67 of 71 people found the following review helpful
Citizen of the Galaxy is probably Heinlein's most mature juvenile novel and is certainly one of his most inspirational. It contains a sweeping indictment of slavery and provides a stirring message about citizenship and civic responsibility. Thorby is a slave; the only memories he has are a tangled morass of mistreatment spread among faceless men on nameless worlds; all he brings with him to Sargon are a filthy piece of clothing and an ugly assortment of scars and sores. On the block, no one values him enough to even bid on him, all except for the beggar Baslim. He takes him home (a hole beneath the abandoned amphitheatre) and raises him as a son rather than a slave. Thorby learns the art of begging from his new Pop and enjoys the happiest years of his life with him. Then Baslim, whom Thorby eventually learned was much more than a simple beggar, is arrested as a spy. Thorby satisfies his Pop's wishes by evading capture himself and taking a message to a certain ship's captain. Captain Krausa adopts Thorby as his own son and makes him a member of the Free Trader family on the ship Sisu. Here Thorby learns the complexities of Free Trader family life, makes real friends, and assumes a pivotal job protecting the huge spacecraft from raiders. Then Thorby is displaced once again, as Krausa takes him to the first ship of the Hegemonic Empire he comes in contact with. While Thorby hates to leave his new family, he does it to satisfy Baslim's ultimate wish for him to find his true family. Thorby soon learns that wealth does not make you rich as he strives to fight slavery in the galaxy and become the son his birth parents wanted him to be
Heinlein gives us three strikingly different looks at family life. While Thorby is happy as a part of the immensely complicated Free Trader family on Sisu, he looks back at his days with the beggar Baslim as the happiest of his life. On the ship, one is barely acknowledged as existing if he/she is not a part of the family. The only person who talks to Thorby at first is an anthropologist, and she gives a poignant explanation of this type of society. The family is free, yet each individual in that family is in some way a slave; Thorby is told what to do and when and where to do it. The ultimate lesson is learned on Terra, where the prescripts of Baslim continue to guide Thorby's actions. He is determined to fight against the slave trade, which is something most Terrans don't even believe exists because it is taking place far, far away. For Thorby, it is personal and he devotes his life to fighting against it. The ultimate responsibility he learns is to fully devote himself to the noble cause, to be willing to give us his own freedom, even to become a beggar as Baslim did, in order to work for the freedom of others. The story is as much fantasy as science fiction, but the message it contains and the moral lessons it teaches make it one of Heinlein's most important and enjoyable novels.
42 of 43 people found the following review helpful
I've only read a few books by Heinlein, but the more of his stories I read the more I see two trends. First, he likes to take an idea, and then run with it through every possible effect and ramification it could have. Secondly, he seems to (unless I miss my guess) be writing his adventure stories from the dual perspective of himself as a youth, and himself as an older world-weary traveler (in his own eyes anyway). Reading this book I got the same feeling from Starship Troopers and Tunnel in the sky, that our protagonist is struggling to learn the essential life lessons that he will one day be in a position to hand down. But that's just Heinlein...
In this story, our master of sci-fi take the idea of freedom to it's absolute philosophical limits. First, he shows us the world of a person who is an actual slave and has no rights whatsoever. Then, he takes that individual, and shoves them into situation after situation that leave us wondering what exactly freedom is. When Thorby is taught by his adoptive father how to think, he is freed mentally. When he is adopted by space-traders he is almost totally free in a physical sense (the traders travel all of space), but he finds himself enslaved to a way of life, a series of traditions, and many many rules. As part of the intergalactic space police force (or its equivalent), he finds himself fighting for freedom, yet again a slave to the ideals and way of life (and organization) behind it. The real kicker though, is when Thorby finds himself in a position of super-powerful financial might, with literally the world at his fingertips, yet enslaved to that power and all the responsibilities that it implies.
Perhaps the real message of the story though, (to me anyway), is that freedom really is in the mind of the beholder, and helping others to overcome enslavements of a hateful, evil sort (like literal slavery) is a very good thing indeed. And no matter where you go, you will always be enslaved to something. So you'd better learn to survive, to be happy, and to make the most of what you have. And forget about the limits others try to impose upon you. A person with a mind that is free...is a Citizen of the Galaxy.
Besides all the great philosophy and ideas that Heinlein is famous for is of course a great adventure that really captures the imagination. I love every Heinlein story I've read so far, for the characters, the slick dialog (especially for it's time
), and the amazing universes he always manages to have up his sleeve. This book is DEFINITELY an enjoyable read for sci-fi fans.
