Monday, August 15, 2011
Orphans of the Sky by Robert A. Heinlein
Orphans of the Sky is another one of the young adult novels by Heinlein. In this one, he explores what might happen when the crew of a vast starship, headed to Far Centauri, is decimated by a mutiny, and the survivors end up spending generations on the ship, while knowledge of their journey gradually gets shifted to the status of legends. It loosely fits into Heinlein's Future History series.
The central character is a teen named Hugh Hoyland, who likes to explore the remote decks of the ship with his friends. One day he climbs to a place where he is captured by a group of Muties - possibly descendents of the original mutinists or merely just mutants born after the ship's shielding began to fail. He becomes a servant to Jim-Joe, the two-headed leader of the band, and begins to expand his horizons by reading books Jim-Joe has rescued, not available where Hugh comes from, and then his world view is totally torn apart when Jim-Joe takes him to the Control Room, where he sees the stars for the first time.
The passengers on the ship have come to regard the ship as the whole of their universe, and regard the Trip as merely a metaphorical religious journey, not a literal one with a destination on a new planet. People who disagree with the Captain and his Scientists are summarily executed and fed into the mass converters. It's against this ignorance that Hugh realizes he must fight and attempt to win converts to help him find a way for the ship to complete its journey, and land on a new world.
This novel isn't particularly inspired, but it does contain some insights and metaphors about small, insular communities.