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The Highest Frontier

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3.43  ·  Rating details ·  417 ratings  ·  103 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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3.43  · 
Rating details
 ·  417 ratings  ·  103 reviews


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Stefan
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 Tor.com here.

Now, ten years after her last novel, Joan Slonczewski returns with The Highest Frontier, another insightful explorati
...more
Sarah
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
...more
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".
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
...more
Wealhtheow
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,
...more
Vicki
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.
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
Ove
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
...more
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
...more
Crystal
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
kvon
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
...more
Alexa
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
Tamlyn
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!
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.
Cicely
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!)
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
...more
Unwisely
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
...more
Whitney
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.
Silyara
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.
Beth
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.
Laura
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.
Micaelasofia
Too many characters and too little description, it gets confusing!
its too bad though its a facinating concept!
...more
Dan Henne
The middle was little long but an interesting look at the future.
Vanessa
Jan 02, 2012 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
...more
Clay Kallam
Jul 15, 2012 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
...more
Megan
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
...more
Lisa
Aug 18, 2011 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
...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
...more
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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).