brings me to the question
of just what a juvenile novel is, anyway. As our publishing industry
is run, in most cases there isn't much question.
Freddy the Pig
on one side of the line and
is on the other, sharply distinct.
there are plenty
of so-called "adult" books that are of legitimate interest to children,
and any good children's book will very likely be read by adults as well.
just a children's book?
counted the two best American novels, are
read by children. It seems to me that any book published for children
that adults cannot enjoy is likely to be a pretty poor book. And
if some adult books cannot be enjoyed or understood by children, there
are plenty of adults who cannot enjoy or understand them either.
I don't see any distinct line and I doubt that there is one. As it is now,
a juvenile book is a book that the publishing industry packages and sells
as a juvenile.
"juvenile" novel for 1954, is a good illustration. It was serialized
as an adult novel in
The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction
June, July 1954) and then published by Scribner's as a juvenile novel and
marketed in a juvenile package with a simple-minded blurb that begins,
"Robert Heinlein's 'space zoo' is unique -- there is an unusual animal
in each of his books" -- untrue, by the way, of even his books for
Either Scribner's has a much higher opinion of the minds of children than
most publishers -- a notion belied by their jacket blurbs -- or they were
so used to publishing Heinlein's books as juveniles that they never stopped
to think twice. A third alternative doesn't occur to me. Perhaps
it is Heinlein's fault for writing a book that can be interesting to almost
The Star Beast
is really about a diplomatic
incident, not about unusual animals from outer space. There are two
main story lines. A ship has appeared in our skies claiming that
we are holding prisoner one of their own, a party to a six-sex marriage
that has been planned for two thousand years, part of a larger genetic
schema that has been under way for thirty-eight thousand years. The
other line follows the trouble gotten into by Lummox, the pet of John Thomas
Lummox is an extraterrestrial brought home by John
Thomas's great-grandfather, a crew member on one of the earliest interstellar
ships of exploration. Lummox loves steel (he once ate a second-hand
Buick) and is the size of half a house (either half). He has the
right number of legs -- eight -- to be the missing Hroshia, but his size
and lack of arms seem to rule him out, so when he inadvertently causes
a considerable amount of damage, starting with a dog and some rose bushes
and ending with part of a department store, he is scheduled to be done
away with. It turns out, however, that Lummox is a "she," the missing
heiress, and also that the Hroshii may well be capable of destroying Earth
if they are frustrated in getting her back. It is then up to the
Department of Spatial Affairs and its Permanent Under Secretary, Henry
Kiku, to straighten things out.
Kiku, Damon Knight says:
It's a pure delight to
watch him at work. Heinlein's interest, as always, is in The Man Who Knows
How, other types appearing only as caricatures, and if this makes for a
distorted view of humanity, it also makes for close-textured, fascinating
writing. Stories about know-nothings inevitably repeat the same stock motions;
the repertory of competence is
The dealings of Kiku, his understudy Sergei Greenberg,
and Dr. Ftaeml, the medusa humanoid go-between for the Hroshii, are nothing
short of fascinating. Only a little more than half of the book is
directly concerned with John Thomas and Lummox, the rest is Kiku's show
and he makes the most of it.
the usual Heinlein
touches (the double for the Secretary General of the Federation who sits
through dull formal programs, for instance, a notion that later grew into
an entire book of its own in
this book stands
by itself among Heinlein's books in being filled with satire and black
John Thomas's girl friend, Betty Sorenson, lives
in the Westville Home for Free Children: she has divorced her parents
for their odd ideas.
Mr. Kiku's stomach can't stand snakes, so every
time he meets Dr. Ftaeml, whose head writhes with tendrils, it is an ordeal
As Damon Knight said, most of the characters in
this book are caricatures, as, of course, is likely to be true in any satirical
book. The culmination is probably Mrs. Beulah Murgatroyd, inventor
of the popular puppet Pidgie-Widgie
(Pidgie-Widgie on the Moon, Pidgie-Widgie
Goes to Mars, Pidgie-Widgie and the Space Pirates)
and the power
behind "The Friends of Lummox." Mrs. Murgatroyd earnestly desires
Mr. Kiku to come on stereovision with her and Pidgie-Widgie and talk things
over while they all settle down to a nice bowl of Hunkies. Heinlein
must have been pleased with that one, and with
. . . the terrible, hushed-up occasion when
a member of the official family of the Ambassador from Llador had been
found, dead and stuffed, in a curiosity shop in the Virgin Islands.
And finally, Lummox's view of the matter is that she
has been spending a hundred years in raising John Thomases, and she damned
well plans to continue. She won't go home unless she has her way,
and so, when she goes, John Thomas and Betty go with her. Luck, Lummox.
I say, I don't understand the juvenile publishing industry.
