Friday, June 24, 2011

Variable Star by Robert A. Heinlein and Spider Robinson

Sadly, I cannot recommend Variable Star by Robert A. Heinlein and Spider Robinson, but read on if you would like to know more.


A young man with a promising career as a composer, and who also happens to be the son of a Nobel Prize winning genius, discovers that the woman he wants to marry is actually the heir to one of the biggest, and wealthiest, dynasties in the solar system. He has been deemed worthy by the patriarch of the family and everything is ready to proceed. One hitch, he has to give up his career as a musician, his surname, and all the dreams he had for the future.

Sounds like a deal, right?

Instead he joins a colony ship heading out for the stars and far, far away from the only woman he has ever loved.

My thoughts

Let me state right off the start that I have never before read anything by Robert Heinlein nor Spider Robinson. Perhaps fans of either author will find more in this offering. Perhaps not.

To begin with, this is not a Heinlein book. Spider Robinson was told not to write one. This is a book based on an unfinished outline for a juvenile novel that Heinlein shelved early in his career. It also carries on with some of Heinlein's themes and is set in a version of Heinlein's 'Future History' universe. How exactly this version differs from Heinlein's own I can't really say, but there is one rather large event half way through the book that I'm pretty sure mucks things up really well.

It most definitely is not appropriate as a juvenile novel.

I don't know how Variable Star compares to Robinson's other works, but this one was not for me. His language skills are proficient enough; I have no problem there. The problem is that there are really three stories here, each of which could have been given their own treatment. Or rather, they should have received their own treatment. The first is a romance story, the second a tale of a generational ship, and the third. . . well I won't spoil it for you. The storylines sit mostly on their own, growing from the previous story but never returning, not really interdependent. Each could probably have been worked to stand on their own as a short story or novella. Each has enough changes in theme or genre to cater to an entirely different audience than the last.

I also found that too much depended on sheer coincidence. It's a pet peeve of mine. I find that it interrupts my suspension of disbelief. But that might just be me, and I realize that coincidence is not only necessary in some degree for most narratives, but that it actually does happen in real life too.

Parting Shots

Apparently there are three sequels forthcoming. Maybe then we'll get an answer to the mystery of the poppy incident.

I did enjoy the little tidbits of Canadiana that Robinson inserted here and there. Now if he would just learn more about the rest of his adopted country. . .

I wish I had bought the paperback version. I got the hardcover on impulse; it was in a bargain bin at Coles. Normally I like to do a little research before a purchase, but hey, the price was right. What I later learned was that the Cover Art, mostly covered up by a text box on my copy, was done by none other than Stephan Martiniere (whom I wrote about here). As you can probably tell from the article behind my parenthetical link, I'm a fan of his work. Such work as is displayed much better on the paperback edition. . .

Rating: **/5

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