the latter over the former. Unfortunately, the complete lack of plot got on my nerves and I decided to put down the book when ...more
What If You Believe Your Roommate Is An Alien?

This is a story about a young girl going to college so it includes teenage love, dealings with teachers and unruly fraternity boys, the whole coming of age thing. But that is the simple part what if you believe your roommate is an alien? Or that your professor is trying to brainwash you? Or that you fear the space station will be flooded? Glad to know you are not crazy?

Joan Slonczewski is new to me so I did not have any preconceptions beyond the blur
College in space. Lots of floated ideas about biology, politics, and history. Commentary on current issues--instead of creationists, fundamentalists focus on the biblical idea of the Firmament and the
iconology of Noah's Ark saving the select and holy. And instead of inevitable climate change is a spreading adapatable alien organism. The internet (toynet) is more pervasive, and private virtual worlds (think second life) are more alluring. Jenny is a shy scion of a politically major family (think
Joshua Zucker
Good fun, with some good drama and a whole bunch of subplots.

Something about it felt a little odd, like I was walking on the surface of something much deeper, but the characters weren't giving me glimpses into what was going on. Maybe I should say that the characters didn't feel as real as they should; despite the protagonist's point of view, it often felt like it was the narration of a plot and she never really FELT things, only DID things.

Still, a somewhat updated, rather Heinlein-esque story,
I was disappointed. I have loved Slonczewski's previous work, and was very much looking forward to this one. However, it went very slowly for me- both because of its length, and its lack of focus.

It would have helped to prioritize the plot elements somewhat. What is this? A story about going to college and living away from home for the first time? one of alien invasion? one of global politics? of culture clashes? a romance? All these were elements, yet none seemed to be especially important comp
Susie Munro
Content note: discussion of sexual assault.

Really conflicted about this one. I enjoy hard scifi, and it can be pretty difficult to access novels both written by women and featuring a female protagonists and is written by a woman. There are lots of very good things about this novel: a neat and well thought out future socio-political environment, a young woman protagonist who you know just enough about to sympathise with, pretty decent portrayals of neuroatypical and diverse characters and some ni
From the dust-cover, I thought this might be my kind of book. I like futuristic novels and novels about colleges so this should have been my cup of tea. But I could only read about 10 pages and got so lost in all the verbiage and "newness" of the world the character lived in that I lost interest. Back to the library!
Part hilarious tongue-in-cheek political/academic satire, part contemplation of gender roles, part touching coming-of-age story, all set in the distant future with a delightful plot and characters. Delicious! (And it even has a riff on the dangers of early weaning!)
Chris Duval
This book has several nods to SF of the past. Explicitly it mentions 'Seldons' (Asimov's Foundation series) as electoral poll meters and slanball (Van Vogt, Slan), a game played by mental touches only. Overall it reminds me of the Brunner novels of the early 1970s in that the protagonist backs into the grand, and sickly, politics of her times, and, with the help of great technology, starts to set things aright. The cover note says it is like a Heinlein juvenile, but this is more of a stretch for ...more
Sarah S
Presents some interesting ideas about politics and science, but the writing is shaky enough that I almost put the book down after 40 pages.
The world Slonczewski has created here is fascinating. A really well done believable near future I wouldn't want to live in.

The story is about Jenny, who has gone away to college. Her college is in orbit. Jenny meets her roommate. Jenny meets a boy. Jenny dates a boy. Jenny has conversations with her parents and relatives. Jenny votes in elections. Jenny plays ball games. Really, that's about all that happens. A year in the life of Jenny. There is no real story, no plot. It's dull, and such a di
I grew up in a small farming community in Oregon, so when I left for university--with a student body three times that of my hometown--it's reasonable to say that it was an intimating experience. THE HIGHEST FRONTIER by Joan Slonczewski reminded me about those first overwhelming months. Except with way cooler stuff.

Fast forward to several decades in the future and Jenny Ramos Kennedy, a girl from a rich and politically powerful family, is beginning her freshman year at Frontera College--a school

She's still alive? (author of classic feminist novel A Door into Ocean). First chapter seemed packed with ideas, but looks long. Space elevators made from anthrax. And HIV used for health.

Podcast interview. Interesting. Maybe she can talk to me while I read the book.

She says this book is structured like a best selling Harry Potter book (and yet not YA). Reviews seem to differ. But it sounds like it has a lot of interesting ideas.

Author's blog (she's a bio
(3.5 stars)

(originally reviewed on starmetal oak book blog)

I've come away from The Highest Frontier feeling very dichotomous about the book. Overall, I did enjoy this book very much but I alo had some reservations.