Starman Jones, The Star Beast,
Heinlein's Scribner's novel for 1955,
Tunnel in the Sky,
a darkness in tone that you just don't expect in children's books.
It may be that there is a tremendous hunger for bleak children's books
and the manuscripts just cannot be found.
The blackness of
lies in the society portrayed. The blackness of
The Star Beast
lies in its attitude. These are both very successful books.
Tunnel in the Sky
is less successful, partly because Heinlein gets tired about
two-thirds of the way through and rushes his ending. This seems to
happen in those Heinlein stories in which the action is spread over a number
of years. In a moment I will come to the other reason for
Tunnel in the Sky's
lack of complete realization.
basic idea for the
story is one of the best ever invented, elemental enough to stand a thousand
usings. In essence, it is to strip a character of everything but
a toothpick and a piece of chicken wire and chuck him out into a hostile
wilderness. In a Murray Leinster story he turns the toothpick and
the chicken wire into a blaster and a spaceship (with the aid of a little
bit of native ingenuity) and hops off to conquer the universe. In
a Robert Heinlein story, with the aid of his native ingenuity, the character
In this case, the hero is Rod Walker, a high school
senior enrolled in Advanced Survival, Course 410. The members of
the class get their choice of weapons and are then dropped: "(a) ANY planet,
ANY climate, ANY terrain; (b) NO rules, ALL weapons, ANY equipment."
With skill and luck, they survive.
The "Ramsbotham Gate" -- step through on this side
and step out somewhere else -- has made thousands of planets available
to Earth, but most of them have their own particular dangers. Trained
men are needed to cope with them, and courses like the one that Walker
takes are given both at high school and college level to train them as
much as possible.
Walker's group is dropped for a period of two to
ten days, but the pickup is never made. They and other classes dropped
on this who-knows-where have to band together and make something of
After two years contact is re-established -- a supernova in the immediate
stellar vicinity threw all calculations off and finding the kids again
has been a hit-or-miss operation. The beauty of the story is that
when they are found, they
made something of themselves, believably and interestingly.
Tunnel in the Sky
is not a bad book, but it
is not among Heinlein's best. The second of its flaws is the nature
of its hero. By the evidence of this book, if he were to stand in
the middle of a desert on a cloudless day, he would attract lightning.
He is doubted, struck on the head, flimflammed, ignored, shoved around,
victimized, and treated as an incompetent. He is naive (when asked
whether or not he is sexually interested in a girl he goes off on long
hunting trips with, he can't even understand the question), and he never,
never sees his next lump coming.
At the beginning, his instructor says:
"I could drop you [from
the course]. Perhaps I should."
I know the reason. The instructor has nagging doubts
about that "Kick Me" sign that Walker wears on his back.
"That's the point. I couldn't
give a reason. On the record, you're as promising a student as I
have ever had."
In 1956, Heinlein had his most active year since
the war, publishing three novels. Two were adult novels, his first
in five years, and only his second and third since 1942.
too long ago, I had reason to look back over all the issues of
between 1950 and 1960 in search of stories dealing with politics.
The bulk of them were either about dictatorships or about Galactic
The dictatorships were all bad and deserved to be overthrown. If
the stories were long enough, they usually were. The Galactic Empires
either had Galactic Emperors who stood alone while ministers plotted in
the antechambers, or were the home bases for secret corps of political
sophisticates that spent their time manipulating native populations for
their own good. This is exciting as hell, of course, but it's crude
entertainment. Robert Heinlein is one of the very few science fiction
writers who have had any experience in practical politics, and this may
partly explain his surer and less melodramatic handling of the subject.
the central idea of
February, March and April 1956)
is melodramatic -- an actor permanently taking the place of a stricken
political leader -- its development is not melodramatic, but sure and real,
because its concern is with the changes that take place within the actor.
The story is not a public one, but a private and personal one, and melodrama
is not melodrama without a stage to strut on. Put the most flamboyant
swashbuckler ever conceived in a prison cell by himself and leave him there,
and he has to become something more or the story dies.
What Heinlein envisions is a parliamentary system
and empire like that of 19th Century Britain. John Joseph
Bonforte is head of a coalition of minor parties whose interests are
libertarian: "free trade, free travel, common citizenship, common
currency, and a minimum of Imperial laws and restrictions." The
main bone of contention is that common citizenship. Bonforte's
Expansionists want to include the native populations of Mars and Venus
as full citizens within the Empire, while the party in power, the
Humanists, take a strict humans-first attitude. Bonforte is about
to be made a member of a Martian "nest" when the story begins, and no
excuse short of death will be sufficient for him to miss his
appointment. Only days before he is due to be adopted a radical
splinter group of the Humanist Party kidnaps him, knowing his absence
will create exactly the sort of blood-in-the-streets incident that will
serve their interests. It is in this situation that an
out-of-work actor named Lawrence Smith -- "The Great Lorenzo" -- is
persuaded and pressured to double for Bonforte during the adoption
He does this successfully enough, but then Bonforte
is turned loose by his captors in such condition that Smith must continue
his impersonation. The problem is compounded by the resignation of
the Humanist government, meaning that Bonforte's party must form a caretaker
government until a general election can be called. Since Bonforte
as a person is the only thing that holds the Expansionist coalition together,
be present in person.
