“We’d both read and seen enough romantic fiction to know that if the writer seems to insist on throwing two characters together, it’s their job to resist, for as long as they can, anyway. A silly reason not to love, I know…but are there any that aren’t?.”
“Variable Star” by Robert A. Heinlein and Spider Robinson
Variable Star is a lot of things, which, sometimes, in a book, can be its downfall, but things manage to coalesce together in Variable Star well enough to not muddle itself too much. It’s a classic love story of the stars, it’s a story of discovery and self-worth, it’s a story of that vast frontier of space and the limits of humankind, and it’s a story that bridges the gap between one science fiction writer and another. A long time ago, one of the grandfathers of science fiction, Robert A. Heinlein, jotted down the notes for the story that would become Variable Star, yet never actually wrote the book. Fast forward into the next millennium, and these notes are discovered, the buzz of an unwritten Heinlein novel starts to stir, and the suggestion that Spider Robinson, dubbed by many as the next Heinlein, should be the one to finish writing it.
The story is told from the perspective of one Joel Johnston, a man betrayed by love when his girlfriend and potential wife revealed to him that she was not of the humble orphan beginnings that she had claimed to have, but, rather, she was one of the granddaughters of Conrad of Conrad, the wealthiest and most powerful man in all the universe….and that wealthiest and most powerful man in the universe has plans to groom Joel to one day march up to his vast empire and have a hand in it. Reeling from the sudden revelation of his love’s true identity and what marrying her would mean, Joel goes on a bender that lands him as part of a crew of colonists being sent way, way, way out into space to colonize a new planet, Brasil Nova, a jungle-thick earth filled with promises and, most importantly for Joel, complete escape.
The tale is told with Robinson’s sarcastic humor and casual writing; his modernization of themes and language (google as a verb, scientific discoveries, cultural developments) blends well with the original classic pulp sci-fi feel of Heinlein’s original concept, especially toward the beginning. I feel the second part of the book is definitely Robinson rather than a blend, which makes sense, because he reveals at the end that the one thing Heinlein’s notes lacked was an ending. I think that might be part of the reason why I find the ending pretty unsatisfying; it was a classic wrap-up ending, with a touch of demonizing a character whom I felt didn’t exactly deserve it. But the lead-up was fun. The beginning of the book was absolutely charming, and then the development of the colonists on a ship hurtling into space was pretty fascinating, too. Sometimes, our narrator’s sarcasm works and makes for an interesting read; othertimes, it just seems misplaced and perhaps even a little lazy in regards to writing. But it’s a good read and an engaging story.
Whether it does Heinlein justice, I actually can’t say, as I must now admit to never having read any Heinlein yet. I’m thinking that should definitely change, and then maybe I’ll let you know.
Books read: 51/100.
And, finally, a great big ‘thank you!’ goes out to Tiffany A. White for following the blog! I’ve been following Tiffany’s FabulOoous blog for a little bit now, and it’s a lot of fun, so I highly recommend it checking it out and following it, too! Thanks, Tiffany! Good to have you aboard!