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The Free Lunch Mass Market Paperback – August 19, 2002

44 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This smoothly written, well-paced romp from Canadian author Robinson (Telempath) takes places in 2023 at Dreamworld, a Disneyland-style park, whose themes draw from SF, fantasy and 1960s popular culture. Twelve-year-old Mike tries to hide himself in Dreamworld, but runs into the "Mother Elf," a midget named Annie. Comparing notes, they begin to suspect that Dreamworld is being infiltrated, but by whom? They first suspect "aliens," then agents of Alonzo Haines, proprietor of Dreamworld's spatterpunk rival, Thrillworld. Then they discover that Haines's formidable enforcer, Randall Conway, is after the aliens and after them as well. Mike and Annie ally themselves with the mystery folk, particularly an ingenious little gentleman named Hormat with an arsenal of high-tech dirty tricks, simply in order to stay alive long enough to find out where Hormat is literally coming from. In due course, after Conway gets what he deserves, all secrets are revealed, with Hormat's being so unoriginal as to be almost anticlimactic. Besides piling on the warm fuzzies, Robinson pays blatant homage to Robert A. Heinlein, retelling the classic youth-and-mentor tale of that author's juveniles and referring extensively to his work in the Dreamworld themes. The conclusion hints at a sequel in which Mike and Annie will infiltrate Thrillworld. Fans of lightweight SF should be pleased. (Aug. 27)Hugo, Nebula and John W. Campbell awards.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

When young runaway Mike seeks refuge in Dreamworld, the world-famous theme park, he discovers that he is not the first to hide away in the park's underground passages. Along with veteran stowaway Annie, Mike learns that creatures known as Trolls have invaded Dreamworldand they seem to have a sinister reason for their presence in the park. Veteran sf humorist Robinson (the Callahan series) takes on American cultural icons with his customary love for irony and clever wordplay. A good choice for sf collections.
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Mass Market Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Tor Science Fiction; First Edition edition (August 19, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812540220
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812540222
  • Product Dimensions: 4.3 x 0.7 x 6.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (44 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #860,897 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

