by Robert A. Heinlein

Review by
Robert Wilfred Franson

Astounding Science Fiction, November 1939

collected in —
Revolt in 2100

The Past Through Tomorrow

March 2024

Young men moving a rock in the sky

Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,
But to be young was very heaven!
William Wordsworth
"The French Revolution,
 as it Appeared to Enthusiasts"  (1809)

Andy Libby — or to give him his full name, which he hasn't yet grown into — is a very young man who recently joined the Cosmic Construction Corps. This short story is Robert Heinlein's extrapolation of the Civilian Construction Corps of the Great Depression in 1930s America. The intent of the once and future CCC projects is to give young men grown-up jobs to do, offering a working chance at a good start on productive and fulfilling lives.

The project that Libby and his young colleagues, along with leavenings of Naval and expert supervisors, requires heading out to a pre-chosen tiny asteroid, create a pocket of living space on it, including breathable atmosphere, then install explosive thrusters to nudge it Sunward into a predetermined orbit between Earth and Mars. There it will be further transformed into one of many space stations to provide safe stopovers on the long lonely transits within the Solar System.

Two bibliographic connections. Andy Libby is not only an attractive if awkward personality, he is that rare bird, a lightning calculator. This talent is essential to the plot, as it is to Heinlein's fine later novel, Starman Jones (1953). And we see a mature Andy Libby in the novel which I eventually recognized as a key factor in my own development as a science fiction writer, Methuselah's Children, of which the first version was serialized in Astounding Science Fiction in 1941.

At the very dawn of the Future History

"Misfit" is a short story. Its plot is simple: a coming-of-age story out in space. The fascination for an aficionado of the history of science fiction is that Robert A. Heinlein wrote this little story at the very beginning of development of the main line of his fabulous Future History series. Written over the next twenty years, in the early 1940s this series exemplified for many readers and writers what science fiction was about, and how it might be written.

At this very early stage, the Future History hadn't come into readers' view yet. But what clearly began to be visible was Heinlein's birthright of imagining the future as a very real time and place in which people actually would live. Matter-of-fact, good and bad, real as dirt, life and love and death, in a vastly enticing albeit monstrously indifferent Universe.

This tremendous gift of vividly understanding the future, as best we can from our present, properly began in Astounding Science Fiction in the early 1940s, under the editorship of John W. Campbell. Heinlein quickly became the distinctive exemplar and teacher of this great gift.

"Misfit" was there at the dawn.


© 2024 Robert Wilfred Franson

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