The Heinlein juveniles are the young adult novels written by Robert A. Heinlein. The twelve novels were published by Scribner’s between 1947 and 1958, which together tell, in a way, the story of space exploration. The dozen novels are not a true “series” in that they do not share any characters and do not form a strict chronological series; the later novels are not sequels to the earlier ones.
A thirteenth, Starship Troopers, was submitted to Scribner’s but rejected and was instead published by Putnam as an adult SF novel. A fourteenth novel, Podkayne of Mars, is often listed as a “Heinlein juvenile”, although Heinlein himself did not consider it to be one.
A word about endings. Heinlein seems to have his problems with them while writing these books. Of the twelve novels here, Between Planets is the worst offender. It just plain stops, when it should have had at least one more chapter, two more would have been better. Heinlein just couldn’t seem to wrap things up in many of these books. Also, if you really want to speak of endings, there is the one for Podkayne of Mars, which Heinlein eventually re-wrote after a storm of protest from both publisher and readers. You can read all about that here.
Without further ado, here are my rankings of Heinlein’s juvenile novels:
order & date
|1||Starman Jones||#7, 1953||HERE|
|This was an early favorite that stayed that way through reading all of them. I admit I like kid-in-space-service stuff, and that’s what this is.|
|2||Citizen of the Galaxy||#11, 1957||HERE|
|A favorite of many, and with good reason. One of the most “adult” of the juvenile novels. Lots of scenarios as the main character progresses.|
|3||The Star Beast||#8, 1954||HERE|
|This one is lots of fun and Lummox is a great character, and the story a good one. I admit I have a soft spot for this one.|
|4||Have Space Suit—Will Travel||#12, 1958||HERE|
|This was the first Heinlein juvenile I ever read, maybe the first thing by him, and I loved it then. I’d forgotten much of it until I reread it for this survey. Yes, it’s good, I just happen to like the ones I ranked above it better.|
|5||Between Planets||#5, 1951||HERE|
|I liked almost everything about this novel. This one would have been ranked higher if it had an ending – which it doesn’t.|
|6||Farmer In the Sky||#4, 1950||HERE|
|I had some trouble ranking these 6-8 places. You can’t go wrong with any of them. This is a really good one. If you’re wondering why this isn’t ranked higher, it’s only because I liked others better.|
|7||Tunnel In the Sky||#9, 1955||HERE|
|This is also a really good one. Good ending.|
|8||Red Planet||#3, 1949||HERE|
|A fun story with a satisfying ending, and the first appearance of Heinlen’s Ancient Martians.|
|9||Space Cadet||#2, 1948||HERE|
|Now we come to the weaker of the novels. As much fun as this is, it’s just not as good as those ranked above it.|
|10||The Rolling Stones (aka Space Family Stone)||#6, 1952||HERE|
|Yeah, so the family jumps into a space ship and takes off from the moon to ramble around in space. Um, okay. Still, it’s better than…|
|11||Time For the Stars||#10, 1956||HERE|
|…this one. I just couldn’t buy the idea of light-years distant communication through mental telepathy / psi power. Also, another poor ending.|
|12||Rocket Ship Galileo||#1, 1947||HERE|
|The first and weakest of the books. It’s obvious Heinlein was new at writing juvenile SF.|
So there it is, my personal opinion of the books and their ranking. Keep in mind these are favorites, I make no judgement as to which is the finest, most literary, best written or most impactful at the time of their publication. This is what I liked, in order.
I read these in my early teens and was okay with them but didn’t love them. I remember liking Tunnel in the Sky best and really disliking Rocket Ship Galileo and The Rolling Stones. Never became a big Heinlein fan. Double Star and The moon Is a Harsh Mistress impressed me most but I haven’t read them in ages. Never liked Stranger in A Strange Land and thought most of his later doorstops unreadable.
I didn’t like the later books that much either, Steve, though I did read them. Stranger in A Strange Land was considered a very cool thing to read at the time of it’s publication.
Nice job all the way around. I’ve only read a few of them, as mentioned before, since I was already reading mysteries when most kids were reading SF.
Thanks Jeff. I didn’t start reading mysteries until later; in my teens it was all SF and fantasy.
I’m going to have to go back and read STARMAN JONES.
I hope you like it as much as I did, George.
Really enjoyed your recaps/reviews of the Heinlein juveniles. I read most if not all of them when I was in the 10-13 years old range and enjoyed them immensely. Reread several recently (some 40 years later) as I felt the “need” for some optimistic tales of the future. Admittedly most were not as “great” as I remembered but they held up reasonably well if for no reason than the “future that never was” vibe they gave off. Have not re-read your top 3 yet, but would put HAVE SPACESUIT – WILL TRAVEL as my #1 until I do. And I must admit I have a strange, unexplained fondness for THE ROLLING STONES and rank it much higher (#2) than it probably deserves.
