Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Farmer in the Sky by Robert Heinlein

It is remarkably hard to hunt down some of the earliest books that were nominated for a Hugo at either of the libraries I have access to, but I assumed that one of Heinlein's juveniles would not particularly pose a challenge. Turns out I was wrong. Then again, it popped up at a local used bookstore, and so it was, in the end, not really an issue. I was just surprised that it had been a problem at all, particularly since the one I picked up used was a recent re-issue.

So I carried my new find around in my purse for about a week and a half, and when I was out and about and had a few minutes, read a few pages. It went by remarkably fast, which was pretty much what I expected from a Heinlein juvenile. I generally find Heinlein remarkably readable, even when I have other quibbles with his writing.

This was apparently written to be a serial about Scouting on places other than Earth. Venus and Mars being at least partially occupied in Heinlein's ficton, humans look to settle on Ganymede, eking out farms from the rock, seasoned with bacteria and worms.

The main character was an Eagle Scout on Earth, and due to rising population pressures, rationing, and crowding, decides to go with his father and his father's new wife and stepdaughter to Ganymede to homestead. Of course, with the sensitivity of many policies, many more settlers are sent than the planet is really ready to handle, given the entire dependence on Earth for just about everything but food.

(Spider Robinson makes some nice allusions to this book in Variable Star, the book he wrote from Heinlein's notes. I didn't know there was that particular homage until I read this.)

 (I do not remember the main character's name, which is a pretty good sign that there's not much of a character there other than upstanding Boy Scout with the usual attributes of a juvenile Heinlein hero - that's not a bad thing, necessarily, but it does mean that character is not the story here) On the way, the main character runs into a lot of people who are dipshits. That's not of course the language that is used - these were marketed to kids, after all - but people who are too dumb to research, question, or accept that there might be reasonable boundaries on their behaviour. Main Character Dude, though, is the opposite. For the most part.

He's quite stubborn when it comes to his father, who wants Main Character Dude to go back to Earth for his education, even if he ends up settling on Ganymede in the long run. But he's not dumb, and while his father works in the town to handle the influx of settlers, he's the one who breaks ground on their family farm. He's helped by a nearby family that is one of the most prosperous settlers.

There are disasters of early settlement, including an earthquake knocking out the power source that keeps Ganymede from freezing all the pioneers to death. There is family sickness, there are difficulties in obtaining equipment, and the question runs through it whether hewing our own homestead out of the barren wilderness of another planet is worth it.

Is there really a question there? This is a Heinlein juvenile novel, after all. Do you really expect anyone to decide that roughing it isn't worth it? That living in urban surroundings might be a more pleasant choice?


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