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Variable Star

Reviewed by Galen Strickland

I felt it appropriate to credit Spider Robinson first, in spite of the reverse case on the book cover. Certainly Robert A. Heinlein is the more notable name in the annals of science fiction, but the bulk of this book is clearly Spider's work. That is not to say it is not very similar to RAH's style, and it was his notes and outline that shaped at least the start of the book, but according to the afterword I would guess that Spider's contribution to the plot began no later than 100 pages in. Even though it has been reported that this originally was to be part of RAH's juvenile series, I think it just as likely it might have been geared toward a more adult audience, as had The Puppet Masters and Double Star from roughly the same period. We'll never know. Also, without seeing the notes myself, I don't know if the references to earlier Future History sequences would have been made if Heinlein had completed the novel himself.

Several of Heinlein's juveniles did have ties to the Future History, others were clearly separate from it, as was the case with several of his other novels. I have read reports that RAH regretted that John W. Campbell was ever made aware of his story and character chart, since so many ideas he had were in direct contradiction to that chronology. Here, Spider has combined references from several different Heinlein sources, so I suppose this one can be considered just another variant of the multiverse concept that RAH developed late in his writings. For instance, one of the early starships mentioned in this book is the New Frontiers, which was the vessel hijacked by Lazarus Long and the Howard Families in Methuselah's Children, and yet the history of the ship described in this book is not the same as occurred in the earlier novel. Events involving the rise of Nehemiah Scudder and the reign of The Prophets during the Interregnum are also mentioned several times (perhaps too many). But the sentient dragon-like species from Venus (from Between Planets) are also mentioned, even though their description conflicts with the way Venerians are depicted in Space Cadet, which did have a direct tie to another Future History story. But enough of that. I suppose it could be argued that Spider included so many varied Heinlein references merely as a tribute to his favorite writer.

There are also a couple of not-so-sublte nods to other writers I am sure Spider feels would also have been capable of completing this book, both of them huge Heinlein fans themselves. One of the main characters is named Solomon Short, a fictional creation of David Gerrold, and another is given the first name of Herb, which is how close friends address John Varley.

The last thing I want to do with this review is spoil any of the plot, so I won't continue much longer. I do reccommend it, although there is no way to guarantee you will like it as much as I did, any more than I can say I would have liked it more if Heinlein had completed it himself. It is not a long book, and written in a crisp prose style so reminiscent of RAH. I nearly finished it in one sitting, and probably would have if the mail had come earlier yesterday. There are many elements that are so much like what you would expect from RAH, both in character interaction and dialog, then again there are several aspects that I am almost positive would have been different, not the least of which is some of the strong language, which RAH eschewed with just a very few exceptions in his later work.

There is only a small portion of the concluding chapters that I had anticipated happening, and I can truthfully say I was completely surprised by the climactic plot event in this novel. I'd even be willing to wager it was not included in the outline but rather added by Spider. If I'm wrong, it might be the reason Heinlein never completed it, since his publisher possibly told him they were reluctant to print such a gloomy event. [NOTE: An email from Spider confirms my opinion.] There really is only one thing that I didn't like, but I'm not bothering to mention it since it might in some way give you an inkling of the aforementioned tragic event.

In conclusion, if you like Heinlein, if you like Spider Robinson, either or both, you will want to read this book. Barring any other gems hiding in the archives, it is likely to be the last ideas we will ever get from the mind of the Grand Master.

 

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Author
Spider Robinson
Robert A. Heinlein

Published
2006

Available from amazon.com