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The Highest Frontier

3.43  ·  Rating details ·  434 ratings  ·  110 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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Average rating 3.43  · 
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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
Camelia Rose
Mar 31, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A GR friend says nowadays dystopian science fictions read like non-fictions. I agree, and The Highest Frontier is one of them.

The story is set 90 years in the future. At a glance, the future world looks good, technologically and biologically advanced. Humans have built sustainable habitats in the earth's lower orbit; cyborgs are every day existence; HIV has been tamed to fight diseases; genetic engineering everywhere, even in humans; human brains can be connected to virtual network through "bra
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
Elliott Bäck
Oct 12, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science-fiction
I would give it 5 stars, but for the endless repetition of "DIRG" and "amyloid". ...more
Jessica Strider
Jul 23, 2015 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
Sep 19, 2013 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
Joshua Zucker
May 04, 2012 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,
Liz Henry
Nov 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I love this book and think it's hilarious. No one mentions the humor! Well, as far as a book about facing disasters can be funny, it is. I also love that so many of the characters end up revealing different disabilities -- asking for and getting accommodations. There are super clear echoes of Hurricane Katrina here so if you are interested in people's responses to disaster (both long-unfolding climate disasters and short term crisis) you will get a good hard look at disabled university students ...more
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. ...more
Aug 01, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: sf
This was between 3 and 4 stars for me. I liked it enough that I will read more of the author's books, but didn't love it--or did I? Right after this, I read a YA book about young people of the same age, and The Highest Frontier is ridiculously better written.

Our heroine, Jenny, is the scion of politically-prominent families who have contributed several American presidents. She has relatives in the current presidential race on both sides, and that race is a major plot element. There is a definite
Aug 21, 2011 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
Catherine Siemann
Mar 20, 2015 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
Feb 12, 2012 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
Dec 22, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Oct 17, 2012 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
Jan 10, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a perfect read for me. Slonczewski throws you right into her built world with no interpretation at all; just the intellectual challenge I adore. (Oh how I hate long-winded patronizing exposition!) It is a multi-layered satire of politics, academia, and environmental devastation. Her ability to poke fun at issues that deeply concern her amazes me. What truly caught my attention though is her exploration of gender roles. This is a story about a very shy young woman who prefers to work in ...more
Nov 08, 2011 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! ...more
Jan 23, 2012 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!)
Stephanie Foust
Dec 25, 2015 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.
Sarah S
Nov 25, 2011 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.
Peter Goodman

“The Highest Frontier,” by Joan Slonczewski (Tor, 2011). Another book written by a scientist which takes the science beyond where I’d like to go. In this case, Slonczewski is chair of biology at Kenyon College, and the center of the book is about DNA, RNA, cellular biology and evolution. It’s set in a not-too-distant future where human civilization on earth is slowly being swallowed by global warming (more and more of the planet is underwater), but AI seems to be advancing exponentially. Everyon
Oct 20, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: paused
This was a disappointing read. I read two of her previous novels some time ago and enjoyed them so it seemed reasonable that I would likely enjoy this one as well. However, after I read nearly half the book, I had to admit that this one just didn’t hold my attention. I kept waiting for a strong plot line to kick in to motivate me but, as of halfway, it didn’t happen. I did enjoy her continued use of biologically built buildings and that she expanded this to computer printing of pretty much anyth ...more
Jul 26, 2017 rated it did not like it
I am a sucker for a pull-quote about Heinlein, but I got less far in this book than the last one I failed out on (p. 264, ca ~60%). (I was going to make a joke comparing this to one of the terrible Heinleins, but I finished all of those.)

The set up could've been interesting but I didn't really care about any of the characters or the situation and bleh.

There was one pretty good jab about the protagonist (freshman in college) who had never gotten a grade below an A+++ before, but, man, couldn't m
Feb 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Extremely well written, thoughtful, and complex. It's a diverse and living world populated with flawed three dimensional characters. Science fiction that feels real like our world, rich in the details that make life life, where some have changed and look unfamiliar but feel familiar. It doesn't pull punches with the commentary its themes make toward everyone and all the choices we make. ...more
Sep 23, 2018 rated it did not like it
Shelves: dnf
I can see the appeal, but for me, this book just screamed, "trying too hard."

The sentence structure/dialogue/ideas were all fine, and seemed put together well, but this was a case of so much info dump without explaining, that it grew exhausting trying to read. I liked the idea, which makes this a letdown, since I couldn't get past the first fourth.
Jun 22, 2019 rated it really liked it
Kind of a coming of age/ going away to school story. Jenny is the heir to one of America's most famous political families but she wants to study biology. She starts college at the world's first university in space and then has to navigate a bunch of weird events while keeping up with classes, playing a sport, and dealing with new friends. There's also an alien terrorist and a flood. ...more
Dec 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Just like every Slonczewski I’ve read so far, this was a very odd, compelling, and thought-provoking read. Her environmental angles are always both sharp and nuanced. Plenty of interesting ideas about the future without tedious Now I Am Worldbuilding passages. Highly recommend if the summary sounds good to you.
Jul 15, 2017 rated it liked it
This one didn't really hit me. It feels kind of YA. It's just not what I expected. ...more
Too many characters and too little description, it gets confusing!
it´s too bad though it´s a facinating concept!
Dan Henne
The middle was little long but an interesting look at the future.
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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).

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