Friday, February 01, 2008

Variable Star by Robert Heinlein and Spider Robinson


Young Love vs. Old Money

Every adolescent boy in the throes of first love believes his lover implicitly. Even further, he believes in his lover. So when Joel Johnston is hesitant to propose to his sweetheart Jinny Hamilton, it is because he doesn't care for the thought of raising children on credit. Since he's a poor student-slash-musician, and she's no wealthier, he is baffled by her casual approach to their lack of money.

Soon enough, though, he finds out why she isn't bothered by the thought of debt. His poor lover Jinny is really hyper-rich Jinnia Anne Conrad, masquerading a la Haroun Al-Rashid, to find a love who isn't after her money. Unfortunately, Joel isn't interested in marrying the Conrad fortune, and by chapter 5 he's headed for the colonies.

This journey is the rest of the story, barring the twist at the end in classic Heinlein — and Robinson — fashion.

We aren't told how much of this novel began as a outline written circa 1955 by Robert A. Heinlein and discovered after his death, and how much was written by Spider Robinson. What is clear, though, is that Variable Star is a pastiche of Robinson's wit and knowledge of Heinlein's authorial voice, and RAH's grasp of the interesting story line. It may be uneven; it may ring false a time or two, but it is still a Heinlein story.

What isn't there: Spider Robinson's love of puns and his ardent counter-culture stance, Heinlein's customary view of discipline and hard work (often in the military) as a source of success in life. What is there: the capable and self-determined young hero who characterizes all Heinlein's stories, the odd-ball associates that populate Robinson's novels, and the 50's-conservative philosophy that informed most of Heinlein's tales.

The novel has been criticized as being all journey and no arrival. I don't agree. In a sense, every life is all journey, and to arrive is a conclusion we dread.

You don't have to be a Heinlein or a Robinson fan to enjoy this novel. It's a great story. (No surprise there; Heinlein was the champion of the great story.) If you read it as a posthumous RAH novel, though, you will be disappointed. As capable as his production of Heinlein voice is, Robinson is unable to recreate it entire. A little of Spider slips through — and that's fine, because the collaboration of the two, however posthumous, provides us with something quite unique.
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