Monday, December 10, 2007

Variable Star

Heinlein, ah, Heinlein.

One of my favorite writers of all time, the only author that I feel a need to collect all the works of not because I want to see the next part of the story (I do have a few that I collect because of the burning need to find out what happens next,) but simply because he wrote them.

I've read the majority of everything he ever wrote, with the exception of some of the short stories I haven't been able to find a copy of, and some of his political writings that likewise, I haven't gotten my hands on yet. I don't own them all, but the librarian at my high school had a running list of books to be begged, borrowed, or stolen from other libraries through interlibrary loan for me.

This, though. Wow. This book was supposed to be RAH, speaking from beyond the grave, through the medium of Spider Robinson.

I had some definite misgivings about it, to be honest. A Heinlein plot is simply not done justice by anyone but the Grand Master himself, and Robinson had only an incomplete outline and scribbled notes to attempt to do justice to a tale that stuck with Heinlein enough that he kept the notes, and kept trying to convince his editor to let him write it, even after it had been turned down.

My first reaction was complete indignation, when I first heard of the attempt. It was heresy, any tale not completed in it's entirety by RAH could only be inspired by the Grand Master, not carry his name as author, even co-author. Sacrilege.

Then I looked closer, and realized what the prize was. The plot was pure Heinlein, minus the ending, which was lost to history. Robinson merely had to fill in the blanks with the details.

Of course, nothing is ever that simple.

On to the book itself, now. Variable Star, as a story, is very good. Robinson is an excellent writer and the flavor of the book is one that is quite pleasing to the refined palate of a die-hard SF fan. The tone is part Heinlein, part Spider Robinson. It's written the way I imagine Heinlein would have written if he'd been born into our society today, wherein a few cuss words and vulgar jokes are nothing to get upset about.

Of course, Heinlein wasn't born into today's society, and his dignified way of putting across the dirtiest of jokes without once using a four letter word is signature. Heinlein had a grace with the English language that cannot be matched, only imitated.

Spider Robinson, thankfully, did not try to be RAH. He simply took a course plotted many years before, which Heinlein himself had never been able to sail, and took the journey, bringing us along for the ride.

The plot is very Heinlein, although I believe that Robinson could have made it more inclusive of the other Heinlein novels that tied into the storyline of Variable Star, if he'd wanted to.

The narration, the storytelling, is very Spider Robinson.

It's unique in the world. It is the last new bit of Heinleiniana. In a sense, it is a shame that it was corrupted by the touch of the hand of anyone other than the Grand Master himself, but if they had to resort to such drastic measures, Spider Robinson was the man to do it.

I cried when I finished it, mourning yet again what I had mourned as a young teen, that I would never be able to meet Robert Anson Heinlein and tell him personally how much light and enjoyment he had brought into my life, how much I learned from his works, and how very very much I appreciated those things.

His legacy is in the pages of all of his books, his steadfast belief that there are those among us capable of the fantastic acts, discoveries, and adventures that he wrote and shared with us, along with so many other beliefs and concepts that he communicated through his novels, which strike a chord in the most skeptical of hearts.

That legacy has been added to, perhaps not as he would have done it, but in sincere tribute.

A tribute which has the added bonus of being entertaining, and laugh out loud hilarious, as well as heart wrenching and tearfully touching.

If you're an RAH fan, and haven't read Variable Star yet, I urge you to find a copy. Just don't expect it to be Heinlein's ghost, commandeering Robinson's hands to type his own imaginings. It is, instead, a heartfelt honorarium, maintaining the underlying flavor of Heinlein throughout the overtones of Robinson's own personal talent and skill.


settlingformore said...

I'm a Heinlein addict from way back. I can't remember which one I read first, but I think it was Stranger in a Strange Land. After that I happened upon Lazarus Long and I was hooked.

One of my favorite bits was how much Heinlein liked red haired women. Being the only redhead in my family, I always felt special when I red his books. I remember copying many quotes from his books in my journal when I was a teenager.

Crucis said...

I met RAH once around 1980. I lived in south Kansas City and had stopped at a K-Mart as I remember. RAH had driven into KC and had stopped at the same K-Mart. I was standing in the check-out line, and saw him behind me. He looked very similar to the photos I'd seen.

I asked, "Mr Heinlein?" He grinned and said, "Yes?" I told him I just wanted to shake his hand. I'd read his books since I was old enough to read. We spoke a few minutes while the line moved and then went our ways.

Should've asked for an autograph but didn't think about it until later.

Mark said...

I have a copy of Grumbles from the grave a collection of RAH personal correspondance, I picked up at the used book store for .25 cents. E-mail an address and i'll send it to you.