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Starman Jones by Robert A. Heinlein

Starman Jones (1953)

by Robert A. Heinlein

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Heinlein Juveniles (7)

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English (23)  Russian (1)  Italian (1)  German (1)  All languages (26)
Showing 1-5 of 23 (next | show all)
This is a nice small novel about a young boy running away into galactic adventure land. Some say this book is now feeling outdated but I think it holds up quite well still. I definitely liked it. It wasn’t wow-what-a-great-book or anything like that but I liked it. It is a simple, straightforward, boyish adventure, nothing more, nothing less.

I would have liked it even better if they would have stayed in space instead of that little adventure down on the planet where they felt forced to land and I would, of course, have liked that it didn’t skip over the idiot astrogators well deserved demise as quickly as was done.

On the whole it was a nice read although a bit quick. It didn’t take me much more than a day to finish it. ( )
  perjonsson | Jun 10, 2019 |
(Original Review, 1980-07-24)

Random rumblings on our inability to predict the future.

Pop-up display screens and visual aiming (guiding a missile by looking at the target) for fighter pilots is discussed in the recent fiction paperback "FoxFire.'' The technology for visual aiming is actually quite old. It is derived from the device (I'm not sure what it is called) used by psychologists to measure eye movements. I have seen articles in Scientific American which use this device, showing the sequence of eye movements as a subject looks at some object (a chess board, for example). Relating to SW and TESB, is it necessary for a society that is more technically advanced than ours to be able to do EVERYTHING that we can do, better than we can do it?

Now on to the main topic. Predicting anything interesting in the future is difficult. I am not sure how one can train for such a task, and I have very few examples where a really far-seeing prediction has come true. Does anyone wish to supply me with some examples? Of course, the inability of people to predict the future. Even those people paid to do so, such as Science Fiction writers can be amply documented. My favorite example comes from Heinlein's “Starman Jones.'' Jones' job is to look up the binary equivalents of base 10 coordinates so that they can be input to the navigation computer. While it seemed to Heinlein very plausible that computers would handle complex navigational calculations -- computers, after all, only understand binary. What now appears ridiculous to us, seemed like a perfectly good logical extension of technology. Do we, living in a time of accelerated change, have any better idea of the future? I say no, the complexity of society is growing faster than the complexity of the predictions we can make.

Before ending, I would like to plug two enjoyable books. Both predict the unpredictability of human endeavors. They were written pre-World War II, by Czech writer--and almost Nobel Prize winner--Karel Capek. The first is ``R.U.R.,'' Rossum's Universal Robots, although the term androids would better describe these creations. The book is a fusing of the Frakenstein legend, with the struggle for ``human'' rights.

The second book, "War with the Newts'' also by Capek is a satire (I think it quite funny) concerning a similar situation. I won't give too much away, but the plot concerns the discovery and exploitation of a large (the size of a ten year old), intelligent, amphibious newt. The book describes, from a global as well as personal viewpoint, the impact of this new source of labor. In this sense, it is similar to ``RUR,'' but it paints a darker and funnier picture of the human race. I strongly recommend both books.

[2018 EDIT: This review was written at the time as I was running my own personal BBS server. Much of the language of this and other reviews written in 1980 reflect a very particular kind of language: what I call now in retrospect a “BBS language”.] ( )
  antao | Nov 17, 2018 |
This Heinlein guy was pretty good at telling a story.

Max Jones is a young farmer, working hard to support his unlovable stepmother after his father's death, but he dreams of the life his Uncle Chet lived, as a member of the Astrogators' Guild. Chet had promised him that he'd nominate him for membership, but died while Max was still too young to join, and then Max's father, before he died also, made him promise to take care of his stepmother.

But when his stepmother remarries and she and her new husband sell the farm out from under him, he runs away, taking his uncle's astrogation books with him. The books get stolen from him by a deceitfully helpful conman, and then he discovers that his uncle had died before nominating him for the guild, and all his dreams seem crushed forever. But then he meets that charming conman again, who decides that they can help each other get what they both really want—a berth on a starship. For Max, it's a berth as a steward's mate, and he's tending farm animals again, but he's on a starship, and he's a plucky, resourceful, just plain likable young Heinlein hero, who makes you buy into every improbable plot twist along the way to his dream.

Once again, great fun.

Update, May 2017: Rereading this decades after originally reading this is interesting. It's still a fun story, with the plucky, young Heinlein hero who makes you buy into all the improbable plot twists. It is, of course, very dated in a number of ways. The improbability of star travel depending on a set of printed books of numbers and equations has often been commented on. The social dynamics of Heinlein's world has been the subject of lots of commentary and discussion, most particularly the often quite rigid gender roles, especially in the "juveniles," i.e., Heinlein's young adult novels. It's worth noting that he often (but far from always) subverts those roles somewhat. For instance, in this book, Ellie rather testily points out to Max that women are dealing with the reality of the rules they live with. Another woman, an appallingly predatory creature, sheds that behavior when the ship hits a real crisis and there are more important things to do than play social games.

