I loved this book as a kid, and enjoyed rereading it recently. Rod Walker is a teenager on a future Earth burdened with massive overpopulation, but a new technology that creates gateways to other worlds around our galaxy has provided an outlet: colonists leave for promising undeveloped new worlds on a regular basis. Rod enjoys watching their wagon trains head out for distant planets at the transport center on his way home from school. Rod is taking a survival course, and graduation from it means a field test. He and other students will be dropped off on a planet with only what they can carry. The goal is to survive until they are recalled, up to ten days later.
Rod wants to take the test, though his instructor is not sure he has what it takes to get through. Not everyone does. Once dropped, it’s survival of the fittest against any and every threat, including the most dangerous one of all, other humans from his and a few other classes dropped at the same time. Rod’s sister, a soldier, backs his plan, but his parents are against it. Rod sticks to his decision, and shows up for the drop with his pack of supplies but no weapons other than two knives, on the advice of his sister.
Rod spends a frightening first night in a tree haunted by horrible sounds from some unknown animal, and after escaping a ground predator. As he begins to get used to the new environment, Rod is knocked out from behind. He wakes with a headache and stripped of all his gear except one knife he had hidden. How will he survive until recall? Soon he meets and joins another test person from a different school and they decide to team up, but the recall never comes. Something has gone wrong, and they’re stuck in this hostile jungle with no idea if they’ll ever be rescued.
A great action-filled story until the last third when it becomes more about politics than survival at times, and a little heavy on lecturing, but still a fine read. Recommended.