I'll start by saying that there are many awesome things Slonczewski did with this story. It follows Jenny Ramos Kennedy, a college student from a family of politicians and presidents, who loves plants and goes to study at Frontera College. Frontera is located in a spacehab ('space ha
On the jacket of “The Highest Frontier” (Tor, $26.99, 443 pages), there’s a reference to Robert Heinlein’s young adult novels of the ‘60s – but the gap between Heinlein’s not-always sunny world view and that of Joan Slonczewski some 50+ years later makes the comparison almost meaningless.

Heinlein, for all his dyspepsia about the human condition, still looked at humanity and saw better times ahead. There were solutions to problems, and in the end, ingenuity, grit and a touch of heroism would win
Lianne Burwell
I wish GoodReads had an option for half stars, since this book was better than most three star books, but not quite good enough for four stars for me.

Jenny is the daughter of a presidential family (where the US presidency is verging of being hereditary, like the Bush/Clintons were starting to feel), whose twin brother has died. She's going off to college in a space station, since Earth has been ravaged by climate change and an alien organism centralized to Salt Lake.

It extrapolates current trend
Brilliant. A slow start, but it shaped up nicely. In themes, and in scope, it felt like Harry Potter in space. You had the escape to a indistinguishable-from-magical world that's scary and dangerous, a bunch of hard courses and mentors, parties throughout the year, and a cool aerial sport at which our protagonist happens to be spectacularly skilled. It was a formula that worked. As for the world-building, I eventually got over the talk of "ToyNet" and "games" (how juvenile! but perhaps a jab at ...more
Megan (Book Brats)
It has been ten years since Joan Slonczewski’s THE CHILDREN STAR, but the author is back with a bang with the recently released THE HIGHEST FRONTIER. Delving into a rather new arena with a story focused on the exploits of a girl born to leaders, cloned from leaders, and destined to be a leader as she enters her first year of college in a space habitat orbiting Earth, Slonczewski enters a new frontier for her writing easily, but not without a few hiccups.

I should preface this review by saying tha
Rena McGee
The Highest Frontier is a far future science fiction novel involving a young woman named Jenny Ramos-Kennedy. She is part of a rich and politically influential family in a world with astonishing technological and biological advances and an environment drastically affected by global warming. (The polar icecaps have melted to the point where Antarctica now has potentially arable land.) This is also a world undergoing an invasion by an extraterrestrial species referred to as “ultraphytes.” These cr ...more
If you're in the mood for science fiction jam-packed with speculation, ideas, and a lively and often satirical wit, I recommend Joan Slonczewski’s John W. Campbell Award winner The Highest Frontier, which Tor brought out in 2011. You get a space elevator, an alien invasion that has made parts of Earth nearly uninhabitable, a space habitat powered by microbes, a realistically disorienting and all-pervasive Internet-like system (Toynet), a troubled and intelligent protagonist (Jennifer Kennedy Ram ...more
Okay, let's get this out of the way: Slonczewski is my favorite writer currently writing works of science fiction. I am highly disposed to adore anything that she writes. But there were so many things going on in this novel that at times even I wondered if she was going to be able to pull it all together in the end. (Spoiler alert: she did.)

The very basics of the story: It's one hundred years in the future. Jenny Kennedy is now the only daughter of a powerful and very political family. Reeling f

I was pretty sure I knew what I wanted to say about Joan Slonczewski's The Highest Frontier, but then a blog post by the author threw a spanner in the works. See, I thought that The Highest Frontier was intended as a Young Adult book; that's what they said when I first heard of it, on The Coode Street Podcast.

I was going to talk about how impressed I was with Slonczewski's imagined young adult reader, who I too
Jim Dressner
This book is full of ideas about what the future could be like: brains wired into a wireless internet, global warming and environmental degradation, space stations tethered to earth, genetically-modified virus and bacteria (HIV and anthrax have been helpfully modified), all-pervasive entertainment, taxes being paid through gambling, and polling & campaigning being linked so closely that elections are all tied, the mixing of English and Spanish.

However, I found much of this obscured by the fo
Hugo candidate for sure. There are echoes of Heinlein in the premise--teenager heading off for a college in orbit and rising to every challenge from juggling classwork and a demanding athletic coach (the game is a cross between soccer and quidditch) and being hit with a date rape drug to experiencing both alien invasion and more than one habitat-wide disaster--and in the way the author takes potshots at politicians (there's a wonderful running joke that has the President of the US commending som ...more
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FABClub (Female A...: The Highest Frontier Discussion (Dec 2011/Jan 2012) 22 20 Feb 28, 2012 01:23PM  
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Joan Lyn Slonczewski is an American microbiologist at Kenyon College and a science fiction writer who explores biology and space travel. Her books have twice earned the John W. Campbell award for best science fiction novel: The Highest Frontier (2012) and A Door into Ocean (1987). With John W. Foster she coauthors the textbook, Microbiology: An Evolving Science (W. W. Norton).
More about Joan Slonczewski...
A Door Into Ocean Brain Plague The Children Star Daughter of Elysium The Wall Around Eden

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