Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Space Cadet


Space Cadet, by Robert Heinlein

Well, it's about time I started telling you about some of the books I've been reading, because I've been reading quite a bit!  Let's kick off the year with my first vintage SF title for Little Red Reviewer's event.  It's from 1948 and must have thrilled many a kid with dreams of going to space.

Matt (from Des Moines) arrives for the Space Patrol entrance exams.  He wants nothing more than a career in space!  It's 2075 and there are human settlements all over the solar system, so he befriends  boys born on Ganymede and Venus.  Being a cadet is extremely hard work and Matt has difficulty with some of the advanced math courses; he even thinks about leaving.  His friends are stock school-story characters: the troublemaker best friend, the quiet buddy with unsuspected talents, the spoiled brat nemesis.

Halfway through the story, Matt shifts to being a cadet on a working ship.  He helps out with an asteroid field job, and is then called to help answer a distress call from equatorial Venus.  This is the exciting bit, as the commander is injured and the three buddies are stranded in an unmapped area of the planet, very far from any help.  Here is where the quiet friend shines, as he teaches the other two how to contact the native Venerians for help.  They are an amphibian and matriarchal species (the males are never seen), and there's a lot about the complexities
of inter-cultural communication.  The Venerians are highly skilled chemists, but how to communicate about science when neither side comprehends the other's technical processes?  Anyway, it's all pretty fun and of course, the trouble is all caused by the spoiled brat nemesis acting like an idiot.

There is a lot about the practical aspects of working in space.  Matt has to learn to deal with freefall and with pressures up to 7 Gs--and of course, he learns astro-navigation with a slide rule.  Traveling in space turns out to be long and tedious, and every ship travels with a garden to recycle air and produce food on board.  The part on Venus is quite like our more recent hit, The Martian, with its emphasis on working the problem no matter how impossible it seems.

A fun juvenile title from Heinlein.

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