I'd never read a solo Pournelle, but I really enjoy his collaborations with Niven, so I thought I'd give a singleton a shot. I'm also really bad about not reading blurbs about a book first, so I didn't know what to expect going in.
This book was heavily geared towards kids/young adults. What I really liked about this book is that it wasn't some kid that's all misunderstood, and the SPECIALIST KID EVAH! that so many other kid's books are (I'm looking at you, Card). Because this doesn't speak as strongly to the "oh woe is me, no one gets me, and really I'm the most awesomest ninja superstar ever, if only the world would recognize me!" emo type, I doubt it will ever be as popular.
This is not a deep or difficult read at all. It's fun and it move along at a nice fast clip, but you still get invested in the characters. What I further appreciate is that even as a juvenile book, it does not talk down to its audience.
Kip is a kid, growing up in Starswarm Station - a remote biological/life study station on another world. He has a few hiccups with a local bully kid, but is overall not traumatized or a loner or anything seriously horrible. He is an orphan, but he's got a cool uncle, an awesome dog, a good friend, and a chip that talks to him in his head. He's not alone or miserable, he's just a (mildly special) kid. He ends up being rather important (you know, with a "destiny"), but Pournelle doesn't hit you over the head with some special destiny stuff and heavy foreshadowing, so it's OK that the kid ends up kind of important. You figure it out pretty quickly, and thankfully, Kip has to be useful, not just special. It all just works and is rather low key.
Now, my favorite part of the book has to do with the alien life forms. There are two that we explicitly deal with, one is the starswarms - some kind of submerged aquatic life form, the other are the centaurs, which are... um.. centaurs-y. And without going into details, I like how Pournelle themes the alien life around neural nets and transference of chemical information. Go you, Pournelle. A bonus cookie just for making that awesomely interesting and playing with alien life in a fun, easy, and interesting way.
Not a bad book at all. I would recommend it especially to anyone with kids.