Forgotten? Heinlein: Starman Jones

Starman Jones by Robert Heinlein, Scribners 1953 hardcover and paperback.

original 1953 edition

I’m reading my way through many of the Heinlein juvenile SF novels. Last time it was The Rolling Stones, this time, Starman Jones. No, it’s not forgotten, none of Heinlein’s juvenile SF novels are, really, but I recommend them, some more, some less, so here we go.

The Story: (edited from the Wikipedia entry)
Max Jones works the family farm in the Ozark Mountains. When stepmother marries a man Max detests, with good reason after the man tries to beat him, Max runs away from home, taking his late uncle’s astrogation manuals. Since his uncle had been a member of the Astrogators’ Guild and had no children, Max hopes his uncle had named him his heir, thus providing him entry into the Guild. He begins hitchhiking towards Earthport to find out. Along the way, he finds a friendly face in hobo Sam Anderson, who tells him he had once been in the Imperial Marines, but had deserted. The next morning Sam, and the valuable manuals were gone.

1968 Dell edition

At Guild’s headquarters, Max finds he had not been named as an heir, but he does receive his uncle’s substantial security deposit for his manuals. Max learns that Sam had returned the manuals and tried to claim the deposit for himself.

By chance, he runs into an apologetic Sam. With Max’s money, Sam is able to finagle them a one way job/trip aboard a starship using forged records of service as crewmen aboard other starships. Max signs on as a steward’s mate third class, and then he absorbs the contents of the Stewards’ Guild manual using his eidetic memory. Among his duties is caring for several animals, including passengers’ pets. When passenger Eldreth “Ellie” Coburn visits her pet, an alien, semi-intelligent “spider puppy” that Max has befriended, they discover they both play three-dimensional chess, and both are quite good. Meanwhile, Sam manages to rise to the position of master-at-arms.

current Baen edition

When, through Ellie’s machinations, the ship’s officers discover that Max had learned astrogation from his uncle, Max is promoted to the command deck. Under the tutelage of Chief Astrogator Hendrix and Chief Computerman Kelly, he becomes a probationary apprentice chartsman, then a probationary astrogator. Later, in a meeting with Hendrix who Max has come to respect, Max reluctantly admits to faking his record to get into space. Hendrix defers the matter until their return to Earth. The Asgard then departs for Halcyon, a human colony planet orbiting Nu Pegasi.

When Hendrix dies, the astrogation department is left dangerously shorthanded. The aging captain tries to take his place, but is not up to the task. When Max detects an error in his real-time calculations leading up to a transition, neither the captain nor Assistant Astrogator Simes believe him, and the ship becomes lost.

They locate a habitable world, which Ellie names Charity, and the passengers become colonists. Meanwhile, the crew continues to try to figure out where they are and whether they can return to Earth. Unfortunately, it turns out the planet is already inhabited by hostile centaur-like sapients. Max and Ellie are captured, but Ellie’s pet is able to guide Sam to them. They escape, though Sam is killed covering their retreat.

Upon his return, Max is informed that the captain has died. Simes tried to take command illegally and was killed by Sam, leaving Max as the only remaining astrogator, and thus the only person who can take the ship back into space. To make matters worse, Simes hid or destroyed the astrogation manuals.

The humans are forced to attempt a perilous return to known space by reversing the erroneous transition. Max must pilot the ship; he must also supply the missing astrogation tables from his eidetic memory. To add to his burdens, the remaining officers inform Max that he must take command, as only an astrogator can be the captain. The pressure is immense. Can Max handle it?

My take:
J. Frances McComas, in 1954, called this one the best of the seven Heinlein juveniles available. Anthony Boucher and P. Schuyler Miller both praised it, Miller saying it ranked “close to the best in mainline science fiction.” The NY Times reviewer called it “superior science fiction.” Of the four I’ve read so far (more on that next week), I have to agree, this is the best of them. I recommend it. Next time: The Star Beast.

About Richard Robinson

Enjoying life in Portland, OR
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23 Responses to Forgotten? Heinlein: Starman Jones

  1. Patti Abbott says:

    Similarly to your dislike of depressing novels, I dislike ones that don’t take place in the real world. I never have-indeed even fairy tales always bored me. Funny how we all have genres we steer away from. Sure I am missing some great stuff but…

    • Fair enough, Patti. Since my big brother (by 6 years) read SF, of course I had to do so too. So I was reading it and the usual adventure fiction, Swiss Family Robinson, Kidnapped, Treasure Island and such as I grew up. I didn’t start on mystery fiction, except for the Hardy Boys and Sherlock Holmes, until I was an adult.

  2. I read STARMAN JONES as a kid and loved it. In fact, I loved all of Heinlein’s juvenile SF novels. I have a Science Fiction Book Club edition of some of Heinlein’s juveniles. If it contains, STARMAN JONES I’ll reread it based on your enthusiastic review.

  3. Jeff Meyerson says:

    I’m slowly reading through the Heinlein juveniles I never read when I was a kid, and this sounds worth reading. Maybe a little adolescent wish fulfillment, but what’s wrong with that?

  4. Todd Mason says:

    STAR LUMMOX, the F&SF serial version of THE STAR BEAST, being the first RAH juvenile I tried. Never did get as far as this one, as I was reading, or trying to read, such weaker Heinlein novels for adults from the early ’60s as FARNHAM’S FREEHOLD and the marginally better GLORY ROAD…still will read his shorter fiction, but will pick and choose very carefully among his novels…

  5. tracybham says:

    The only juvenile I have read by Heinlein is Red Planet, which I enjoyed. I would love to read more of them.

