Friday, October 22, 2010

Tunnel In The Sky

A classic coming of age novel is Tunnel In The Sky.  It’s one more of my favorite Heinlein juveniles.
Rod Walker is taking a class in advanced survival and the final exam is Solo Survival.  Using the gate technology to transmit him to another planet, he will be dumped on an unknown planet with whatever he can carry with him.  Object: Survival.  Until they retrieve him he is on his own. 
He along with several other students are put down at various locations on the planet. 
The situation becomes complex when the retrieval time comes and goes without the reappearance of the gate.  Something clearly has gone wrong.
So Rod and his fellow students have to survive for who knows how long. Maybe forever.
Some of the most challenging threats to survival turn out to be his fellow humans, as usual.
This novel has a little of the Lord Of The Flies to it and is a really great adventure story.  Rod survives and grows up in the process which is one of the classic types of juvenile story.  A lot of good SF tech is there, matter transmission, space colonization, a very different education system, etc.  The golden era of SF often featured these tech hero types and Rod is a juvenile version of that icon. 
All in all one of Heinlein’s better efforts.
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Friday, September 24, 2010

Can’t Keep Up With This Jones

Starman Jones is one of my favorite Heinlein juveniles, and yet mostly seems ignored by SF fans.  It is a hard book to find for instance, I only have an old, beat-up paperback of it. 
But its a great story, and uses a couple of common Heinlein themes.  Rebellion against some form of authority and the appearance of genius in an unlikely place. 
Max Jones is the nephew of an astrogator but comes from the wrong side of the tracks so to speak.  He inherits his uncle’s library of astrogation books and studies them determined to follow in his uncle’s footsteps. 
But the guild is restricted and his library is confiscated when he applies.  Determined to get into space and away from his hopeless life on Earth he runs away and gets onboard the Asgard.
The ship eventually gets lost in space and Max becomes the hero because of his illegally aquired astrogation knowledge.
He has the talent of perfect recall and unique mathematical ability.  He saves the ship and crew.
Slipstick Libby is another character with similar abilities who appears in Methuselah’s Children by Heinlein. 
A slipstick, by the way, is slang for a slide rule. That’s an ancient technology that most of you have never used.
Anyway, a great story of overcoming the odds against you and unlikely genius. 
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Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Mushroom Planet

I have been blogging about juvenile SF books because books are my life.  Or at least an important part of it.  I started reading before Kindergarten thanks to my mother’s teaching me to. 
And books are my escape.  From a world that often is pretty crappy.  As I have said in previous posts, misfits read SF and that includes me.  The world is not designed for people like us and SF, juvenile SF in particular for me, was/is an escape. 
So  I am posting about what I love and hopefully others feel the same about.  I know the media is full of stories about the decline of the book business, but people still read.  How else did J. K. Rowling become a billionaire from the Harry Potter books?
Well, on to the next post.  I am going to leave the Heinlein juveniles for a while.  There still are several that I will post about like Farmer In The SkyPodkayne of Mars, etc.  But now I am writing about a series mostly aimed at younger readers, The Mushroom Planet books.
The first was The Wonderful Flight To The Mushroom Planet by Eleanor Cameron.  In it a couple of boys respond to an ad in the paper by Mr. Tycho Bass who wants someone, a boy, to build a spaceship and bring it to him.
So they do. 
It turns out that Mr. Bass has discovered a small planetoid orbiting the Earth about 50,000 miles out.  Why hasn’t anyone else seen it?  You need the Stroboscopic Polarizing Filter which Mr. Bass has invented to see it.
Various adventures follow when the boys journey to the planetoid. 
While a bit fantastic, it serves as yet another example of the sense of wonder theory to me.  What boy would not be thrilled to have built his own spaceship and journey to an undiscovered planet?
Yes its not possible we now know (sadly) but back then it was at least conceivable.  And that desire to explore is still out there.  Witness the recent stories about a 14 year old Dutch girl who is sailing around the world alone.  Or Robin Lee Graham who did it years ago when he was 16 as was chronicled it The National Geographic and his book Dove. 
It was and is a great book for young people and there are several more in the series.  I will post about them also.  But I still think this is the sort of book that is not being written now and should be. 
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Monday, August 23, 2010

On The Value Of Science Fiction-Part 1

Obviously I am a Science Fiction fan.  I will be writing about other genres, such as Mysteries, eventually in this blog.  But I became a SF reader around the age of 8 and have been hooked ever since.
This is a good thing.  Most people have at best a brief fling with SF.  They may read a few books as teenagers, and the they ‘grow up’.  But some of us, the special ones, don’t lose our taste for it.
I am mainly talking here about written SF.  There are some good movies out there and a few TV shows, but most of visual SF is crap.  It's here comes the monster, scream, shoot him with your ray gun and kiss the girl.  There is little of the depth and thoughtfulness of written SF there on the screen.
The audience, or market, for written SF is different.  Yes some of us, some of the time, want mindless entertainment.  But a high percentage of SF has more going for it than just a good story.  It makes you think. 
People who like to think, who want to think are the audience for SF. 

