Space Cadet by Robert A. Heinlein, juvenile sf #1. Scribner’s 1948, hardcover and paperback.
This is the second of the Heinlein juveniles, a long and successful series of a dozen science fiction novels published by Scribner’s. These were originally envisioned as a series of books called “Young Rocket Engineers” but the idea was initially rejected by the publisher. Thus each of the novels has separate characters, locations, themes and plots. This one features Matt Dodson, who joins the Space Patrol to help preserve peace in the Solar System. The story translates the standard military academy story into outer space: a boy from Iowa goes to officer school, sees action and adventure, shoulders responsibilities far beyond his experience, and becomes a man.
In 2075, teenager Matt Dodson applies to join the prestigious Space Patrol. After a number of physical, mental, and ethical tests, he is accepted as a cadet. They then go to the orbiting Patrol Academy school ship PRS James Randolph, where Matt makes friends with fellow recruits William ‘Tex’ Jarman, Venus-born Oscar Jensen, and Pierre Armand from Ganymede. His first roommate is Girard Burke, the arrogant son of a wealthy spaceship builder.
Burke eventually either goes into the merchant service. The other boys pass their classes and are assigned to Patrol ships. Dodson, Jarman and Jensen ship out on the Aes Triplex. Their first mission is to help search for a missing research vessel, the Pathfinder, in the Asteroid Belt. They find it, though the crew have died. The captain of the Aes Triplex transfers half the crew to the repaired Pathfinder so that they can take the ship and the news of the startling discovery back to Earth quickly. With the remainder of the crew (including all three cadets), he plots a slower, fuel efficient, elliptical voyage back to earth.
The ship then receives an urgent message to investigate an incident on Venus. He sends Lieutenant Thurlow and the cadets to the planet’s surface. The lander touches down on a sinkhole, giving the crew barely enough time to get out before it disappears in the mud. Thurlow is injured in the landing so Jensen assumes command. He contacts the sentient usually-friendly Venerians, but the entire party is taken captive. They soon find out why.
These particular natives had never seen human beings until old classmate Burke showed up in a prospecting ship. He had taken the matriarch of the local clan hostage when she refused to give him permission to exploit a rich deposit of radioactive ores. The locals promptly attacked the ship and killed his crew; Burke managed to send a message for help before being taken prisoner.
They get out of the jam and return home expecting to be treated as heroes, only to find they’ve simply done their job as members of the Space Patrol.
Space Cadet is better than the first book, Space Ship Galileo (reviewed last week), but not by a lot. The plot has more elements and depth, but the interactions between the boy is still very YA indeed. Although I enjoyed it, I’m looking forward to the next couple of Heinlein’s juveniles. Next time: Red Planet.
I think it is fair to say that a lot of this book is based on Heinlein’s experiences; first as a student at the U.S. Naval Academy and then as a young officer in the Navy.
I’ve read that and I’m pretty sure you’re right, John.
I think it took Heinlein until the 1950s to finally get the hang of writing his SF juveniles. There’s a sharp increase in quality just 10 years after SPACE CADET.
The next one, RED PLANET is significantly better.
I read this one, thought it was OK.
And OK is about right, Jeff.
Space Cadet and Space Ship Galileo are two of the Heinlein juveniles I have yet to read. I do have them both on my shelves, though, so that is a start. In theory I will get to them one day…if only I didn’t have to contend with the desire to re-read all of the Heinlein juveniles I’ve already read and enjoyed.
These may be the weakest of the bunch, Carl. You’ve probably read the better ones already.
I look forward to your post on Red Planet, Rick. It is the only one I have read. I will find others in the series, probably after you have ranked them all.
Still several to go before then, Tracy.
To me, it is important to note the background/history of this world in Heinlein’s “Solution Unsatisfactory” and—very important—in the detailed account of John Ezra Dahlquist found in “The Long Watch”. The latter story is one of my very favorites, and I always choke up when I read it.
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