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Book Note: Robert A. Heinlein, Space Cadet

I read this book about 20-Jun-2001. I've read this book before. The book is copyright 1948. This note was last modified Thursday, 19-Dec-2002 16:25:58 PST.

This note does not contain major spoilers for the book.


I'm digging just a bit back into my memory and the book pile. I probably won't reread this for a while, and I probably should say something about it while it's on my mind. (And the date read is approximate).

I stumbled across a very nice and clean ex-library hardcover in Uncle Hugo's, so of course I had to have it. Dust jacket seems pristine (it's in a cover), and there's some library impedimenta on the first page, but otherwise for a wonder they didn't screw it up. It came out of the Hennepin County Library. It probably went in in June of 1982; no idea when it came out, but perhaps fairly recently? Anyway, the somewhat surprising thing is that it's a British edition (Victor Gollancz).

So of course I read my new copy.

This is solidly one of Heinlein's "juveniles". It's a coming-of-age story, with a "military" service providing the setting and some additional stresses (command responsibility, and in real trouble at that) not normally available to people that young. He makes some fairly careful distinctions between the Interplanetary Patrol and more traditional military services; in particular it consists only of officers and cadets. This is the service that controls the atom bomb rockets that enforce peace on earth. Luckily, I guess, they are men of good will. Sorry, couldn't resist.

This is the book where Heinlein has portable telephones. Not that fantastic a prediction even in 1948; but almost the only mention of them is connected to one cadet having chosen to pack his in his luggage so as to be unreachable. First, a very sharp prediction. And second, a clear case of being slave to his real-world experience without noticing; he couldn't conceive of a telephone with an on-off switch. Some of you may not remember why, until deregulation, it was so hard to get phones that weren't hardwired into the wall; it was, allegedly, so that they couldn't be unplugged. The Bell System didn't want you being unavailable on the phone! Heinlein carefully didn't say anything about how they worked; he probably knew they were absurd on the face of it, until something like cells (reusing frequencies a lot) was possible, which required digital computers.

There's some discussion of physical and psychological testing as part of the admission process, which shows considerable thought. I'm pleased every time I go through this one to encounter the tests which, very probably, are checking whether the candidate will cheat more than anything else.

The training sequences are pretty good. He talks about teaching people to move in freefall, and about teaching spacesuit maneuvering. It all sounds sensible and nicely solid.

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David Dyer-Bennet