 That makes it a ghetto.  Because 99 percent of the human race does not fall into this category.  People who think.  They tried it once, it hurt their brains, so they gave it up.

If you believe that people who think are important in this 21st century technological, complicated world, then you might agree with me.  About the importance of people who read SF. 
I am not the only one who has said this.  I remember reading a book,  a collection of essays by Isaac Asimov, that was making the same point.  Better than I am.
But the point I am actually trying to make is the value of juvenile SF.  Because if we are going to have at least some children grow up and be competent to run this world and maybe even make it better, then we need juvenile SF.
That is how they will get hooked into reading SF and that will expand their minds.  They will develop that Sense of Wonder that we seem to have lost here in America. 
Is juvenile SF being written and is it any good?  I know that Charles Sheffield, with some help from Jerry Pournelle, wrote a series of juvenile SF books not too many years ago.
And I have been somewhat absent from current SF for a variety of reasons.  Maybe there are Graphic novels or video games that fill the need for good, thought-provoking juvenile SF but I doubt it.  My opinion of most SF of that type is that it consists of blowing  things up as quick as you can and little else.
I could be wrong.  I have started to read SF blogs looking for information on this area but am finding little.
So if I have any actual readers out there I would like to know if there is any juvenile SF recently published. 
Maybe I am Chicken Little and the sky isn’t falling.
Anyway, this rant, or editorial will be continued occasionally.  But mostly I am going to write about the SF I love. 
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Space Cadet

One of the first Heinlein juveniles (published in 1948) is Space Cadet.  It suffers because of that I think.  It is the story of a boy, Matt Dodson, who joins the Space Patrol.  It’s a kind of solar system police force. 
But the problem with the book is how much of it is taken up with the minutia of boot camp and so forth.  Maybe young boys of this barely post World War II  era were into being soldiers.  So this large amount of detailed description of testing and discipline, etc.  was interesting to them. 
But I grew up in the Vietnam era and the armed forces don’t hold the same attraction for me.  I never wanted to be in the military so this sort of thing bored me when I read it.
The second half of the book, when Matt and his comrades go out into space and have adventures, in particular on Venus, is better.
Still, all in all, not one of Heinlein’s better efforts.
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Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Beasts and Children

The Star Beast

The Star Beast by Robert A. Heinlein is basically a fun read.  One of his juveniles that doesn’t really have a serious bone in its body. 
It’s the story of Lummox, the Star Beast.  Lummie was found on some nameless planet many years ago (over a hundred) by John Thomas’ great-great grandfather. 
Lummox keeps on living, and growing, through generation after generation.  He’s apparently slightly intelligent since he talks in a babyish way, and harmless except by mistake. 
He is also indestructible it seems.
The misadventures of Lummox and his owner, or pet depending on your point of view, are a way for Heinlein to have some fun. 
He pokes fun at small town life, the legal system, politics, and bureaucracy as we go along. 
There is some real honest emotion there too.  John Thomas and Lummox care for each other and that is what wins out in the end over the cynicism and manipulations of everyone else.
So a good light fun read.
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Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Red Planet

Another of my favorite juveniles by Heinlein is Red Planet.  This is more definitely a juvenile since the hero is Jim Marlowe, teenager, and most of the characters are his schoolmates and friends.
It’s another rebellion against authority type story the authority this time being the Mars Company. 
Mars in this novel has the aspect of a ‘Company Town’.  Something that was more common in the US in the 1950’s so quite familiar to his audience.  The company has become repressive and thus problems ensue. 
One thing that is a little odd to me.  Heinlein is known for his conservative politics.  He was a libertarian which is a different species of conservative to most of the current Republican party.  However, I would think he was more anti-government than anti-business. 
But in this novel, the bad guys are clearly this company.  Maybe he is against repression no matter the source or just against big powerful entities.  If so, I am more a fan of his politics than I thought.  Whatever. 
The company tries, through deception, to force the colonists to stay in their present location throughout the bitter Martian winter.  This is the main cause of the rebellion.
But similar authoritarian actions at Jim’s school precipitate the action. 
Heinlein does a great job describing the society on Mars.  The ancient Martians are truly alien, the landscape is Percival Lowell’s Mars, but believable for the time, and the character of Willis, a Martian bouncer or roundhead,is one of the better cute aliens ever created.
This particular Mars also fits into the Future History of Heinlein, and many of the other juveniles. 
But first of all it’s just a good story. 
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