Thursday, November 12, 2015

Book Review: Double Star

© 1956 by Robert Heinlein

The Show Must Go On.

Even in an overpopulated, Machiavellian solar system a couple hundred years in the future.

Larry Smith, a.k.a. Lorenzo Smythe, the “Great Lorenzo”, is the greatest ac-tor of his generation. Despite – or maybe because of – a Boothian ego, our boastful protagonist finds himself in a space cantina, drinking his unemployment woes away. Then, a chance meeting, an offer of quick, easy work … but only if Smythe will meet his new acquaintance at a shady hotel. Near penniless (“Imperial-less” more accurate, love that word “Imperial” to denote the local coinage), he does, and is nearly killed.

But not before accepting the gig: impersonating an up-and-coming mover-and-shaker in solar system politics, John Joseph Bonforte. A mélange of Newt Gingrich and JFK with a dash of Don Corleone tossed in, leader of the “Expansionist” Party advocating free trade, open borders, and universal suffrage (for the Martians, tree-like malodorous entities with tentacles and a unique vocal style who live in massive underground hives), Bonforte has been kidnapped leaving his compatriots in the lurch. All the great man’s life work will go to waste if he is not present in 48 hours to accept “Martian citizenship” from those tree-like malodorous beings. Locking up Mars is essential to the upcoming election.

So, a ruse is necessary. Smythe must give the performance of his life imitating Bonforte in a secretive ceremony before a completely alien high council.

Oh, and give a few speeches, spar with the press, hold a face-to-face with the Emperor (an intimate of Bonforte), deal with a sabotage-minded underling and dodge the various attempts on his life.

At a Spartan 128 pages, this novel moved. Not surprisingly as Heinlein is an undisputed member of the Triad of Golden Age SF Masters. Everything I’ve said about truly good books in past reviews applies here: lifelike characters and situations real-er than your cubicle existence, danger and intrigue that keeps the pages a-turnin’, a vision of the future so compelling that a part of you wishes you were there. Great, great stuff from a great writer. Oh, and it’s a quick, lean and mean read. I finished it in about three hours over three days.

Two things stood out to me as I burned through it. One, the character of the main character. Initially I did not like him. Foppish, vain, egotistical, it’s an understatement to say he had little appeal to me in the opening pages. But something strange and wonderful happened. I grew to like him. Like him a lot. By the wonderful twists at the end of the book, one you’ll guess and one you won’t see coming, he had become one of the most endearing characters to me I’ve read (admittedly, a fairly large group). I wanted him to succeed, to do the right things, and I enjoyed every second of learning vicariously his craft.

Two, the political situation.

Handling politics in a science fiction novel can be tricky. Reason is, everything is more or less made up, and it’s a fine line between beguiling the reader and confusing the heck out of him. Eon, recently reviewed here, is a case where I found myself on the latter part of that line. Heinlein unfolded the political situation – and this really is a political tale, adorned with SF tropes – in a way that reeled me in and kept me fully aware of how high the stakes were.

Both these points further reinforce, to me, the mastery of Heinlein the writer.

Grade: Solid A.

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