Lectures in Quantum History for the Advanced Undergraduate – Volume I – First Contact – Part 3

So, on Thursdays I usually headed downtown for dinner at the Club.  The food was okay.  The service was slow.  The drink selection was limited.  The dues were outrageous.  But the company was never bad.  Not that it was always exceptional, but it was never annoying.  There was a rule against annoying.  You could be boring or quiet but if management saw you annoying one of the other guests you would be gone very soon, and you wouldn’t be back.  Or rather you might be back but the Club would be gone.  It was a by-invitation-only organization that could and did change venue seemingly at random.  If you didn’t show up for a week (or a month or a decade) no one would bat an eye when you showed up next.  But if you didn’t get a change of venue notice then your presence was no longer desired.  So, who was invited?  Well any member could recommend a new member.  But only the Owner sent out invites.  And if someone was brought along by any member uninvited then both men would not be returning.  Oh, and all members were men.  Also, a rule.  The first few times a new member attended he might mention the lack of women as an oddity (or even a relief) but soon it just became the norm.  Now you might think that such an arrangement would dissolve sooner or later due to the friction that such arbitrary rules would create.  Or that the desire to continue in such a seemingly mediocre establishment would not be strong enough to maintain a decent showing.  You’d be wrong.  On any given night twenty patrons would be in attendance.  Some nights there might be forty.  This popularity must be attributed to the ability of the Owner to pick men.  He had a profile that provided almost fool-proof selection.  His vetting process was scrupulous and thorough.  The selection failures were few and so far, the fallout from these had always been repairable.  Apparently, his damage control methods were effective and discrete.

So, what was the profile?  Married with children, wife raised the kids and made a home for the family, husband supported the family (employed or a businessman), over thirty-five years of age and intolerant of the presence of idiots.  Who decided what idiocy was limited to?  In this case the Owner.  He looked for signs and circumstances.  Negative evidence was probably more important than positive.  A lack of bumper stickers with slogans like Coexist and Tolerance was a given.  The absence of financial support for any organization that explicitly or implicitly supported involuntary redistribution of wealth was a bare minimum requirement.  Mostly he used second hand accounts followed up by field work.  He was very thorough.  There were no idiots.  Finally, the smoking prohibition.  You were prohibited from bothering anybody who wanted to smoke.  There was a no-smoking section but that was pretty empty most nights.

Oh, and once a year you had to be able to tell a truly interesting story.  So, either you were someone who had interesting things happening in your life or you had to be a great story teller.  Either would do.  Of course, how would you know if the story were true?  Well, you couldn’t ask (another rule).

So, it was a Thursday.  It was a warm night for early October.  Barely jacket weather.  No clouds and a bright moon.  When I arrived, I was greeted at the front desk by Dave and buzzed in to the main hall.  I could see it was a slow night, maybe twenty-five patrons were milling around and waiting for seating.  I noticed the Owner (Dan) standing in a corner talking to a new face.  I headed over to say hi and find out what was on the menu.

“Hey Dan, what’s good tonight?”

“If you ask me, nothing.  I’d stick with the chicken fried steak.  Unless you’re well insured, then go with the fish.”

“Wow.  That’s grim.  Maybe you should lie until the new members have ordered the special.”

“I’m not worried.  Have you met Jim?”

“Nice to meet you Jim.”

“Jim, this is John.  He’s a regular.  Guess his wife is sick of looking at him.”

“On the contrary, I’m adored and pampered by the missus.  I only come here to allow her a night to visit her family.  When she gets home from seeing her sisters, suddenly I seem like more of a catch compared with her brothers in law.  They’re quite a group.”

“Hi John.  Nice to meet you.  Yeah, I know what you mean.  My wife’s got three sisters and from how they describe their husbands I’m guessing someone’s going to be on a most wanted show sooner or later.”

Dan broke in:

“So, Jim here is new, can you introduce him around and find a spot for him?”

“Sure.  Jim, you interested in some penny ante poker before dinner?”

“I like poker, but I’m a pretty lousy player.  I tend to bet over enthusiastically.”

“Great, you’ll be the most popular guy here tonight.”

“That’s what I’m afraid of.  Seriously I’ve only got a few bucks in my pocket.  Will that get me through?”

“Sure, it really is penny ante.  We only use money to keep it from getting too boring.  Mostly we play to slow us down while we’re scarfing down cold cuts.  Come on.  I’ll introduce you to the boys.”

