Thommy Ford Reads

A blog by the staff of the Thomas Ford Memorial Library

Double Star by Robert Heinlein

The fifth novel from the Library of America’s new anthology American Science Fiction: Nine Classic Novels of the 1950s (SF American)

In the upcoming weeks I’ll be reviewing each of these nine novels. The books are available in our SF section, and further materials about them are available at the Library of America’s website.

There are a lot of SF readers that will tell you Double Star is one of Robert Heinlein’s greatest novels. (And not just any SF readers, but important folks like Hugo winners Jo Walton and Connie Willis.) Which might leave you thinking “So then why don’t I know this title like I know Stranger in a Strange Land or The Moon is a Harsh Mistress?” Well, that’s because it’s a different kind of great. I can’t imagine Double Star being assigned to a high school class like Stranger in a Strange Land. It’s just too enjoyable for that.

It’s narrated perfectly, but the voice happens to be that of an endlessly quipping, egocentric actor named the Great Lorenzo. It’s about as neatly and efficiently plotted as novels get, but that plot happens to involve slime brained martians, a square jawed astronaut named Dak Broadbent, and Dr. Capek the hypnotist. In other words, it’s wonderfully written pulp.

With all these campy elements and the nearly sitcom like plot in which the Great Lorenzo is asked to impersonate an important political figure, it was all so much fun that I made it about half way through before I realized Heinlein actually had something to say. He may be surrounded by nothing but cardboard characters, but the Great Lorenzo turns out to be quite complex. His reluctant moral shift from an anti-martian bigot to the chief proponent of martian rights forms the heart of this strange story, and helps it rise a little above a mere space adventure—not that the space adventure isn’t enough, mind you.

Review by Matthew

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