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Citizen of the Galaxy (1957)

by Robert A. Heinlein

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Heinlein Juveniles (11)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
3,110634,341 (3.88)97
Fiction. Science Fiction. HTML:

In a distant galaxy of colonized planets, the atrocity of slavery is alive and well. Young Thorby was just another bedraggled orphan boy sold at auction, but his new owner, Baslim, is not the disabled beggar he appears to be. Adopting Thorby as his son, Baslim fights relentlessly as an abolitionist spy. When the authorities close in on Baslim, Thorby must find his own way in a hostile galaxy. Joining with the Free Traders, a league of merchant princes, Thorby must find the courage to live by his wits and fight his way up from society's lowest rung. But Thorby's destiny will be forever changed when he discovers the truth about his own identity.

Citizen of the Galaxy is a suspenseful tale of adventure, coming of age, and interstellar conflict by science fiction's Grand Master.

.
… (more)
  1. 20
    Kim by Rudyard Kipling (Gregorio_Roth)
    Gregorio_Roth: Citizen of the Galaxy was recommended under the book KIM so it should be also with this...
  2. 00
    The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch (enrique_molinero)
  3. 00
    Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad (Gregorio_Roth)
    Gregorio_Roth: Citizen of the Galaxy was influenced by LORD JIM by Joseph Conrad
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» See also 97 mentions

English (58)  Italian (2)  German (1)  Swedish (1)  All languages (62)
Showing 1-5 of 58 (next | show all)
People may think what they want about Robert Heinlein but man had a lot to say about the society and how people should act and behave.

Story starts on a feudal world called Sargon where young boy is given for sale on the slave market. Thus starts the story of Thorby, kid slave that went through unimaginable horrors until he was bought by Baslim the Beggar and given chance to live and prosper. By telling us the story of Thorby, Heinlein gives us story of growing up and how no matter where and when one starts the life journey if one wants to live righteous and good life there are no obstacles, there needs to be a will to live a good life, will to live and respect all around.

Thorby starts learning from the Baslim how to survive in the streets and [as time goes by] gets schooled in pretty advanced subjects by his benefactor (and later finds out his benefactor is much more than it meets the eye), learning about Sargonites and their culture, pushed to another more exotic environment after escaping with the help of so called Free Traders, star roamers, closely knit and isolated communities living on board vast trade ships, only to finally end his travels by reaching the greatest enigma of all, Earth, cradle of humanity. It is story of search for one's identity but also story of young person seeing and experiencing humanity in its worse (Sargonite slavers), best (Baslim, people helping him escape Sargon), isolated (Free Traders) and all in the between (Earth). Seeing and experiencing but never feeling resentment and hate toward individuals, toward some societies and their cruel cultures sure but never general populace. Can you imagine this today, in our times? I sure cant.

Author tells a wonderful story in which all people are people, maybe divergent from the mainstream humanity due to conditions in which they live and maybe living a cruel life of banditry - but people. People who have hopes, dreams not unlike every other person.

What one decides to do with one's life is what makes the difference, change can be done and needs to be done but must not be marred by hatred and barbarism. Again, something that is unthinkable in this day and time.

While we follow Thorby in his adventures we encounter various societies and how they are placed in relation to individual freedom. Some are outright class/caste society where there is no individual freedom for lower castes, some again are so isolated and family bound that they function perfectly but no-one is actually free [individually] because they need to follow certain rules, commands and taboos, and finally some are insidious, societies of free and equal but where we have those that are more equal than the others and where one is not exactly in power of his life but controlled from shadows, those true policy makers.

So we are given a story of a sound-minded and logical person, capable of change and seeking knowledge, who feels a lot but does not allow his feelings to sideline him. Some might call him that terrible world nowadays - stoic (oh my....). Again, in these times where one needs to feel, and feel to the extreme, pick sides, look at the others with nothing but disdain...... can you imagine this book was written at times where there was sanity? Those times are no nearer than Barsoom or Avalon of old these days.

Ending seems rushed a bit but sounds real so it did not ruin the experience for me.