We headed over to a table of regulars that had a few empty seats.  I introduced Jim and we all got to talking about the latest travesty in D.C.  This proved very popular with everyone.  Within five minutes Jim was right in the thick of the grumbling and indistinguishable from the veterans.  A few minutes later the waiter came by and took our orders.  As I mentioned earlier the food was so-so.  But tonight, rib-eye was on the menu and the steak was usually very good.  I think it was something Dan liked so we benefited from his choice in that respect.  I ordered it along with a couple of baked potatoes and got back to the conversation.  Consensus had built to the effect that if Obama was not actually Satan then at the very least, he was a close relation.  The usual fifty-seven states and “corpseman” jokes were worked over again and everyone settled in for the dinner.  Someone asked Jim where he was from.  “I’m originally from Brooklyn but I’ve been living in various places in New England for the last twenty plus years”.  This elicited the obligatory “pahk the cah in Hahvahd yahd” responses and a few heartfelt shots at the Sox and Pats from the mostly New York City group.  He laughed it off and said he was a die-hard Yankees fan but that he didn’t pay any mind to the rabid New England fans.  “Mostly I just wait for the bad years and feign sympathy while they wallow in misery.  It really is fun to watch.”  Then I asked Jim if he had given his first annual story yet.  He looked troubled and confessed that he was dreading it.  “I’m not much of a public speaker.  It’s gonna be like getting a root canal without Novocain.”  “Hey, it’s a piece of cake.  First of all, have a couple of belts before you get started and we don’t get started until we move into the sitting room.  The chairs are very comfortable in there and really reduce the stress levels.  Concentrate on someone sitting next to you and it won’t seem like public speaking.  More like just a bull-session.”  After that we got caught up in an argument over whether “The Maltese Falcon” was a better Bogey movie than “Treasure of the Sierra Madre.”  This lasted about half an hour and introduced all kinds of heretical views and produced much heat but almost no light.  Luckily at that point the food arrived.  Sure enough, the rib eye was just about perfect.  By the time I was done with the second spud and was sopping up a little juice with a hunk of  French bread I had reached what I imagined Gautama must have been hoping for when he started sitting cross-legged under that tree.

The beer and wine were flowing pretty freely at our table and the dishes had been removed and someone asked if we should start the card game up again but there were no takers so we wandered into the sitting room and the group continued with a discussion on the latest movie.  It was a science fiction adventure yarn with Earth being invaded by super-intelligent lobsters from the Andromeda Galaxy.  Many rude comments were expressed over the lack of actual proof that shellfish had what it takes to invent a really convincing warp drive.  Interestingly, Jim was extremely quiet when disparagement of the idea that extraterrestrials might visit the Earth was being discussed.

Dan showed up and instructed the wait staff and the members to drag the chairs into the traditional half circle around the speaker’s seat by the fire place.  By this point I could see that the crowd was about thirty men.  And surprisingly Dan was leading Jim over to the speaker’s chair.  As he settled himself in, I could tell that he was pretty nervous.  Dan introduced Jim as a new member and applauded him for the courage to tell his story on his first night in the club.  Jim thanked him, looked around the circle nervously and cleared his throat.  Everyone expected him to proceed so a very noticeable silence built up for about two minutes while Jim seemed to be staring at his feet.  Finally I could see several men fidgeting in their chairs and scratching their faces in a sort of impatient way.  Then Jim cleared his throat again and began.

“As the subject of my story I’d like to tell you how I saved the Earth almost single-handedly from interstellar invasion.”

I could tell it was going to be a really good Thursday.

Lectures in Quantum History for the Advanced Undergraduate – Volume I – First Contact – Part 2

Professor Gordrow arranged his thoughts and began his lecture again.  “Now before I was interrupted, I was touching on the general topic of First Contact and I mentioned the classic Earth example.  But to provide the background for that remarkable event I will remind you neophytes of the underlying mathematics.  As anyone who has the intelligence to understand it knows Gordrow’s First Theorem of Quantum Chrono-Cosmo-Moiro-Dynamics states that when the probability of historical change uniformly approaches zero in a volume of space that continues to increase toward infinity then the quantum time-space probability reversal will be centered on the asymptotic fault line.  This theory in fact was proven following the First Contact we are considering.  At that time Earth was at the periphery of a rapidly expanding galactic civilization that had spread from the galactic core over the course of a billion years and was now so rapidly expanding that the odds of any possible combination of events halting its engulfment of the entire Milky Way galaxy was essentially zero.  What a perfect test of the theory!  Now if you inspect the terms in the denominator of the third term you’ll see …”

