Books by Robinson, Spider

Heinlein, Robert A. and Spider Robinson. Variable Star. New York: Tor, 2006. ISBN 0-765-31312-X.
After the death of Virginia Heinlein in 2003, curators of the Heinlein papers she had deeded to the Heinlein Prize Trust discovered notes for a “juvenile” novel which Heinlein had plotted in 1955 but never got around to writing. Through a somewhat serendipitous process, Spider Robinson, who The New York Times Book Review called “the new Robert Heinlein” in 1982 (when the original Robert Heinlein was still very much on the scene—I met him in 1984, and his last novel was published in 1987, the year before his death), was tapped to “finish” the novel from the notes. To his horror (as described in the afterword in this volume), Robinson discovered the extant notes stopped in mid-sentence, in the middle of the story, with no clue as to the ending Heinlein intended. Taking some comments Heinlein made in a radio interview as the point of departure, Robinson rose to the challenge, cranking in a plot twist worthy of the Grandmaster.

Taking on a task like this is to expose oneself to carping and criticism from purists, but to this Heinlein fan who reads for the pleasure of it, Spider Robinson has acquitted himself superbly here. He deftly blends events in recent decades into the Future History timeline, and even hints at a plausible way current events could lead to the rise of the Prophet. It is a little disconcerting to encounter Simpsons allusions in a time line in which Leslie LeCroix of Harriman Enterprises was the first to land on the Moon, but recurring Heinlein themes are blended into the story line in such a way that you're tempted to think that this is the way Heinlein would have written such a book, were he still writing today. The language and situations are substantially more racy than the classic Heinlein juveniles, but not out of line with Heinlein's novels of the 1970s and 80s.

Sigh…aren't there any adults on the editorial staff at Tor? First they let three misspellings of Asimov's character Hari Seldon slip through in Orson Scott Card's Empire, and now the very first time the Prophet appears on p. 186, his first name is missing the final “h;”, and on p. 310 the title of Heinlein's first juvenile, Rocket Ship Galileo is given as “Rocketship Galileo”. Readers intrigued by the saxophone references in the novel may wish to check out The Devil's Horn, which discusses, among many other things, the possible connection between “circular breathing” and the mortality rate of saxophonists (and I always just thought it was that “cool kills”).

As you're reading this novel, you may find yourself somewhere around two hundred pages in, looking at the rapidly dwindling hundred-odd pages to go, and wondering is anything ever going to happen? Keep turning those pages—you will not be disappointed. Nor, I think, would Heinlein, wherever he is, regarding this realisation of his vision half a century after he consigned it to a file drawer.

March 2007 Permalink