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  8. Sants says:

    I read all of the Heinlein juveniles growing up in the sixties. The first SF I ever read was “Star Beast”.

  9. Mark McSherry says:

    There is a page of text missing in most versions of THE STAR BEAST, even to this day. From the wiki entry of The Star Beast:

    “All paperback editions and the Science Fiction Book Club hard cover edition omit page 148 of Chapter VIII, “The Sensible Thing to Do”, which was in the Scribner’s edition and the magazine serialization. In this chapter, John Thomas rereads the entries in his great-grandfather’s diary of how Lummox was found. Of significance on the omitted page is that:

    “The diary skipped a couple of days; the Trail Blazer had made an emergency raise-ship and Assistant Powerman J. T. Stuart had been too busy to write. John Thomas knew why … the negotiations opened so hopefully with the dominant race had failed … no one knew why.

    “The rest of the page summarizes John Thomas’ grandfather’s family history, discussing the first John Thomas Stuart, who had retired as a sea captain. The history, as reprinted in the paperback and Science Fiction Book Club editions, then resumes with John Thomas Stuart, Junior”.

    I have the Scribners edition if you need to read the missing page.

  10. Mark McSherry says:

    Missing Page From Heinlein’s THE STAR BEAST

    ” …. He trusts me and i’m not going to let him down.”

    ——————————–

    The diary skipped a couple of days; the Trail Blazer had made an emergency raise-ship and Assistant Power man J. T. Stuart had been too busy to write. John Thomas knew why … the negotiations opened so hopefully with the dominant race had failed … no one knew why.
    The captain fled to save his ship and his crew. They had blasted away and had again broken through the Einstein barrier without obtaining from the sentient race the astronomical data they had hoped to get.
    There were only a few more entries concerning Lummox-Cuddlepup; John Thomas put the diary aside, fmding that reading about Lummox was more than he could stand. He started to put everything back into his hideaway; his hand fell on a small, privately-printed book titled A FEW NOTES ABOUT MY FAMILY. It had been written by his grandfather. John Thomas Stuart IX, and Johnnie’s father had brought it up to date before he had gone on his last patrol. It belonged in the family library, beside the massive official biography of John Thomas Stuart VI, but Johnnie had sneaked it upstairs and his mother had never missed it. He knew it as well as he knew the diary, but he started thumbing through it to get his mind off Lummox.
    The record started in 1880, with John Thomas Stuart. Who his people had been nobody knew, as he had come from a little Illinois town that kept no birth records in that remote day. He himself had confused the record beyond recovery by running away to sea at fourteen. He had sailed the China trade, lived through beatings and bad food, and eventually had ‘swallowed the anchor,’ a retired sea captain of the dying age of sail. He had built the old house John Thomas was in.
    ——————————–

    John Thomas, Junior, had not gone to sea. Instead ….

  11. Mark McSherry says:

    Missing Page From Heinlein’s THE STAR BEAST
    ” …. He trusts me and i’m not going to let him down.”

    ——————————–

    The diary skipped a couple of days; the Trail Blazer had made an emergency raise-ship and Assistant Power man J. T. Stuart had been too busy to write. John Thomas knew why … the negotiations opened so hopefully with the dominant race had failed … no one knew why.

    The captain fled to save his ship and his crew. They had blasted away and had again broken through the Einstein barrier without obtaining from the sentient race the astronomical data they had hoped to get.

    There were only a few more entries concerning Lummox-Cuddlepup; John Thomas put the diary aside, fmding that reading about Lummox was more than he could stand. He started to put everything back into his hideaway; his hand fell on a small, privately-printed book titled A FEW NOTES ABOUT MY FAMILY. It had been written by his grandfather. John Thomas Stuart IX, and Johnnie’s father had brought it up to date before he had gone on his last patrol. It belonged in the family library, beside the massive official biography of John Thomas Stuart VI, but Johnnie had sneaked it upstairs and his mother had never missed it. He knew it as well as he knew the diary, but he started thumbing through it to get his mind off Lummox.

    The record started in 1880, with John Thomas Stuart. Who his people had been nobody knew, as he had come from a little Illinois town that kept no birth records in that remote day. He himself had confused the record beyond recovery by running away to sea at fourteen. He had sailed the China trade, lived through beatings and bad food, and eventually had ‘swallowed the anchor,’ a retired sea captain of the dying age of sail. He had built the old house John Thomas was in.

    ——————————–

    John Thomas, Junior, had not gone to sea. Instead ….

    • Fascinating, Mark. I had no idea. I read the Baen paperback, which doesn’t seem to have this.

      • Mark McSherry says:

        My Baen paperback is lacking it too. I wonder if it was corrected for the Virginia Edition. The missing page contains an ominous note (why did the ship have to flee???) that adds to the tension till paying off at the end.

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  13. This is a great one too, and I have at least two, maybe three different versions of this one. I tend to collect multiple versions of classic SF novels that I enjoy, for the various cover art.

    • This is so far my favorite, or closely tied to Citizen of the Galaxy. I used to do that, have several copies, but I’m trying to thin out the book count here, so I’m keeping only one, whichever I like best, and the rest go either to the library used book store or to Powell’s.

  14. Pingback: The Heinlein Juveniles | Tip the Wink

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