“But Professor Gordrow!” exclaimed Dorson Tendandren.  Gordrow radiated annoyance and shot back, “Why are you interrupting me now you idiot?”  Dorson continued, “Professor none of this is clear to me.  How could such a regression occur?  What possible sequence of events could reverse such an unstoppable force and in such a short time?  It seems inconceivable.  Can you show us the historical record?”  Gordrow was disgusted and his aura reflected it.  “Show you?  What is this kindergarten?  Would you like me to sing you a lullaby too?  Would you like me to count from one to a googolplex just to prove that there are numbers in between?  Wasting my time in this way is a sin against intelligence and a victory for entropy and just one more fatal step toward the heat death of the universe.  Neophyte Tendandren, I intend to see that you suffer exquisitely during my final exam.  I will recommend to the professional board that your truest vocational assignment would be as gravitational ballast.”

Professor Gordrow summoned his composure for a moment and continued.  “For the intellectually challenged who are very temporarily among us I will now play the historical record of the singularity event.  Those with normal intelligence are free to take a nap.  Dolts, attend!”

The Age of Entitlement – A Book Review

Christopher Caldwell’s book, “The Age of Entitlement – America Since the Sixties” is a hard book to read.  As I described in several places it took me much too long to finish because many times I had to stop after about fifteen minutes of reading and put it down.  It was too painful to hear the seemingly endless litany of defeats, betrayals and acts of cowardice by our elected officials and their bureaucratic, academic, legal and corporate co-conspirators.  And yet I think this book should be read by anyone who doesn’t know the full history of how we have been stripped of our constitutional rights based solely on our European ancestry and normal male identity.  It is so infuriating to read, that it serves as the perfect eye-opener for anyone who still thinks that affirmative action and political correctness are harmless and just.

Caldwell walks us through the years, starting with the Civil Rights struggle against segregation in the South and shows the gradual but continual evolution of that movement from a crusade to end discrimination against blacks to a concerted program to discriminate against whites.  He shows how the logic went from successfully ending the unconstitutional denial of equal rights for blacks into implementing the unconstitutional practices of affirmative action, with its abrogation of free speech, freedom of association and property rights based on not equality of opportunity, but rather equality of outcome.  And since these decisions were made by unelected judges who were basically answerable to no one, no recourse was possible.  For every white man the burden of guilt never had to be proved.  It was always assumed.

After this Caldwell walks us through the expansion of the civil rights movement to embrace other “victims.” Next was women with the adoption by the left of abortion on demand and equal rights for women in the work place and the delegitimization of traditional marriage.  After this we get homosexual rights, immigrant rights and on to the explosion of immigration.  Finally, we come to the present day where demonization of European identity and culture is all pervasive.  We reach a point where open contempt for the native-born Americans is open and threatening.  We see these people marginalized and starved out of their homes by industry and government leaders who openly connive to replace them with immigrants legal and illegal.  They end up on welfare and waiting for death under the soporific influence of  cheap and plentiful opioids that have purposefully been allowed to flooded our streets and countryside.

Throughout Caldwell points out how the leaders of the conservative cause are always woefully unprepared or even unwilling to challenge incredibly unpopular programs and laws.  Time after time a leader will run for office on a platform to defend or revive some part of life that the progressives are undermining and again and again, we witness either a defeated attempt or no attempt at all to prevent the destruction of our way of life.

And at the heart of most of these campaigns are the progressive lawyers and judges working hand in glove with the progressives in the bureaucracies and in the non-profit foundations.  These foundations were set up by the elites that use them to push for the programs that they support but do not affect them personally.  Their schools and homes and families are above the level of being disadvantaged or impinged upon by these forces, unlike the common people that they demonize whose lives are thrown into chaos by these anti-social measures.

Equally distressing is seeing how the leaders of industry sided with the progressives in order to gain access to cheap labor by both exporting jobs to the third world and importing these third world workers right here in the United States as either legal or illegal immigrants.  And once the Tech Revolution was in full swing, we are walked through how the American men who dominated this industry adopted the progressive cause and used their new found tools to obliterate the brick and mortar retail landscape of the entire United States.  And with the diminution of newspapers, radio and television as advertising channels, communication companies like Google and Facebook now get to decide who is allowed to do business and who is not.  And they decide it based on whether they like your politics.

So, we reach the present day where any dissent from the official narrative that demonizes white men is not just shouted down but answered with de-platforming, unemployment, physical assault and sometimes criminal prosecution.  And as the book signifies on its last page.  That is what gave us the Trump presidency.

