After the Niven, I wanted something with a little more zing to it. I’ve had this book on my shelves for a bit, so I took it out. I misremembered it as a collection of short stories; instead, it is a Science Fiction Book Club collection of three of Heinlein’s juvenile novels from the 1950s: Tunnel in the Sky, Time for the Stars, and Citizen of the Galaxy.
Back when I was in middle school, M. Gene Henderson had a collection of Del Rey imprinted paperbacks in the hard library binding which I tore through in the sixth grade and the first part of the seventh grade. Hence, once I knew the nature of this book, I’d expected I’d find something familiar in it, that I’d read one or more. Actually, although one was familiar, I hadn’t actually finished it. More on that by-and-by.
Tunnel in the Sky deals with students in high school participating in an off-world survival class. Their final exam is to go onto an unknown planet and survive for a couple of days or a week and finding the rescue point. A teleporter device sends them off, but as time passes and the students fight amongst themselves, they realize they’re on their own. Then
Johnny Rico a young man has to help them form a society in the wilderness. Suddenly, they’re rescued.
I almost read Time for the Stars at M. Gene Henderson; however, the subject matter deals with a subject that was touchy. I was at M. Gene Henderson for the year and a half immediately following my parents’ divorce and our subsequent move from the friendly environment of the Milwaukee housing projects to the wild suburban world of St. Charles, Missouri. During the course of the divorce, my mother took us on a two-bus transfer excursion to see an attorney who was going to evaluate the children’s interests in the case and act as an advocate for my brother and I. During our meeting, he suggested a crazy custody arrangement: my brother and I spend six months with our mother and then six months with our father, a complete split down the middle of the year. However, in addition to the semiannual jerking us from school to school, the attorney also proposed that my brother and I actually split up so that one of us was each with a parent during those six months. Boys and girls, this was before the crack epidemic, okay?
So Time for the Stars deals with a deep-space probe program using identical twins with telepathy as the communication mechanism. One goes on a deep space probe traveling at near light speeds, and the other remains on earth to receive instant messages from psi. Well, at age 11 and fresh from the divorce, I couldn’t handle that topic, so I didn’t read the book. I read up until I got the conceit, and then I read the last chapter where the old brother and the young brother (travel at light speed will do that to you, or so Einstein tells me) meet again.
Now, 20 years have passed and my brother and I are naturally estranged, so I could get through it, but not without some meloncholy about my brother and my estrangement. So one twin goes in the ship, has some adventures, and gets in touch with his real relationship with his brother. While dozens of light years away, the ship’s excursion runs into disaster. Suddenly, they’re rescued.
Citizen of the Galaxy deals with a young slave sold to a beggar on a distant outpost. Neither is what he seems, and as the beggar-slash-spy is captured, the young slave follows instructions left by his adopted father to discover his past. It’s a big one. Suddenly, the book ends.
That’s a knock I’ll throw on Heinlein: Man, the books just kinda end out of nowhere, with little resolution to the main problems in the book or with pat resolutions. Maybe I just don’t grok Heinlein to that level. But they’re quick, engaging books that carry you along and don’t have the flaws that Niven’s books do.