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The Highest Frontier

3.43  ·  Rating Details  ·  359 Ratings  ·  94 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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Buddy Holly is Alive and Well on Ganymede by Bradley DentonRendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. ClarkeThe Highest Frontier by Joan SlonczewskiStrange Bodies by Marcel TherouxThe Dervish House by Ian McDonald
The John W. Campbell Memorial Award
3rd out of 45 books — 5 voters
Cordelia's Honor by Lois McMaster BujoldStarshine by G.S. JennsenPrimary Inversion by Catherine AsaroThe Warrior's Apprentice by Lois McMaster BujoldBorders of Infinity by Lois McMaster Bujold
Female Hard SF Writers
31st out of 149 books — 34 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,039)
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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
Jessica Strider
Aug 04, 2015 Jessica Strider rated it really liked it
The Highest Frontier by Joan Slonczewski

Pros: interesting protagonist; fascinating world-building; thought provoking concepts

Cons: fair amount of repetition, especially at the beginning; several unexplained concepts and items, including one important to the plot

Jennifer Ramos Kennedy’s culture source was her great-grandmother, President Rosa Schwartz. A few months after a family tragedy she’s setting out for Frontera, a university on an orbiting space station. She chose it both because a family
Mar 10, 2013 Crystal rated it liked it
Shelves: abandoned
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
Nov 08, 2013 Wealhtheow rated it liked it
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
Joshua Zucker
May 04, 2012 Joshua Zucker rated it really liked it
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,
Catherine Siemann
Apr 03, 2015 Catherine Siemann rated it really liked it
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
Oct 12, 2011 Elliott Bäck rated it really liked it
Shelves: science-fiction
I would give it 5 stars, but for the endless repetition of "DIRG" and "amyloid".
Sep 13, 2011 Ove rated it it was amazing
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
Nov 26, 2012 kvon rated it really liked it
Shelves: book-club
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
Gin Jenny (Reading the End)
Jun 13, 2015 Gin Jenny (Reading the End) rated it really liked it
Science fiction written by scientists, I tell ya! I enjoyed this, although there's a big reveal at the end that seemed really super obvious and also like the characters should have done something about it before and it was pretty irresponsible for them not to. But apart from that, it was good science fiction and good first-year-at-a-university, which is always fun.
Stephanie Foust
Dec 28, 2015 Stephanie Foust rated it really liked it
A coming-of -age novel set in the 22nd century but it is so much more.The mayoral & presidential races parody current politics but this book foretells a future with great ecological destruction amid great scientific discoveries.Very highly recommended.
Mar 20, 2015 Louise rated it it was ok
Shelves: sf-hard
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
Elenora Rose Sabin
Sep 01, 2015 Elenora Rose Sabin rated it it was amazing
This novel has been called a coming of age story, but it is much more than that. When I read the first couple of chapters I thought the not-far-distant future it portrayed was much too far-fetched. But as I continued reading, I saw that Slonczewski was presenting a cautionary tale, in that the future she portrays in The Highest Frontier extrapolates from the present-day ideology and aspirations of an extreme but uncomfortably sizable segment of our population. Dealing with politics, finance, cli ...more
Jun 27, 2014 Cissa rated it liked it
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
Aug 14, 2015 Theres rated it liked it
So far: this book should come with a glossary. I have a hard time with sci fi that has lots of unfamiliar things in it. I can't just go with the flow, I'm like, what's this? What does it look like? What's happening? And the descriptions in the book weren't enough for me or I missed them because I accidentally skimmed.
Also, what's up with their shoelaces??
UPDATE 126: It's funny because it's so addictive to read, and yet I feel like I've been reading for ages and then realize I've only read 10 pag
This is the last book I was assigned to read in my science fiction class. Thank God the teacher saved one of the best for last. This book reads a lot like an adult version of Harry Potter but science fiction instead of fantasy. That may be one reason I loved it so much, I am a huge HP fan. I am hoping this book is the first in a trilogy for Slonczewski because while the story is good, it is also a little bare. She spends a lot of her time world building her Earth and spacehabs of 2112. While the ...more
Nov 08, 2011 Tamlyn rated it did not like it
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!
May 16, 2015 Allie rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jan 24, 2012 Cicely rated it really liked it
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
Jul 04, 2014 Chris Duval rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Feb 06, 2016 Eric rated it liked it
Shelves: sf
There were a lot of very interesting ideas in this novel. On the back cover it was touted as a modern Heinlein young-adult novel. If true, then it makes me a little sad for the young adults. It was often challenging for me to follow the seamless attention jumps from one conversation or event to another. It ended up feeling disconnected and disorienting. Add in the complex biology (the author is a Biology professor) and it was more of a slog than I usually put up with. I kept hoping that it would ...more
Sarah S
Feb 13, 2016 Sarah S rated it liked it
Shelves: science-fiction
Presents some interesting ideas about politics and science, but the writing is shaky enough that I almost put the book down after 40 pages.
Apr 27, 2016 Mantelli rated it liked it
I'm of two minds about this book. There was a lot of interesting, original material and I felt interested enough to finish, but it just didn't quite win me over. Maybe it was the many pages devoted to the invented sport of slanball, which I skimmed as quickly as possible. Maybe it was the heavy emphasis on the Aristotelian theory of politics. Maybe it was the complexities of the ubiquitous Toynet, the universal data network that dominates the lives of everyone in the novel. Somehow this book, th ...more
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
Feb 13, 2012 Vanessa rated it really liked it
Shelves: sciene-fiction
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
Oct 30, 2011 Lisa rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2011
(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
Clay Kallam
Jul 15, 2012 Clay Kallam rated it liked it
Shelves: sf-fantasy
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
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FABClub (Female A...: The Highest Frontier Discussion (Dec 2011/Jan 2012) 22 21 Feb 28, 2012 01:23PM  
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  • Genesis
  • The Islanders
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  • Probability Space (Probability, #3)
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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...

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