Personally, this book reinforced in my mind the necessity of challenging affirmative action in front of a conservative Supreme Court.  The fig leaf that affirmative action employs to shield its unconstitutional nature is the importance of “diversity.”  But since diversity doesn’t appear in the Constitution, a brave and honest court should strike down all the quota driven fairness devices and strip the Federal and State bureaucracies of their discriminatory mechanisms.  All that needs to be asserted is that equality under the law doesn’t need to provide equal outcomes for every individual.  Some people are smarter or stronger or more hard working or crueler or more beautiful or taller or shorter or luckier.  I can live with those things and believe me there are enough things that I wish I could do that I can’t.  But facing that is called sanity.  And it’s far from a bad thing.

I highly recommend this book.  It’s about time that someone published something as honest and informative on the subject of America’s descent into the maelstrom of social justice insanity.  It’s time that we throw our support behind whichever men are brave enough to lead the fight back to sanity.  And I know it won’t be easy.  As Steve Bannon said “If you think they are going to give you your country back without a fight, you are sadly mistaken.”  He’s right.  They will fight at every step.  If the Supreme Court strikes down affirmative action, the big cities will riot and burn.  Well, that’s nothing new.  But it’s the only way back to a world where fairness and freedom even have their original meanings.

Good work Christopher Caldwell.  You wrote a horrible, urgently important, good book.  Bravo.

Galaxy’s Edge – Order of the Centurion – A Science Fiction Book Review

Order of the Centurion is another of the stand-alone Galaxy’s Edge series that branch off from the main narrative.  This first story in the series tells the story of a rash decision by a “Point,” which is derogatory slang for the appointed officers that the House of Reason has imposed on the “Legion.”  Lacking the training, discipline, skills and motivation to lead the supremely capable warriors in the Legion, they are despised by the men and real officers of the Legion.  And the points equally despise them back.  But these appointed officers don’t pursue Legion service as a career but rather as a political stepping stone in their efforts to reach the privileged position as an elite member of the House of Reason.

But one young man, Lieutenant Washam (or just “Wash), who was appointed to the Legion was different.  He was skilled, disciplined and motivated enough and he took advantage of the training that his other point brethren eschewed and became an actual legionnaire.

This is his story.  And it’s the story of how he allowed an old friendship with a fellow point to send them on an ill-advised but fate driven mission to discover the location of enemy artillery hidden deep in the deadly jungle that had taken a heavy toll of the Legion and the other Republic military services fighting the hostile Doros on planet Psydon.

Because the protagonist and his friend come from wealthy and high culture backgrounds this book differs somewhat from the earlier Galaxy’s Edge books in that the points are treated as outsiders by the legionnaires, at least at first.  A part of the story is composed of Wash figuring out how to prove himself to his enlisted men and at the same time keep his unskilled friend and superior officer from getting the whole platoon killed.

Although I though some of the internal monologue was a little unfocused, for the most part the action of the plot carries the story along at an exciting clip.

Although I am anxious for the Galaxy’s Edge books to continue on with the main sequence series, this Order of the Centurion is an enjoyable side course and I think the fans of the main series will enjoy it too.

The Shorter Fiction of P. G. Wodehouse – A Book Review

Pelham Grenville (P. G.) Wodehouse was an Englishman who came to America in the early years of the twentieth century and made his name as an author of comic fiction and musical comedies.  I’ve never indulged in his work for the stage but I have read a good dose of his novels, both long and short and probably all his short stories.  You may know of him as the author of the Jeeves books.  In these stories, Jeeves is gentleman’s gentleman to a rather dim-witted young British aristocrat named Bertie Wooster who invariable runs afoul of everything in his life from unsympathetic aunts, to equally dim-witted friends, to ill-fated romances, to, …, well basically anything more complicated than a highball glass.  The charm in the stories is the narration and dialog that Wodehouse assigns to these characters.  Bertie is an amiable and good-hearted nitwit and Jeeves is the brilliant, ever sympathetic and always accommodating vassal to his hare-brained liege.

In addition to his Jeeves stories Wodehouse had a number of other series that all take place in a semi-mythical England inhabited by, the useless younger sons of English peers at the Drones Club, the friends of Mr. Mulliner hearing about his various relatives at the Anglers’ Rest pub, the golfers buttonholed by the Oldest Member of the country club and the unfortunate associates of Stanley Featherstonehaugh Ukridge reliving the misadventures of that much suffering man.

