Variable Star by Heinlein and Robinson

I received the new Spider Robinson/Heinlein book, Variable Star, in the mail and I am about 1/3 of the way through it. I read the end notes by Spider first. Spider writes that Heinlein did not make a real outline of the book and left only a few notes on the plot. What Heinlein did was to put together the background information of the characters, the setting, and the chief conflict. He did not finish the plot or write anything about the ending. So the plot is mostly Spider’s based on Heinlein’s setup and Spider’s knowledge of Heinlein’s writings. (I think, at least in some of his novels, that Heinlein would create a good setup and just write until he had enough words and end the story.)

The main characters are almost identical to the people in the last third of Citizen of the Galaxy, which Heinlein wrote shortly afterwards. The hero is similar to the Farmer in the Sky character. I think that Heinlein used many elements from his notes to finish Citizen and start Farmer, and that is the reason why he never returned to it.

Citizen of the Galaxy, one of my favorite books, is four distinct novellas in one novel. It was originally serialized in Astounding, but I am thinking that Heinlein may have written the parts separately and tied them together for the magazine. The first part is about a boy named Thurby and his life as a slave. The second part is about Thurby’s life on a ship of space traders. The third part is Thurby in the space patrol, and the last is Thurby’s life on earth as a very, very wealthy heir to a fortune where he uses his past experiences to regain control of his inheritance from some evil men. This last part of Citizen is very similar to the beginning of Variable Star.

Spider sometimes seems to write like Heinlein. Heinlein was a product of his times (starting in the 20s and 30s) and Spider is a hippie dude, but both of them have a similar voice when they write. Spider is calling in all of Heinlein’s familiar memes, even throwing in a little sexless nudity. The Jinny character (mispelled Ginnie on the second or third page) is an homage to both Virginia Heinlein and all of the female characters in Heinlein’s books. In my life so far, I have never met a woman who talked or acted like a Heinlein female, so Virginia must have been very special.

I am enjoying Variable Star as much as I would a Heinlein novel and I enjoy seeing the old man’s pet phrases and ideas appear from time to time. Spider did a great job. It is not exactly Heinlein, but close enough and the parts that I think of as being mostly Spider’s voice are among the best Spider Robinson that I’ve ever read.

Buy the damn book!!!


  1. E.Jim Shannon wrote:

    I read a recent Spider Robinson interview about this same topic this week. Spider Robinson and Heinlein were good friends and in the interview Spider said how when they were having trouble with a mortgage payment they received a cheque from of all people RH.

    I also read where RH sent a birthday present to one of SR’s children. SR had no idea how RH even knew about the birthday.

    SR I think grew up in the Vancouver BC area, my home turf. I wasn’t into science fiction as a child other then Marvel Comics as a teenager. It wasn’t until Star Wars that turned me onto Science fiction. The Vancouver area is a hot bed for some well known SF/F types like Dave Duncan, others.

    The Spider Robinson interview is up there the SF signal Website. You can get to SF Signal from my Blog.

    Friday, September 29, 2006 at 3:01 pm | Permalink
  2. E.Jim Shannon wrote:

    Sorry, the interview is here:

    Friday, September 29, 2006 at 3:12 pm | Permalink


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