Saturday, November 26, 2011

Time for the Stars

What great reads Robert Heinlein’s juvenile SF novels are – even when you’re reading them for the second time a couple of decades after adolescence!

Time for the Stars is one such novel (out of a dozen written between 1947 and 1958). I first read it a little over thirty years ago, during a snow-filled holiday vacation in Binghamton, New York. There were other gifts and other books that week, but this one absorbed most of my time. Indeed, I was glued to its pages for hours in my dad’s volare sedan, cruising the slushy interstate home.

(Time for the Stars Hopper read in 1979)

One of the great things about Heinlein’s juveniles is that they introduce the young reader to some cutting edge science. In Time for the Stars, I got my first practical exposition of the Theory of Relativity. In particular, the Twin Paradox. Take two identical twin teens, leave one on earth and put the other on a rocket ship accelerating to just under the speed of light. Go out forty light years and return. The twin on earth will now be in his nineties. The traveling twin will be the age the majority of us graduate college.

Such is the Twin Paradox, and it’s used to illustrate the fact that time slows appreciably the closer the speed of light one travels. That’s the weirdity pursued in the book, the twins being Tom and Pat Bartlett, who also happen to have the advantage of being telepathic. Tom is sent out on a long-range reconnaissance starship, and we’re treated to his point of view. Throughout this compact l’il adventure there are some very cool engineering ideas in the “torchship” spacecraft, the planets (and native life) the ship visits, and telepathy itself (assuming its reality) and how that might just revolutionize even Einstein’s theories.

And all through the mirror of 1950s Americana. Though it’s written for “juveniles”, there is a bit of violence and some death. There’s also trademarked Heinleinian norm-busting erotica, although very mildly hinted at and posed as a surprise at the ending. But overall it is eminently readable, a novel that refuses to be put down, and one capable of giving as much enjoyment – and education – to a middle-aged guy as well as a twelve-year-old boy esconced firmly in the golden age of science fiction.

Grade: A+

(Time for the Stars Hopper read in 2011)

See also my review of Rocket Ship Galileo, here.

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