There is something like six hundred pages of Jeeves stories available and probably another six hundred pages of the shorter fiction for the other storylines.  But I would be dishonest if I didn’t admit that there is a great deal of sameness in the plots in the Wodehouse universe.  Bertie runs afoul of a number of girlfriends.  His Aunt Agatha is the cause of more than a few of his misadventures, and the romantic disasters of his friends Tuppy Glossop, Bingo Little and Gussie Fink-Nottle all start to run into each other in the matter of plot elements.

And this is unsurprising.  Wodehouse admitted that he approached his comic fiction in the same manner as he wrote musical comedy.  The plots are straight forward and paper thin.  But the whole thing is an excuse for the dialog that showcases the blithering idiocy of the protagonists and forces them to throw their fate into the lap of Jeeves who like some kind of domestic genie provides a miraculous solution to the tempest in a teapot that Bertie and his circle of acquaintances have gotten themselves into.

I enjoy the stories.  But I recognize that tastes will vary.  Luckily any library will contain copies of Wodehouse’s Jeeves and other works to try out.  As a fairly representative sample I would recommend the story titled Jeeves and the Song of Songs.  Read it and put up some comments on what you think of it.

Here’s a representative sample of the prose:

“I don’t know why, but somehow, I had got it into my head that the first thing thrown at Tuppy would be a potato. One gets these fancies. It was, however, as a matter of fact, a banana, and I saw in an instant that the choice had been made by wiser heads than mine. These blokes who have grown up from childhood in the knowledge of how to treat a dramatic entertainment that doesn’t please them are aware by a sort of instinct just what to do for the best, and the moment I saw that banana splash on Tuppy’s shirt-front I realized how infinitely more effective and artistic it was than any potato could have been.  Not that the potato school of thought had not also its supporters. As the proceedings warmed up, I noticed several intelligent-looking fellows who threw nothing else.   The effect on young Tuppy was rather remarkable.  His eyes bulged and his hair seemed to stand up, and yet his mouth went on opening and shutting, and you could see that in a dazed, automatic way he was still singing ‘Sonny Boy.’  Then, coming out of his trance, he began to pull for the shore with some rapidity. The last seen of him, he was beating a tomato to the exit by a short head.

Galaxy’s Edge – Tyrus Rechs – Contracts and Terminations – Book 1- Requiem for Medusa

By the title you can see that the Galaxy’s Edge franchise has branched out.  This book is the first installment of a spin off series that follow the adventures of quasi-immortal bounty hunter, Tyrus Rechs.  Tyrus was a component in Book 2 -Galactic Outlaws of the main sequence of the Galaxy’s Edge series.  This series is a prequel to that time line and gives us the back story for Rechs and several other important components of the ancient history of the Galaxy’s Edge universe.

Requiem for Medusa is a standalone story.  It’s a revenge story that involves Tyrus tracking down the murderers of the only woman that still had any connection to his weary soul.  The story reads like a noir but ends up as a military assault against desperate odds to take down the criminal gangs and the corrupt security apparatus that flourishes in the lawless depths of the Reach, the section of the Edge that had been abandoned for centuries to outlaw operations that even the Republic’s Legion left alone.

For the faithful readers of the Galaxy’s Edge series, this is not required reading.  This is a personal story of Tyrus Rechs and although it will answer some questions about Rechs, it won’t matter if you skip it from the point of view of the main narrative.  And this story differs from the other stories in that it contains a love interest component.  Whether this would distract the reader from the story is of course a personal preference.  But it should be mentioned in my opinion.

Now my opinion.  This is a separate story from the Galaxy’s Edge narrative but the characters are interesting and the character development for Tyrus Rechs doesn’t hurt him at all.  He performs his murderous rampage without any loss of skill due to the emotional component of his motivation.  There is a very clever plot device called the nano-plague that is probably linked to some of the other important ancient history for the Galaxy’s Edge universe but in this story, it is used to advance a plot element in the revenge story.

All in all, I liked this story and recommend it.  As with all the Galaxy’s Edge books it is well written, holds your interest and contains exciting combat action.  However, if you do not want to explore the periphery of the Galaxy’s Edge fictional universe it can easily be omitted without sacrificing your knowledge of the series.  Highly recommended.

 

 

Citizen of the Galaxy by Robert A Heinlein – A Science Fiction Book Review

When the story opens an adolescent boy named Thorby is being sold on the slaver’s block in the ironically named Plaza of Liberty in Jubbulpore, the capital of Jubbul, which is itself the capital of the Nine Worlds ruled by the Sargon.  The Nine Worlds is presented as an oriental despotic empire complete with a caste system that includes slaves, beggars and thieves as acknowledged roles in the society.  Now this is embedded in a future that includes interstellar space ships, faster than light communication and a human civilization that has spread hundreds of light years from Earth.

