Orphans of the Sky by Heinlein, Robert, 1963

Orphans of the Sky by Heinlein, Robert - Book cover from Amazon.co.uk

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I have never been a very big fan of Heinlein. Yes, yes, I know that hes the grand-daddy of the genre, and without his contribution the genre would be drastically different today. Blah, blah, blah. Save for Starship Troopers, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and some of the juveniles, I could really do without his books, and that includes Stranger in a Strange Land, which I thought was awesome when I was a kid, but not any more. Orphans of the Sky falls pretty firmly into the category of Heinlein books I could do without. Two out of five stars.

This book is about the crew of a starship that is lost in space. Its a generational vessel that was launched from Earth, and was supposed to reach its destination within two years. Along the way a mutiny occurred, and the mutineers captured the central core of the ship. The mutiny ended any chance of arriving at the intended destination, as the ship just kept going on to the stars after passing it. After the mutiny, which took a long time to play out, the descendants of the crew gradually forgot that they were on a star ship, and developed a lifestyle of ignorance of their real situation. When one of the descendants of the loyal crew is shown a view of the stars from the "Mutie," or outcast creature, controlled bridge of the ship, he starts in motion a plan to convince all the persons of power in his part of the ship of the truth. He largely succeeds, but entrenched governors really don't care, and come up with a counter plan to grab for more power and discredit and/or kill those in the know, including all the Muties.

This book is really only 122 pages, a novella really, but for this story, it was way too long. I had to fight to get through certain passages in the middle and end of the work. Heinlein's style is chock full of misplaced machismo. I do acknowledge that this is essentially a pirates-in-space tale that was written and originally published in the pulps, so some of that is to be expected, but in my opinion Heinlein really went overboard with it, like he usually did. Most of Heinlein's non-juvenile books were in one way or another thinly veiled anti-establishment propaganda pieces. Heinlein's works individually fall all over different parts of the political spectrum, but this one seems to have a very strong libertarian bent running through it (although there are no real property ownership issues), and also has strong deterministic tendencies. Heinlein's strongest theme in this work is that individual desires properly focused can defeat established government, as long as the actors heart is true and his motives are pure. Once the major conflict in this book starts it seems to be over the rights of individuals to know the truth, and the government loses not only because its members are weak, but also because they are just on the wrong side.

I often rail at mistreatment of women in SF works, and nobody sets me off on this tangent more than Heinlein. Its my opinion that this genre is never going to achieve any lasting mainstream success unless we do even better at incorporating the feminine viewpoint, and bringing female fans to the conventions and cash registers. In any event, this book may be one of his worst offenses. For example, after the protagonist leaves the crew and joins the muties he is allowed multiple wives. One of the women he chooses is a young, virgin with a wild streak who is described in animalistic terms. The main character, who by the way is one of the ones most interested in truth and fairness, notes at one point in his journal that he has not had the time to bed her, and thus has not given her a name yet. The rest of the time the gaggle of females that follow the pack of males are just screaming nuisances who are routinely told to shut up, and who are treated as mere pieces of property. All in all its not very flattering, and for me is quite difficult to read.

I would not even bother recommending this for Heinlein completists. But if you long for the days before you first got laid, like when you and your buddies stayed up all night drinking Mountain Dew, playing D&D and discussing what a female Kzinti looked like naked, then this one may be right for you.

Copyright 2008, Gregory Tidwell

Reviewed by GTT · Rating Rating of 2 star(s)


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