Flashback Fridays: Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft . . .

You’re a girl starting your life over on a research space station, meeting new people, discovering a new world and  . . . smuggling aboard your own secret. But something even more exciting is going on–there’s been an alien craft spotted in the solar system, and the citizens of Earth are gathering to decide what to do.

Do you remember:

Barbary by Vonda N. McIntyre (1986, Houghton Mifflin)

Sometimes I wonder what happened to the days when you could have an under 200 page science fiction story for kids  that wasn’t silly hijinks and outrageous aliens.  When you could create a perfectly valid space drama for young readers that took a reasonable look at space stations and first contact without ever losing the human element.  By today’s standards I suspect this slim SF novel would be considered too lightweight and in need of more padding–but the lovely aspect of these books is that they were accessible for younger readers and not too much commitment or complication.

Barbary is a young tween girl who is on her own, except for her furry friend, Mickey.  Now she’s being sent to live with her mother’s old friend on the research space station, Einstein  and start her life over in a new environment entirely.  Trouble is, Mickey’s not invited, and Barbary doesn’t want to lose her precious cat.  So she manages to smuggle him aboard the space station.  But keeping the cat a secret on board the station may not be so easy.  While Barbary’s main concern might be finding a way to keep Mickey and make a new place for herself, most of the station is concerned with the strange space craft that’s moved into the solar system.  Dignitaries and leaders on Earth are trying to decide the best course of action and how to–or whether to –initiate contact.

When Barbary’s cat Mickey goes missing at a crucial time, the girl realizes he’s gone out on an exploration raft that headed towards the alien craft.  Now she’s got to get him back safely by breaking all the rules and going after him herself.  She certainly can’t let the aliens hurt Mickey!

It’s a perfectly middle grade story with a likeable protagonist.  Barbary may be a bit sullen and suspicious of others, but she’s got reason to be.  By the end of the story she’s beginning to open up and care about others  again.  Some readers are going to be thrown by the abrupt ending.  We are given the opportunity to see Barbary meet the aliens (and these are the mostly peaceful, well-meaning aliens who come to let Earth dwellers know the rules of travelling beyond their own planet) and that’s pretty much the end.  It’s not meant to be a complicated story, or a long winded plot.  The science is fairly straight forward but fairly realistic and logical based on the technology of the 1980s when this was written.

There’s a reason this is one of the books I have kept in my own library at home. It’s a great taste of 80’s science fiction, where most of the views of our future in space were fairly positive and upbeat rather than dystopian visions.  Plus, our main characters are female protagonists–and it seems lately that it’s harder to find good spacefaring adventures featuring girls in the lead roles.  A girl and her cat on an adventure of first contact–it’s the kind of thing that sparked my love of the genre back as a new reader.  Both the incredible science aspects and the human story taking place within it.

Vonda N. McIntyre is a graduate from the Clarion Science Fiction writers workshop and wrote a number of adult science fiction books, including several set in the Star Trek universe.  She won the Nebula and Hugo award for her book, Dreamsnake (1978).  As far as I know Barbary  may be her only foray into children’s science fiction, but it’s a solid contribution.  The author is still active in the fandom, and you can find out more about her recent activities on her website here.

What’s your favorite early science fiction read?  Comments welcome!


About Stephanie Whelan

I'm a children's librarian with a life-long love of all things science fiction and fantasy.

Posted on May 16, 2014, in Flashback Fridays, General Posts and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

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