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Orphans of the Sky
Robert A. Heinlein
Stealth Press, 153 pages

Orphans of the Sky
Robert A. Heinlein
Robert Anson Heinlein was born in 1907 in Butler, Missouri, moving shortly thereafter to Kansas City, Missouri. He grew up there and spent summers in Butler. He graduated from Central High School in Kansas City in 1924 and attended a year of college at Kansas City Community College. Heinlein entered the Naval Academy in 1925 and was commissioned in 1929, serving on a variety of ships. He studied advanced engineering and mathematics at UCLA as well as architecture. In April 1939, he wrote "Life-Line" in 4 days and sent it to John W. Campbell at Astounding Science Fiction. In late 1948, he married Virginia Doris Gerstenfeld, who remained his assistant and close companion until his death in 1988 due to a combination of emphysema and related health problems that had plagued him during the last years of his life.

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SF Site Review: The Door Into Summer
Stealth Press

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A review by Greg L. Johnson

Whether you love him for masterpieces like The Door into Summer and The Moon is a Harsh Mistress or despise him for the likes of Podkayne of Mars and Farnham's Freehold, you cannot read science fiction without being exposed to the influence of Robert A. Heinlein. And while the end of his career featured too many bloated novels full of endless conversations, there was a time when it seemed that every new Heinlein story opened up a whole new world of ideas for the readers and writers of science fiction to explore. One of those new worlds was Orphans of the Sky, first published in 1941 in two parts, Universe, and Common Sense.

Orphans of the Sky is the prototypical multi-generation starship story. The inhabitants of the Ship, for the most part, have forgotten that it is a ship; to them it is the world. They live the simple lives of farmers, and worry only about the occasional radiation problems and the ever-threatening muties. Their only history is a mostly mythic oral tradition of a past fall from grace, when the Ship moved. Then Hugh Hoyland is kidnapped by Joe-Jim Gregory and begins to learn the truth.

Readers who have only started reading SF in the last 20 years or so may be taken by the sparseness of language in Orphans of the Sky. Heinlein never wastes a word in the slightly more than 150 pages it takes to build his world and tell his story. And that world, the ideas it's built from, and the story it tells are so rich that they have been used by countless science fiction writers since, from Brian Aldiss to Gene Wolfe.

It's good to see an old classic re-issued in a good edition, and the Stealth Press volume is well-made and nice-looking. But the spaceship on the cover doesn't look anything like the spaceship described in Orphans of the Sky, and I don't know what book was read by whoever wrote the notes on the inside flap, but it wasn't by Robert A. Heinlein. (For example, the flap copy refers to "their annihilated former planet," an assertion that is contradicted by the very first page of Orphans of the Sky.) Still, it's a good edition of a seminal work of SF, and a story that deserves to be read by everyone who considers themselves fans of science fiction.

Copyright © 2001 Greg L. Johnson

Reviewer Greg L. Johnson lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and wonders what a conversation between Joe-Jim Gregory and Zaphod Beeblebrox might be like. His reviews also appear in The New York Review of Science Fiction.

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