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Time for the Stars
Robert A. Heinlein
Tor, 256 pages

Time for the Stars
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.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Red Planet
SF Site Review: Glory Road
SF Site Review: For Us, the Living
SF Site Review: The Door Into Summer
SF Site Review: Orphans of the Sky

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Greg L. Johnson

Time for the Stars is not the most famous of Robert A. Heinlein's juvenile novels, that honor goes to Starship Troopers or possibly Citizen of the Galaxy. But it is a good example of just how Heinlein took the artistry that made him the most influential writer of science fiction in the twentieth century and stripped it down to meet the needs of its intended audience -- teenage boys.

Time for the Stars is a space exploration story, the Long Range Foundation is financing exploration by torchships capable of traveling at a good percentage of the speed of light, thus bringing relativistic time effects into play. The twist is that each ship carries one of a pair of telepathically linked individuals, the other telepath stays behind on Earth.

Tom and Pat Bartlett, identical twins, are one of the pairs of telepaths. Tom goes on the ship, Pat stays behind. Their relationship has always been a manipulative one, and there is some question as to the events that send Tom on his way. That question of motivation leads the reader to the realisation that Time for the Stars is basically Tom's personal memoir, the story of his adventures and growing emotional maturity. As such, Time for the Stars is, much more so than Heinlein's other juvenile novels, a one character novel, the other characters are in the story only to the extent that they interact with Tom. Those characters will be familiar to any reader of Heinlein; there are wise older characters, misguided younger characters, bureaucratic officials and even a girlfriend or two. None of them however, are fleshed out much beyond the requirements of their role in the story of Tom's life.

And that story is a good one, a young man's coming-of-age in the midst of a grand adventure, Tom is among the first humans to visit an alien planet, and among the first to appreciate intimately the time-altering aspects of relativity. Tom is also learning how to work with and understand other people, and how his relationship with his twin brother has affected his ability to do just that.

I first read Heinlein's juvenile novels when I was ten to twelve years old, and at the right time in my life to enjoy them immensely just the way they are. Forty years later, with the perspective of a lifetime's reading, it's impossible to read these books in the same way. For instance, Heinlein's remarkable ability create a history for his world through dropped hints, off-the-cuff references and sly allusions to events past, present and future is very evident here and sets the standard for SF to this day. His skill at introducing concepts like relativity and time dilation to his readers is a match for anyone. Yet it's hard to read Time for the Stars now and not notice that there are a few things missing. Computers for one, torchships travel near the speed of light, and all the math is done by hand. And it's hard to imagine that alien environments will be tested by releasing pigs. The question is whether these kind of anachronisms would keep Time for the Stars and others like it from being enjoyed by kids today.

That's a question you need a kid to answer. Luckily, I have access to one. Evan Johnson of Plymouth, Minnesota is an iPod-toting, baseball-playing soon-to-be thirteen-year-old whose expectations of seventh grade included not having to read so much. Thus he's a hard sell when asked to read and form an opinion on one of his uncle's childhood favorites. In a bit of a surprise, Evan declared that Time for the Stars was "actually pretty good," and that he "didn't think kids today would think it was too old-fashioned to read."

Time for the Stars, like the rest of Heinlein's juveniles, has remained in print all these years since their first publication in the 50s. That, along with Evan's testimony, is evidence that these stories continue to engage readers young and old, despite the fact that time has passed by some of the details. It's also one of the main reasons that Robert A. Heinlein's influence is so pervasive in science fiction to this very day.

Copyright © 2006 by Greg L. Johnson

When it comes to the relative greatness of Robert A. Heinlein, reviewer Greg L. Johnson prides himself on keeping one foot firmly on both sides of the fence. His reviews also appear in the The New York Review of Science Fiction.

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