Baslim the crippled beggar manages to purchase the boy.  He overcomes the boy’s ferocious hatred of his owners and uses kindness and fatherly discipline to raise the boy to be an honest and resourceful man.  As time goes on Thorby figures out that Baslim is a lot more than just a beggar.  Inside his lodgings in the underground slums of Jubbulpore, Baslim has modern teaching equipment that he uses to teach Thorby languages and mathematics and the history of the world he lives in.  Also, Baslim seems to be a spy, collecting information on the slave trade on Jubbul.  Eventually Baslim tells Thorby that someday Baslim would be gone and Thorby must leave Jubbul to escape from the squalor and injustice that was life in the Nine Worlds.  He uses hypnotic suggestion to implant a message in Thorby, that when delivered by the boy, would tell one of Baslim’s friends, who was a starship captain, that rescuing the boy would be the payment for a favor Baslim had done for the captain’s family.

And one day Thorby finds that Baslim has been arrested and executed as a spy and that the Sargon’s men are after Thorby.  Luckily Thorby had spotted Captain Krausa of the starship Sisu.  The message and the implied debt are acknowledged the Captain and by clever subterfuges performed by Thorby’s friends he is smuggled aboard the Sisu and escapes Jubbul.

Overcoming his grief at the death of his adoptive father Baslim, Thorby is adopted into the family that is the crew of Sisu.  A complex phratry and moiety arrangement connects the “family” on Sisu with the other Trader ships with their own “families.”  Thorby struggles to adapt to the strange ways of his new family but the connection to his ship mates stabilizes the boy and gives him the sense of belonging he needs.

But what Thorby doesn’t know is that Baslim had told Captain Krausa that Thorby probably had a family somewhere out in the free worlds beyond the Nine Worlds.  Krausa was committed to hand Thorby over to the authorities of the Space Guard, when he could, for reunion with his family.  But Thorby’s relation to Baslim means that the Sisu would gain great status with the other Trading families by keeping Thorby in their family.

After many adventures including shooting a space pirate ship out of the skies Thorby is finally returned to the Space Guard.  He learns that Baslim was a highly decorated officer in the Guard and he was doing espionage to help destroy the slave trade.  For someone associated with Baslim the Guard does everything humanly possible to help Thorby and finally finds his true family.  The details of this final chapter take him back to Earth and solves the mystery of his years as a slave.

Heinlein has crafted a story that combines facets of adventure stories from many sources.  Others have noted that there are some elements of the story that are reminiscent of Kipling’s novel Kim.  But mostly it contains the elements of Heinlein’s Future History Universe.  I especially found the world of the trader ship Sisu very imaginative and enjoyable.  But the whole book keeps the reader engaged, the characters are excellently drawn and the plot is lively.  Once again this is a Heinlein juvenile that is highly recommended.

Have Space Suit – Will Travel by Robert A Heinlein – A Science Fiction Book Review

“Have Space Suit – Will Travel” is probably the most whimsical of all Heinlein’s juvenile novels and also one of the most entertaining.  The protagonist is Kip Russell, a high school senior who more than anything wants to go into space.  But his high school doesn’t have the rigorous curriculum necessary to qualify him for a top engineering college.  But exhorted by his father to show initiative he enters the “Spaceway Soap” tag line contest that has a first prize of a free trip to the Moon.  He enters hundreds of phrases and one of his wins but it turns out another contestant sent it first so he gets a consolation prize of a real (but used) space suit.  Kip spends his summer repairing and installing the equipment needed to make the suit a functional piece of equipment.  As the summer is ending, he decides he will send the suit back and get the cash refund that will help him try to enter the local state college that is Kip’s only option.

But before returning it he takes it out into his rural neighborhood and using the functional radio transmitter that he’s installed in the suit he sends some fake messages.  He broadcasts, “Junebug to Peewee, come in.”  And when, surprisingly, Peewee answers him he tells her to home in on his position.  And then a flying saucer lands in front of him.  And then another one lands.  And then an alien comes running out of the first one and gets shot.  And then Kip gets shot with a ray gun.

