This Place Has No Atmosphere By Paula Danziger

In the year 2057, zits and cliques are still around, but people live in malls, take classes in ESP, and get detention from robots!

Paula Danziger is best remembered for The Cat Ate My Gym Suit, a bright and funny book about serious issues typical of the 1970s (terrible dads, fatness, inspiring teachers who insist upon being addressed as “Ms.”), so I was surprised by both how lightweight the premise of this one was and the fact I had never heard of it.

The Plot: It’s a one-joke premise: Valley Girl on the moon.

Fifteen year old Aurora Borealis Williams is a sophomore at Alan Shepard High, and a member of the most popular clique on campus, the Turnips, so-called because they “turn up” at all the most happening places. Her parents are dentists who work for the government and she has a bratty younger sister named Starr. So, when her parents announce that the whole family will be moving to the moon as pioneers in the new space colony, Aurora thinks that it’s, like, totally unfair!

There is not too much to this one. Aurora and her family complete  moon-pioneer training camp, and then she has to adjust to being one of the 500 colonists under the glass dome of Luna City, and then convinces the city council to let her mount a production of Our Town with her classmates, and maybe learns some valuable lessons about not being so mean to people who are not pretty or popular.

So, what is life like in 2057? Well, it’s a lot like 1986 only moreso. Danziger gives us a vision of the future with moon colonies and civilian space travel…

When they wanted me to take computer lessons, I did. After I learned, I used my new skills to break into fifteen bulletin boards to leave the message “Aurora loves Albie.” I thought it would impress Albie. He said it made him want to puke.

…But we’re still dialing in to BBSs and saving data on floppy disks, so the future is kind of a mixed bag.

It is instructive in what moral panics were going around in the mid-80s: Aurora’s parents long for the days of individually owned homes, farms that “grew their own food” and wary of overcrowding at The Monolith, the mega-mall where Aurora is content to spend her days (and over-spend her allowance), playing Pac-Family at the arcade and seeing Rocky 415 at the mega-megaplex:

We’re on the fifteenth floor, the one where most of the junior and senior high kids hang out. There are one hundred and forty-four floors at the Monolith.

The top twenty are for recreation and are taken care of by the government. They are there to make up for the loss of public land that was sold to private developers by politicians years ago. The space is really great. There are swimming pools, roller- and ice-skating rinks, hiking trails, a zoo, a bird sanctuary. My parents say it used to be better when the wilderness was outside the malls, but how should I know?

(Moral Mall Panic was a real thing, and I especially recommend checking out Charles Kuralt’s 1982 report on the subject, which the passing years have turned from Dawn of the Dead dystopian warning to rose-colored, wood-paneled nostalgia piece)

Remember what I said about 2057 being 1986, but moreso? Let’s check out what the young people will be listening to 39 years from now:

“Let’s go to Vid-Sound,” I suggest, to get her mind on something else. “They have Rita Retrograde’s newest holograph, ‘Robot Love.’”

Entering the booth, we put the token in and watch as Rita holographically appears in the booth with us as the music plays around us. A robot image appears also, doing the latest dance, the vertebration-automation. It’s the ultimate.

There are two viddisks that I really crave. “The Quarks in Concert at the Astrodome” is one. It’s this group of really cute guys who play a combination of synthesizers and petri dishes. The other is by the Jackson 127, descendants of a group once called the Jackson Five.

GUYS! We need to hurry if we’re going to make 408 more Rocky sequels and spawn 122 more Jackson brothers in the next 40 years! Yes, I am counting Randy!

More:

Some other kids from school are also looking in the window.

One is Brandonetta Simmons, who is wearing Walkperson earrings, tuned to a frequency that only she can hear.

Danziger tries to milk as much humor as she can from people’s future-names, which are either really future-y (Cosmosa) or poke fun at trendy 80’s names (Brandonetta, Joandrew, Grandma Jennifer, who was born “in the late 1980s”)

Danziger also uses far more puns than I have seen in any other book. One of the other families on the space shuttle has four year old quadruplets, thanks to fertility treatments:

Mrs. Mendez says “Little did I know that fertility drugs would turn into ‘fourtility.’”

“Some days it feels like futility” says Mr. Mendez.

On their first morning in the domed Luna City, the quads start throwing breakfast biscuits at each other, so Aurora’s father can comment “People who live in glass bubbles shouldn’t throw scones.”

While her parents have committed to stay with the project for five years, Aurora tries everything to get out of being a moon-colonist, mainly because the floppy disks the Turnips send her with “vid-letters” seem to indicate that life is going on without her, and her boyfriend has started spending time with an annoying new girl named Tapioca (????) Finally, her parents agree that at the end of the school year she can decide if she wants to stay or return to earth and live with Grandma Jennifer and Grandpa Josh.

The plot comes to a rapid conclusion as Aurora’s production of Our Town is a big hit, despite losing the role of Emily to a rival and having to perform with a pair of twins named Vern and Julie Verne, who she has dubbed the Barfburgers, a turn of phrase that I hadn’t heard in about 30 years (and one that Danziger uses so frequently that I hope not to for at least another 30). She also acquires a new boyfriend in studly Moon High senior Hal, who I am really hoping turns out to be an antagonistic computer. But alas, we never find out, because the book ends with Aurora choosing to stay. So, totally tubular for everyone.

Truly, Truly Outrageous Department:

She’s changed into this great outfit, a pink and gray fluorescent minitoga. On her ears she has her flickering-light earrings.

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11 Responses to This Place Has No Atmosphere By Paula Danziger

  1. msyingling says:

    *Sigh* Now I kind of regret weeding this one, but I seem to remember that it did not smell particularly good. That happens.

  2. RK says:

    One of the details from this book that I clearly remember is that one of Aurora’s friends was famous for being the first person conceived in space, which was a pretty weird thing for my middle school-aged brain to think about.

    Also, now that I think about it, the proliferation of puns makes sense when you consider the book’s title!

    • mondomolly says:

      Yes! Also the at the very end Aurora talks about having to do her sex-ed homework on computer disks.

      This book is definitely 50, 60 % puns. Thanks for commenting!

  3. Ross says:

    I remember seeing this book on the shelf at the library. Not sure now why I wouldn’t have picked it up at some point.

  4. ninyabruja says:

    Danziger gave her protagonists the surnames of comedians. Aurora’s is for Robin Williams

  5. casadega says:

    I read this back when it first came out and didn’t particularly enjoy it, although I love most of Paula Danziger’s other YA books (especially the Divorce Express books.) I agree with your assessment that there just wasn’t much going on in the story. Also, Aurora was fairly unlikable and didn’t improve much by the end of the book. I do think I might like re-reading it now though, just for the strangely outdated 1980s things that are still around in Danziger’s 2057, lol. I do remember liking one character, a poet who only ever spoke in rhyme, but she was a fairly minor character. As for the puns, that’s one thing I always tend to notice in Danziger books also, and it can get irritating, lol. Great review!

    • mondomolly says:

      Defintely, the proliferation of 80’s technology was definitely the best part. The supporting characters got shortchanged a bit, I think, and Aurora doesn’t really have the charisma to pull off being so snotty! Thanks for commenting!

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