18 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Alan Robson on November 17, 2001
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The Free Lunch is another of Spider Robinson's Heinlein impressions - and a damn good one it is as well! Dreamworld is a future theme park where all your dreams come true (under carefully controlled scientific conditions). Mike is a young, disillusioned boy who needs to escape from a reality that has become unbearable for him. He is a typical Heinlein juvenile; mature beyond his years with a vast knowledge of scientific and engineering principles and a quirky, clever mind. He manages to infiltrate Dreamworld where he plans to live a lotus-eating life away from the worries and responsibilities of reality. Underground in Dreamworld, he meets Annie, another refugee, who has been living there for more than thirteen years. She becomes his mentor.
It soon starts to become clear that there is a crisis in Dreamworld. Every evening, more staff leave the theme park than arrived in the morning - and the staff who leave are all trolls. Where are they coming from? Mike and Annie explore various hypotheses, each more outré than the last. But the truth turns out to be even stranger than anything they had imagined.
It's a great slam-bang adventure. Those with eyes to see will find it stuffed to the gunwales with Heinleinesque touches (Robinson can't resist the homage) but unlike some of his other books these touches aren't too overt and by and large they don't get in the way. He's also curbed his self-indulgent tendency to write self-referential novels full of science fictional in-jokes (I suspect he's found that they sell only to a very limited audience). As a result, The Free Lunch is one of his best novels in years and I strongly recommend it.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 5, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Spider Robinson spins another whimsical tale. Like many of Robert Heinlein's juvenile books, Robinson's young hero, Mike, manages feats that adults would find difficult. However Mike and his mentor, Annie are both geniuses (another Heinlein title character trait)so they can manage three impossible things before breakfast. Robinson's Dreamworld is definitely a place I want to visit. Filled with exhibits reflecting Heinlein, Beatles and other cultural icons of the twentith century, the park is a walk down memory lane for baby boomer scifi fans. Read and enjoy, then pass it on to a favorite twelve year old kid and hook him or her on science fiction.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Howard Bolling on February 27, 2002
Format: Hardcover
DreamWorld is a thinly veiled, future-ized DisneyWorld, with advances in customer, er, guest, psychology that provide an almost seamless, happy experience to everyone. When a boy runs away and goes "under," or behind the scenes, he's aware that the ripple effect of his behaviour will be so widespread. 'Nuff said about the plot; read it for yourself.
I've been a fan of Spider Robinson's for a long time, from the early Callahan's stories on. Is this his best work? I don't know; I do know I like it. It's written in his trademark irreverent, poke-fun-at-the-silly-things style, and it kept my attention all the way through. The end is fitting, if just a little weak.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By John S. Ryan on December 10, 2001
Format: Hardcover
I'm supposed to be studying for my law school finals, and instead I just spent two days devouring three Spider Robinson novels. So what I'm saying is, I spent the time constructively.
The other two are ones I'd already read, so never mind them. I'd been intending to get around to this one ever since it was published in August and just hadn't had time. So I finally made some.
Spider is in terrific form here. I can't tell you much about the story without spoiling it, so I'll keep my remarks general.
The tale centers on an extremely intelligent twelve-year-old boy named Mike, who may remind the reader both of Thorby in Robert Heinlein's _Citizen of the Galaxy_ and of Horty in Theodore Sturgeon's _The Dreaming Jewels_. The homage is deliberate, of course.
The plot is delightful. Mike hides away in Dreamworld, a magical theme park of the near future created by one Thomas Immega (presumably a descendant or other relative of the roboticist Guy Immega to whom _Callahan's Key_ is dedicated). Dreamworld is inspired by Disneyland but has rides and other features based on the works of e.g. Heinlein and the Beatles.
Its major rival is the violent Thrillworld. (The contrast is typical Spider, and I mean that as a compliment. If _you_ could make there be magic in the world, which sort would you pick? Black magic or white? Thrills or dreams? The manic pursuit of pleasure or the quiet possession of joy?) Thrillworld is headed by the nasty Alonzo Haines, who would very much like to destroy Dreamworld.
Anyway, Mike disappears into Dreamworld and almost at once hooks up with Annie, a middle-aged midget who has been hiding there for a while herself. Pretty soon interesting things start to happen, and not just because of Alonzo Haines.
Read more ›
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By E. A. Lovitt HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on November 27, 2004
Format: Mass Market Paperback Verified Purchase
"The Free Lunch" is a cheerful amalgam of Heinlein plotlines, staunch characters spouting Heinleinisms, and even a few of his settings rolled in as amusement park attractions. This book must have been written for the fans of RAH's so-called juvenile science fiction, of which I am one. Old and decrepit though I may be, I can still quote whole paragraphs of "Have Spacesuit Will Travel" from memory.

As with all tributes, "The Free Lunch" falls a bit flat if you are expecting something signed, sealed, and proofread by the Master. This is an imitation of Heinlein from one of his talkier novels, with computers instead of slide rules, and the author never did quite convince me that I would want to actually live in his Dreamworld theme park.

So TANSTAAFL ("there ain't no such thing as a free lunch") as the Master once said. Get over it. Mike and Annie make "The Free Lunch" worth reading. Annie is a sort of human midget Mother Thing, only a bit rougher around the personality. Mike is a male Pee Wee ("I'd rather dance with the kitchen stool"), young and sort of sexless (except for an involuntary boner when he wakes up in Annie's hide-out under Dreamworld), and very, very smart. He and Annie, aka the Mother Elf band together to outwit the owner of a rival theme park, who wants to destroy Dreamworld. While keeping an eye on the bad guy's thugs and hiding from Dreamworld's employees, Annie notices that more trolls are leaving the park at quittin' time than showed up for work in the morning.

Are the extra trolls employed by the master thug? Are they aliens from outer space who have found a great place to beam down? What?

If you're tired of gore-and-guts Alien-Dreamcatcher-Matrix ripoffs, this book is a trip back to 1960s SF (with holographs and the occasional boner).
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