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Literature / Bounders

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Bounders is a series of five middle-grade science fiction novels by Monica Tesler.

Twelve-year-old Jasper Adams is a Bounder, genetically engineered to be non-neurotypical - in his case, to have ADHD. Now he and several dozen other Bounders are going to join Earth Force, a space-military organization, as their brain structure makes them better suited to space travel. At EarthBound Academy, Jasper learns that the Bounders are pawns in a Secret War against the Youli, a species of hostile aliens whose motives might be more complicated than they seem.

The books in the series are:

  1. Earth Force Rising
  2. The Tundra Trials
  3. The Forgotten Shrine
  4. The Heroes Return
  5. Fractured Futures

Bounders contains examples of:

  • Alien Arts Are Appreciated: During his visit to the Youli homeworld in Fractured Futures, Jasper participates in the Union Song, in which everyone sings together with their minds. Jasper thinks it's the most beautiful thing he's ever experienced.
  • Alien Non-Interference Clause: The Youli try to prevent any species from interacting with a planet that hasn't developed space travel yet. Their war with the humans began when humans made First Contact with the Tunnelers.
  • Alien Sky:
    • The sun of Paleo Planet, a planet whose flora and fauna somewhat resemble prehistoric Earth's, is much brighter than Earth's sun, requiring human tourists to wear sunglasses.
    • Gulaga is the opposite. Its sun is so distant and faint that at noon it feels like dusk.
    • The Youli homeworld has three suns, a bright blue sky, and pink clouds like cotton candy.
  • Artificial Gravity: The space station and the shuttle the kids take to get there all use artificial gravity, which can be turned on and off.
  • "Be Quiet!" Nudge: In The Tundra Trials, Jasper elbows Cole before he has time to blurt classified information in front of Jasper's sister Addy, a fellow Bounder who isn't quite old enough for the Academy.
  • Blob Monster: Slimers, as they're called by Earthlings, are among the few animals that can survive on the surface of Gulaga. Normally they spread thin to absorb as much of the meager sunlight as possible, but if someone steps on them, they instantly morph into a blob shape, trapping the unfortunate victim so they can slowly digest him. Mira and Jasper are attacked by slimers in The Tundra Trials, but Jasper uses the bounding gloves to repel them while he and Mira make their escape.
  • Brain/Computer Interface: The kids were bred to master bounding gloves, which allow a person to bound from any location to any other location, instead of from specific launch sites. When a new user puts on the gloves, they establish a cerebral link to the user. After that, they can be controlled with thoughts.
  • Celeb Crush: The aeronaut Maximilian Sheek used to be an actor before he joined Earth Force. He has bulging biceps, immaculately poofed hair, and his own line of hair products, and is usually greeted with screams from the female Bounders. Addy has a poster of him that says "Shrieks for Sheek."
  • Character Tics:
    • Mira twirls when she walks.
    • Cole always sits ramrod straight, even when he's in a beanbag chair.
  • Combined Energy Attack: In Fractured Futures, the Bounders learn how to combine the energy from their bounding gloves in order to do things like throw two guards across the room.
  • Cradling Your Kill: In Fractured Futures, Denver is forced to shoot Eames, his lover from before the Incident at Bounding Base 51, in order to stop her from attacking the Youli and driving them to destroy Earth. After the battle, he cradles her body in his lap, crying and stroking her hair.
  • Cyborg: Most of the Alkalinians have no natural limbs, but many of them have a single robot arm.
  • Dedication: The first three books are dedicated to the author's kids, Nathan, Gabriel, and Jamey, the fourth is dedicated to her parents, and the fifth is dedicated to her nephews.
  • Designer Babies: Mental disabilities were engineered out long ago, until scientists discovered the link between brain structure and space travel. Heterosexual couples with the right dormant genes were selected by the government to have kids, who were created in a petri dish to make sure they got the right combination of genes.
  • Destructive Teleportation: How bounding works. The atoms at the home base have a corresponding set of atoms at the destination base. When the bound occurs, information is transferred from one set of atoms to the other, and the original set of atoms is left in stasis until the return bound.
  • Disability Superpower: The kids' conditions mean that their brains don't filter out as much information as other people's, making them better able to use the bounding gloves. Mira Matheson, a nonverbal autistic girl who is so disabled Jasper wonders why she was allowed into the program, turns out to be better at using the gloves than anyone else in Jasper's pod.
  • Don't Think, Feel: Cole Thompson, a mildly autistic boy, is by far the worst pod member at using the gloves, which their pod leader, Jon Waters, says is because he's thinking too hard, instead of acting on instinct like Mira.