When Kip wakes up, he is aboard one of the flying saucers and he meets Peewee.  She is a ten-year-old girl and a genius.  He finds out that she is being held prisoner by bug-eyed monsters that have also captured the alien that he saw earlier.  Peewee calls this alien the Mother Thing because of her empathetic abilities.  When Kip met them, Peewee and the Mother Thing had stolen a ship from the bug-eyed monsters (that Peewee calls the Wormfaces for obvious reasons) and been chased to his location.  Peewee had thought that because Kip had called for Peewee by name that it was her father trying to save her.  Her father is a very important scientific expert working with the government and academia.  She was kidnapped by some human agents of the Wormfaces while she was a tourist on the Moon.  And the Moon is where the flying saucer is taking them.

The story is extremely compelling with plenty of exciting exploits with planetary, interstellar and even intergalactic travel that expands the plot into higher and higher levels of extraterrestrial civilization.  By the end of the story Kip is representing Earth in a trial for the very future of the human race.

The story is a tour de force to showcase Heinlein’s ability to combine all of the tropes of the Golden Age Science Fiction space opera stories into an engaging adventure featuring a young adult protagonist that fits the Heinlein juvenile specification of an up by his bootstraps achiever who wants to go into last frontier of outer space by hard work and clean living.

I won’t give away all the details but I will say that this story is immensely entertaining and the protagonist is a wonderfully Heinleinesque narrator for this romp through the outer reaches of our solar system and beyond.  Very, very highly recommended for young and old alike.

 

The Star Beast by Robert A Heinlein – A Science Fiction Book Review

When I got a Newfoundland dog many years ago there was never any doubt that his name would be Lummox.  Because that is the name that Heinlein gave to his star beast.  When we meet Lummox, he’s living in the backyard of John Thomas Stuart XI.  He’s lived there for over a century under the present owner’s father, grandfather and great grandfather.  Over the course of his tenure he’s grown from about the size of a chihuahua to something larger than an elephant.  He’s equipped with eight legs and an appetite for a menu that ranges from rude neighborhood dogs to a Buick automobile.  His personality is friendly, enthusiastic and energetic but his discipline and attention to his master’s orders are decidedly inconsistent.  And for a creature with such an imposing size he has the voice of a baby girl.

Johnnie and Lummox are best friends, almost brothers, and even though his mother doesn’t share his feelings for the beast his girlfriend Betty is on their side.  So, when Lummox gets into trouble for going off reservation and busting up a lot of stuff, Johnnie and Betty do everything in their power to save Lummie from the clutches of the unsympathetic local sheriff who wants to have Lummox terminated as a public menace.

Heinlein weaves together the two threads of Lummox’s past and present to provide a future that wouldn’t have been guessed at the start of the story.  Mixed in with this is the story of Mr. Kiku, the Under Secretary of the Department of Spatial Affairs and his fear of snakes.  Heinlein builds up the little constellation of characters in the Department very nicely and gives us his ideas about how the permanent career bureaucrats in a government department interact with the political appointee that supposedly manages them.

And this is a typical Heinlein trait.  He likes to build up little self-consistent “worlds,” like Westville, the small town where Lummox lives or the Department of Spatial Affairs.  In another book you’ll find that the small-town people act and talk a lot like the people in Westville in this story.  I’m guessing that these small towns were like the small towns in Missouri that Heinlein remembers from his childhood.  And his descriptions of life on a space ship in several of his books comes from his own experience of shipboard life in the U. S. Navy.  Likewise, his ideas of government bureaucracy came from his experience as a government employee.

And throughout we get to know Johnnie and learn about his struggle to weigh loyalty to his friend against fighting insurmountable odds. He is the Heinlein young man character who has been raised to respect authority, is socially conventional, polite and honest.  But he runs smack dab into the injustice of the bureaucratic machine.  In the ensuing turmoil he discovers that a man sometimes has to break the rules to do what’s morally right and protect his own.  And mixed in with this is his relationship with his overprotective and domineering mother and his hyperactive and ambitious girlfriend.  This is another part of his growth as he finally asserts himself against these women jockeying for control of his life.

In this book Heinlein creates a few extraterrestrials types.  And he provides both sympathetic species and other less friendly from a human perspective.  And this lack of empathy allows for a plot device that has since been “borrowed” by the makers of the movie “Men in Black.”  See if you notice it when you read the book.  But the most interesting extraterrestrial is Lummox and Heinlein’s description of Lummox’s internal point of view is highly entertaining.  From my experience as the owner of a Newfoundland I found the beast’s motivations for some of his mistakes extremely familiar and plausible.

I won’t ruin the story by giving away any surprises.  They’re too good.  I would call this one of Heinlein’s most original novels and definitely highly successful as entertainment.  Once again, highly recommended for young and old.

