Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Citizen of the Galaxy by Robert A. Heilein (1957)

https://cdn.preterhuman.net/texts/literature/books_by_author/H/Heinlein,%20Robert/Citizen%20of%20the%20Galaxy.pdf

As I was listening to this (Blackstone Audio, narrated by Lloyd James, more on the production later), I was trying to recall whether I'd read any Robert A. Heinlein before.  I know the name, of course, but as for reading a book by him, this is my first time.  I think this will probably be the last book I read by him; I wasn't particularly enamored by his style.  I think that if I had actually been reading this rather than listening to an audiobook, I may have put the book down in frustration.

Supposedly, this is based on Rudyard Kipling's Kim, a book I've never read and knew next to nothing about before I wikipedia'd it.  I knew so little about the book that I thought Kim (the main character) was Indian.  He's not.   So if Citizen of the Galaxy was based on Kim, I wouldn't be the person to ask how and/or why.

I think you can probably divide this book into four parts.  The first part is the youth of Thorby; his purchase and then subsquent education by Baslim the Cripple, and his eventual leaving of the planet.  I think if I'd been reading this, I would have stopped; I'm not sure what kept me going.  The second part was Thorby's adoption by the People of the starship Sisu; this was the most fascinating part to me, the most interesting, and if the whole book had stayed on Sisu, I would have been happy.  But the third part, when Thorby's adoptive father gives him up to the Hegemony, ugh.  That part was my least favorite; I'm not a fan of military fiction at all, and Heinlein clearly was; there is definitely a glorification of masculine military life that for me, personally, was dull at best, and annoying at worst.  The final part is Thorby's legal battle to regain his inheritance back on earth; I thought this part was okay, but really - by the time I got to this section, I was ready for the whole thing to be over.

The book has a lot to say about various kinds of slavery.  Thorby is an actual slave at the beginning of the book.  Later, Doctor Mader gives Thorby the idea that he's become a slave to the customs of the People.  A little light went on in my head that said "Libertarian."  I think I was right; Heilein wants everyone to be "free" and has all of his best characters spout that, but I'm not sure I agree.

This is an utter mishmash above and doesn't make a whole lot of sense. I think that's because I really didn't enjoy this book all that much.  I thought it had hints of sexism - although the female characters are actually quite strong and interesting - they aren't sci-fi pin-ups.  But they all still had a whiff of traditional values about them; for example, on earth the secretaries are all women, and cousin Leda is a shopaholic.  I was annoyed by Dr. Mader trying to lure Thorby away from the safety of the People; I think they had taken him in at his lowest point, and her talk of being their slave was off mark - but probably matched Heinlein's view of how societal norms trap us and make us slaves (that's a guess, but the little I read about him seems to back this up).  I think that's bullshit, actually, but whatever.

I also, quite frankly, can't see how the military is more free than the customs of the People - I would think it would be a worse kind of slavery than that of the People.  I guess killing people in the name of honor and glory is okay, but doing business with them isn't.  Bleah.  I'm liking this book less and less as I write about it.

The audio book drove me NUTS.  I liked some of it immensely; Lloyd James is a good narrator. But some of his accents were awful. I mean, they were GOOD accents, but they were also so good they were annoying.  Baslim the Cripple sounded like Sean Connery, and he did this Mexican accent that bordered on racist.  Dr. Mader's southern accent was good, but annoying too.


Citizen of the GalaxyCitizen of the Galaxy by Robert A. Heinlein
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I liked this book less and less, the more I listened to it (be warned: the narrator's accents are occasionally awful) and after I finished it, the more I thought and read about it. There is a dusting of libertarian thought, not a philosophy I personally find very attractive - an anthropologist with a hideous southern accent - remember, I was listening to this - spouts some libertarian thought about mid-way through that made me scratch my head. There are some antiquated views on women (the spaceship captains were all men, the secretaries were all women - but this WAS 1957; that said, there were a couple of strong female characters, feisty old grandmother in particular (but aren't all old grandmothers in books feisty and "in charge" - that's hardly a progressive idea). The book is also dusted with some military glorification; the ideal job seems to the military, certainly not trading or business. Maybe if I'd read this when I was twelve, I would have enjoyed it more; at 46, I couldn't wait for it to end.


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