Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Robert Heinlein and Spider Robinson/VARIABLE STAR


In 1955, Robert Heinlein outlined a novel he would never write. Modern science fiction writer Spider Robinson has completed the work from Heinlein's notes, and the result is a novel that feels like a Heinlein novel with some marked differences. The voice sounds like Heinlein's--accessible, friendly--but with a great number of terrible puns thrown in. And while Heinlein's plots are usually straight shots, Robinson has given us a more meandering story that is basically a collection of snapshots of life on an imagined space ship.

The story follows Joel Johnston, who breaks up with his fiancee after finding out she's absurdly wealthy and that her grandfather would expect Joel to quit composing music to carry on the family business. A distraught Joel takes off on a twenty year journey to a planet he will help colonize. Most of the story takes place aboard the ship, where we meet odd characters and learn about the ups and downs of space voyaging.

I found the plot to be sometimes interesting and sometimes boring and indulgent (almost an entire chapter is devoted to Joel's learning how to meditate). The story comes to quite a dark crisis, with a great many people dying terrible deaths, only to be given a chipper ending after a blatant deus ex machina that also neatly ties up the romantic plotline. Overall, I think I'd rather read an actual Heinlein novel, but this novel does satisfy an enduring curiosity of mine--what life would be like on a spaceship.

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