Forgotten? Heinlein: Citizen of the Galaxy

ASF September 1957

Citizen of the Galaxy by Robert Heinlein, Scribners 1957, hardcover and paperback. Originally serialized in Astounding Science Fiction (September, October, November, December 1957 – see cover to right) and then published in hardcover as part of Scribner’s series of Heinlein’s juveniles.

Yet another of the Heinlein juvenile SF novels. Last time it was The Star Beast, this time it’s Citizen of the Galaxy a favorite of many readers. Again, though these aren’t forgotten, I recommend them, some more than others. Here we go.

Plot (my text and edits from Wikpedia)
Thorby is a young, defiant slave boy recently arrived at the slave auction at Jubbulpore, capital city on Jubbul. He is purchased by an old beggar, Baslim the Cripple, for a trivial sum and taken to the beggar’s surprisingly well-furnished underground home. Thereafter Baslim treats the boy as a son, teaching him not only the begging trade but also mathematics, history, and several languages, while sending Thorby on errands all over the city, carefully passing along information and keeping track of the comings and goings of starships.

first edition cover

Thorby slowly realizes that his foster father is not a simple beggar but is gathering intelligence, particularly on the slave trade. In addition, Baslim has Thorby memorize a contingency plan and a message to deliver to one of five starship captains in the event of Baslim’s arrest or death. When Baslim is captured by the local authorities and commits suicide, Thorby is able to deliver the message to the Captain of one of the ‘Free Trader’ starships which is in port. The Captain, Krausa, owes a debt to Baslim for the rescue of one of their crews from a slave trader, the captain takes Thorby aboard the Sisu at great risk to himself and his clan.

The Free Trader people of the Sisu are an insular, clannish, matriarchal culture who live their lives in space, traveling from world to world trading. Thorby is adopted by the captain (thereby gaining considerable shipboard social status) and adjusts to the culture of the traders, learning their language and intricate social rules. The advanced education provided by Baslim and the fast reflexes of youth allow him to fit into the ships crew.

The captain obeys Baslim’s last wish, in defiance of his wife, who is the executive officer and head of the clan by transferring Thorby off the ship. He entrusts the boy to a military cruiser of the Hegemonic Guard of the Terran Hegemony, the dominant military power in the galaxy. The captain, who also acted as one of Baslim’s couriers, passes along Baslim’s request to its captain to assist Thorby in finding his own people. Thorby discovers that his foster father Baslim was actually a colonel in the Hegemonic Guard who volunteered for the dangerous mission of an undercover operative on Jubbul to fight slavery.

Thorby is ultimately identified as Thor Bradley Rudbek, the long-lost heir of a very powerful family and a substantial shareholder in Rudbek and Associates, a large, sprawling interstellar business including one of the largest starship-manufacturing companies and the entire city of Rudbek. In his absence, the business is run by a relative by marriage, “Uncle” John Weemsby, who encourages his stepdaughter Leda to guide Thorby in adjustment to his new situation while secretly scheming to block Thorby’s growing interest and interference in the company.

Thorby, investigating his parents’ disappearance and his capture and sale by slavers, comes to suspect that his parents were eliminated to prevent the discovery that some portions of Rudbek and Associates were secretly profiting from the slave trade. When Weemsby quashes further investigation, Thorby seeks legal help and launches a proxy fight, which he unexpectedly wins when Leda votes her shares in his favor. He fires Weemsby and assumes full control of the firm. When Thorby realizes that it will take a lifetime to remove Rudbek and Associates from the slave trade, he reluctantly abandons his dream of imitating Baslim as a member of the elite anti-slaver “X” Corps of the Hegemonic Guard. Knowing that “a person can’t run out on his responsibilities”, he resolves to fight the slave trade as the head of Rudbek and Associates.

