enhanced] DD-B

Book Note: Robert A. Heinlein, Variable Star

I read this book about 23-Sep-2006. This is the first time I've read this book. The book is copyright 2006. This note was last modified Wednesday, 27-Sep-2006 19:41:42 PDT.

This note contains spoilers for the book.


Okay, actually by Spider Robinson, from an outline and some note cards left in Heinlein's files when he died. The outline is incomplete. It appears to date from 1955.

The book does not appear to contain anywhere the actual Heinlein material, which I really want to see. I'd probably have bought the very thin pamphlet containing just that for the same price, in fact.

I will confess to you that I had the very lowest expectations of this when I first heard it was happening. However, I saw two reviews early on (non-professional) that suggested it might actually be good, so I put it on my birthday list and got a copy of the hardcover right away (instead of waiting for the used paperback, as I often do if I have the deepest misgivings about a project).

I'm not very far into it yet, but I have to say it's looking decent. It has pretty much the feel and trajectory of a Heinlein juvenile. The first-person protagonist is just having his first dinner aboard the starship at this point, though, so there's plenty of time for it to go crazy.

One thing that I really confidently predict—the girlfriend will be back. I guess she'll have to turn up at the other end, maybe getting there before him (technology improvement). We'll see.

Heh. Okay, I win the prediction derby. Though I did not expect her to actually be a monster. I suspect her husband will need to get rid of her.

Now that I'm all the way through, this was much better than I was afraid it would be. Spider himself comments on the high risk of finishing another author's work, and my own exposure to such things has been rather discouraging. This book is not another The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, but it is a very fine juvenile. Though it preserves some details of the Future History background (Mars and Venus and their inhabitants, the New Frontiers, telepathy between twins), a lot of it matches late Heinlein culture better. It's amusing to see the general form of a Heinlein juvenile deployed with bisexuality almost assumed, and homosexuality fully acceptable.

And there is no Lazarus Long anywhere, and no sign of the Howard Families.

Since the last part of the outline was missing, I presume the ending is mostly Spider's work. And it works well. Often in his middle work (I confess to not being familiar with his recent work) he had trouble with endings, often twisting things stupidly out of shape to get a utopian outcome. While this outcome is in many ways optimistic, it is purchased with good luck, some important deaths—and the extiction of mankind (and everything else) in the solar system. I can't accuse him of having twisted this book into a false utopian form. It feels to me that it has the sort of balance of achievement and cost that's fairly common for a juvenile.

Some aspects of the voice are definitely Robinson (which is only right, since he wrote nearly all of it). The attitude towards music and musicians, for example, is definitely Robinson not Heinlein. And it is perhaps rather more accepting of mind-altering drugs than Heinlein ever was; even in The Number of the Beast, while it's made explicit when they visit (very briefly) the Lensman universe that they are carrying drugs, you never see any of the main characters use them that I noticed. And the coffee pornography doesn't really sound like Heinlein either.

Spider talks about the materials he had to work with (not an 8-page outline, but rather 8 pages of an outline; plus 14 notecards of notes). He does not, however, reproduce them, and my scholarly interests feel slighted.

I do hope there is no sequel. It feels like it's set up for one; the alien menace still needs to be faced, and the people in the first FTL ship are traveling around informing all the human colonies of it.

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David Dyer-Bennet