  • Earth-Shattering Kaboom: The Youli homeworld was shattered into pieces long ago during the great war. Youli scientists used the rift to travel back in time to warn the Youli of what would happen if they didn't change their ways, and as a result the planet was saved, although the surface is still uninhabitable. In Fractured Futures, Jasper learns that after the events of The Forgotten Shrine, the Youli shattered Earth the same way. Mira talked the Youli into letting her travel back in time to prevent the war.
  • Eiffel Tower Effect: Most of twenty-first century Paris is long gone, but the Eiffel Tower still stands and can be seen from far away.
  • Fantastic Slurs: Bounders are referred to as B-wads, by both typicals and each other.
  • Fictional Currency: The Alkalinians use venom as a currency. It's highly valued on the galaxy's black market because in addition to its purchasing power, it can be used as medicine, a mind-altering drug, or a weapon.
  • Foreign Queasine: On Gulaga, Jasper is forced to eat Tunneler food, which mostly consists of tubers, fungi, and leaves. Jasper vomits up his first meal. He manages to keep the others down, with difficulty.
  • Gaia's Lament: Much of Earth is covered by uninhabitable wastelands called blast zones. Most of what's left consists of either mega cities or circles of farmland, with almost no wild areas left.
  • Happy Place: In The Heroes Return, Jasper is uncomfortably crammed into a crate with Regis and Denver. He deals with it by imagining he's with Mira in a field of flowers they visited together in The Tundra Trials.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Earth Force Rising and The Tundra Trials feature the cruel bully Regis, who is finally kicked out of the Academy after he almost kills Jasper and Mira. When Jasper and Regis meet again in The Heroes Return, Regis explains that Waters taught him coping mechanisms for his behavioral issues that caused him to act out violently, and he is now a trusted member of the resistance.
  • Hiding Behind the Language Barrier: Neeka turns off her translator box to talk to other Tunnelers about the Bounders.
  • Hive Mind: This is the Youli's natural state. In The Tundra Trials, the pod infect a Youli ship with a computer virus, which interferes with their ability to connect with each other, causing many of them to behave in a violent and unpredictable manner and worsening human/Youli relations even more.
  • Hologram: Tablets have "Projection Mode," which causes 3D images to fill the air above the tablet. It's used for playing video games.
  • Homeworld Evacuation: The Alkalinians' homeworld was almost destroyed in the last intergalactic war, partially due to the Alkalinians' greed and duplicity. It will be generations before it's habitable again. In the meantime, the Alkalinians spent a generation on a Colony Ship, occasionally stopping at friendly planets to refuel, before settling on New Alkalinia.
  • I Will Only Slow You Down: In The Tundra Trials, Regis steals Mira's bounding gloves, leaving her stranded in the middle of nowhere. Mira urges Jasper to bound back to Gulagaven, but he stays with her while they shelter in an Abandoned Mine.
  • Jet Pack: The kids are taught to use blast packs so they'll be able to get around on planets with unusual gravity. On Jasper's first try, he accidentally flies into the ceiling and knocks himself out. His skills remain poor until he's given straps that allow the pack to be controlled via the gloves, which is much easier for him.
  • The Klutz: On Earth, Jasper is made fun of for his clumsiness, among other symptoms.
  • Knowledge Broker: The Alkalinians have a reputation for selling other species' secrets on the black market.
  • Lotus-Eater Machine: The kids' suite on Alkalinia is a VR simulation set up with everything they could possibly want. They get so caught up eating and playing games that with the help of the simulation manipulating their biological clocks, they manage to lose an entire week without noticing, until they realize the Alkalinians are deliberately trying to keep them from investigating. Their "chaperone," Auxiliary Officer Wade Johnson, aka Bad Breath, stays in his room for essentially their entire stay on the planet because he's having so much fun with his virtual butler and two virtual girlfriends.
  • Mega City: Most Earthlings live in gigantic cities hundreds of miles across, with names like East Americana and Amazonas.
  • Music Soothes the Savage Beast: On Paleo Planet, the Bounders are almost trampled by an Animal Stampede of thousands of wildeboars. Mira uses the bounding gloves to manipulate the atoms in the air to create music. Some of the other cadets join in, slowing down the wildeboars enough for everyone to fly to the hovers and escape.
  • The Nicknamer: Marco Romero calls Jasper "Ace," Mira "Dancing Queen," Cole "Wiki," and Lucy "Drama Queen."
  • Nothing Is the Same Anymore: After Jasper returns from the spacetime rift between The Forgotten Shrine and The Heroes Return, he finds that a lot has changed. The pod has been disbanded. Cole is Earth Force's chief military strategist, Lucy works in PR, and both act almost like different people, showing little interest in rescuing Mira or telling the truth. Marco and Addy have both gone to Gulaga and joined the Wackies. Earth's war with the Youli is no longer secret, and Jasper and Mira have both been made into martyrs for Earth, their faces on posters all over the planet.
