Review: Citizen of the Galaxy, by Robert Heinlein

This was one of Heinlein’s juvenile books from the 1950s. It’s the tale of a young slave, Thorby, rise from the very bottom of society – a beggar’s slave – to the pinnacle of corporate wealth and power. I confess my motivation for reading this was that someone compared a bit of my own work to it, so I thought I would go check it out. I hadn’t read any Heinlein in perhaps 20 years, so I figured it was time to look again.

It was okay. Mostly, it simply didn’t age well. Maybe it was that it had been written as juvenile, which back in the 1950s was aimed quite a bit lower than today’s Young Adult fiction, or maybe it was merely that SF and narrative styles have changed a lot in 60 years. There were a number of sociological ideas that were belabored in a “Hey, look at my cool idea” way. That was fairly common in the early love affair between science fiction and libertarianism, but it’s kind of dated now. Also, the narrative style was a somewhat clutzy omniscient POV, which has fallen out of favor in the last few decades. As such, it robbed the story of the kind of punch-in-the-gut immediacy that I’ve come to enjoy in current fiction.

Nonetheless, it painted a broad canvas for humanity, and took our young Thorby through quite a bit of it. It did, however, end on something of a cliffhanger. Sure, things are more or less resolved, but there’s this big, fat challenge sitting out in front of our hero, and then the tale ends. As far as I know, he did not write a sequel, so it’s just left hanging.

So, I think that for its intended audience of kids in the 1950s, it was spot-on. Today, less so.

Review: Ship’s Boy, by Phil Geusz

This was an odd little space opera about an anthropomorphized rabbit named David Birkenhead. That’s right, he’s a rabbit walking around in clothes an interacting with humans. (If any of you remember the comic strip Hepcats from the 80’s, it’s a bit like that.) Now, it’s not as odd as that makes it sound. He’s a member of a genetically engineered slave race, designed to be dumb, compliant labor for the ruling humans.

And he gets dragged onto a nobleman’s starship as it is fleeing an invasion, and along the way he manages to prove himself capable, and as the crisis escalates further, he even gets to step up to the plate and be a hero.

I suppose my only complaint was that it was a little short…

… so I went ahead and grabbed the next one in the series.

Review: Midshipman, by Phil Geusz

In this book, David Birkenhead is still technically a rabbit, but he’s now a free rabbit, no longer considered a slave by law. But as he recovers from his injuries and considers his future, it’s clear that most people still consider him to be a slave in all but paper.

As much as the anthropomorphized animal aspects might be weird — my wife, for example, was a little squicked by it — it actually served as an interesting proxy for our own history of racial slavery in the U.S. In many cases I could see people treating the rabbits in much the way old slaveholders of the U.S. south would have treated them, and I also see what that slavery has done to the rabbits psyche, in terms of their expectations, their choices, and their self-image. More than any furry aspect, it was this comfortable view of slavery that got under my skin more than anything else.

So, this book takes David from his injuries through to his official decoration for his heroic actions in the first book, and then onto the navy’s officer academy with the Kings full blessing. Of course, not everyone wants to see David succeed as the first free rabbit to enter the academy, and there’s quite a bit of good struggle over that. Along the way, he befriends a few other students in the academy, and for the climax, they go to an interstellar wargames competition between two opposing academies. He acquits himself fairly well in a move that would have made even Ender Wiggin proud.

So, I’m pretty jazzed about it, even with the bunny ears and slavery, and I’m looking forward to the rest of the series.