Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Between Planets by Robert A. Heinlein

Between Planets
Between Planets, written in 1951, is one of Heinlein's young adult novels. One of the really wonderful thing about his books for young adults is that he never talked down to them, and he always assumed that those who were reading his books would be interested in science, engineering, and space, and peppers his writing with all sorts of fun facts, some of which later proved not to be true, but it's fairly easy to ignore those picky bits and just enjoy the story.

This is the story of Don Harvey, a young man who was born on a space ship to one parent who was from Venus Colony and the other from Earth. Both of his parents are doing research on Mars as the story begins, while Don is away at a boarding school in New Mexico, almost a dude ranch. When it becomes evident that a rebellion is about to start, with the colonists asserting their independence from the mother planet, his parents send word for him to leave school and join them on Mars.

Before he boards ship, his parents have asked him to stop by an old friend, Dr. Jefferson, of the family's house for a visit. Unknown to Don, his parents are part of a "rebel" underground, and the friend gives him a package to deliver to them that contains urgent information. The package appears to be merely a toy ring, which Don puts on his finger and forgets, more or less, thinking that if there was a secret message, it was written on the packaging paper, which the secret police confiscate after arresting Don and Dr. Jefferson. Jefferson dies while being questioned, and the police end up letting Don go, without discovering anything special about the ring.

He tries to go to Mars, but when the rebellion breaks out, he is instead forced to travel to Venus. Along the way, he makes the acquaintance of a VIP Venusian dragon, Sir Isaac Newton (the dragons give themselves Earth names of historical figures they admire), and is of some service to the dragon when his voder (voice synthesizer) is damaged during blastoff. Don is, however, "between planets", having no fixed citizenship, and when he arrives on Venus, he is forced to work as a dishwasher in a little Chinese restaurant to survive until he can contact his parents (those Chinese start businesses going everywhere, eh?).

Eventually he volunteers for the Venusian military, after Earth forces invade the planet to subdue the rebels, and spends some time in guerrilla warfare in the swamps. His dragon friend, Sir Isaac, finds out where he is and sends for him, and he is finally able to deliver the ring to the underground, who will use the information there to help defeat Earth.

One good quote, "...the one thing we have in common is a belief in the dignity and natural worth of free intelligence. In many different ways we have fought - and fought unsuccessfully, I should add - against the historical imperative of the last two centuries, the withering away of individual freedom under larger and even more pervasive organizations, both governmental and quasi-governmental."
I'm sensing a recurring event here. Heinlein spends a lot of time through the first 90% of this book really developing the story, then in the last twenty pages or so, wraps things up in a hurry with a bit of miraculous technology. Maybe he had more to say, but was limited by publishing constraints of the time. It's still vintage RAH and worth a read, even for today's jaded young adults.

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