  • Not Quite Flight: In Fractured Futures, Mira teaches the other kids to fly without blast packs by using the bounding gloves to manipulate the air around them.
    Mira is always quick to remind us that we're not really flying, we're manipulating matter to move and stay aloft. In other words: flying.
  • Organic Technology: The Youli ships are made out of some spongy orange bioluminescent material, which is used by some other species, including the Alkalinians. If the material has been programmed properly and activated, it turns into a VR simulation of any location the programmer can think of, complete with food that tastes just like the real thing and provides all necessary nutrients.
  • Psychic Link: The Youli communicate via telepathy. In The Tundra Trials, Waters implants Youli skin cells in Jasper and Mira's brain stems, allowing them to communicate mind-to-mind so Jasper can act as the translator of Mira's thoughts.
  • La Résistance: The Wackies are a Gulagan movement that resists the domination of Earth Force over the planet. Waters is working with them. When Jasper returns from the rift in The Heroes Return, he learns that Marco and Addy have both joined the movement. Jasper ultimately decides to join as well.
  • Room 101: While trying to find and remove the occludium tether in The Forgotten Shrine, Jasper and Mira run through a VR room that scans their mind, then plays simulations of their worst memories, all while making them feel like they're frozen in place and preventing them from seeing each other. By the time Jasper finds the other door, Mira is in a Troubled Fetal Position on the floor.
  • Save the Villain: During the Youli's attack on the Gulaga space dock, Regis tries to cross a bridge that collapses, leaving him stranded on a support column. Jasper and Mira fly over with their blast packs to save him, spending precious seconds that cause them to miss the elevator, meaning they're still on the space dock when the elevator shaft is destroyed.
  • Secret Diary: Most people keep their diaries online. Addy is one of the few people who still keep paper diaries because it's more private.
  • Seeing Through Another's Eyes: When Regis and Randall knock Mira off a bridge in Gulagaven, Jasper catches her while wearing the blast back, but can't pull out of the dive. Mira tells him to close his eyes, then guides him out of the dive as he sees the chasm through her eyes. In The Forgotten Shrine, Jasper stays up at night so he can watch through Mira's eyes to see what the Alkalinians are doing to her while she's drugged unconscious, which turns out to be horribly painful medical procedures that Jasper has to feel.
  • Single-Biome Planet:
    • Gulaga's surface is almost entirely covered in rocks and frozen mud.
    • Alkalinia is an ocean planet.
  • Skyscraper City: The Youli live in crystal towers miles above the surface of their homeworld. Instead of using elevators or walkways, they get from room to room by bounding. The surface of their planet was rendered uninhabitable by the war. It will be a millennium before they can live outside their skyscrapers again.
  • Slave Revolt: A major one occurred before Earth developed space travel. The Youli used to be cruel tyrants who enslaved other species and stripped their planets for ore. Eventually, the slaves they'd transported to their homeworld revolted, and the inhabitants of other planets leapt at the opportunity to join in. The Youli were almost wiped out, and their homeworld was almost destroyed, along with the entire galaxy. In the end the Youli learned their lesson, developed Organic Technology so they wouldn't have to rely on slave labor, and formed the Intragalactic Council so that this would never happen again.
  • Slipping a Mickey: In The Forgotten Shrine, the Alkalinians slip a drug, which turns out to be Alk venom, into the Earthlings' dinner to keep them unconscious while the Alkalinians examine them to decide which ones should be killed.
  • Space Elevator: Gulaga, the Tunnelers' home planet, is connected to its space dock via an elevator shaft hundreds of kilometers long. The elevator is made out of clear plastic, and Jasper and Lucy are so terrified to enter it that they cause a bottleneck at the door. It doesn't help that the elevator descends at a terrifying speed.
  • Spiteful Spit: In Fractured Futures, Denver and Jasper interrogate a misguided Resistance member who tried to launch a very minor terror attack. She tries to spit at Denver, but a drop only lands on his shoe. After that, Denver and Jasper make sure to sit out of spitting range.
  • Sssssnake Talk: The Alkalinians, snake-like aliens, talk like this.
  • Team Hand-Stack: In The Tundra Trials, Jasper, Lucy, Marco, Mira, and Cole do this after they resolve to work together and not keep secrets. Afterwards, Mira builds a cairn of stones to symbolize their bond.
  • Tears of Joy: In The Heroes Return, Jasper's mom cries when she sees him in person for the first time in over a year.