The Rolling Stones by Robert A Heinlein – A Science Fiction Book Review

After rereading Starman Jones and writing a review it occurred to me that the Heinlein juveniles are better than ninety percent of all the Young Adult (YA) science fiction that’s come out since.  So my idea is not to just look at plot but really give a thorough analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of these classic stories.  Let’s look at “The Rolling Stones.”

The Stones are a family of “Loonies.”  That’s what the human inhabitants of Earth’s Moon call themselves.  In his Future History Heinlein has decided that the Moon is officially named Luna.  Roger and Edith are the parents of Meade, Castor, Pollux and Lowell (or as he’s nicknamed Buster).  And Hazel Meade is Roger’s mother.

Roger is an engineer by profession but lately his job has been writing a television (or whatever they call it) serial called Scourge of the Spaceways.  He despises the vapidity of the show but the hefty paycheck has hooked him.

Edith is a medical doctor and housewife who manages to keep the individualistic personalities of her children from wreaking havoc with her husband’s ideas of domestic sanity.

Meade is the oldest, recently graduated from high school and a social butterfly.  Castor and Pollux are identical twins high school juniors.  They are precocious engineering inventors who have made a good amount of money on an invention and are aching to break out on their own and make their fortune out in the far flung reaches of the solar system.  Buster is a four-year-old who is either a chess prodigy or can read his grandmother’s mind.  Finally, Hazel is one of the original “Founding Fathers” of the Luna Revolution (which Heinlein later back filled in his novel “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress”).  She is a senior citizen but because of the preservative effects of living on the low gravity Moon she is quite lively and also extremely outspoken on everything from child-raising to larceny.

Heinlein creates a story about a middle-class family leaving their comfortable but boring environment in order to head out into the frontier of the solar system and experience life as a family and a crew.  Roger and Castor (and later Meade) handle the astrogation.  Hazel and Pollux run the engines.  Edith is the ship’s doctor, cook and also Buster’s mom.  Buster is (as his father notes in the crew list) supercargo.

But really what Heinlein is trying to point out is that the family hasn’t fared well under the modern lifestyle and living life together as a team can allow a father to get to know his children.  And allow them to find out more about their parents than just how much they are willing to spend on useless junk.  All the children benefit from the skills, talents and experiences of their parents and grandmother and the adults are enriched by the challenges of the trip and the chance to influence the choices their children make.

Of course, this is an altogether outlandish odyssey that they are on and apparently bankrolled by the amazingly lucrative writing contract for Scourge of the Spaceways.  Perhaps this is in a way a stand-in for Heinlein’s own lifestyle which was made possible by his well-paying books.  And considering the paucity of other money coming in from the commercial enterprises that the Twins attempt you could be excused for thinking the whole trip was a bust.  But it’s the setup we’re supposed to enjoy.  Seeing the Twins through the eyes of their grandmother as she attempts to extricate them from a legal mess that their ingenuity and inexperience combine to create, we see that this family is resourceful and interesting even when they fail.  These are the story elements that give the book its character.  The action, such as it is, is light and only occasionally rises above familial squabbling.  But Heinlein paints an entertaining picture of his Swiss Family Robinson in space.  Despite the futuristic backdrop and the extraordinary qualities of the individuals, the ethos and character of the family is mid-twentieth century American and it is a charming world that Heinlein has reimagined in the unrealizable future of his era.  The children despite their precocity are decidedly normal and compared to today’s versions, decidedly a breath of fresh air.

And whereas he did manage to tie Hazel somewhat into his other books, I had hoped he would have had a follow-on novel of the brothers in their grown-up stage pursuing fame and fortune while trying to avoid execution.  Some more exciting adventures in this frontier environment wouldn’t wear out the welcome for the Stone family among Heinlein readers.  In fact, one day I might write some of those stories, although if the copyright forbids, I’ll have to alter them to the extent of calling them Castor and Pollux Rock or Boulder or Pebble.  Either way the characters are too good to waste.

A remarkable thing about this book is that it introduced the science fiction creature the flat cat that was stolen by Star Trek and turned into the Tribble.  Of course, Heinlein was gracious enough to permit the theft but it just goes to show you how impoverished Hollywood really is.

The Rolling Stones is different from the other Heinlein juveniles in that the adventure is muted.  But I believe it has its own charm that is completely character driven.  The showcasing of a normal functional family is especially enheartening today when they are almost completely missing in books and films.

Highly recommended for children and adults.