Sunday, January 6, 2013

Red Planet: Robert A. Heinlein

This is not the first book by Robert Heinlein that I read, but it has been a long, long time. It has been a few years since I have read any sci fi novels, and the ones I read most recently were published in the 1970's and 1980's.

Red Planet, first published in 1949, is about the adventure of a young boy (in his early teens?) living on Mars who leaves his boarding school to return to his parents. Many of the books Heinlein wrote in this period (through the 1950's) are described as juveniles and were originally aimed at teenagers. However, I agree with this assessment on the first page of the edition I read by the Chicago Tribune: "Readers young and old will enjoy this fast moving adventure novel."
What did I like about Red Planet?

I liked the story of a young man who is willing to challenge the officials in his school in order to protect his family and his way of life. The setting and the culture of earthlings living on Mars is portrayed very well as the plot unfolds, as opposed to a lot of exposition setting up the story. And the descriptions of the various types of Martian creatures that the earthlings co-exist with are vivid and interesting.
The protagonist, Jim Marlowe, journeys with his friend, Frank, and Willis, his "pet", across Mars. Willis is a Martian creature, a "bouncer" who looks like a hairy basketball, but a bit smaller, who at various times has different appendages that appear when needed.

I noted that Jim is the intuitive, impetuous one. Frank has more common sense, and is more practical. But they are both loyal and have integrity, which a lot of the adults around them don't have. Interestingly, when Jim's father and his friend Doctor MacRae become involved, Jim's father is the more practical one and MacRae is the more impetuous one. 

What I disliked:
I did not notice how male-centered (and chauvinistic) the story was until I got to a part where Jim's sister volunteers to help and is refused. That did not bother me a lot, because of the time the book was written. I am used to reading vintage mysteries where there may be racial slurs and women are not always depicted well.

More about the book...
After reading the book, I discovered that there are two versions. The original printed version was modified significantly by Heinlein because the publisher demanded the changes.

Per Wikipedia:
The version published in 1949 featured a number of changes forced on Heinlein by Scribner's, since it was published as part of the Heinlein juveniles. After Heinlein's death, the book was reissued by Del Rey Books as the author originally intended.

This article at The Heinlein Society website describes the differences in detail.

I do not know if I am glad or sad that I read the version as it was originally published, but from reading the article at The Heinlein Society I can see that the excised portions would improve the experience of the book for me. Some of the changes would not make much difference. Others affect how a character was portrayed and enhance relationships. I will go back and try to find a later printing but I probably won't read it for a while.

I read this book as a part of the 2013 Sci-Fi Experience at Stainless Steel Droppings. The event starts in January and runs through February. During the two months of that experience I want to read some vintage sci fi, some current sci fi, and work in at least one  book that combines mystery and science fiction. The Review Site can be found here; check out other bloggers reviews and related posts.


Anonymous said...

Tracy - What an interesting choice for review! I've read a little Heinlein but not this one. Interesting you'd mention the sexism in this novel because I've noticed it in several others, too. I've had to remind myself that they reflect an era...

Sarah said...

What a great cover, and as Margot says an interesting choice for a review. I haven't read much science fiction but that which I have read I usually enjoy.

Cheryl @ Tales of the Marvelous said...

I think you had me at the hairy basketball...that sounds like so much fun! I've been thinking I should read some Heinlein juveniles, and this sounds like a good one.

redhead said...

Red Planet is a great Heinlein to start with for someone who has never read him before. It's a fun quick read, and if you like it, you'll like a lot of his other titles.

and these book from way back when? they were written in another day and age, so I forgive the patronizing sexism. women are more ignored than anything else.

Carl V. Anderson said...

This is one I haven't read yet but I've enjoyed all the Heinlein juveniles I've read. He is interesting as an author as there are times in his juveniles when he treats female characters with typical 50's stereotypical gender roles and other times where he actually rises above the standard and gives his female characters atypical, for the time, dreams, etc. The Menace from Earth is a good example of one of his female protagonists.

Red Planet is on my list, I'm glad you enjoyed it despite its problems.