Review of Infinite Possibilities, by Robert Heinlein
Copyright © by Dan Schneider, 8/19/05
For my birthday my wife bought me a book that consisted of three Robert Heinlein juvenile novels. The book was called Infinite Possibilities, and she did so because she knew that I had though Stranger In A Strange Land, his most well known book, was good. I had a sneaking suspicion, though, that Heinlein was one of those authors who was a one hit wonder, and these novels confirmed that suspicion. And calling them ‘juvenile novels’ does nothing to mitigate how bad these novels are. All three were written in the mid-1950s but, to use filmic analogies, these were not Forbidden Planet nor The Day The Earth Stood Still, but rather third rate Captain Video And The Video Rangers, or an even worse 1950s schlock show. The good news is Jess paid only a buck for the discounted book.
All of the tales are really pulpy, loaded with poor dialogue- wooden and stilted, weak characterization (especially females), and nothing really memorable occurs- in short, they are like bad movie serials. It’s amazing just to compare juvenile sci fi written now, to that written half a century ago. Modern juvenilia, such as Nick Sagan’s Idlewild, is enthralled with The Matrix-like pretensions, trying to seem hyper-cool, whereas Heinlein’s limp efforts are more like a cross between futuristic seeming industrial films and Boy Scout propaganda.
The three novels are Tunnel In The Sky, Time For The Stars, and Citizen Of The Galaxy. Here are capsule reviews of all 3 books:
Tunnel In The Sky:
follows Rod Walker, a high schooler who’s popular, and one of the best in his
Advanced Survival class. As part of a test they are dropped off, via a
teleportation device, on a remote planet for a ten reconnaissance trip. This is
because earth must colonize the galaxy, for it is teemingly overpopulated. Of
course, something goes wrong, and the kids lose contact with earth, and any
chance of rescue- this after Rod’s parents voice objections to his going in
the first place. The kids are then in interstellar Lord Of The Flies
territory. There is danger (woo!) and hardship (oh!), but their biggest threats
come from within (didn’t see that coming, did’ja?). Of course, the kids try
to form a system of governance and problems ensue. Tune in same time, same
station, next week….
Time For The Stars:
follows the starship Elsie (slang for the Lewis And Clark- LC, Elsie, see?) on
its multi-decades flight to Tau Ceti and Deneb Kaitos. The interesting part is
that on board will be one of a set of twins- brothers who are telepathic, and
whose communication can supersede light speed, and are almost instantaneous.
They are Tom and Pat Bartlett. Pat, the dominant twin, remains on earth while
quiet Tom will embark on the seventy year voyage, a vivid illustration of Albert
Einstein’s classic Twins Paradox, but a decision not without conflict. The
twins are part of the Long Range Foundation- a typical space bureaucracy. As
years pass and Tom ages, his telepathic link with his brother wanes, where once
they were inseparable, and Tom finds that he can establish a clearer link with
female members of his clan- a niece, grand-niece, and great-grand-niece. This
connection is needed for without it the mission’s information would take years
to return to earth. Yet, his years in space help wean Tom off of Pat’s
control, and when he finally returns, things are a bit different than they were.
Citizen Of The Galaxy:
This book follows a boy named Thorby (really Thor Bradley Rudbek, the long lost heir to the greatest fortune on Earth) who was kidnapped and enslaved as a tot by space pirates. His life was tough and cruel. He is then brought to the slave trading post at Sargon, Capitol of the Nine Worlds, where he is bought by Baslim the beggar, a one-eyed, one-legged old man, who treats and educates him as a son, not a slave. Here he learns the con art of begging, and that Baslim was a spy for the X Corps, and really Colonel Richard Baslim, a legendary officer in the Terran Hegemonic Guard, and an anti-slavery crusader. A series of events leads to his time aboard the Free Trader ship Sisu, where Captain Krausa also shows fatherly devotion to him, and he likewise bonds with his newest ‘family’. A series of newer adventures turn Thorby into a galactic anti-slavery crusader, like Baslim, against the Terran Hegemony, as he seeks his true lineage and fortune. He finds out that his own family’s company is deeply involved in aiding the slave trade, and vows to wrest control back from the lackeys who have run the company since his real parents’ deaths. Yet, even the Free Traders are not so free, as Thorby discovers- more like interstellar communes, replete with their biases and strictures.
Of course, this allows for prototypical 1950s era moralizing, and Heinlein is very heavyhanded, in this and all three books. To read these books and then read Stranger In A Strange Land, published just a few years later, suggests that Heinlein made a quantum jump upward in writing ability. Read the later book, and save these books to fill out your Heinlein library, if you’re so inclined. That’s about all they’re really any good for.
[An expurgated version of this article originally appeared on the Yet Another Book Review website.]
Return to Bylines