Saturday, March 24, 2007

Robert A. Heinlein and Spider Robinson: Variable Star

The author of Variable Star is listed as Robert Heinlein and Spider Robinson, but it's really a recently discovered outline by Heinlein that Robinson has turned into a novel. The story has a very anachronistic feel to it, with many heinleinian plot points (it appears to be set in Hienlein's Future History) but references to recent events and relatively modern mores.

I don't much care for stories with a reluctant hero, and Joel Johnston has to be dragged, kicking and screaming, through each of his life transitions. He's actually a fairly decent character in between, but the switch-overs are wrenching.

The story was a nominee for the Prometheus award, but wasn't chosen as a finalist. It doesn't have much to say about freedom or self-direction; it's not a cautionary tale; the governments are benign and consensual or required by circumstances (a 500 person starship has to have a captain and someone to keep the peace) and minimal, but in either case, neither something to fight against or to hold out as a model. The characters are pushed around by fate and circumstance.

The story takes so many hairpin turns that there's not much else I can say without spoiling the plot. Talking about anything after the first 50 pages would tell way too much about the most surprising development, and after that, things are pretty much pre-ordained other than the details. I'd rather read a real Heinlein juvenile, and make allowances for Heinlein's atavatistic viewpoint or a modern story by Robinson (with all the puns) than this mishmash.

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