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I'm looking for help identifying a book that has stuck with me for about 28 years now, despite having read it only once.

Timeframe: I read this book in 1995/1996 or so, and I think I picked it up from a used bookstore or fair as it was a used copy. Funny story about this specific copy later.

Specific recollections:

  • Interstellar empire
  • The main character was a young child when chosen for this training.
  • The main character was able to accurately tell how long between events even without an external clock.
  • One of the tests had him looking at a ball and then later describing it to his evaluator. Specifically, he was able to say that the ball was soft despite not touching it because it was flat where it met the table. (Supposed to indicate how observant the kid was).
  • Another test was like the gymnastic scene in Robo-Jox where there was a structure of metal bars that could be electrified. Requiring both high gymnastic as well as timing skills to complete. The evaluator intentionally electrified the bars when the kid was on them in order to give him something specific that he could fail at.

I'm less confident about this, but there may have been specific mention that the ships were triangle shaped in order to better travel through hyperspace.... but that could have been a different book.

What it's not:

  • It's not Ender's Game
  • Miles Vorkosigan series

Random story: I read this book when I was about 16, when we were at the Scout High Adventure camp in Florida (SeaBase). I was reading this on a boat while we were heading out to our dive location. I got up, promptly put the book in pocket, put on my gear and dived. And it wasn't until I was 60' down that I realized it was in there. So the book was quite waterlogged. I managed to dry it out and finish reading it, but then threw it away because no mass market paperback was going to do well after being submerged in salt water for 45 minutes.

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  • Sounds to have a flavour like Gordon Dickson's Dorsai series (which are definitely old enough), but I don't recall the testing scenarios mentioned. Given the size of the pocket the doomed book was put in, can you give an approximate number of pages, or at least lower and upper limits? Dec 20, 2023 at 3:32

2 Answers 2

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The part about the electrified gymnastics bar reminds me of a scene in the Last Legionary series by Douglas Hill. Specifically in the 'prequel' story Young Legionary (1982).

IIRC the scene is during an Olympic style competition in which the young MC (Keill Randor) is competing for a Legionare spot. One of the events is a gymnastics/obstacle course. When going through it, one of the bars is suddenly electrified in an effort to add difficultly to the event (Keill hears the humming and manages to contact the bar against his clothing instead of his bare hand(s) and completes the event.

I don't remember a scene with a flattened sphere. But as I read this about 40 years ago I could simply not be remembering it.

Too, other parts seem to match at least a little bit:

"1995/1996"

  • Was released in 1982 so would have been easily be a used copy by that time. Too, it was targeted as a YA story and as a military youth story would have been easily something a 16 year old might have been reading.

"Interstellar Empire"

  • The Legionares themselves were not an empire. But there was an interstellar empire as part of the story

"The main character was a young child when chosen for this training."

  • Young Legionary follows Keill Randor through his childhood, from the age of 12 to 18 (within four distinct stories), as he struggles to meet the requirements of becoming a Legionary.

"The evaluator intentionally electrified the bars when the kid was on them in order to give him something specific that he could fail at."

  • Noted above about the electrification. Without spoilers we do find out here were reasons the judges wanted to eliminate Keill from the competition that we learn about later in the story.

Below are some alternate covers for the book in case one of them might spark a memory despite the waterlogged condition it ended up in :-)

Young Legionary - Cover 1 Young Legionary - Cover 2 Young Legionary - Cover 3

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This sort of reminds me of the Inquestor series by S.P. Somtov from the 1980s.

In that series apparently "everyone" in the interstellar empire is drafted into the military as a child and sent on long interstellar voyages for the space wars. There seems to always be several space wars of several different types happening simultaneously. The interstellar voyages are at relativistic speeds so the kids age a few years during their military service and return decades, centuries, or millennia later in the time of their home planets.

One of the main weapons of the child warriors is implanted laser beams they shoot out of their eyes.

I think that at least one child warrior is recruited to become an Inquestor, possibly after a lot of testing. And the initiation as an Inquestor involved breaking a special egg over their head which caused them to grow an Inquestor's feathery cloak attached to their body.

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    I can see the similarities, but I don't remember anything talking about time dilation, although inquisitor did stir something familiar about it, perhaps the character had that or something similar as a job? But I don't think the referenced series is it. Thank you though. Dec 18, 2023 at 17:44

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