Steven Gould's 1993 YA novel Jumper was a spectacular success (even if the film "adaptation" stank on ice), and each of the (all-too-infrequent) sequels have raised both the stakes and the bar for a must-read series. But with Exo, published today, Gould takes his game into orbit -- literally.

The genius of the Jumper books is the way that Gould uses them as a playing-field for a Randall-Munroe-grade game of What If? Jumper told the story of Davy Rice, who discovers that he can teleport, and then asks how a bright kid from a screwed-up family would try every possible intelligent thing to exploit, master, and then use his talent for good. It's the kind of thing that made Heinlein's best young adult novels so great: the perfect marriage of a cracking, crackling adventure story with hard science that it perfectly woven into the plot, but still fascinating in its own right.

Exo (which is really the sequel to 2013's Impulse), is Gould's most Heinleinian venture to date, a rethinking of the premise of Have Spacesuit, Will Travel, Heinlein's 1958 novel about a teenager who builds a functional space-suit as a hobby project and then finds himself actually taken into space. Spacesuit is an advanced engineering textbook disguised as a young adult novel, and it's a hymn to maker culture and a call-to-arms for young tinkerers to take up tools and get hacking.

Like Impulse, Exo concerns itself with the adventures of Cent (short for Millicent), Davy and Millie's teenaged daughter, who has inherited her parents' teleportation ability. Cent, a bright, home-schooled kid (her abortive attempt to attend high-school having been cut short by the ruthless semi-governmental billionaire who wants to use her and her family to his advantage, this being the story of Impulse), is going stir-crazy. Her parents' projects — using teleportation for humanitarian aid and similar — are off-limits to her as too dangerous, and without a project, she's likely to do something stupid. When you're a teenaged teleport, "something stupid" takes on a whole new dimension.

So her parents give her leave to create her own space program. You see, Cent has figured out how to use the momentum-creating and momentum-cancelling properties of teleportation — these being natural consequences of teleportation itself, because otherwise how you could blip around the world without being torn to pieces when you land on a surface moving thousands of km/h relative to your previous position — to fly, and has gotten to the upper limit of her travel capability, and she wants to get higher. She needs a space-suit.

Being a genius-grade teleport kid has its advantages. Teleports have lots of interesting ways to earn untraceable cash (this being delightfully explored in previous volumes), and any smart kid can use the net to find the intersection of "promising spacesuit researchers" and "researchers who have just lost their funding," and that's how Cent finds Cory Matoska, whose amazing spacesuit breakthroughs have inspired his petty dean to fire him in a bid to take credit for the work.

Cent and Cory embark in earnest upon a project to perfect his spacesuit, and once Cory has been let in on Cent's abilities, they are able to conduct human trials of the suit without the need for a launch vehicle, which is an advantage every space engineer has daydreamed of. Gould does more than daydream, though: he takes this contrafactual — "what if you could simply blip into space by thinking" — and uses it to fuel a plot driven by equal parts orbital physics, new materials science, engineering practice, and heart-pounding danger.

Yes, danger. The evil forces who've dogged Davy and his family since Jumper are back, and even more ruthless than ever. Like the good guys, the bad guys are smart, and capable, and Gould uses the same rigorous extrapolation of the possibilities of teleportation to figure out what you would do if you were powerful, unethical, well-resourced, and determined to capture and enslave a family of teleports. The tricks the bad guys pull are every bit as impressive as the stuff the good guys get.

All this makes for heady, zippy, fabulous reading. As William Gibson puts it in Conversations With William Gibson, writers in the pulp tradition "can do fucking plot" — they've "still got wheels on their tractors." And like Gibson, Gould uses that plot as an engine to pull some intense, massive freight: not only does Exo cover space-junk, space-medicine, geopolitics, gender politics, and some totally badass network OPSEC; it also tells an intensely human story about love, honor, loyalty, betrayal and family.

Some of the Jumper novels have been marketed as young adult, others as adult fiction. This could be either — though there are some intense torture scenes that might be hard on the youngest readers — but it's marketed as adult. And while it reads well as a stand-alone, it's even better in the context of the earlier volumes: Jumper, Reflex and Impulse.

And if you still hunger for more Gould when this one is done (I think you will), try his brilliant high-tech western YA novel Seventh Sigma, which is terribly overdue for another installment. I fear we may have a long wait; Gould is part of the writing team for the next three Avatar movies, which bodes well for those films, even if it means fans of his novels may have to wait unconscionable periods for their fix.


-Cory Doctorow