I enjoyed this when I was about eleven, but it seemed very dated to me even at that time (early 1980s.) It’s even more dated now. Science fiction dates faster than fantasy: readers end up living in the projected far-future year (and all the predictions are wrong), social attitudes have completely changed and are harder to overlook via “but that’s how it was in the past/the fantasy world is just like that” when the story is set in the future of our world, and old slang is twice as jarring when it’s spoken on a space ship.

That being said, I did enjoy the book.

Heinlein Stock Character # 1, teenage lunkhead Rod Walker, is taking a survival course whose final exam is to be dumped on an alien planet for a week. The course is taught by Heinlein Stock Character # 2, Wise Old Philosophy-Spouting Mentor. Overpopulation is a serious problem, currently being solved by dumping refugees on other planets via teleportation gates, which possibly explains why there’s no monitoring or alarm you can hit to rescue (and flunk) you. If things go wrong, you die.

Rod’s sister is the one I ranted about the other day, the totally awesome space soldier who joined the military solely because she’s so utterly desperate to bag a man, any man, and have tons of babies.

Rod makes it through the survival test, but pick-up never arrives. He and the surviving students are forced to build a civilization on an alien planet with nothing but the tools they have on them and the skills they learned in the course.

I love the premise and enjoyed all the adventure and survival. For me, there is a strong element of wish-fulfillment: of course I’d want to take that course and do that test. I was less enthused about the civilization-building, which becomes increasingly glossed over as the story continues. The civilization itself is quite dated, which is unsurprising but distracting. Men hunt, women cook. When stobor attack, women are sent away, including the ones who are excellent fighters. Etc.

Part of Rod’s story involves learning that girls don’t have cooties, first when he teams up with Jack, a boy who turns out to be a girl, and then when he befriends the extremely bad-ass and amusingly eccentric Zulu girl, Caroline. So far so good! But then Jack marries and largely drops out of the story, Caroline dedicates herself to supporting Rod, and people keep forbidding Caroline (clearly the most competent person in the entire book) to do things because she’s a girl. Nothing happens to really resolve this. It’s set up as fairly significant, and then dropped.

Rod becomes mayor (despite not ever really demonstrating leadership, in my opinion – I do not understand why way more intelligent and competent people overwhelmingly support him) and makes Caroline city manager, but we don’t really see her do much. I think she’s supposed to be in love with Rod, but if so, he never notices. I am pleased to note that she joins the space Amazons at the end and there’s no mention of babies. Props for that.

Also props for racial diversity (a little undercut by some "China is scary" stuff at the beginning) and even a teeny attempt at cultural diversity. Apparently some people think Rod is supposed to be black, which would make Caroline’s constant “Oh no Rod, YOU be leader, I will do anything to support you,” slightly less creepy, but if so it’s not actually mentioned in the text. Rod says his sister looks a little like Caroline, but he could mean they’re both tall.

The ending is a little depressing, though plausible.

The main thing I remember from my first reading is that they’re warned against “stobor.” I spent the entire book convinced that they were all idiots for not reading this clear code-word backward, and was disappointed when “robots” never showed up. That being said, the explanation of the stobor is pretty cool.

I still enjoy Heinlein’s plain, readable style and focus on how things work, but I’ve got nostalgia working for me. Efforts to push him on current youngsters are probably doomed.

Tunnel in the Sky
rachelmanija: (Book Fix)
( Aug. 24th, 2010 05:28 pm)
This being said, I have not forgotten that I owe reviews! They are automatically on my list.

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