Don’t you hate it when you can’t remember the name of something? Of course you do. Everyone does.
I’ve been looking for the name of a book for a number of years now. Every now and again, I Google a few things about a plot in the vain hope that I’ll be able to find something that will point me in the right direction, but because I can’t remember anything specific such as names of characters or places, or anything that would lead me to a title or ISBN, I don’t ever find anything.
Still, I Google.
What’s even more frustrating is that even though I can describe the plot is great detail, everywhere I’ve asked hasn’t been able to name the book that I’m talking about.
I don’t really care about the book itself. Even if I did find the title I probably wouldn’t be able to buy a copy. The only physical copy that I did read was probably destroyed, or exists in a place I no longer have access to. But still, it grates that I can remember everything about the plot, but nothing about the actual book.
I’ve included a detailed plot description of the book below. If you’ve read the book, recognise the plot, and remember the title, get in touch.
It’s the story of a guy on a different planet, who’s been sent to some space academy for training. It’s the last one of the tests he has to pass to become some sort of cadet, and despite the fact that he’s human, he’s passed each of the tests thrown at him extremely convincingly. (The book is set in a universe in the future, where other intelligent species have been discovered and co-exist with humans. The planet that they’re on is not in the same solar system as Earth.) The last test that he must now face is the hardest one of all: he’s essentially dropped off in the middle of nowhere and has to make it back to the academy. With limited water and supplies, it’s going to take everything he’s got to make it back alive due to the harsh conditions of the planet (it’s a desert, with very low humidity — the book makes special mention of this after he sustains a cut, saying “and with [the planet’s] low humidity, there was no risk of infection”. ). But there’s a twist, something he doesn’t know about: a sandstorm (or some other catastrophic weather event) is about to hit, which will truly test the limits of his ability to survive. The person that drops him off in some sort of chopper is his “mentor”, who has overseen his entire education at the academy.
There’s a bit where he realises a sandstorm is about to hit (something about sudden drops in temperature, or the wrong temperature for that particular time of day), and he has to take shelter in a hole in the ground, covered on the top by a thin layer of silt or something.
Anyway, he’s survived the sandstorm and is on his way back when he sees some sort of jet — a scout — fly overhead. He puts two and two together, and realises that their planet, a lonely outpost on the edge of space, is being invaded. The jet’s heading towards the south pole, to the base where the academy teachers spend their vacation.
He starts heading back towards the academy with more haste. On the way, he almost dies from thirst but as he’s about to die from dehydration, his head plunges into a plant, a native plant to the planet which has roots that hold water — the book then describes him as sucking from the root to extract a few measly drops of water for his parched lips. Refreshed and reinvigorated, he continues his journey towards his academy — north.
The mentor that dropped the main character off earlier checks on another student, the student described in the next paragraph. The girl offers him a drink of water — a gesture notable because she too is undergoing the penultimate survival test, one where she has has to camp out for some duration with a limited food and water, after which she will be picked up and taken back to the academy. He declines, but asks her about her supplies. She replies saying her food and water resources have proved adequate so far. Satisfied, the mentor boards his chopper and starts heading back towards the academy.
On the way back to the academy, the main protagonist encounters another cadet. She’s not human, but instead a very beautiful species with pale blue skin. She’s currently undertaking her second-last test, another survival test where she has to camp away from the academy for some period of time. He tells her the bad news, and they set off together. This girl is special and different because she has some kind of sixth-sense, she can sense danger (or some other aspect of her environment). Some kind of intuition.
When they reach the academy, they discover it’s been obliterated. Completely vapourised by some kind of ion-based weapon that leaves no trace, except a crater in the ground where the academy once stood. There’s nothing left, and everyone they knew on the planet is now gone. At this point, they think they’re the only two survivors from the attack, but there’s a third: the mentor from earlier.
There’s a part where the two of them the only survivors of this attack are gazing up at the stars above, reflecting about their hopes and dreams. The guy says he wanted to a freighter pilot for some company which has the equivalent of an all-access to every part of a galaxy. The guy then asks the girl about where she comes from, and if she can point it out in the stars. Later, after the girl has gone to bed, he looks towards the star called Sol, the ninth planet of which is Earth. They’re both cadets in an academy that either trains inter-stellar freighter pilots or fighter pilots, I forget which one.
There’s a pumphouse near the crater left by the academy. There’s some residual water in the pipes which the main protagonist drinks, then they find a moon-buggy type vehicle (as depicted on the cover of the novel that I read), the one with the massive wheels. It’s still got power, and with that, the two characters form a plan: head towards the south pole, find out what’s going on and who’s attacking the planet, and see what’s going on. But then they notice tyre tracks, and a missing buggy: it’s their mentor, who apparently has the same idea that they do. They decide to follow him, but driving on the planet is hard and their mentor is more experienced than they are: catching up to him will be hard.
They take it in turns driving. On the way, disaster strikes: the guy is driving with the girl resting when they hit one of the pits mentioned earlier. They’re thrown out of the buggy, and either the girl or guy breaks their leg. They manage to splint it, but the buggy isn’t going anywhere. Luckily for them, their mentor comes back and rescues them (how, I can’t remember, and now that I think about it, it might have been the mentor that broke their leg, I’m not entirely sure).
So they set off. On the way though, the fighter jet they passed for earlier comes back. They dive out of the vehicle mere moments before it too is obliterated, vapourised, by a smaller version of the weapon that was used to destroy the academy. With no vehicle and limited supplies, they start to make the journey.
They’re at the south pole of the planet (whose environment is much more lush than the rest of the planet, which is dry and hot) when they see it: a massive mothership of some kind, a ship that holds even more of the smaller, more agile fighters they encountered earlier. But there’s a bigger problem: the teachers lodge is now swarming in (?) enemies of some kind, who seem like they’re preparing for some kind of full-scale assault.
I don’t remember much from this point. I know the main entrance of the ship is protected by some kind of force-field, but the two students manage to get on board somehow. They climb through a ducting system, and realise that sabotage is the only way to bring down the ship. The ship has some kind of space/warp/antimatter drive that means if they turn some wingnuts the right direction, it will set off some kind of chain-reaction, resulting in the destruction of the ship. On the way to the engine bay, they pass a cafeteria. The girl can sense the engine room using her sixth-sense, and when they get there, it’s weird because this flux/warp/space/antimatter drive produces no sound, only a gentle hum.
The guy climbs down the ducts, and onto the top of the engine. There’s some kind of putty that he has to remove before he can turn the wingnut/bolt, which he does, and he realises that he’s turning it the wrong way at first, then the right way – but things start to get very noisy.
The two students escape the mothership via the fighter jet bays — there are chutes which automatically deliver them into the cockpit of a fighter jet, and that’s how they escape. They come across a friendly vessel, which they hail by saying something like “if you see an enemy fighter on your scopes, please do not open fire. I repeat, please do no open fire: I mean you no harm, and can hardly keep this thing flying in a straight line”.
The story ends by the good guys picking up the injured mentor on the planet. Both cadets pass their exams with flying colours and are awarded the highest commendation, with the main protagonist also getting an invitation to fly for one of the most prestigious freighter companies in the galaxy, which was always his original dream.