Higher Education

Reviewer: Jake Beal

Author: Charles Sheffield and Jerry Pournelle

Published: 1996

Reviewed: 2005-10-11

Publisher: Tor Books

I admit it, I'm a sucker for space cadet books. The grueling
space-worthiness tests that the main character does badly at
(especially the mental bits), yet proves exceptional in the area that
really counts. The terrifying, grizzled instructors who turn out to
be the best, most loving thing that ever happened to the kid. The
cockiness and fights between males contesting rights to a girl or a
seat or something equally meaningless. The calculus homework. The
inevitable terrible accident proving the deadliness of space. The
pluckiness and initiative at just the right moment to save everybody.

"Higher Education" has it all in spades, with a heavy dose of naive
libertarianism thrown in there for extras. Is it any wonder that it
was published serially in Analog before it was published as a novel?
In the world of "Higher Education", the big bad government has dumbed
down the school systems in the name of equality because the education
system is a monopoly and monopolies only exist to propagate
themselves. Gah! That sort of pseudo-logic makes my teeth hurt.

Anyway, we get to see the progress of a bunch of kids from over-sexed
proles to good corporate citizens, with all the requisite bits and
pieces you'd expect on the way---learning to help each other, not
having enough time to do all the homework assigned, etc. And then
(spoiler warning!) at the end the main character gets recruited to
join the company secret police who are teaming up with their corporate
competitors to infiltrate Earth's education systems and liberate the
world. Gag me with a spoon.

In the end, "Higher Education" is a fine space cadet yarn, executed
with good craft but no real substance. Read it as a snack if you're a
sucker like me, but don't bother until you've read Robert Heinlein's
"Space Cadet" and "Starship Troopers", not to mention "Ender's Game"
by Orson Scott Card and a few things by Allen Steele.