Book Review: Starman Jones by Robert Heinlein

StarmanJonesStarman Jones by Robert Heinlein is one of those books I really wish I had read as a kid. In fact, I’m shocked that I hadn’t, and appalled that until a few years ago, I really didn’t know too much about Robert Heinlein and his place in science fiction history. I’m embarrassed to admit I’ve read very few books by Heinlein, and now, here in my early-forties, I am trying to rectify that oversight.

Max Jones is a teenage hillbilly from the Ozarks, living on a small farm with his widowed stepmother. His farm lay along the path of one of the rocket trains that left Earth, bound for orbit. He dreams of going into space like his Uncle Chester Jones, who was a renowned Astrogator – a key member of the interstellar ships that travelled between the dozens of known worlds spread throughout the galaxy. When Max’s stepmother marries a man who is intent on stealing the farm through any means necessary, Max flees and stows away on one of the starships where he not only earns his keep, he must take on more responsibility than he ever imagined.

Starman Jones was written in 1953, and is considered one of Heinlein’s juvenile series. The book is fast paced and entertaining, and still works well, though the dialogue is filled with colloquialisms from the middle of the 20th century. Were I to pick up this book with no knowledge that it had been around for nearly sixty years, it would be easy to recognize it as so. But I don’t hold that against it, nor will I criticize it for dated descriptions of computers or advanced technology. There’s just no way Heinlein could have predicted how far technology would develop in just the last fifty years, though I think he might also be a little disappointed at how far the world has come in the same time frame. Many of the things he writes about, we still don’t have. That is our loss.

Starman Jones is the kind of book I refuse to by an e-book version of because I want them on my shelves for my kids to pick up and read, over and over. Of course, they may have to wait until I’ve read it a couple more times myself. I can’t wait to give this to them to read and to see their reactions. Part of me wants to read it to them for bedtimes stories now, but I know I wouldn’t be able to get through it fast enough. Soon. Hopefully, very soon.

On a side note, I was rather startled as I read this book, because it’s plot is very close (in some places) to my book Labeled. So close in fact, that I expect that at some point down the road, I will be asked if I used this book as inspiration. I’ll say now, and for future reference, that I finished writing the first draft of Labeled in June of 2011, and didn’t even know this book existed until two weeks ago, when I bought it at a used book store. Any similarity between my book, and this, is purely coincidental, and enough of the story is different that I suspect no one will actually accuse me of stealing. I’ll go with the infinite monkeys theory of writing, and say that if you put enough monkeys in front of keyboards, one of them will eventually create on the masterpieces of history. Consider me one of those monkeys. And I’m hoping that if you liked Starman Jones, you’ll like my contribution to the genre when it is published.

One Comment on “Book Review: Starman Jones by Robert Heinlein

  1. Heinlein is… Hm. Hard to characterize. A mixed bag, I guess.

    On the one hand, no one can argue his place in the SF canon, nor his tremendous influence on the genre as a whole.

    On the other hand, it’s also hard to escape certain rather unflattering conclusions about the man himself, upon reading a substantial swath of his works. There is a strongly misogynistic undercurrent to his corpus, one that goes beyond what I think can simply be attributed to the times he lived in.

    Still, I will admit to enjoying some of his later works, such as _Job, a Comedy of Justice_.

    In the balance, I’m left with the conclusion that there are really only two Heinlein novels anybody really needs to read: _Stranger in a Strange Land_, and _The Moon is a Harsh Mistress_. The one, for its cornerstone role in the overall SF canon, and the other because it’s a cracking good yarn. The rest of his stuff(*), well, IMHO it gets repetitive pretty fast.

    (*)I got bored with Heinlein before making it to his Lazarus Long novels, but some folks seem to really dig those, so maybe I missed out.

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