Tunnel in the Skyby Robert A. Heinlein
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In the future, Earth is bulging at the seams with people. Fortunately, a technology is developed which allows gateways to be opened to far-flung planets. By stepping through the gateway, you are almost instantaneously transported light years across the galaxy. This technology paved the way for the colonization of the galaxy by the immigrants eager to leave the crowded confines of Earth.
Naturally, with a colonization boom on, high school and college students are trained in survival and pioneering techniques to prepare them for being colonists. The culmination of these training courses is a survival course. The participants in the course are sent to a remote planet fraught with peril and must survive for up to ten days utilizing only the scant belongings they have carried with them through the gate. Usually these tests proceed with minimal injuries and casualties. But, what if something went wrong and the students could not be recalled?
Heinlein explores the disaster of students stranded among the stars with his usual precision and non-wordy prose. The character development is sufficient for the male characters, but a bit sparse for the females (somewhat typical of Heinlein). You can really empathize with these poor kids who are stranded, most likely without hope of ever being rescued, as they contend with the hardships of survival. Dangerous animals abound on their planet and they must learn to work together to be able to thrive as a group and survive the perils of their environment. Predictable as it may be, the most dangerous creatures often prove to be the students themselves, but not always for the reasons you would suspect.
As the students organize, Heinlein does explore the folly of trying to organize a government in the harsh surroundings. Fortunately, Heinlein uses this side plot to effectively advance the main plot line instead of digressing into a pointless discourse on the importance of government to achieve an orderly society (as other authors might have done).
With his usual aplomb, Heinlein manages to tell an engaging story in 214 breezy pages. One of the reasons I have always liked Heinlein is that most of his books are a quick, enjoyable read without bogging down in heavy science. Like Asimov, he tends to focus more on his characters than science. And even though this book was written in 1955, it still holds up very well today and can be enjoyed by all science fiction fans.
Reviewed by: Alan
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Originally published in 1961, this book garnered Heinlein his third Hugo award. Thought provoking, humorous and controversial, this book can still create a stir when it comes up in discussion. Recently, this book was re-released as an "uncut" version, however I still enjoy the original.
In its simplest terms, this story is about Michael Valentine Smith, a true "Man from Mars." The first manned mission to Mars was never heard from and presumed to be a failure. Years later, the second expedition is amazed and surprised to find that although none of the original explorers remain, they have left an heir. This heir, Michael Valentine Smith, has been raised by the true Martians and is now being returned to Earth. Although biologically human, Smith is more alien than many can understand. His thought processes and beliefs reflect his upbringing in an alien culture. He is physically capable of things that no human would believe possible, solely because he has never been told he was incapable of such feats. Heinlein could have had an entertaining story just by exploring these differences, but he didnít stop there.
As with most of Heinleinís works, he uses Smithís own alienness to examine our values, mores and political processes through fresh eyes. In doing so, Smithís character becomes a lightning rod for controversy. Unable to understand our ways, yet eager to share his knowledge with his "water brothers," Smithís journey towards understanding leads him towards a prophet-like existence. Heinlein describes cults, communes, free love and other ideas considered radical at that time before they became popular in the later 60ís. In fact, many members of that generation referred to this novel for guidance as they set up their own havens for peace and love.
While some of Heinleinís ideas may now seem dated, and some are just downright politically incorrect, I still think this book ranks as one of the best classic science fiction novels ever written. Heinlein has always been able to look at our traditions and punch holes in them with his reasonable logic. If nothing else, his works have always taught me the importance of thinking for myself and questioning the status quo. I may not always agree with what Heinlein has to say, but heís always interesting!
Reviewed by: Diane
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