22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on September 20, 1999
Personally, I believe this is the type of book we should have on the required reading lists at our schools - a book that is fun and fascinating to read, that introduces creative concepts about society, technology, and people...and a book that makes you think. It makes you think about the importance of freedom, about the slipperiness of the concept of freedom...about the choices that we make, and the choices that are made for us...about how people may have more to them than we suspect based on first impressions or based on their chosen profession. The first time I read the book, I was disappointed in the ending. In rereading it, I realized that Heinlein was showing one more aspect of freedom - and, in having his character give up what many people would consider an almost ideal life, in being rich with no responsibilities --- and choosing to take on the burden of those responsibilities...Heinlein was showing even more about the importance of values, of character, over superficial fun.
27 of 29 people found the following review helpful
on October 31, 2003
Capsule Description: A young orphan with no memory of his past is sold as a slave, and becomes embroiled in more and more complex situations while travelling from world to world. One of Heinlein's "Juveniles", possibly the best of that category, and a fun read.
Review: Often described as a space-age version of "Kim", Citizen of the Galaxy introduces us to the already world-weary and cynical, animalistically-paranoid Thorby, a boy of maybe ten years of age, who is being put on the auction block and sold. Through an odd sequence of events, the boy ends up being purchased by a beggar... who may be more than he appears. Subsequent events end up propelling him through the Galaxy as a number of things -- refugee, trader, military man -- while searching for the truth behind his unknown past.
Heinlein wrote several "juvenile" books, ones targeted at what today would be called the Young Adult market (mostly teenagers), but despite the label his stories were always written in a mature manner that assumed his readers were as intelligent as he was. This is one of the very best of the juveniles, all of which were good SF reads. An excellent "starter" book for a young person who'd like to try some classic SF but is daunted by the prospect of either larger books or ones so old that the language itself becomes a barrier.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on August 13, 2000
This book rates as one of my favorite Heinlein books to be read and re-read. In it, a child made a slave is bought by an old beggar in the slave market. However, neither the child who has so far survived a harsh childhood nor the old beggar are what they seem to be to the other dwellers in the poverty area adjoining the space port. After Pop is executed, Thorby must get to a certain stranger with a message from Pop, plus a headful of messages he doesn't know he's carrying. This dumps him into a Free Trader culture totally different from what he knows and in another language on a starship. Eventually Thorby is sent off to go with the equivalent of space cops. Who Thorby really is and the "warm" reception from relatives he never dreamed of lead up to the climax of the book. Like other Heinlein books, the Grand Master sneaks in his view of humans, moral behavior, and doing the right thing for the right reason. Makes me wish that dear Mr. Heinlein were still alive and well enough for visitors. One learns something on a gut level in all of his books.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on September 1, 2001
I first read this book when I was 15, and ever since I have remembered it as one of the best books I had ever read. I recently moved and unpacked my copy. Curious, I reread it and found that the passing time has not dimmed it at all. I still believe it is one of the best books I have ever read. This breaks from the stereotypical pattern of Robert Heinlein and all science fiction. It covers such borad topics as racism, slavery, corporate corruption, and the people who are willing to sacrifice everything they have to change the world.
The book opens at a slave auction,in a far away galaxy, where a young boy is up for sale. It doesn't take long for the reader to get caught up in the many twists and turns this story takes. Not one of the characters in this book is who he first appears to be. Thorby (the boy for sale) is bought by an old, crippled beggar man and ends up travelling throughout the universe. His observations on life are truly insightful. This may just change the way you see the world around you.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on August 22, 2004
Between 1947 and 1959 Robert Heinlein wrote a series of outstanding juvenile science fiction novels, including Rocket Ship Galileo (filmed as Destination Moon in 1950), Space Cadet (which spawned the Tom Corbett TV series), Starship Troopers (basis for the 1997 movie), Starman Jones, and several others. They were all written with respect for real science, in a style that appealed to adult readers as much as teens, with reasonably advanced vocabulary and character development.
One of Heinlein's classic "juvenile" novels in the tradition of Kipling, Dickens, and Stevenson, Citizen of the Galaxy traces the adventures of an apparently orphaned earth boy, Thorby, enslaved on an alien world; his upbringing by Baslim the crippled beggar; his young adult life among the space traders in their unique culture.
