To the Stars by Robert Heinlein: a review

All four novels are Heinlein juveniles, with the strengths and weaknesses of all juvies. If you can to set aside the improbable competence Heinlein sometimes gives to youngsters, you can enjoy the rich environment he’s created for the characters to act in. All four are strong stories; the fourth is exceptional.

Between Planets

Teenager Don Harvey, citizen of everywhere and nowhere, finds his destiny as Venus rebels against rule from Earth. The book has all sorts of interesting little tidbits–cell phone like devices, winged natives of Mars, bipedal dragons on Venus, and “Pay it Forward.” Much of the story shows Harvey trying to find his footing as the war starts; it’s a vivid and realistic portrait of the sorts of paranoia war brings to humanity.

Interesting partly because I’ve just read Beverley Tucker’s Partisan Leader, which this story parallels in many ways, and David Drake’s The Reaches, which also portrays a Venusian rebellion against Earth rule. You can see traces of Heinlein’s future story The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, though this story’s much shorter and less fully developed.

Like many Heinlein youths, Don Harvey’s absolutely clueless about women.

The Rolling Stones

Probably fifty years since I last read this one.

The Stone family buys a space yacht on Luna and takes off. The trip to Mars is covered in considerable detail (there are several adventures along the way), then there are episodes on Mars, in the Belt, and at the end the Stones head for Titan. This family looks at first glance like a “typical” fifties television family, but they’re not because they’re more talented (and far more eccentric). This is some of Heinlein’s best writing; the physics and ballistics of space travel are well-defined and described in this 1952 novel. The story apparently takes place early in the 21st century, though that’s not made particularly explicit.

More: Earth has a world government, which keeps “Peace” bombs in orbit above the planet. Prominent 1950s companies have survived what seems to have been wrenching social changes–IBM and Raleigh bicycles are explicitly mentioned. And there are Tribbles–well, Heinlein calls them Flatcats, but they’re Tribbles. Mars natives, in this case; they’re fuzzy and legless, they purr, and they reproduce like crazy. Tribbles.

Really a fun read.

Starman Jones

Well-written & well-plotted. Max Jones ascends from farmhand to starship captain in just a few months, partly by skill but largely by luck. His eidetic memory helps. This book touches lightly on many of Heinlein’s perpetual themes. And the tale’s less silly than my plot summary makes it sound.

For once, a youthful character who’s not entirely blind about girls, despite his lack of experience.

The Star Beast

Truly wonderful: A story about diplomacy and racism. After considerable difficulty, the good guys win. And there’s some confusion about pets.

About half the story’s characters are summer-stock villains–a hopeless mom who’s only slightly redeemed by having her underlying fears explained, a trigger-happy cop who doubles as a Sunday-school teacher, a hysterical woman whose garden’s been trampled, a politician turned gutless diplomat. But there are some wonderful folks in here, as well; well-rounded, principled, quick-thinking, courageous, and occasionally witty. Great fun.

Among Heinlein’s very best.

This review was originally published on LibraryThing.

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