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Starman Jones Mass Market Paperback – September 25, 2012
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About the Author
Robert A Heinlein is considered one of the “Big Three” of classic science fiction (along with Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke). Heinlein is a seven-time Hugo Award recipient and was given the first Grand Master Nebula Award for lifetime achievement. Heinlein’s juveniles alone have influenced generations of scientists, engineers and creators the world over (for instance, it was once estimated that everyone in the Apollo 11 mission control room had read and loved at least one Heinlein novel). His worldwide bestsellers include Have Space Suit—Will Travel, Stranger in a
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Ever since he was a child, Max Jones has yearned to go into space. His uncle, a space navigator (or astrogator, as they're called), used to regale him with stories of interstellar travel and let him peruse his manuals, thick compendiums stuffed with calculations used to guide spaceships through charted territories. But he had little hope of getting into the astrogator guild. After his father died, Max ended up working the family farm day in and day out, which left little time for anything but dreaming. Then one day Max's mother showed up with an unwelcome surprise -- a new husband, one Biff Montgomery, a man whose sole achievement lay in avoiding honest work like the plague. Now Max has to discover if he can break into a guild or, barring that, an actual ship. Apprentice or stowaway, either option sounds fine to Max. With Biff in the picture, it's off-world or bust.
There's plenty in Starman Jones that hasn't aged well. I had to suppress a smile when reading about Max cooking up biscuits and ham at his farm on one page and then calculating inverse cubes on his slide rule the next. Anachronisms abound, as one could rightly expect from a book coming out of the golden age of science fiction. But if you look past the outdated stuff, you'll find a novel with surprisingly strong bones. Heinlein's characterizations are quite deft, from a mysterious interloper who may or may not have a checkered military past to a headstrong ambassador's daughter with more gumption and savvy than is immediately apparent. And the action picks up nicely once Max makes it into the void. (Honestly, with the word "starman" in the title, was there ever any doubt?) Jones may be a little creaky in the joints, but it still gets along pretty well in the end.
Unfortunately his bad luck seemed to go with him, he was robbed, he found that his uncle had not left a will naming him heir to enter a Guild. Just when it seemed as though every door was firmly closed against him Max's luck seemed to change....but for better or worse?
This is one of the 'juveniles' that Heinlein wrote in the '50's. Most of these stories were originally serials in magazines, usually ones aimed at boys and told from a young man's point of view. The technology described was amazing stuff at the time but most of it now seems quaint. The attitudes of the times toward women and social class also appear as foreign to today's reader as any alien culture. Despite all this Heinlein still spins a good story, one that will leave the reader with something to think about long after.
Fans of Heinlein will recognize bits that will appear in later works, young Max has lots in common with Andy Libby of the Future History stories, descriptions of life aboard a starship liner will be revisited in later works as well as the idea of an idyllic planet hiding subtle dangers. Those who are not familiar with Heinlein's works would do well to start here enough though it is not one of his better known works.
Not the best book by Heinlein, and it should be noted that I'm rating it 3 stars on a scale of his other books, not relative to the whole sci-fi genre. Definitely worth a read.