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.
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.
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.