Monday, July 16, 2007

Heinlein's Juvenile Novels

I've been reading through Robert Heinlein's juveniles the last three weeks. I had read Rocket Ship Galileo and Podkayne of Mars previously, and was able to get most of the rest through the King County Library system. So far I've read:

Rocket Ship Galileo
Red Planet
Farmer in the Sky
The Rolling Stones
Tunnel in the Sky
Citizen of the Galaxy
Have Space Suit, Will Travel
Podkayne of Mars

It's not a juvenile, but I also read The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress recently. I've got Starman Jones and Time for the Stars left in my pile.

Heinlein's great enthusiasm shows through in all his books. His future is optimistic with regards to the relationship between humans and their technology. I don't think I've ever read a dystopia from him. He tries to educate people about how the world works, and to think carefully about how it might work in the future. Heinlein doesn't limit himself to thinking about how technology might evolve; he is also keenly interested in how societies and their customs might evolve as well.

These juveniles were all written prior to the moon landings. Nevertheless, Heinlein knows enough about space, orbital mechanics, pressure suits, and rocket engines to make things pretty plausible; certainly far more plausible than a lot of modern “realistic” space fiction. I remember reading a novel a year or two ago featuring your typical Star Trek-inspired space battleships with people sitting around and verbally relaying orders. The author seemed to think that his ships could “take the high ground” in a solar system by orbiting around its sun faster and faster; they were then able to strike more readily whenever and wherever a threat appeared. Completely ridiculous!

Computer games have the potential to give players visceral understanding of complicated concepts. It would be neat to have a fun game that gives people an intuitive grasp of orbital mechanics and the dimensions of our Solar System. This would, if nothing else, give authors of generic sci-fi better mental pictures of how things work, so they can avoid the dumber mistakes. When the kids of the 40s and 50s grew up to make real rockets, they had in mind the pictures planted there by Heinlein and other authors.

1 comment:

Bill Rockenbeck said...

I've probably got Space Cadet and Star Beast lying around, if you'd like to borrow them and complete the cycle. Gawsh, I haven't read those in... well, since I was a juvenile, myself.