Monday, April 07, 2008

Variable Star -- Robert A. Heinlein and Spider Robinson

Okay, here's the way this one came about. Discovered among Heinlein's papers was a 7-page single-spaced outline for a novel, along with 14 hand-written index cards containing various notes, all for a Heinlein juvenile that never got written. The outline was not complete, as the eighth page (and possibly subsequent pages) was missing. Robinson wrote the novel based on this material.

Some people aren't going to be able to read beyond the opening scenes because of the corny and sexist dialog between Joel (Our Hero) and Jinny, whom he believes to be his true love. But this dialog, especially the sexist part, is important to what happens next and kicks the plot into gear. Joel finds out things about Jinny that he can't accept and then finds himself on a ship to the stars. Fans of Heinlein are going to find plenty of familiar stuff, and if they've read The Door into Summer, they're going to be way ahead of other readers and maybe not surprised at what's supposed to be one of the book's big surprises. I have to say there's one even bigger surprise, though, and I didn't see it coming at all. I wonder if right before that surprise isn't where the outline ended and Robinson started winging it. Anway, I think Robinson's world view diverges from Heinlein's at that point in particular, though for a lot of the book I thought Robinson did a pretty good job of "making it Heinlein."

For me, though, Robinson goes wrong by making the book far too long (you're not surprised at that reaction from me by now, I'm sure). Heinlein would never have written a novel of well over 100K words back in 1955, especially not a juvenile (not that this one's a juvie; I think it's aimed at adults, too). I think the book could have profited from some heavy-handed editing and severe cutting, but others might feel differently. I'm glad I read it, even though I wouldn't necessarily recommend it. If you're a Heinlein fan, you're probably going to read it out of curiosity, and you might find it great fun. I thought parts of it were.

No comments: