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Variable Star by Robert A. Heinlein

Variable Star (2006)

by Robert A. Heinlein, Spider Robinson (Author)

Other authors: Cordwainer LoBrutto (Editor)

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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"What is marriage for?"
The car told her she was heading the wrong way; she reversed direction and came back past me toward its voice and pulsing beacon. "Babies, obviously."
I followed her. "Bingo. Marriage is for making jolly babies, raising them up into successful predators, and then admiring them until they're old enough to reward you with grandchildren to spoil."

In “Variable Star” by Robert A. Heinlein, Spider Robinson

Ghastly, isn’t it?

There is an urban myth about a police sergeant who is assigned to scouring confiscated hard drives for pornographic content. After frequent exposure to lewd acts that are best left unsaid he becomes an addict, and descends into the grubby world of vice he is supposed to be policing. It is a slippery slope downwards to SF addiction. I have never taken heroin, thank God, because I am sure I am an addictive personality and would never get off it, but “Variable Star” is like the Harry Harrison Rat books. It is shit. But just because it is shit, doesn't mean I don't love it. It's like that scene from Stalker by the Strugatsky brothers where the tortured and religious guide takes a cynical journalist and an academic into "the zone" to find a fabled room where all wishes come true. They are scared to enter, because Tarkovsky, like Poe, knows that if we got what we really wanted we might not like what that said about us. So, I love Dune and I love the movies of Dune (I even have the version of Dune with John Hurt that was never released) but I hate myself for liking it. It's a sweetie chocolate book of messianic fantasy. If you understand what I’m talking about here, then you are my brother, my sister.
I don't feel guilty for having read “Variable Star”! Or am I protesting too much? I'm sure you can imagine a well-paced, sharply directed and whatever adjectives one uses for Hollywood films that remain fairly superficial. So, it is with this book. Heinlein and Robinson’s are pros, and full of interesting ideas, but on this showing they don't really do deep dark teatime of the soul, nor anything that would make me want to return to the book.

What I enjoy in SF is the way it changes the rules of the world and explores the consequences of these changes. I recently read Richard Morgan's brilliant Altered Carbon, which was superb in the way it used its central "rule change" (that people's personalities get stored in a chip implanted into the cortex, which can then be transferred into other bodies) to drive the plot and then use that plot to show the effects of this technology on people and society. There’s nothing like that in “Variable Star”. Like so many classic SF writers who are dismissed so easily by the ignorant, Heinlein had real gifts. One thing I particularly appreciated was his ability to--just in passing--mention some wild, cool idea that was part of the society he'd invented, an idea that wasn't a significant part of the story but that was just a way to further build his world. The best SF writers have that ability--it captures the reader's imagination and embeds him/her further into that world. It makes the reader stop for a moment and further imagine this invented world, adding more layers of reality to it. Unfortunately, we don’t have any of that in “Variable Star”.

SF = Speculative Fiction. ( )
  antao | Nov 2, 2017 |
Variable Star by Robert A. Heinlein & Spider Robinson (2006)

Spider did a superb job of channeling Heinlein and producing a story that "tastes" like a Heinlein story. In the first chapter I found myself remembering "Have Space Suit, Will Travel". There's tension and danger and humor and excitement…but the emphasis is on the human interactions, not the technology. Like "The Roads Must Roll" the science is the background for the hero's learning about himself and his surroundings. Yes, there's a lot of intense millisecond psychoanalysis, and that's what I miss about Heinlein's works—as a teenager I relished the analysis of the thoughts and feelings of the young characters (and later the older characters) as they struggled to understand what was happening to them, forcing them to change and grow.

And yes, you can guess what needs to happen to produce a happy ending (I don't ever remember a Heinlein story ending on a negative note); and yes, there is a bit of 'deus ex machina' to the ending, and yes, it does end a bit too quickly. And yes, this story does beg for a sequel—Douglas Adams notwithstanding, you don't blow up the Earth in a Heinlein story and just leave it there.

All in all, I much prefer the earlier Heinlein to the later all-too-progressive Heinlein. For the most part, this is in that earlier style—modified with some moderate modern touches (and not so hidden references to other personalities—Perry Jornell vs. Jerry Pournelle?) so that I thoroughly enjoyed it.

The review by rustyoldboat summarizes anything else I might say quite adequately….except… Remember that the early Heinlein stories were classified as "Young Adult" or "Juvenile" fiction. This story is in that genre and shouldn't be judged on the same level as "The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress" or "Friday". As fiction for teens, it ranks among Heinlein's best. To judge it on the basis of modern adult sci-fi one would be forced to declare it trite, simplistic and unsatisfying. But I liked the story BECAUSE it is simple, i.e. comprehendible and devoid of any need for deep psychoanalysis—the bad guys are bad and the good guys are good, and sometimes the bad guys are not so bad after all.

The only flaw in the plot line was the denouement at the end, which referred to something another character said that was not given us to read beforehand. My reaction was to re-read the previous chapters to verify that, at no time does Robinson actually have the character actually saying the lines that are later given to us as a revelation. The one sin of a mystery plot is to not give the reader a chance to solve the mystery before the hero.

So, if you want a complex story from an earlier, simpler, time, this is one of the best. ( )
  majackson | Aug 21, 2017 |
Blowing up the Solar System was totally unnecessary. And then the Conrad in the box at the end was unexpected but not surprising. If Jinny had not come back into the picture, she would have been a 100 page McGuffin. I gave the book 2 stars because parts of it were good and enjoyable, but most of it was not. I'm surprised at the other high ratings.

As I said in previous comments, it's not good Heinlein or good Robinson. I'm somewhat surprised time travel wasn't used, but clearly this needs a sequel. ( )
  clmerle | Jul 22, 2017 |
Don’t believe the cover. This is not a Heinlein novel. It’s a Spider Robinson novel based on an incomplete outline and some notes Heinlein prepared in 1955. It makes for an odd collaboration, but I enjoyed the story. It’s mostly Robinson, though, with a characteristically crude and flawed main character, fond of drink and socially awkward. It includes clichés, snarky asides, and has a first person conversational style that constantly reminds you that this is just a story. Don’t take it seriously. Much of the plot, though, is classic Heinlein. It’s pure science fiction in the original, positive, sense of the term with scientists and spaceships and a spotlight on the importance of free choice and individual human achievement. Somehow, the combination works. It’s not the silly, unsophisticated humor of Robinson, and it’s not the serious comment on humanity of Heinlein, but it succeeds in showing mankind progressing despite mistakes and setbacks, which is what I enjoy most in science fiction and which was the predominant theme of the classic stories from the 1950’s. ( )
  DLMorrese | Oct 14, 2016 |
Couldn't finish reading it. Liked the start but it got boring. ( )
  Alfred.Faltiska | Aug 2, 2016 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Robert A. Heinleinprimary authorall editionscalculated
Robinson, SpiderAuthormain authorall editionsconfirmed
LoBrutto, CordwainerEditorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Martiniere, StephanCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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I thought I wanted to get married in the worst way.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 076531312X, Hardcover)

A never-before-published masterpiece from science fiction's greatest writer, rediscovered after more than half a century.

When Joel Johnston first met Jinny Hamilton, it seemed like a dream come true. And when she finally agreed to marry him, he felt like the luckiest man in the universe.

There was just one small problem. He was broke. His only goal in life was to become a composer, and he knew it would take years before he was earning enough to support a family.
But Jinny wasn't willing to wait. And when Joel asked her what they were going to do for money, she gave him a most unexpected answer. She told him that her name wasn't really Jinny Hamilton---it was Jinny Conrad, and she was the granddaughter of Richard Conrad, the wealthiest man in the solar system.

And now that she was sure that Joel loved her for herself, not for her wealth, she revealed her family's plans for him---he would be groomed for a place in the vast Conrad empire and sire a dynasty to carry on the family business.
Most men would have jumped at the opportunity. But Joel Johnston wasn't most men. To Jinny's surprise, and even his own, he turned down her generous offer and then set off on the mother of all benders. And woke up on a colony ship heading out into space, torn between regret over his rash decision and his determination to forget Jinny and make a life for himself among the stars.
He was on his way to succeeding when his plans--and the plans of billions of others--were shattered by a cosmic cataclysm so devastating it would take all of humanity's strength and ingenuity just to survive.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:24:23 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

Two young lovers are forced apart by pride, power, and the immensity of interstellar time and space, in an authorized version of an unfinished novel by Hugo Award-winning late science fiction master Robert Heinlein.

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