  • Teleportation Sickness: Bounding is always an unpleasant experience, but it's worse for some people than for others. Bad Breath was unable to become a full aeronaut partly because bounding makes him vomit.
  • Teleporter Accident: A year before Jasper was born, an entire crew of aeronauts were killed during a routine bound when they failed to materialize on the other side. Their atoms were scattered across the universe. The Bounder Baby Breeding Program is supposed to prevent something like that from ever happening again. Or so it seems. They were actually trapped in a rift in spacetime, as Jasper and Mira discover when they themselves suffer a failed bound at the end of The Forgotten Shrine.
  • Translator Microbes: The Tunnelers, mole-like aliens, wear boxes around their necks that translate their clicking noises into speech.
  • Tube Travel: The space station consists of dozens of separate structures connected by metal suction tubes.
  • Underground City: Gulaga's surface is so cold and barren as to be practically uninhabitable. Most Tunnelers live in Gulagaven, a city that barely pokes above the surface and extends hundreds of kilometers underground. The city is terrifyingly unsafe by human standards, with narrow, slippery bridges and ledges with no guardrails stretching across and around the enormous central chasm, but the Tunnelers rarely have an accident.
  • Umbrella Drink: In Fractured Futures, Denver sips a fancy drink with a pink parasol. When Jasper enters the room, Denver serves him a nonalcoholic fizzy purple drink with an orange umbrella.
  • Underwater City: The Alkalinians live in a series of underwater buildings, some on the floor and some bobbing in the current, connected by clear tubes.
  • Verbal Tic:
    • Neeka, the Tunneler junior ambassador who works with the kids in The Tundra Trials, constantly says things that her box translates as "Oh!" and "No!"
    • Florine Statton, head of Earth Force's PR, says "puh-leeeze" a lot.
  • Vertebrate with Extra Limbs:
    • On Paleo Planet, Jasper sees a group of rodents that resemble meerkats with four sets of legs.
    • Most Alkalinians have no arms or legs, but some have three sets of little lizard limbs.
  • Waving Signs Around:
    • In The Forgotten Shrine, bounders' rights advocates picket the induction ceremony with signs that say things like "Earth Force = Liars," "Save the Bounders!" and "Youli? Truly? We need the truth!"
    • After Jasper becomes a celebrity in The Heroes Return, his fans wave "Marry me, Jasper!" signs.
  • We Come in Peace — Shoot to Kill: An example with Earthlings as the aliens. When humans first started mining Gulaga for occludium, they thought the Tunnelers were just dumb animals. Once they realized Tunnelers were actually intelligent beings with a complex civilization, they effectively enslaved the species, while pretending to be the Tunnelers' alies, and forced them to mine occludium. The Tunneler resistance fought hard but lost, and was forced to flee into the wilderness while Gulagaven fell completely under Earth Force's control. By The Heroes Return, the Tunnelers have expelled Earth Force and are now at war with Earth.
  • We Need a Distraction:
    • In Earth Force Rising, the protagonists want to break into a restricted area. Lucy Dugan distracts a guard by sobbing to him about her made-up relationship problems.
    • In The Tundra Trials, Lucy distracts Regis by asking him about how he'd want to be photographed if he was in the aeronaut calendar while Jasper dumps excessive amounts of foot warmer powder into his boots as a prank.
  • Why Did It Have to Be Snakes?:
    • Jasper is claustrophobic. He spends much of The Tundra Trials and The Forgotten Shrine moving through small tunnels surrounded by dirt and water, respectively. He finds the water especially hard to deal with. The Heroes Return is even worse for him, as he's transported in various windowless vehicles and at one point spends hours crammed into a crate with two other people.
    • Marco hates snakes and is not pleased to spend The Forgotten Shrine surrounded by Alkalinians.
  • Year Outside, Hour Inside: The lost aeronauts from Bounding Base 51 weren't actually killed, but trapped in a rift in spacetime for what felt like two days to them and a decade and a half to the rest of the world. Jasper and Mira become trapped there as well when they attempt to bound away from Alkalinia. The Youli rescue them and the other aeronauts after a few hours, by which point a year has passed for everyone else.
  • Your Favorite: In The Forgotten Shrine, the Alkalinians question all the kids about their favorite foods. When the kids arrive in their quarters on Alkalinia, they find themselves served delicious VR versions of the food to make sure they eat the venom hidden inside.
  • Your Makeup Is Running: In Fractured Futures, a photographer catches Lucy and Jasper outside the hotel, where they aren't supposed to be. Frustrated with her own stupidity, Lucy sheds a Single Tear, which leaves a trail of mascara down her cheek.