To some extent the character relationships, and to a lesser extent the plot, parallel Kipling's KIM. When I first saw Anakin Skywalker in Star Wars Episode One: The Phantom Menace, I was immediately reminded of Thorby and his predicaments.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on August 22, 1998
This book is the epitome of Heinlein's adventure novels. It reminds we humans that we are not truly civilized beings. He points out clearly that slavery is one of the most awful things we can entrap our fellow beings in, and also points out that there are more types of slavery than actual enslavement. Humans can be trapped by family, friends, work, and, as Heinlein shows near the end of this novel, by money. Humans do not have never known any true freedom, even though we tend to feel that capitalism or socialism are ways for us to achieve freedom. Heinlein points out that none of these systems will make us free. I also really enjoy the fact that Thorby never really cares about his past; he only wants to live in the now, the way humans should. This is an easy book to read even though its plot is like some sort of roller-coaster. Even though somewhat deep ideas are expressed in this book, I think it would be best suited for teenage readers.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on March 24, 2004
This is undoubtedly one of Heinlein's finest 'juvenile' novels (and anyone who thinks there were no female characters in it must not have read more than 10% of it).
I usually list _Tunnel in the Sky_ as my favorite of Heinlein's young-adult novels of the 1950s, and I still think it belongs at the top of the list. But this one is very close.
As I'm sure you know already, it's the tale of a young fellow named Thorby, a slave on the planet Sargon who comes under the protection of one Baslim the Cripple. A sort of outer-space version of Kipling's _Kim_, the novel traces Thorby's life and development through several changes of venue -- and ends on Earth, where Thorby finds out who he really is and takes on some heavy, adult-sized responsibilities.
It's a very well handled coming-of-age novel, and it expresses Heinlein's own remarkable take on maturity very nearly as well as _Tunnel_ (in some ways arguably better). And like _Tunnel_, it devotes _just a little_ space, toward the end, to preaching against straw men. (Here, it's a couple of custard-headed pacifists whose sole literary function is to mouth inane slogans that Heinlein wants to show up as irresponsible nonsense. There was _loads_ of such stuff in _Starship Troopers_ but in this one it's kept to a minimum.)
It also shares part of its 'skeleton' with _Stranger in a Strange Land_ (on which Heinlein was also working at about the same time, still under its provisional title 'A Martian Named Smith'). Why, there's even a climactic courtroom battle, with Thorby represented by a crusty lawyer not terribly unlike Jubal Harshaw. (In general lawyers don't come off well in Heinlein's novels; in the final analysis the sharklike Garsch is no exception, although Harshaw fares somewhat better.)
At any rate, the anthropological insights come fast and furious here (aided in part by a character who may remind you of Margaret Mead). One nice touch is revealed in Thorby's time with the Traders; like every other people in history, they call themselves 'the People' and everybody else subhuman ('fraki').
No s-e-x, though. At this time Heinlein was still publishing under the watchful eye of Alice Dalgliesh and Thorby's interactions with the opposite camp are as chaste as melting snow.
I credit Heinlein with three absolutely magisterial works -- _The Moon is a Harsh Mistress_, _Double Star_, and _The Door into Summer_. This one belongs to the second tier of near-magisterial material, well worth reading and rereading despite a few warts.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on November 27, 2003
In yet another rags to riches tale, we follow the fortunes of Thorby, a young slave who is purchased by a beneficent beggar who calls himself Baslim, the Cripple. But as longtime Heinlein readers must already suspect, Baslim has capabilities that far outweigh his physical infirmities. While teaching Thorby his own profession, he sets a plan in motion to find Thorby's real family. After a thrilling escape from the slave planet, Thorby finds a new family in a merchant trader ship, where the duties and customs are unlike anything he has ever seen. Next he joins the Guards, where still further efforts are made to find Thorby's origins. When he is finally restored to his nearest relatives, Thorby finds himself facing still more challenges, as things are not what they seem at the Rudbek household. Will Thorby ever find happiness? And is it possible to ever be truly free?
Heinlein's extensive firsthand knowledge of military science and shipboard routine serves him in good stead once again in this fascinating juvenile. He is somewhat less entertaining when trying to discuss big business dealings in the second half of the novel, but there is still a sufficiently subversive element to keep us interested in Thorby's fate. And while Thorby grows up quite a bit during the course of the story, this is still a boys' book. Numerous girls get thrown in Thorby's path at various stages, but he remains wholly oblivious, focused as he is own his own problems. And as is typical of Heinlein, these young women are not just hapless victims - some of them exercise real power within their respective realms. So young women interested in social sci-fi may find this book entertaining as well.
Heinlein's heroes are often super-smart under-achievers who find themselves thrown into new environments where they doesn't understand the rules, and Thorby is no exception. Here the process is repeated several times, and we spend more pages adjusting to the next new social situation than we do studying scientific principles, so devotees of hard science may find this one rather light fare. But for those who love to look at alternate social structures, and try to understand the logic underlying each, this book is an entertaining exercise in cultural relativity, and easily ranks among the best of Heinlein's juveniles.