Smith, the actor, is originally completely apolitical,
Martian-despising, and even cold to the idea of the impersonation he has
been inveigled into pulling off. He is also a thorough-going
However, once inside the skin of Bonforte, he begins to grow. He
learns to respect first the people around Bonforte, and then Bonforte
At the end, he is a larger, more pleasant, saner man. Perhaps the
lesson is that accomplishment is a matter of both aptitude and the opportunity
to demonstrate it.
The story ends when, just as the Expansionists are
winning their election, Bonforte dies of a stroke. Smith agrees to
carry on in this final role. There is a short afterword written
twenty-five years later that indicates Smith's success in becoming Bonforte.
are a few minor
carelessnesses that mar the story a little that might have been eliminated
by closer proofreading. For instance, there is a character mentioned
on page 20, Doc Scortia, who is never heard of again but who seems to have
been replaced by a Doc Capek. There is a story behind that:
Heinlein has a physicist friend named Tom Scortia and he wanted to do him
the favor of slipping him into a story behind a beard and putty nose.
Heinlein then learned that Scortia himself had started writing and selling
science fiction, so the manuscript was combed over and the name replaced
-- in all but one place.
On a different level, I wish that Heinlein had written
in greater detail. He has done a fine job of showing the metamorphosis
of Smith into Bonforte, and he has described his political system interestingly
enough. However, I wish that he had brought the two together more
intimately and had let us see more of the political system in action.
Smith tells us of it, but we never see more than glimpses of it in
When one of his aides says to him at the end in trying to persuade him
to stay on, "Chief, you remember those confounded executive committee
You kept them in line," we can't remember it, because we haven't seen it.
is a good novel --
it won the Hugo award as the best science fiction novel of its year --
but if Heinlein had gone into the detail he might have, but did not, this
would have been a deeper and far more important novel. As things
is good light entertainment, but no more than that.
for the Stars
the last of Heinlein's Scribner's novels to be illustrated by Clifford
Geary. Anthony Boucher thought the story was the best novel of its
year and said that the only thing that kept it from being serialized in
that it didn't divide well into parts.
The Rolling Stones,
Heinlein's central characters were the twins, Castor and Pollux
Stone. Seen from the outside, they present so united a front that
it is really not possible to tell one from the other. The hero of
Time for the Stars
is also one of a set of twins, but in this case we see
twinhood from the inside and get an entirely different picture of it.
Earth has a population of five billion people when
the story opens and a group of twelve starships is about to be sent out
to find favorable real estate. Research has turned up the fact that
some identical twins can communicate telepathically and that telepathy
is not limited to the speed of light, thereby making it a perfect communication
medium between Earth and ships that may be gone for as long as a century.
The "prison yard whisper" that Tom Bartlett, the hero, and his twin, Pat,
have been using for years turns out to be more than they thought it was,
and they are signed up by the foundation sponsoring the trip. As
a general rule, I have no affection for stories that involve extra-sensory
perception. When the stories aren't foolish, which many of them are,
the psionics is likely to be so important to the story that normal human
motivations and concerns wind up missing entirely. In
Time for the Stars,
however, Heinlein has managed to present telepathy as a
major plot element without letting it overwhelm the story.
Partly this is because of the well-developed relationship
between Tom and Pat. Pat has more grab and winds up with the shipboard
place while Tom is to stay behind on Earth, cut out of the trip.
Then Pat has an accident that paralyzes his legs and Tom is back in the
picture again. The kicker is that subconsciously neither of them
really wants to go on this trip -- the ship is fairly certain never to
get back safely -- and that Pat has won again. Tom's growing understanding
of the real nature of his relationship with his twin is the core of the
It might not have been, except that again Heinlein
has skimped on the finale of his story. It is a catalog of places
visited -- " 'Whistle-Stop' wasn't worth a stop. We're on our way
to Beta Ceti, sixty-three light-years from Earth." -- of people who die,
and of telepathic linkages lost. The story ends with the ship being
picked up by a newly-invented faster-than-light ship. Tom meets his
latest telepathic linkage, his brother's great-granddaughter, Vicky, who
decides to marry him, and the two then prepare to go out to the stars once
more. It is, I think, the rushed nature of the last part of the story
that made it impossible to serialize.
There are some very lovely things in the story.