My Take
This was well received when it was published, again being favorably compared to the “adult” science fiction of the time. I certainly enjoyed it, in spite of Heinlein telegraphing a lot of the plot throughout the book. Still, it’s good solid SF, and I’ll rank it just below Starman Jones which remains my favorite of the juveniles I’ve read thus far. I’ll do a ranking of the full list when I’m done reading these. Next up: Rocket Ship Galileo.

About Rick Robinson

Enjoying life in Portland, OR
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22 Responses to Forgotten? Heinlein: Citizen of the Galaxy

  1. Margot Kinberg says:

    I’ve liked the Heinlein I’ve read very much. Some of it is outstanding, in my opinion. I’ll confess I’ve not read this one, but it does sound like a solid read.

  2. realthog says:

    My favorite of the Heinlein YA novels, and one I’ve read more than once: it seems to have a bit more heft than some of the other, more overtly juvenile ones. I’d rank it among Heinlein’s top few SF novels, adult or YA.

  3. Jeff Meyerson says:

    Thanks. I don’t know this one at all, so interesting reading about it from this distance.

  4. Jerry House says:

    The cult of Heinlein (of which I am a member) can wear thin at times. This is one of his better books.

  5. I read the version of CITIZEN OF THE GALAXY that has that blue cover. It was also a serial in ASTOUNDING.

    • Yep, as I said at the top here: “Originally serialized in Astounding Science Fiction (September, October, November, December 1957” I wonder if you got that copy from the library, that’s where I got mine.

  6. tracybham says:

    This sounds good, with a complex plot. I will put it on my list of science fiction novels to look for.

  7. Steve Lewis says:


    Your recent reviews of these Heinlein juveniles have brought back a lot of
    memories. I read them all when they first came out. I don’t remember the stories themselves all that well, but I do remember going to the kids’ section of the local library anxiously looking for one I hadn’t read yet. It was always a great day when I found one!

  8. I checked the North Tonawanda Library and they have 34 books by Robert Heinlein. Yes, CITIZEN OF THE GALAXY was there. About a third of the titles are audio books. I have a copy of CITIZEN OF THE GALAXY around here somewhere. Your enthusiasm for STARMAN JONES sent me into the stacks to find my copy. So far, it’s eluding me.

    • The current obsession with all-the-time earphone wearing may be part of the audiobook growth at libraries. My system has a ton of them too, but I avoid them, at least for now. I’ve got several more of these to read, then I’ll do a wrap-up post with my thoughts on them all and a ranking. Still, it won’t hurt you to keep looking!

  9. Rick, I’ve been plagued the last year by my neglect of immediately shelving books and CDs when I acquire them. The new books and CDs tend to go into boxes (Diane doesn’t want them cluttering up our living space) that migrate into my basement. Then, when I get time, I open a box (it’s like Christmas!) and sort and shelve. But I have a 100 boxes waiting to be unpacked and most of what I’m looking for is probably in one of those boxes. It’s my fault, but it will take months to fix the situation.

    • My goodness, 100 boxes! I’m amazed. I can understand the Christmas feeling, but it really does sound like a huge chore. You need to do a couple a week and it will still take you a couple of years, and that doesn’t address the new stuff still coming in!

      As for the Heinlein juveniles, I looked on the shelf and I had a lot of his books, but only a couple were the 12 of those. So I’ve bought the others as ebooks when I could get them and a couple of paperbacks that will make their way here in the next few weeks.

  10. I’m trying to curb my book purchases and use the Library more. I’m hoping to donate another 1000 books to SUNY at Buffalo by the end of the Summer. I’m trying to free up shelf space by giving many of the business books I used when I was teaching to various colleagues. I gave my Tana French collection to my daughter. I’m chipping away at the problem, but the fact remains that I have way too many books!

  11. Redhead says:

    I really enjoyed Citizen of the Galaxy, it was tons of fun! i need to reread it.

  12. Pingback: The Heinlein Juveniles | Tip the Wink

  13. Karl Smithe says:

    Curiously the first of 4 parts of CotG was published the month before Sputnik.
    So Heinlein helped prepare us for application for galactic citizenship. LOL

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