Rite of Passage Author:Alexei Panshin In 2198, one hundred and fifty years after the desperate wars that destroyed an over-populated Earth, Man lives precariously on a hundred hastily-established colony worlds and in the seven giant Ships that once ferried men to the stars. — Mia Havero's Ship is a small, closed society. It tests its children by casting them out to live or die in... more » a month Trial in the hostile wilds of a colony world. Mia Havero's Trial is fast approaching and in the meantime she must learn not only the skills that will keep her alive but the deeper courage to face herself and the world.« less
Rite of Passage by Alexei Panshin was one of my favorite books when I was a teenager, so it seems like a total shame that kids now don't seem to be reading it much. The story is set about 150 years after the Earth became uninhabitable do to overpopulation, famine and war. Mia Havero, who is eleven years old when the book starts, lives aboard one of several large, city sized ships that escaped Earth before its final destruction. Numerous colonies have also been set up on various planets. One thing that surprised me upon rereading was how unlikable Mia sometimes is. She's prickly, impatient and intolerant. She throws around the word "mudeaters", the slur the ship dwellers use to denigrate the people who live on the planets. She is smart and arrogant. But she's also brave and intellectually curious. In a closed society like the Ship's, there is little disease, few accidents and people live a very, very long time, so population control is of prime importance to the ship's counsel. One of the ways this is effected is through "The Trial". When kids turn fourteen, they are put down on a planet and have to survive for a month. They are given extensive survivalist training in order to ensure that a good number make it through.
By the end of the book, we view the Ship as being a kind of lazy Death Star without the histrionics, Nazi iconography and ultra-militarism. Ship society has become decadent, complacent and arrogant (much as Mia was at the beginning of the book). No one creates any new art, they take resources from and exert ultimate control (via the threat of nuclear annihilation) over the planet colonies, withholding technology from the hard-scrabble, mostly rural planet dwellers. What's so interesting, and feels so real about the book is that Mia's father who is a firm supporter of all the policies outlined above, is also in the ordinary, day to day sense, a very nice man. Everyone thinks they are right and working for the ultimate good in their own quiet way. There is no mustache twirling, no clear villains and no easy solutions. There's no rebellion of the planet dwellers creating a new egalitarian society. There's just one girl's awakening to the fact that the way her Ship operates isn't right and that she will do what she can to change things. If I've made this sound overly dry, I apologize. Though Panshin is a slightly chilly writer emotionally, Mia's month long Trial is super exciting (and - bonus! consequence-free teen sex!) and her adventures aboard ship are loads of fun, and there's lots of regular coming of age stuff with friends and school. The title "Rite of Passage" may be heavy handed, but the book isn't.