And yet Heinlein never really questions those basic social roles, even as later in his career his expectations of what jobs women can hold expands considerably.

No, what really struck me this time is Heinlein's unquestioning assumption that starships and hyperspeed trains will exist side by side with dirt farmers relying on mule traction, cooking over an open fire is a mundane necessity for poorer farmers, and the hobos who would have been regularly encountered during the days of Heinlein's early adulthood.

It's a world largely unchanged, not from the 1950s, but to a great extent from the 1930s.

However, another thing that caught my attention this time is the way characters, major or minor, may be described in terms revealing that they are ethnic or racial minorities, with the fact having zero plot significance. Dark skin or an epicanthic fold are treated merely as mundane items of physical description, part of the normal range of humanity, just like brown hair or green eyes. There's a loud, tiny segment of contemporary sf readership that claims to revere Heinlein and yet thinks this is controversial when today's writers do it.

It's still great fun to read--at least for someone who first read it in the early 1960s. No guarantees for Gen Y or millennials, who grew up in an entirely different world than I did! Because pretty much everything I just mentioned as anachronisms were still real things that people knew about when I was a kid, even though less common than when Heinlein was.

For my fellow Boomers, you'll wince at some of the datedness, but for my mileage, it hasn't had a serious visit from the Suck Fairy. ( )
  LisCarey | Sep 19, 2018 |
An Illinois farm boy with a photographic memory, Max Jones runs away from home after his widowed mother marries the town loser, whose only goal is to sell the Jones farm for quick cash.

Max decides to head for Earthport on the hope that his late Uncle Chet, a career astrogator, had nominated Max as a future member of the Astrogator’s Guild as he had promised before his death. Along the way, Max encounters a congenial homeless man named Sam who ends up stealing Max’s government ID card and a set of astrogation books given to him by his uncle.

At Earthport, Max is further disappointed to learn that Uncle Chet never registered him for membership in the Guild. Shortly after, Max meets Sam in the street just outside the Guild Hall. After a brief confrontation, Sam decides to take Max under his wing and together, they stow away aboard the space cruiser Asgard using forged identifications.

Aboard the Asgard, Max finds himself in familiar territory. As Steward’s Mate, he is assigned to the care and feeding of pets and livestock being transported from Earth to an off world colony. It isn’t long before Max befriends a precocious and brash young lady named Ellie and her talking spider puppy, Mr. Chips.

During the voyage, a series of circumstances permits Max to be promoted to an Apprentice Chartsman and then to Astrogation, where his photographic memory allows him to make computations with inhuman speed based on charts and tables he long ago memorized from his uncle’s books. However, Max’s rapid rise through the ranks pits him against a resentful senior officer who makes his life difficult at every opportunity.

After an astrogation mishap sends the Asgard leaping to a completely unfamiliar part of space, the captain orders the ship to set down on a serene Earth-like world that the passengers eventually christen “Charity”—a compliment that turns out to be a deadly misnomer. Will Max and the bridge crew calculate the proper path back to known space or will they and the passengers be doomed to wander this strange area of the galaxy in search of a new home?

Published in 1953, Starman Jones is counted among Robert A. Heinlein’s twelve “juvenile” SF novels—what is known today as “young adult." I haven’t read a Heinlein juvenile novel yet that failed to entertain. They’re an absolute trove of fun and imaginative space adventures. Character development, pacing, and plot are all masterfully crafted. As renowned SF anthologist Groff Conklin once said, “Nobody but nobody can beat Heinlein in the writing of teen-age science fiction.”

I completely agree. ( )
  pgiunta | May 12, 2018 |
This book contained one of the most misleading jacket blurbs of all time. Not only did it imply at least a discussion or a hint of time travel - an idea that never materialized anywhere in the story - but it also mis-characterized the entire plot - Robinson Caruso in space it is not. An extensive Space-based buildup was oddly turned into an planet-bound hostage situation and the expected and hoped for denouement with the central protagonist was swiftly and disappointingly resolved with a paragraph of exposition. Still, it IS a Heinlein. Faults aside it was an enjoyable read, although not one I will revisit any time soon.
( )
  bensdad00 | Jan 10, 2017 |
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» Add other authors (7 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Heinlein, Robert A.primary authorall editionsconfirmed
Berkey, JohnCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Geary, CliffordCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Jones, PaulineCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rosanblatt, LeeCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sternback, RickCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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For my friend Jim Smith
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Max liked this time of day, this time of year.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0345328116, Mass Market Paperback)

Where were they? In fact, when were they? and how could they get back?

It's easy to stow away on an intergalactic spaceship, if you're a smart lad like Max Jones. But it's quite another thing when the spaceship touches down on an unknown planet after passage through a time warp...perhaps an unknown century. Especially when the spaceship's pilot dies, and his charts and are destroyed. Now survival was up to Max...

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:11:59 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

When his stepmother's remarriage drives him from home, Max and a hobo fake their way into the Space Stewards, Cooks, and Purser's Clerks brotherhood to get an opportunity for space travel in an age when only the wealthy are privileged.

» see all 2 descriptions

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