Between Planets
by Robert A. Heinlein

Review by
Robert Wilfred Franson

Scribner's: New York, 1951
illustrated by Clifford Geary
212 pages

with an introduction by William H. Patterson, Jr.
Baen: New York, 2008

collected in —
To the Stars
March 2006

Pay it forward

At the [until recently, named] Bank of America & Hongkong, at New London, Venus:

The banker reached into the folds of his gown, pulled out a single credit note. "But eat first — a full belly steadies the judgment. Do me the honor of accepting this as our welcome to the newcomer."

His pride said no; his stomach said YES! Don took it and said, "Uh, thanks! That's awfully kind of you. I'll pay it back, first chance."

"Instead, pay it forward to some other brother who needs it." The banker touched a button on his desk, then stood up.

Don said goodbye and left.

Pay it forward — that's a vital component of the Heinlein philosophy. We cannot possibly repay all those we owe for who we are and what we have — our culture, our free institutions, the essential childraising — and Heinlein surely places freedom ahead of banknotes. We cannot adequately pay back the dead heroes and philosophers and frontiersmen, even our immediate ancestors; but we can pay forward to those in need of a banknote, a confirmation, a true idea to steady their judgment, sustain a free society in which to flourish.

Growing under stress, and learning why

Between Planets is the fifth novel of Robert A. Heinlein's "juvenile" science fiction for Scribners. I've lost count of how many times I've read the novel since the age of twelve or so; I still enjoy it, and continue to find subtleties in it.

It's a beautifully written novel, but most importantly it's the story of an interplanetary sort of high-school boy developing into a revolutionary soldier, and learning why. In the meantime Donald Harvey has a lot of adventures and meets fascinating human and non-human people, as well as caroming off some of the great incidents of his time.

A solar-cultural array of titles

Surely Heinlein had fun giving Between Planets a most various Contents page. Here are the wonderful chapter titles:

  1. New Mexico
  2. "Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin!"    Daniel V:25
  3. Hunted
  4. The Glory Road
  5. Circum-Terra
  6. The Sign in the Sky
  7. Detour
  8. "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests —"    Matthew VII:20
  9. "Bone" Money
  10. "While I was musing the fire burned"    Psalm XXXIX:3
  11. "You could go back to Earth —"
  12. Wet Desert
  13. Fog-Eaters
  14. "Let's have it, then."
  15. "Judge not according to the appearance"    John VII:24
  16. Multum in Parvo
  17. To Reset the Clock
  18. Little David

Four Biblical quotations, two spaceship names, one space-station name, a Chinese emigrant cultural reference, a couple of references to the "old-style" wet and swampy Venus, and others. The sign in the sky is a glowing challenge of both war and freedom. Multum in Parvo is a little joke in a crowded chapter, and a great reckoning in a little room.

A solar-cultural array of people

Between Planets has a widely diverse cast of characters. The Venusian saurian, or "dragon", a scientist who calls himself Sir Isaac Newton in English, is one of Heinlein's best-loved aliens:

"Shucks," Don answered, feeling somewhat pink, "it was a pleasure." He noticed that the dragon's speech was slow and somewhat slurred, as if his tentacles lacked their customary dexterity. [For typing on a text-to-speech keyboard.] Besides that, Sir Isaac's talk was more pedantic than ever and much more Cockney-flavored ...

[Don] noticed as well that his friend could not seem to make up his mind which eye he wanted to use on him. He kept waggling one after another at Don, as if seeking one which would let him focus better. Don wondered if Sir Isaac had overestimated the proper size of a medicinal dose.

"Permit me," the Venerian went on, still with ponderous dignity, "to judge the worth of the service you have done me." He changed the subject. "This word 'shucks' — I do not recognize the use you made of it. Husks of plants?"

Don Harvey and "Sir Isaac Newton" are just two of the people in Between Planets who are concerned, in one way or another, with paying it forward for the future of the Solar System. That this fine novel is still read, and enjoyed by so many, and understood, is a partial acknowledgment of what we owe to Heinlein. Pay it forward.


© 2006 Robert Wilfred Franson

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