Forgotten? Heinlein: Time For the Stars

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 Plot
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.

My Take
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.

About Rick Robinson

Enjoying life in Portland, OR
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15 Responses to Forgotten? Heinlein: Time For the Stars

  1. As soon as I read “twins” I remembered TIME FOR THE STARS. One of my favorite Heinlein juveniles! I’m tempted to reread some of these books from my childhood.

  2. Jeff Meyerson says:

    I just find it hard to accept that twins, however attuned, can communicate telepathically from so far away. But even if you do accept it, how do you accept communicating with a great niece?

  3. jameswharris says:

    Time for the Stars is my 2nd favorite of the Heinlein juveniles. My favorite is Have Space Suit-Will Travel. I loved them all. Bought them in hardback with the first check from my first hourly job at 16. The two other big favorites were Tunnel in the Sky and Starman Jones.

    • Your tastes align pretty much with mine, James. I’m not sure which is my favorite out of three or four, but I’ll figure it out in a couple of weeks after I wrap up the look at all of them.

  4. Mark McSherry says:

    The Virginia Edition of the complete definitive writings (fiction and non-fiction) of Robert A Heinlein consists of 46 volumes: all identically formatted and typecast with no illustrations. The Scribner juveniles are in twelve separate books. Since everything is standardized, it’s interesting to look at the page count—

    Rocket Ship Galileo (1) ————— 158 pages
    Time for the Stars (10) —————- 159 pages

    Between Planets (5) ——————- 167 pages
    Farmer in the Sky (4) —————— 168 pages
    Red Planet (3) ————————— 171 pages

    The Rolling Stones (6) —————– 187 pages
    Space Cadet (2) ————————- 191 pages
    Have Space Suit – Will Travel (12) — 192 pages

    Tunnel in the Sky (9) ——————– 197 pages
    The Star Beast (8) ———————– 199 pages
    Starman Jones (7) ———————– 200 pages

    Citizen of the Galaxy (11) ————– 220 pages

    The page counts for the other two Putnam juveniles are—

    Starship Troopers (1959) ————– 209 pages
    Podkayne of Mars (1963) ————- 161 pages

    • That is interesting, Mark. I don’t consider Starship Troopers a juvenile, and Podkane is iffy. Heinlein didn’t classify it as such.

      • jameswharris says:

        Starship Troopers was sent to Scribners and rejected. It was intended to be #13. And I’m pretty sure Podkayne of Mars was written as a juvenile too. It’s a shame that Alice Dalgliesh rejected Starship Troopers. I would have loved if Heinlein had written juveniles for the rest of his life.

        • I’ve really been enjoying reading these, James, and agree with the wish that he had written more.

          • Mark McSherry says:

            From Volume Two of William Patterson’s biography of RAH:

            “The last installment of Have Space Suit—Will Travel appeared in F&SF in October {1958}. Heinlein must have been generating a new book idea while recuperating from his amebic and bacterial infections, for he outlined and on October 14, 1958, began to write Podkayne Fries: Her Life and Times, with a female teenaged protagonist, and written in the first person—“unheard of in the genre.”

            “…Heinlein took Podkayne Fries off his agenda: A hundred pages into the manuscript, it just was not coming together for him.

            “…He started writing Shoulder the Sky (the title a reference to Atlas holding up the sky) on November 8, 1958…In the writing, the title had changed from Shoulder the Sky to the more descriptive and catchy Sky Soldier and then to Starside Soldier. He finished the 60,000-word draft at 5:20 A.M. on November 22 and left it on the kitchen counter for Ginny to first-read.

            “He spent a couple of weeks cutting and polishing the manuscript and sent it to a professional typist early in December—

            “Heinlein sent the clean retype of what was now titled Starship Soldier to Blassingame and, simultaneously, to Scribner, on January 10 and braced himself. He had done this one, he told Blassingame, as he had done Citizen of the Galaxy two years ago—written what was essentially an adult novel, but one his kids should find interesting.

            “…The reaction from Dalgliesh {his editor at Scribners}, however, was a flat rejection. This was not adventure, she said, it was social commentary and the boys wouldn’t want it at all.
            …Dalgliesh had made one useful suggestion, though: He could try marketing it as an adult serial.”

            Patterson Jr., William H.. Robert A. Heinlein: In Dialogue with His Century (p. 166). Tom Doherty Associates. Kindle Edition.

  5. tracybham says:

    I would enjoy reading an explanation of relativity, and I like the idea of the twins communicating. I look forward to reading more of these books.

  6. Pingback: The Heinlein Juveniles | Tip the Wink

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