Saturday, June 18, 2022

Book Report

Having mulled on it, Citizen of the Galaxy is one of my favorite Heinlein juveniles. It's "classic science fiction" in that it postulates one big difference in technology, in this case just interstellar travel, and then uses that to mull over the effects on human society...or in this case, societies.

Our protagonist moves through several cultures: 
  • A street urchin beggar on the streets of a planet with a stratified culture where slavery is legal. 
  • A crewman on a free trader spaceship. In this universe, each trading ship is a sort of combination corporation and family clan, with generations of one tribe crewing the ship.
  • An enlistee in the space navy.
...and more.

Without burdening the story, Heinlein introduces the reader to several different cultures, all through the viewpoint of Thorby, the young freed slave.

On the free trader, the protagonist encounters a space anthropologist studying the culture of the traveling space merchants, and I'm kicking myself for not recognizing the name the first time around...
"Customs tell a man who he is, where he belongs, what he must do. Better illogical customs than none; men cannot live together without them. From an anthropologist’s view, ‘justice’ is a search for workable customs.” -Dr. Margaret Mader
Such an obvious anagram for "Margaret Mead"...

Not a tech-heavy book, although the computers are still gigantic machines. Our hero spends some time as a Fire Controlman on spaceships, directing missile fire at space pirates, and the computers are things that you input data into and then read out the calculations from dials and gauges before launching the missile by pushing a button. In 1956, apparently, the ides of just letting R2D2 handle the whole process from target acquisition to launch control was still a bit too sci-fi.