Literary Matters: Heinlein and Huckleberry Finn

After Heinlein wrote The Rolling Stones, he wrote Starman Jones, another rousing adventure tale with nevertheless a bit more edge to it, as bildungsromans must needs have. Romance! Danger! The caprices of fate! No guarantee of a happy ending!

I reviewed the Baen reissue of this title a couple of years ago, as part of a previous Heinlein binge, but you can take a fresh look at what I thought: certainly my impressions have not changed radically since then. Several things set this story apart from the grandmaster’s other juveniles. The author seemingly allows that, on occasion, breaking the rules, even lying, might be justifiable, if not precisely pardonable. His protagonist does not always do the right thing, and the friend, mentor and father figure written in for our hero is even more of a scoundrel, though neither is he entirely without merit.

Heinlein also takes us to the stars in this novel (hence the title) for the first time since he started writing young adult science fiction novels. The future history equivalent of the merchant marines (which the titular Jones joins) takes passengers (tourists, even) on routine cruises to planets and colonies in distance constellations, through deep space and outside the bounds of the light speed limit. At least when they don’t get lost. This change in setting appears to have been the beginning of a pattern that would continue through to Starship Troopers. Heinlein was done with practically already-existing technology and the limits of the Solar System, at least for the time being. Now he was writing alien planets, black box star drive ship engines, and plentiful alien life.

Without further ado, then, I give you Starman Jones.

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