Wonderful book, highly recommended to all fans of space adventure. ( )
  Zare | Jan 23, 2024 |
Robert A. Heinlein's Citizen of the Galaxy is a great find for those who love classic science fiction with an enduring message. Published in 1957, Heinlein was already an established author, known for his keen observations on society and politics, often conveyed through the lens of speculative fiction. With Citizen of the Galaxy, Heinlein moves beyond Earth to explore themes of slavery, freedom, and social mobility on a galactic scale.

This novel is the second-to-last work in Heinlein's Juvenile series, a collection aimed at younger readers but equally captivating for adults. Alongside titles like Rocket Ship Galileo, Space Cadet, and Have Space Suit -- Will Travel, it offers a unique perspective on a future shaped by advanced technology and complex social norms. What sets Citizen of the Galaxy apart within this series is its heavier themes, including slavery, freedom, and societal customs, lending the work a level of gravitas not always present in the other juvenile works.

The story revolves around Thorby, a young slave who starts life in the worst conditions imaginable, only to be freed by an elderly beggar named Baslim. As Thorby navigates through a myriad of social settings—from slave markets to military vessels to aristocratic households—he offers readers a firsthand exploration of societal structures and what it means to belong. What sets this work apart is Heinlein's expertise in crafting compelling worlds; the Free Traders, the Hegemonic Guard, the planet Jubbul, all come to life in vivid detail. Heinlein doesn't disappoint when it comes to intricate world-building.

The narrative is engaging and quite forward-thinking, considering its publication date. The novel delves into complex issues that are still intensely relevant today. More importantly, the book adopts a remarkably modern perspective on these issues. For example, the story critiques the systemic issues that perpetuate social stratification, rather than blaming individuals for their circumstances. This line of thinking was not commonly found in mainstream literature from the 1950s, especially in science fiction aimed at younger readers. The book essentially encourages readers to question societal norms and structures, an approach that was ahead of its time and continues to be pertinent.

Key Themes and Useful Lessons (My Interpretation)

  • Freedom comes with responsibility: Thorby's transition from a slave to a free citizen is not without its challenges. He learns that the freedom to make choices also entails a responsibility to make ethical decisions. This is an ageless lesson, applicable whether you're in the realm of social ethics or strategic planning in technology design.

  • Identity is fluid: One of the most striking aspects of the book is Thorby's journey through different identities. It raises the question—what really defines us? Is it our social status, our job, our race, or our choices? In the current era of hyper-connectivity and ever-changing roles, this theme is more relevant than ever.

  • The enduring value of mentorship: Baslim's role in shaping Thorby's moral compass underscores the lasting impact of good mentorship. Whether you're a young professional seeking guidance or a seasoned veteran imparting wisdom, the mentor-mentee relationship can be transformative.


Interesting Quotations

On societal obligations:

"I'm so busy doing what I must do that I don't have time for what I ought to do... and I never get a chance to do what I want to do!" "Son, that's universal. The way to keep that recipe from killing you is occasionally to do what you want to do anyhow."

This quote captures the essence of modern life, where the tug-of-war between responsibilities and personal desires often leaves little room for balance. Baslim's advice to Thorby is a timeless lesson on the importance of self-care and ensuring that you don't lose yourself while navigating life's numerous obligations.

On justice:

"The way to find justice is to deal fairly with other people and not worry about how they deal with you."

This quote underscores the idea that justice is best served when you focus on your own actions and ethics, rather than fixating on the behavior of others. By acting justly yourself, you set a standard, creating a ripple effect that can influence the broader social fabric.

On societal norms and customs:

"Customs tell a man who he is, where he belongs, what he must do. Better illogical customs than none; men cannot live together without them."

This quote emphasizes the power and necessity of societal norms and customs, even when they may seem illogical at first glance.

On Freedom:

“Freedom is a hard habit to break.”

This succinct quote conveys the enduring and sometimes complicated relationship humans have with freedom. Once you've tasted freedom, relinquishing it becomes almost unthinkable, underlining its intrinsic value and the lengths people will go to preserve it.

