I think Frederik Pohl and Jack Williamson are the science fiction version of Stan and Jan Berenstain. They were trying to teach me lessons while I thought I was reading a story about aliens.
The story starts many generations in the future. Alien beings (nicknamed Turtles by humans) have used their indispensable technology to trade their way into human society, gradually becoming overseers of mankind. Humans are still technically free, but they all work for Turtles, depend on Turtle goods, etc. Turtles have taken charge, and one of their mandates outlawed science. It’s against their religion, which says that all things come from the Mother Turtle, and therefore none of this silly science stuff is allowed.
We are introduced to Captain Krake, a human who has the rare honor of piloting a Turtle spaceship; Sork and Kiri, twin brothers who work for the Turtles; Sue-Ling, a surgeon who uses Turtle brain-implant technology to operate; and Moon, a farm girl who runs away with her pet/friend Thrayle (a Taur – a race of cowlike but semi-intelligent creatures the Turtles introduced). When something terrible happens to the Turtles’ home planet, everyone must come together to figure out what happened, and what to do next.
Part of that figuring out process includes listening to old discs of school lectures as kind of a crash course in science. Did the planet fall in a black hole? A wormhole? What are the possibilities? The Turtles have to depend on human theories to solve the mystery. The Berenstain Bears part comes in between each chapter, where you’ll find a few pages representing one of these school lectures. Planck’s constant, quantum physics, quantum mechanics, the big bang theory, Einstein, and a whole bunch of other stuff I’d never heard of. The lectures aren’t super-high level, so they were easy enough to follow even for this science dummy, and it helps the reader understand the panic and frustration the characters on the ship are feeling.
It’s a great adventure story, though the characters sometimes come across as a little thin. Sork is angry, Moon is worried, Kiri is calm, etc. Nobody gets too much of a background or character motivation or anything. But their journey is interesting, and I felt like I was learning stuff along with the characters.