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Heinlein, Robert A.
TO THE STARS
(reprint) omnibus: 2004
To the Stars, a nice hardcover omnibus of 4 "juveniles" by Robert A. Heinlein - containing Between Planets (1951), The Rolling Stones (1952), Starman Jones (1953), and The Star Beast (1954.)
First published by Scribner's in hardcover in the Fifties, they were very popular - raising the bar on quality of SF for young people, with carefully worked out backgrounds and technical detail, interesting characters and plots that make you want to come along for the ride. Heinlein's juveniles were in a class of their own, and major SF magazines were happy to serialize them when they had a chance. Unlike his other books, most of these were not reprinted in paperback for 15 years or more - a few in the late Sixties, and the rest came out from Ace in the early Seventies. I may run on a bit in the plot summaries, but that's because these are some of my favorites. Since these are worth re-reading, I recommend a hardcover edition of some sort. Some of these had recent hardcover reprints, but the single volumes can be expensive, and Scribner's editions can get even more so.
Between Planets (1951) - a short version was serialized in Blue Book in 1951 as "Planets in Combat." Don Harvey was born in space; his mother was from Venus, and his father from Earth. He is going to school on Earth when war is about to break out between the colonists of Venus and the Federation. His parents send him a ticket to Mars before he graduates - they believe conflict is imminent. They are right, too - before he can transfer to his Mars bound ship, the space station is taken over and all ships commandeered by the High Guard of the Venus Republic. Refusing to go back to Earth, Don ends up bound for Venus. He is non-political, but finds himself leaning to side with the Venusians after high-handed treatment by the Federation's Internal Security. Once on Venus, he is at loose ends - until Earth launches a counter-attack and invasion. He finds he is being hunted by Security for a ring he was given to deliver to his parents. He joins up in the Venus military, learns to fight guerilla style, and matures. Once again, Heinlein gives us a main character who can adapt and grow - and shows us from the inside.
The Rolling Stones (1952) - a shorter version was serialized in Boys Life (4 parts in 1952 as "Tramp Space Ship.") The Stone family - 3 generations worth - buy a used spaceship and it's "look out, Solar System!" Heinlein has a real juggling act with 7 family members all with their own ideas of what to do, but he pulls it off. Grandmother Hazel Stone is the same character as Hazel Stone in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress written a dozen years later, but I don't feel that this is a true novel and prequel because the societies and social backgrounds don't really match up - think of it as an inside joke for observant readers. And the flatcats are marvelous - I think it's obvious where the idea for "tribbles" came from, 15 years later.
Starman Jones (1953) - In a Guild-dominated society where jobs are at a premium, Max Jones is a hill boy with dreams of going to the stars. His uncle Chet had promised to sponsor him to the Astrogator's Guild, but died before actually doing so. When he approached the Guild, they confiscated his uncle's books, and paid him off. Max doesn't miss them much, since he'd read them - and has a photographic memory. Being turned down by the Guild doesn't stop Max. With the help of Sam Anderson, a wily drifter who'd taken Max under his wing, they sign up as crewmen on the starship Asgard - under false papers. The plan is to jump ship sometime during the trip, and at least Max will have been to space.
The only thing is - he likes his job, and is good at it. Then he gets a chance to try out as Apprentice Astrogator - the job of his dreams! How can he walk away from the life he has always wanted to live? When the ship is lost due to a miscalculation, the lives of all end up depending on Max and his ablities. All of the details of spaceship life are marvelously worked out - especially the control room and piloting procedures, where Max spends his time learning to work in the "Worry Hole." As you might guess from my lavish description - this is one of my favorites by Heinlein, well worth rereading.
The Star Beast (1954) a - shorter version was serialized in The Magazine of F&SF May to July 1954 (as "Star Lummox.") Lummox was smuggled from another star system by John Thomas' great-grandfather as a cute little beast that has been growing ever since. Now bigger than an elephant, so tough that bullets bounce off, and with a taste for steel - the last Buick he ate caused a growth spurt. He has broken loose again, and John Thomas first has to catch him, and then decide what to do to stay ahead of all sorts of trouble. Knowing that those in authority will want to kill Lummox or separate them - he opts for escape, and leads a merry chase cross-country. Meanwhile, a diplomatic incident is shaping up: a Hroshia ship has shown up, demanding the return of one of their citizens, with dire consequences for the Solar System if their demands are not met. Henry Kiku, permanent Under Secretary of the Department of Spatial Affairs must try to straighten things out.