Allison's Book Bag

Captain Justo from the Planet IS by Stephen Miller

Posted on: January 4, 2014

If you’d grown up in the Miller household, you would have heard a spellbinding story of space travel. As many authors before him, Stephen Miller originally told Captain Justo from the Planet IS to his children as a bedtime story. As his children grew up, the tale started to change and so Miller decided to write it down before the story was lost forever. A marathon work of almost 400 pages, Captain Justo from the Planet IS held my attention from page one.

Reading Captain Justo brought me back to my childhood days when I enjoyed science fiction by author greats such as Jules Verne and H.G. Wells. Captain Justo has everything you’d expect from the genre. It has aliens. The main character, Justo, is a young prince who inherits his family’s most prized star ship. It has bad guys and space vortices. When Justo’s attacked by enemy pirates, he’s forced to escape through an uncharted portal. It has a robot and other futuristic inventions. Boom is a robot navigator for Justo, who by the way doesn’t recognize Justo’s true identity, and so argues about pretty much every action Justo takes. In a surprise twist, there turns out to be a reason for Boom’s obstinacy. And, no, it’s not that Boom is a traitor. Crazy Legs is a holograph, who’s been created from the DNA strands of three humans, but only matures into a useful ship mate after jazz is played. It also recognizes the existence of different customs between planets, such as IS and Earth. For example, IS uses music as their navigational system, which leaves its ship vulnerable to rock music. Then there are the Dream Teachers, which Justo gives to the two boys whom he meets on Earth to help prepare them for space travel.

As I grew up and my reading tastes changed, I began losing interest in the pure genre stories and start preferring stories which mixed things up. Captain Justo nicely does the latter. It’s about the sibling rivalry between Christopher and Daniel, the sole brothers in a large family of girls. As the older son, Christopher is expected to take on a leadership role, which in this story means he’s the one who seeks out the space ship and lands the two boys in a heap of trouble. As the younger son, Daniel is spoiled, and almost gets the two boys killed because he refuses initially to provide help to the stranded space crew. It has bullies. Benny comes from a family where the Dad is in prison and the Mom works two jobs, which means all of her children run wild. When Benny sees the gold space craft and later the gold Dream Teachers, he stops at nothing to steal them. Christopher has to learn how to fight in creative ways, because he’s the weaker opponent. What I appreciate most is how effectively morals and adventure are interwoven. This isn’t a story simply about space travel. But it’s also not a diatribe about bullies. It’s an entertaining tale with a heart for goodness.

In the midst of its aliens and vortices, Captain Justo feels real to life in many ways. Where it failed for me is in its depiction of the government and the military. I’m reminded of one of my least favorite scenes in the movie ET, where government agents ascend upon Elliott’s house. The agents felt like a mass of bees. None of them were ever individuals. The same holds true here, where agents visit the Sterling home at random times and issue random threats. None of them compare to sympathetic agents like Deep Throat in X-Files or hateful warriors like Khan in Star Trek. They might wave IDs, talk big, and shoot weapons, but they feel like boring nuisances instead of real and memorable threats.

Captain Justo from the Planet IS took Stephen Miller fifteen years to write and bring to publication. In his interview with me, he talks about “having to think hard and long and cut many parts out to get a well-rounded book”. The effort is worth it in mind, because I enjoyed this lengthy read and look forward to its sequels.

My rating? Read it: Borrow from your library or a friend. It’s worth your time.

How would you rate this book?

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