Time for the Stars by Robert A. Heinlein. Scribner’s & Sons, 1956. Juvenile novel # 10 in the series. Published in both hardcover and paperback that year by Scribner’s as part of the Heinlein juvenile series.
Continuing my survey of Robert Heinlein’s set of twelve juvenile science fiction novels, we now reach number ten. Since I started reading these out of order, there will be just one more after this, followed by a summing up.
The story is an exploration of the Twin Paradox, which explains how relativity works. If you had identical twins, and one of them accelerated away from Earth and the other stayed home, so much more time would pass on Earth than in the spaceship that the Earth twin would be a hundred years old when the space twin came home, only a few years later. Heinlein took this concept and made it a real story with characters — and he made the twin thing relevant by using twin telepathy, which is instantaneous, as a means of communicating between Earth and ship.
The Long Range Foundation (LRF) is a non-profit organization that funds expensive, long-term projects for the benefit of mankind. It has built a dozen exploratory space ships to search for habitable planets to colonize. It is found that some twins and triplets can communicate with each other telepathically, and the process is both instantaneous and unaffected by distance, making it the only practical means of communication for ships traveling light year distances from Earth. Before announcing the discovery, the foundation first recruits as many of these people as it can. Testing shows that teenagers Tom and Pat Bartlett have this talent and both sign up. Pat, the dominant twin, manipulates things so that he gets selected as the crew member, much to Tom’s annoyance. However, Pat has a skiing accident at the last minute so that Tom has to take his place.
On board, Tom is pleased to find that his uncle Steve, a military man, has arranged to get assigned to the same ship. The trip is fraught with problems as trivial as an annoying roommate and as serious as mutiny. The ship visits several star systems, including Beta Hydri. Due to the nature of relativistic travel the twin who remained behind ages faster and eventually the affinity between them is weakened to the point that they can no longer communicate easily. Some of the spacefaring twins, including the protagonist, are able to connect with descendants of the Earthbound twins. Tom works first with his niece, then his grandniece, and finally his great-grandniece.
The last planet scouted proves to be particularly deadly. Unexpectedly intelligent and hostile natives capture and kill a large portion of the remaining crew, including the captain and Tom’s uncle. The reserve captain takes charge, but is unable to restore the morale of the devastated survivors. When he insists on continuing the mission rather than returning to Earth, members of the crew begin to consider mutiny. Shortly after he notifies Earth of the dire situation, they are surprised to hear a spaceship will rendezvous with them in less than a month and wonder how that can be possible.
Scientists on Earth have discovered faster-than-light travel, in part due to research into the nature of telepathy, and are collecting the surviving crews of the LRF torchships. The explorers return to an Earth they no longer recognize, and in most cases, no longer fit in. Tom, however, returns to family and makes the adjustment.
As with the other Heinlein juveniles, this is an enjoyable book, though the telling sags in places. There is good characterization, and a few twists. The plot mostly centers on Tom, who is on the ship, but there are sections on discovered planets, which are well done, and back on Earth, which are less interesting. Still, a strong entry in the series.
We now have just one more of Heinlein’s juveniles to go before I do a wrap-up. Next time: Have Space Suit–Will Travel.