In conclusion, Citizen of the Galaxy remains a compelling read, not just for its adventurous storyline but for its deep insights into societal constructs and the human condition. The narrative doesn't just entertain; it pushes boundaries and makes the reader think, which is why it's often described as "forward-thinking." If you're looking for a science fiction novel that gives you more than just laser beams and space battles, this Heinlein is a must-read. ( )
  howermj | Oct 22, 2023 |
Thoroughly meh mid-period Heinlein—published only a few years before Stranger in a Strange Land, probably his best book, and one that shares the theme of an orphan finding his place in the universe after wrestling with questions of freedom and morality. As with nearly all Heinlein from the 1950s on, there's a lot of reader-lecturing here, partly from wise older characters and partly from the omniscient narrator. Some of it is edifying, even if you don't agree; these days, you don't see much philosophical opinion about the inherent conflict between individual liberty and the good of society as a whole that doesn't come down squarely on one side or the other. On the other hand, there's the usual alarming Heinlein stuff carried over from his early-20th-century upbringing: in this case, his belief (referenced several times) that children learn better when they're slapped around by their teachers. Apparently, at the time of writing, Heinlein was reading in anthropology—the middle section of the book includes extended discussion of clans and moieties (arbitrary divisions of society to prevent inbreeding) in relation to the large closed-system pirate starship on which the hero lives for a while. There's even a social scientist based on Margaret Mead. Sadly, this section of the book ends abruptly by a deus ex machina plot development that neatly sets up the moral the author wanted to get across. If you're a Heinlein completist, you won't find Citizen a waste of time, but if you only read a few Heinlein books, you'll be better off with others. ( )
  john.cooper | Jul 9, 2023 |
This is my second Heinlein book (the first I read being "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress") so maybe my review is tainted by the enjoyable time I had with the previous book.
This one falls flat, truly. It's not bad, but I never cared too much about Thorby. There are no scenes that make you feel truly sorry for him, and his character development isn't exploited. This is a terrible thing, because for a story about a slave boy finding his way in the galaxy, you'd think you would feel some empathy for the boy, but I never did.
Things just seem to happen haphazardly, and then the story ends. There's no answer to what exactly happened to Thorby's parents, or any development on the galactic politics that allowed everything to happen.
It wasn't good, but it wasn't bad either, that's why I'm giving it three stars. It mostly reads like a series of wasted narrative opportunities, or as a warning for authors that don't know what they want to say on their main subject. Not having even one sequence were slavery is shown as a bad thing is a grave error on the part of the writer. I should have come away from this book with a "slavery is horrible, and likely will resurface in the future if we're not vigilant" but that message didn't even come across. ( )
  marsgeverson | Jan 12, 2023 |
Kind of neat at first (some of the world building on the Sisu in particular was neat), but it turned into a bit of a snooze and felt kind of half-formed. Read this aloud to the kids, who felt similarly meh about it. ( )
  dllh | Jan 6, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 58 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (52 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Robert A. Heinleinprimary authorall editionscalculated
Adlerberth, RolandTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gardner, GroverNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
James, LloydNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Meltzer,DavisCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Nemes, IstvánTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Stimpson, TomCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sweet, Darrell KCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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"Lot ninety-seven," the auctioneer announced. "A boy."
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Fiction. Science Fiction. HTML:

In a distant galaxy of colonized planets, the atrocity of slavery is alive and well. Young Thorby was just another bedraggled orphan boy sold at auction, but his new owner, Baslim, is not the disabled beggar he appears to be. Adopting Thorby as his son, Baslim fights relentlessly as an abolitionist spy. When the authorities close in on Baslim, Thorby must find his own way in a hostile galaxy. Joining with the Free Traders, a league of merchant princes, Thorby must find the courage to live by his wits and fight his way up from society's lowest rung. But Thorby's destiny will be forever changed when he discovers the truth about his own identity.

Citizen of the Galaxy is a suspenseful tale of adventure, coming of age, and interstellar conflict by science fiction's Grand Master.

.

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