Review of Starman Jones by Robert A. Heinlein

SFFaudio Review

Blackstone Audio - Starman Jones by Robert A. HeinleinStarman Jones
By Robert A. Heinlein; Read by Paul Michael Garcia
7 CDs – 8.5 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Blackstone Audio
Published: 2008
ISBN: 9781433230387
Themes: / Science Fiction / Space Travel / Aliens / Dystopia /

It was a desperate time, when one’s next meal and the comforts of home couldn’t be taken for granted. Max Jones, a practical, hard-working young man, found his escape in his beloved astronomy books. When reality comes crashing in and his troubled home life forces him out on the road, Max finds himself adrift in a downtrodden land. Until an unexpected, ultimate adventure carries him away as a stowaway aboard an intergalactic spaceship—but to where? And when? And how could he ever get back? With the ship’s pilot dead and his charts and tables all destroyed, Max must call upon all of his untested knowledge and skills in order to survive.

There’s nothing like going back to that old-time Science Fiction. Heinlein’s novels are steeped in the inspissate brew of American idealism. Puritanical hard work, honesty and humility are mixed with the libertarian and the liberal, the conservative and the anarchistic. These aren’t just the bywords of Heinleinian characters, they’re the fundamentals of their character – all that, and tempered too with happy portions of both skepticism and hucksterism. A Heinlein character is just as likely to be a gruff middle aged con-man (honest in his own fashion) as a naive wundderkind. The naive wundderkind is often found with a variously doting, tolerant, and even brighter sweetheart. We find all three, the canny conman, the boy genius and his devoted young woman, along with a whole lot more in Starman Jones.

There are three main sections of Starman Jones. Most of the folks who talk about the novel talk about the middle section – where Max works his way up the chain of command in a luxury spaceliner. Indeed, this is what gives the novel its title. The third section, set on board a primitive alien planet has some nicely interesting aliens (a whole novel could have been done there). Personally I liked the first third, set on a vaguely dystopic planet Earth. This is a land of no-opportunity, in order to get a decent job you have to inherit it. Vested interests, taking the form of professional guilds, seem to have staked out every possible avenue for advancement. Sure, there are people there willing to bend the rules to kind-hearted kids like Jones, but the general rule is a complacency towards pervasive corruption. At one point during this first third a kindly truck driver, hopped up on amphetamines, gets Max to help him break the rules of the road (that you have to pull over and sleep once in a while). That scene and another, gives an odd kind of atmosphere of low-level-corruption that Heinlein seems fairly comfortable with. Later still, with the only ticket off the sewed-up planet Earth is via false documents and bribery – Max goes for it, to the detriment of his conscience only after the fact.

In other juvenile novels, like Citizen Of The Galaxy, a Heinleinian protagonist will stay “dirtside” where he’ll grift and finagle his way through life – justifying each action step by step – here and frankly in every single Heinlein story that I’ve ever read, the bad guys are never bad because of the greed or corruption per se, but rather because they are dumb, ignorant and vain.This is a Heinlein failing I think. His cardboard cut-out villians are too dim, too dull-humored and too officious to be any real threat. There are at least two of these lame-brains in this novel. That got me to thinking. If one were to rewrite a Heinlein novel from the strawman’s point of view – it’d be extremely obvious who Heinlein had meant the hero to be [namely Heinlein’s own ideas and values – however ambivalent they are]. But, don’t let this criticism let you think I don’t like Starman Jones because, warts and all, I really did enjoy it.

Paul Michael Garcia is ably suited to reading Heinlein’s well chosen words – giving the dialogue-heavy prose a banter-like give and take. Garcia’s range too is very impressive, voicing Max Jones as youthful and energetic, his older pal Sam as languid and confident, the girl, the mom, the step-dad, the alien spacepet, and everyone else – all in unique voice. It really is the ideal reading. I’ve been a fan of Garcia’s narration since Blackstone picked him for Kirinyaga. Despite a lot of technical jargon, especially while talking astrogation, I only heard one tiny mispronunciation in the whole novel. Concomitant meaning “occurring or existing concurrently.” Garcia read it as “konk-mittant.” The original art that Blackstone has given Starman Jones looks good, if a bit generic, but a closer inspection – past the silhouetted landscape and into the roiling clouds will admit a bit more detail in the night’s overcast sky.

Posted by Jesse Willis

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