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The Amazon Book Review
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The year is 1956. Eisenhower is in the White House, following a long line of military men to reach that post. And this slim book appears, presenting the wild idea of an actor, perhaps not even a very good actor, who manages to reach the position of head of state. Obviously an idea like this could only appear within the realm of science fiction! What a difference in perspective an additional twenty five years will make, as once more science fiction becomes fact.
The route Lorenzo Smythe takes to reach this post is, however, just a little different from that of the real-world actor. The Great Lorenzo, as he styles himself, is conceited, arrogant, out of work, and down to his last half-Imperial when he is offered the job of doubling for a well-known political figure. The job is so obviously beneath his dignity that he is ready to turn down the offer when the Martians take a hand, and Lorenzo finds himself involved in murder, kidnapping, and slicing both humans and Martians into small pieces to flush down the disposal.
Forced by these circumstances to take the job, Lorenzo is even more disturbed when he finds out the identity of the person he is supposed to double for, none other that the leader of the opposition party, Joseph Bonforte, whose politics, what little he knows of them, he despises. But his own inflated idea of his abilities allows him to steady down and start studying for the role, a role he will play for much longer than he could ever anticipate.
This book is a character study, carefully and artfully detailing how Lorenzo changes under the influence of having to pretend to be someone he is not, aided by the immediate staff of the man he impersonates.Read more ›
This is a crisp story, with action and intrigue from start to finish. Lorenzo Smythe is one of Heinlein's most engaging characters, and a real departure from the typical Heinlein hero. He also goes through a lot of changes, as a good protagonist should. Heinlein generally doesn't have a lot of good things to say about politicians, but John Joseph Bonforte (another critical character) is his exception that proves the rule. He's honest, capable, caring - in short a saint among politicians. Another reviewer complained of too much politics, but that's rather silly in my opinion. The book is about the world of politics in the future, so it has to talk about it. But there is very little of Heinlein's trademark libertarian philosophizing. The book moves so fast, there isn't time for it. This is Heinlein's only short work to win a Hugo award, and I consider it quite worthy of the honor. It's not one of Heinlein's series of juvenile novels, but it can be read by teens as well as adults. Get it - it beats 99% of the science fiction ever written, and practically 100% of the stuff being put out these days.
Heinlein was one of the best, and you would be missing out if you passed up the chance to read this, one of his many masterpieces. This story can still hold its own (despite being printed in 1957) against others in the genre- again, Heinlein was a master story-teller.
Enough people have given the summary of the book, but Heinlein wrote beyond the surface. The story is of an actor who truly discovers a greatness within himself that he at first only pretended to own. It's a story of humanity- in the politics the actor must represent- that humanity must not be doomed to repeat the same mistakes of seeing itself superior to other races, but instead try to learn to live in harmony. Like any good story it takes believeable characters and puts them in seemingly real situations in fantasy worlds, and tells us how we could only hope to act were we in such a predicament.
I'm lucky enough to own a first edition in great shape. I happened across it at a yard sale and had to pick it up. To me it was a "new" Heinlein novel as I hadn't heard of it. It's a light read, and although short, it's deep and fun. The plot loosely reminded me of a certain movie about an actor who impersonates the president... Of course this book was written LONG before that, and is much better. Read this book because it was written by Heinlein. Love it because it was well written.
I read this book over 10 years ago. I still remember it and I'm still fascinated by the whole theme of pretending to be someone makes you into that person that you were pretending to be. Less heavy handed than Vonnegut's Mother Night with the same theme, this Heinlein book is a delight on many levels. First the main character's smart aleck tone is highly entertaining. "If a guy walks into a bar dressed like a hick acting like he knows the place, you can tell that he's a space man". Heinlein's use of character voices is one of his strengths (like in Podkayne of Mars). Second, the role that this actor is playing becomes him and makes him into a responsible human being which is a nice idea in that a person can change and become a good person despite their best efforts to the contrary. There are problems of course. The Martians aren't that fleshed out. The shift from jerk to statesman seems way too abrupt. Some may find the main character grating. But Heinlein's strength rest in that his storytelling doesn't allow you to dwell too much on his weaknesses.
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