Orphans Of The Sky by Robert A. Heinlein (book review).

December 17, 2021 | By | 5 Replies More

I was pointing out elsewhere that I intended to read Heinlein’s ‘Orphans Of The Sky’ so here we are. It consists of two novellas, ‘Universe’ and ‘Common Sense’. The bigger surprise is they were written in 1941. There’s a certain freshness reading them, even for that time period but you have to remember Robert Heinlein was a master storyteller and knew how to throw you into a story.

With ‘Universe’, we are thrown into a reality where there are two sets of people and making sense along the way. Without going too spoiler, you have two sets of people in a city with variable gravity. The scientific crew think the other set are mutates. Regardless all of them carry knives and there is a hint of cannibalism.

Hugh Hoyland is captured by a small group of these supposed mutates and instead of being killed, temporarily becomes their servant and the discovery that they are on a spaceship. Allowed to return to his own people, Hoyland sees his former boss telling of his discovery and then found that not only is he not believed but considered a heretic. The rest you will have to read for yourself.

In some respects and applying modern writer’s insight, Heinlein was obviously just writing a quick story at that time. You’re sold on the oddness from the start where an odd selection of swearwords are based on the captain and such included in the dialogue and then treated as a matter-of-fact playing up on Heinlein’s strength. It feels like he’s exploring the ideas and saw this way was better and leave it for the reader to process the information.

With ‘Common Sense’, we follow the rebellion and a new order taking place. It is more obvious this time about the mutates really are. Joe-Jim has two heads being one of the extremes.

In many respects, I found I was thinking a lot of this would make good ‘2000AD’ fodder and thought of some of the characters in that light. At 85 pages, Heinlein was squeezing a lot of story into a small amount of space. I thought the ending was a bit of a rush but that was also typical of wrap-ups from the time period.

It’s worth looking at ‘Orphans Of The Sky’ only to remember that this was the first use of a generation starship in Science Fiction with those on board not remembering where they came from or even that they were on a starship. With new Captain Narby also coming up with an alternative solution to Hoyland showing him the starfield should certainly have been explored more.

Certainly, I think that would have happened had it been done today. I mean, if this city was yours and you were told it was actually a spaceship, would you really believe it? You’ll be telling me next that we live on a planet. Nah! That’s just too fantastic.

GF Willmetts

December 2021

(pub: Grafton, 1987. 143 page paperback. Price:?? ISBN: 0-586-04204-0)

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Category: Books, Scifi


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About UncleGeoff

Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’
If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

Comments (5)

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  1. EamonnMurphy says:

    ‘Universe’ was from an idea by John W. Campbell, Jr. ‘It was a dilly of an idea, John, and I appreciate you letting me work on it. I hope that it satisfied you.’ Heinlein letter to Campbell 12/01/40 cited in Heinlein biography by William H. Patterson, Jr.

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