The main reason I love The Rolling Stones is ‘the future the way it ought to be’ that it portrays. If Mr and Mrs Middle-Class with Family decide it’s time to move on, you just pack up your own rocketship and go!
and your thoughts about the other rankings, Mark?
Have Space Suit- Will Travel and Starman Jones are right at the top for me.. Whichever I would read last would probably rank first. And in the case of Starman Jones, Heinlein really hit a home run with that ending. So I can’t argue with your list, other than maybe shifting a title up or down one ranking.
Your comment about Heinlein not ‘nailing the landing’ suggests listing the juveniles by the strength of their endings. From biggest emotional ‘wallop’ to least (for me)—
Tunnel in the Sky
Farmer in the Sky
The Rolling Stones
Citizen of the Galaxy
The Rolling Stones
Have Space Suit – Will Travel
Time for the Stars
Rocket Ship Galileo
So if I had to choose only one Heinlein juvenile to a new reader, I would probably pick Starman Jones.
And thanks Richard, for doing this series. I hadn’t read any Heinlein in over five years; your posts changed that. You should have got a commission from the Heinlein estate too. Your posts pushed me over the edge— After years of putting it off, I finally ordered the Virginia Edition of Heinlein’s writings. All for the low, low price of $1,400 + the cost of a bookcase with glass doors to display them in.
Mark, thanks very much for that thoughtful comment. I think on any given day the rankings could shift some, but let’s face it, poor remains poor and good, good. Wow, that Heinlein set is a major purchase. I hope you get a lot of enjoyment from it.
Richard, I forgot to mention this, but Christopher Nuttall published HEINLEIN IN RELECTION last January. It’s available as a Kindle e-book for $1.00. He spends a chapter apiece on each of Heinlein’s juveniles; you might find this especially interesting since all twelve are still fresh in your mind. Using Amazon’s ‘Look Inside’ feature allows you to read all of ‘Rocket Ship Galileo’ and most of the ‘Space Cadet’ chapter.
Mark, thanks for that, I’ll go for it.
Before rereading all of them, I might have put HAVE SPACE SUIT at the top too, Greg.
Like Steve, I never read much of the RAH juveniles…the not-bad STAR LUMMOX serial version in F&SF back issues I collected, and TIME FOR THE STARS, which I didn’t like as well, and which as I began reading adult sf novels regularly (having already been reading a fair amount of adult short sf). I’d already enjoyed some of Heinlein’s short fiction (such as “And He Built a Crooked House” which I first read in Clifton Fadiman’s FANTASIA MATHEMATICA), and tried some of his adult novels (STRANGER got too self-indulgent rather quickly, GLORY ROAD started well and then completely ran out of steam, FARNHAM”S FREEHOLD was an atrocity from page 2).
If you did list PODKAYNE among these, where might it fit?
Thanks for the survey!
TIME, which I read as I began reading adult sf novels regularly…
And, as I might’ve noted, I’m not too surprised TIME landed near the bottom of your listings. The magic science of the telepathy got on my nerves more than yours, I gather, as it wasn’t remotely rationalized, much less creatively…why wouldn’t the spacefaring brother’s thoughts seem ridiculously slow to he earthbound twin’s, for small example, as I tapped my mental foot while reading the book…
It bothered me, but I accepted it as Heinlein’s given for the book. However, you note it was second to last in my rankings. Plus, I disliked the ending.
You’re welcome Todd, hope you enjoyed it. I’m not sure about where I’d put Podkane, mostly because of the ending, and also because it seems incomplete. There was a larger story arc developed, then, apparently, dropped. Aggravating. So, probably below Tunnel In the Sky.
Thanks for the rankings, Rick. I will start looking for some copies to try, aiming for the top ones on your list, but I am willing to try any of them. The only one I have read is Red Planet and I liked it, so I should enjoy the other ones.
Pretty close to mine, except I would exchange TFTS and TSB. I liked the adventure in the former and the growth of the character. Agreed on the ending though. In TSB, I didn’t care for the shifts in point of view. Felt less immersive. Not as invested. But rereading as an adult, I appreciate it more.
FWIW, agreed on Starman Jones. If you’ve ever been in a piloting party on a submarine or stood QMOW in the Navy, you completely get it. Who cares about the details of the computer. The chief reminds me of most ever QMC I knew.