Reviews: The Great Heinlein Juveniles (Plus The Other Two) Reread

James and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Heinlein Juvenile

Podkayne of Mars — Robert A. Heinlein

1963’s Podkayne of Mars was, if Heinlein’s comments in Grumbles from the Grave can be believed, not intended as a juvenile:

March 10, 1962: Robert A. Heinlein to Lurton Blassingame

Is Poddy a juvenile? I didn’t think of it as such and I suggest that it violates numerous taboos for the juvenile market. It seems to me that it is what the Swedes call a “cadet” book — upper teenage, plus such adults and juveniles as may enjoy it — and the American trade book market does not recognize such a category.

Despite that, some people, including me, lump it in with his juveniles because the lead is a fifteen-year-old girl, with her eleven-year-old brother in an important supporting role.

Remember how in my review for Have Space Suit — Will Travel, I said:

As I closed the cover of the last true Heinlein juvenile, I really wonder what this book would have looked like if in 1958 Heinlein had been able to envision and publish a juvenile with a female lead.


We will never know the answer to that. We do have the answer to the question what would such a novel look like if Heinlein wrote it five years later and the answer is “horrible”.

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Into the Abyss

Starship Troopers — Robert A. Heinlein

In the spirit of Social Credit leader Camil Samson’s wonderful phrase, “Ladies and gentlemen, the Union Nationale has brought you to the edge of the abyss. With Social Credit, you will take one step forward,” follow me over the edge and into the abyss that is Heinlein’s post-Scribners work.

Scribners rejected 1959’s Starship Troopers, marking the end of what had been a fruitful relationship between the touchy Heinlein and that particular publisher. It also foreshadowed the end of his career as an author of books deliberately aimed at young adults. Rereading it, I was reminded of something I was told in Economics 101 way back in 1980: “don’t try to apply any of this to real life.”

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A Boy and His Space Suit

Have Space Suit — Will Travel — Robert A. Heinlein

1958’s Have Space Suit — Will Travel brings us to the end of the Scribner Heinlein juveniles — universally recognized [0] as the only true Heinlein juveniles — and leaves us perched on the abyss that contains the Heinlein juveniles written without the firm hand of editor Alice Dalgliesh to moderate Heinlein’s various quirks (or alternatively, to insist he play to hers). While it isn’t quite up to Citizen of the Galaxy, it’s an interesting example of how much Heinlein could milk out of a very straightforward plot.

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The best of the Heinlein juveniles

Citizen of the Galaxy — Robert A. Heinlein

Some of this will come across as negative so I’d like to begin with “Citizen of the Galaxy is in many ways the most ambitious of the juveniles and it was that ambition that put Heinlein’s blind-spots out where I could see them.” This could easily have been a much more straightforward, much less interesting space adventure book.

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In which archaic sexism and racism provide unwelcome distraction from dubious physics

Time for the Stars — Robert A. Heinlein

1956’s Time for the Stars feels like a regression for Heinlein, a book that if I did not know when it was published I would have said was one of the earlier juveniles. It’s also oddly downbeat, in that the protagonist’s most significant contribution to the world is something he could have done at home, something that makes his other efforts almost pointless.

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Like a kinder, gentler Battle Royale… IN SPACE!

Tunnel in the Sky — Robert A. Heinlein

1955’s Tunnel in the Sky takes us to a future Earth jam-packed with people but rescued from an ongoing Malthusian crisis by the timely invention of interstellar gates. With access to the hundred thousand Earth-like worlds1 scattered through the Milky Way, there is enough room for everyone to spread out while breeding like mice, at least for a time – I make it about 600 years before all one hundred thousand worlds are as crammed with people as the Earth is.

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Enter the Heinlein Girl in Charge

The Star Beast — Robert A. Heinlein

1954’s The Star Beast is notable for a couple of things. Of all the Heinlein Girls in Charge, The Star Beast’s Betty Sorenson is the girl most in charge and in Mr. Kiku we find an extremely uncommon figure for SF, a sympathetic career bureaucrat.

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Innocent farmboys, spoiled heiresses and lovable rogues

Starman Jones — Robert A. Heinlein

1953’s Starman Jones sees Heinlein abandon the Solar System (and plausible propulsion systems) for the wider galaxy. He also discards the idea of his protagonists coming from loving (if sometimes troubled) families and the quasi-utopian settings of some previous books, although he does not venture into the outright dystopia of Between Planets, the better to force his protagonist head-long into adventure.

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“But what about Meade?”

The Rolling Stones — Robert A. Heinlein

1952’s The Rolling Stones is intriguing from any number of angles. It’s the final Heinlein juvenile set entirely in the Solar System. It has genuinely interesting and potentially informative rocket science. In contrast with several of the earlier books the stakes, while important to the characters, are comparatively low. The sexual politics are tragic in a way I can talk about. My discussion about the two leads will starkly illuminate how poorly I manage to keep current affairs separated in my head from whatever I happen to be reading. It’s all good!

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Between Planets

Robert A. Heinlein

1951’s Between Planets continues the evolution in Heinlein’s fiction of Earth’s government away from the optimistic portrayal in Rocket Ship Galileo. This Federation is overtly oppressive, and while the atomic bombs of Circum Terra keep any terrestrial nation from rising up, there is no such brake on the colonists of Venus.

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Panicky Malthusianism meets bad physics in the least of the classic Heinlein juveniles

Farmer in the Sky — Robert A. Heinlein

I think Heinlein worked on his technique all through the juveniles but to my eye 1950’s Farmer in the Sky, while introducing themes that would persist through the rest of his career, is a half step back, filled with pacing issues and the decision to highlight aspects of his world-building that he probably should have tried very hard to distract people from.

[spoiler warnings]

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Red Planet

Robert A. Heinlein

1949’s Red Planet takes us to a Mars far more habitable than the real one, an inviting if challenging world whose ancient civilization seems to have little issue sharing Mars with a handful of human colonists from Earth. Changes are coming for the colonists, changes that will cast a stark light on the assumptions the humans have about their hosts.

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Space Cadet

Robert A. Heinlein

The second of the juveniles, Space Cadet is from 1948 but more improved over Rocket Ship Galileo than the passage of one year would warrant.

By 2075, the Earth unified, although not as peacefully as in Rocket Ship Galileo; Denver is a crater, as are other cities. The current peace is enforced by the Patrol and naïve Matt Dodson wants to be one of its many officers. Happily for Matt, he is one of the few good enough for the Patrol to consider but when we meet him, on his way to the academy, he has no idea if he will be one of the majority of washouts or if perhaps he can be polished into the sort of young who might kill a million of his fellow citizens in nuclear fire.

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Rocket Ship Galileo

Robert A. Heinlein

First published in 1947.

Post-war but not too post-war America! While the UN police guarantee global peace and systems as different as the American and Russian ways of life live together amicably, three young men, products of America’s impressive new school system, are focused (as so many young men of this time were) on their homemade rocket. While the rocket itself goes all kerblooie, the young men - Ross Jenkins, Art Mueller and Maurice Abrams – count the experiment as a success, at least until they find the unconscious man on the doorstep of their test facility, apparently brained by a fragment from the exploding rocket.

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