enhanced] DD-B

Book Note: Robert A. Heinlein, Space Cadet (#2)

I read this book about 10-Jun-2014. I've read this book before. The book is copyright 1948. This note was last modified Wednesday, 11-Jun-2014 22:08:40 PDT.

This note contains spoilers for the book.


Officially set in 2075 (the date Matt is due to report for training is on the orders he reads). (Most of the juveniles can't be attached at all firmly to a date.)

Tex's dodge of packing his phone in his luggage is the kind of thing that Heinlein was so good at. He thought about the social consequences of a lot of his worldbuilding. He didn't always get it right, but he thought about it, and his thoughts were interesting. Matt hangs up on his father with the excuse that he's in a crowd, I'm sure lots of people wish more people would do that today! I wonder if Tex packed it for plausibility, or if Heinlein hadn't anticipated a power switch (and all the other options to control ringing on today's phones)? In the old days, the phone company was very committed to your phone being always accessible, to the extent that a phone you could unplug was something they tried to avoid allowing (this was before modular jacks, obviously). Heinlein had a fight with them about this over his Colorado Springs house, I think.

The Patrol may never ask a man where he is from (as Cadet Sabatello explains to Mr. van Zook at lunch), but later it comes out that people won't actually be expected to bomb their home city, so apparently patrol officers (it's all officers, remember) are expected to know that about the people on the ships they command).

Matt has had his copter license since he was 12. That sort of thing is fairly common in SF, and very rare in the real world. Exceptional people get pilot's licenses rather young (there often aren't legal constraints on age, or they're loose), but they're exceptional. The tests are considerably more thorough than the ones for driving cars, whereas the SF situations seem to be saying fairly ordinary people get to fly at 12 or 14.

But then, flying, even helicopters, as normal transportation around a city probably doesn't work anyway. The precision needed to maneuver in dense traffic isn't available to a vehicle aerodynamically supported and controlled. (Magic tech flying cars that aren't aerodynamic might be feasible). Rooftop heliports turned out to be a bad idea even for professional pilots.

Matt's roommate is lying on his bunk smoking when Matt first shows up. One way we've diverged from this future!

"Matt slept in a hydraulic bed at home, but he had used matress beds in summer camp." Is this another, much earlier (before Stranger), reference by Heinlein to water beds? Seems like it is.

"The bumps" require a sheer 2000-foot cliff. They're located wast of the base (which is in Colorado), and are reached by helicopter. And the book says "It was a crisp Colorado morning", which seems to suggest that it's in Colorado. I wonder if Heinlein had a specific cliff in mind? He built a house in Colorado Springs, he probably knew the area pretty well. (The airfield is called Santa Barbara Field, which for a while had me confused, thinking the training base was in Santa Barbara; but it isn't, that's the name of the field, not the name of the city the base is near. So it's probably where the Air Force Academy is in our world.)

Various people in the Facebook Heinlein Forum suggested Painted Wall in the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. It's in Colorado (250 miles southwest of Denver) and 2,250 feet high.

By the standards of 1948 this text is wildly inclusive. There's a black candidate in one of the first scenes arriving at the base, the cadet in charge of the observation trench when a ship crashes is Muslim, the start of the swearing-in roll call goes "Adams! Akbar! Alvarado!". And Matt repeats the commandant's "so help me God", "but the response around him took a dozen different forms, in nearly as many languages." All this in the first 48 pages. (48 seems to be the number! Also the US military was desegregated in 1948; not that there weren't black troops, even black combat troops, before then, but they were a special case, in defined "black" units and so forth; not integrated.)

Of course, by today's standards this book is monotonoously white, with the "minorities" kept at a safe distance, and women excluded entirely. There's not even any attempt to argue why women couldn't be in the Patrol, they just aren't. Also no slightest hint of LGBT people. Not that he could have done it openly in a book for children in 1948.

Ah, here we are, the discussion of who bombs whom (p. 125, which is more than half way through). Matt is talking to Lieutenant Wong about his leave and his interactions with his family during it, and Matt says he might not be able to bomb his home. Wong says he wouldn't be expected to—"your commanding officer would probably lock you up in your room rather than take a chance on you." (This after discussing how unlikely it was for North America to need to be bombed, and then for Matt to be the one who draws the duty.) Matt is unhappy, and Wong says young people tend to look for moral simplicity, and the real world just isn't.

So, now Matt is on the Aes Triplex, and they're looking for the P.R.S. Pathfinder. Which was in an obscure corner of local space, so far away that it's out of radio range with the limited ship-board equipment. That (a repeating trope in old SF) is completely absurd to us today; we're still in touch with old spacecraft much further out than the Interplanetary Patrol goes, and those old spacecraft have much less power than the Patrol ships. It just wouldn't happen that they'd be out of touch due to simply being too far away. I think the difference is using higher frequencies, making a more efficient antenna possible on the spacecraft end; and probably also quieter components greatly lowering the noise floor and hence making weaker signals readable on both ends. But I'm not any kind of analog electronics engineer.

Every ration taken aboard a Patrol ship is pre-cooked and ready for eating as soon as it is taken out of freeze and subjected to the number of seconds, plainly marked on the package, of high-requency heating required. Marie Calender would be proud. This may look like prediction in science fiction; but the "Radarange" dates to 1947, the year before this book was published (not as a home appliance, however; Amana brought those out under that brand name in 1967).

They find the Pathfinder, and everyone is dead from a freak meteor (which punctured the inner door while the outer, armored, door was open, and everybody was gathered around the lock). One thing they think is that they may need to change procedures, so this won't happen again.

Also, the Pathfinder has found evidence that the asteroid belt used to be a planet (called "Lucifer"), and that it was inhabited, and that they destroyed themselves with atomic weapons. ("Lucifer" appears again in The Rolling Stones).

This is very much a book of the "world government" period; the whole purpose of the Patrol is to hold the weapons too horrible for individual governments. The question of how the Patrol can remain trustworthy comes up, and one of the names that appears in every muster is there because he prevented traitors in the Patrol from using the weapons to take over Earth, back in the early days. It's pointed out that the Patrol has, by then, produced over a century of peace, which is nearly unprecedented. Unfortunately, I don't think it works against the "little" or "brushfire" wars like Korea, Vietnam, and the rest of the last half of the twentieth century.

They send the Pathfinder home with a small crew and most of their fuel; the ship is valuable, and the information is priceless. And the Aes Triplex heads home on a much slower orbit, and gets diverted to Venus. The worldbuilding there is somewhat interesting also (we only see females of the native species, and they're superb experts at chemical engineering but not physics or mechanics), but I don't find much to comment on. The problem they were sent to solve, when they finally find it, turns out to be Stinky Burke, the entitled asshole they met the first day at the Academy, who resigned after a while. He's a racist, and they aren't, and he's managed to get on bad terms with the natives in this area (near the equator; people only live near the poles).

So, Burke's ship is trashed by the corrosives the Venerians used to get through doors they didin't understand. The jeep our boys arrived in is trashed by metal-eating worms in the mud, plus the bearings on the gyros being shot (also the mud), plus being out of fuel. But luckily the Astarte, the ship of the lost first expedition, has been preserved by the natives. Not only that, they can produce alcoholmdash;and liquid oxygen. I said they were good chemical engineers.

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David Dyer-Bennet