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Heinlein Manoeuvres In The Dark

Entry 288 posted in: 1. General Mish Mash

Robert Heinlein - Rocketship Galileo - 1947.

Can a book that starts with the sentence(s):

"Everybody all set?
How about your camera, Art?
You sure you got the lens cover off this time?",

possibly be good? I am not so sure. Books that starts with the sentence(s):

"It can hardly be a coincidence that no language on Earth has ever produced the expression 'as pretty as an airport'.",


"It was the afternoon of my eighty-first birthday, and I was in bed with my catamite when Ali announced that the archbishop had come to see me.",

probably make a better chances to start with a bang.

Not that Rocketship Galileo does not start with a bang. It does. Literally. Three young virgins of the male species, I am not even sure if they are already 18, build a miniature rocket that explodes at lift off. This experiment has been observed by their uncle, who happens to be a Nobel Prize winner (we all have one of those, haven't we?) and who invites them to build a rocket ship for real and to be the first men to walk on the moon. Lucky for him he could buy a second hand spaceship at a local junkyard, standing next to Pink Floyd's flying pig, I presume, and if he manages, with a little help from his juvenile friends, to put a nuclear reactor inside they will have enough power to fly to the moon and back. He finds some plutonium at a local Pakistani night shop and before someone can say Saddam Hussein they are in business.

Now hold it for a minute. Is this from the same man who gave us incest-fuelled Time Enough For Love and the proto-fascist Starship Troopers? Those books may be morally and politically incorrect, but they are controversial, well written and at least the movie version of the last one had enough gratuitous tit shots to keep me amused for about a quarter of an hour (although nothing can beat Paul Verhoeven's epic of lust Showgirls, of course).

Rocketship Galileo is a dud. OK, I figured it out by now that it is a kiddies book, but even kiddies books should be well written and entertaining. The fact that it dates from 1947 is not an excuse either, Jules Verne's De La Terre à La Lune was written in 1865, but in comparison Galileo is the one that has aged quite badly. It transpires those dark and ugly times when a man did the talking, woman did the knitting and boys from 18 wanted to erect rockets ships instead of something else.

In addition, the science part of the fiction has also been neglected a bit: "Contrary to popular belief, vacuum of outer space has no temperature; it is neither hot or cold.", so the boys pack their Hawaiian t-shirts and boxers and off they go. First stop: destination moon.

Strange enough the book is getting better and even prophetic in its final chapters. The moon landing on autopilot nearly turns into a catastrophe when one of the boys finds out that the underground is not the one he expected to see, and just like Neil Armstrong would do during the Apollo XI mission 22 years later, the pilot switches over to manual and lands the rocket on a safer place.

Alas the moon is not safe for long, before anyone can say: "don't mention the war", the ship is destroyed by a passing lunar jet belonging to some evil Nazis. But as our heroes were at that moment admiring some rhubarb leaves they come out unharmed, manage to kill the attackers, bomb the secret moon base, prevent Hitler's secret plan to destroy the Earth and reveal the existence of a lunar civilisation that went extinct a few million years ago... all that in the last 40 pages.

I started this review with the book's first sentence and here is the last: "This is awful. Say - don't you guys want to take the bows?" No, not really...

Another review can be found here: Rocketship Galileo.

If you liked this post - you might be interested in this one as well: jPod