One is the nature of the organization that sponsors the whole business:
the Long Range Foundation.
The charter goes on with
a lot of lawyers' fog but the way the directors have interpreted it has
been to spend money only on things that no government and no other corporation
would touch . . . To make the LRF directors light up with enthusiasm
you had to suggest something that cost a billion or more and probably wouldn't
show results for ten generations, if ever . . .
There is also the idea of limiting family size by imposing
quotas and taxing any children over the quota. I understand that this idea
has had serious discussion.
Finally, Heinlein tickles my fancy with his account
of serendipity, which he defines as digging for worms and striking gold.
He then, without pointing it out, demonstrates it beautifully with his
faster-than-light ships which are given as the offspring of research done
to explain the instantaneous nature of telepathic communication.
third novel in 1956,
The Door Into Summer
December), was another adult story. Like the first two novels, it
was written in the first person, though for less obvious reason.
A story like
of a man changing from one thing to another
can probably be told most easily in the first person. Again, the
first person certainly makes the difficult difference between identical
twins easier to exposit. In a story like
The Door Into Summer,
of viewpoint seems to be less central and might have been as easily decided
the other way.
is a certain
amount of continuity of thinking in these three books. In all three,
for instance, comment is made to the effect that any man has the right
to decide when and how he will die. John Joseph Bonforte's ship in
is named after Thomas Paine, and so is the hero of
Time for the Stars.
And servo-mechanisms of the sort that are the central
The Door Into Summer
are mentioned in passing in
Time for the Stars,
as though Heinlein had the idea in the back of his mind
while writing the earlier book.
Daniel Boone Davis, hero of
The Door Into Summer,
is an engineer in 1970, in partnership with a lawyer friend whom he met in
the army. Davis has invented
a machine that will clean floors all day long without supervision, and
machine to wash windows. He is making a good deal of money, is having
the time of his life, is engaged to the company's beautiful and talented
secretary, and is about to finish
a machine that
will be capable of doing just about any household dirty job. But
Davis and his partner are divided -- the partner wants to rush
production while Davis wants to hold it back until every part is plug-in
replaceable. He has no taste for machines that are full of bugs.
Davis won't budge, so the partner, whose own taste is for being a
and the secretary-fiancée conspire to ease him out of control and
out of the company.
You can, by the way, tell that lovely Belle Darkin,
the fiancée, is really nasty -- she and Davis's cat just don't see
eye-to-eye. On the other hand, the partner's eleven-year-old stepdaughter
Ricky, Davis, and Davis's cat make a very neat threesome. Little
Ricky can't stand Belle, either, showing that her childish instincts are
While on a drunken binge following his betrayal,
Davis decides to take cold sleep, a suspended-animation process, for thirty
years along with his cat so that he can come back and sneer at lovely Belle
Darkin when she isn't quite so lovely any more. He signs the papers,
but then sobers up and changes his mind. However, when he goes to
confront his ex-partner, he stumbles on a piece of information that will
blow the whole mess to pieces, so Belle gives him a shot of a hypnotic
drug that puts him out of commission, then brings him forward at the proper
time for his cold sleep appointment and sends him off on a thirty-year
trip to tomorrow.
gets complicated from here
on. Davis becomes adjusted to the year 2000 and finds he likes it,
turns himself into a good engineer again, then stumbles onto a number of
bits of evidence that he has done more things back in 1970 than he thought
he had. A fellow with a proper time machine is introduced (there
is an uncertainty factor -- half the time it throws you forward, and half
the time it sends you back; but then Davis has reason to think that he
go back because he
gone back, he has done things in
1970 that he never did the first time around), Davis goads the machine's
misanthropic inventor into sending him back to 1970, and once back there,
straightens things out. He invents two more machines: a drafting
machine and an advanced version of the flexible machine he never finished;
he sets things up so that all of his property will go to little Ricky and
agrees with her that after she has spent ten years growing up, she will
take cold sleep herself and join him in 2001; then he destroys the working
model of old
to keep it out of the hands of Belle
and his ex-partner, collects his cat which was left behind on the night
he was shanghaied, and is off again via cold sleep for the year 2001 where
he and Ricky and the cat are all joined together in Holy Matrimony.
Time travel stories are generally so complicated
that they have to be tightly plotted if they are to be successful, and
Heinlein's time travel stories as a group are probably his best
This one is no exception. As a whole, the story is thoroughly melodramatic
but very good fun. I imagine that it was a very enjoyable story for
Heinlein to write, particularly the nicely-developed engineering ideas.
It was as though Heinlein the engineer said, "If I had the parts available,
what little gadgets would I most enjoy building?" and then went ahead and
built them fictionally. A good story.
*In Search of Wonder,
2nd ed., p. 83. [
Border courtesy of
The Humble Bee