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Like a kinder, gentler Battle Royale… IN SPACE!: Robert A. Heinlein's Tunnel in the Sky

As usual I will be heading out soon so the myriad of corrections -and I didn't sleep well so I assume there will be lots - will not be dealt with until tonight.
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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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Farmer in the Sky

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

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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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.

In some ways, that sounds like the lead-in to a Lensmen story but the men of the Patrol, while elite in their way, are no super-humans.
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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.

Luckily for the boys, this isn't a juvenile novel about three teens going on the lam for manslaughter Read more... )
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From 1947 to 1958, Robert Heinlein wrote a series of science fiction novels aimed at the young men of America. Aided in this effort by editor Alice Dalgliesh, whose efforts to shape Heinlein's books into something suitable for their intended market Heinlein was not entirely appreciative of, he wrote what are for many people of a certain age one of the great series in science fiction. For many writers it is a model seared into their brains, although not one many authors can successfully emulate [1]. Indeed, the reasonable reaction to the announcement by a once-favoured author that he (it's almost always a he, and almost always of a certain age) is going to try his hand at this Heinlein Juvenile thing is lamentation and despair, as the results are hardly ever any good and the effect on the author often corrosive.

I suspect part of the problem is that is not just modern would-be Heinleins are embracing a misguided nostalgia but also that they lack an Alice Dalgliesh to apply the steel-toed boot of editorial guidance to the adam's apple of authorial ambition. While Dalgliesh had her own issues [2], she seems to have been just the right editor for Heinlein. I base this on the fact that Heinlein wrote two more juveniles after he and Scribner's parted ways and they don't stand up to the Scribner's books at all.

Join me as I reread all twelve of the Scribner's books as well as the lesser Starship Troopers and Podkayne of Mars, one book each Friday.

1: And for a very reasonable sum I would be willing to follow this up with a study of the Jupiter (Young Adult Novels) Tor's failed experiment along these lines.

2: For example, her The Courage of Sarah Noble and its depiction of Native Americans has not aged well.


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