Space Cadet
by Robert A. Heinlein

Review by
Robert Wilfred Franson

Scribner's: New York, 1948
illustrated by Clifford Geary
242 pages

collected in —
Four Frontiers

June 2014

"Raise Ship!"

There are interesting parallels between Robert Heinlein's second "juvenile" science-fiction novel for Scribner's, Space Cadet (1948), and the young-adult novel which ended that sequence after a dozen books when Scribner's refused to publish it, the famously controversial Starship Troopers (1959). Heinlein graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, and had, among his astoundingly wide range of interests, a lifelong concern with military training, readiness, effectiveness (societal survival), and military-civilian integration. These interests and areas of knowledge both structure and animate these two novels of Heinlein's.

I'll lay out some major points in a couple of lists, which also may serve as an introduction to Space Cadet without giving away any plot surprises.


The hero and his friends in Space Cadet and those in Starship Troopers are young men in military-academy schooling and then with adult responsibilities in action. Major virtues include bravery, patriotism, teamwork, application to learning, problem-solving.

Romance is strictly minor or off-stage.

The suspense in both novels is natural-development rather than cliff-hanger style.


Space Cadet has some background also found in Heinlein's Future History — the Space Patrol itself; Johnny Dahlquist of "The Long Watch" — so it may fairly be regarded as peripheral; however, Heinlein stated explicitly (personal communication to me) that he did not consider it part of the series.

Starship Troopers has much more political philosophy of the role of the military in and for society, and brought into practice via the nuts-and-bolts of the structural integration of the military with civilian society.

Beyond philosophy, Space Cadet's training program includes much loving and thoughtful detail about living and functioning in space and free-fall; Starship Troopers' program concentrates on infantry.

Space Cadet describes a watchful military patrolling the Solar System in peacetime; Starship Troopers describes an interstellar navy and assault infantry as swords of a society at war for its life.

Aliens in Space Cadet are potentially friendly, with individual personalities; aliens in Starship Troopers are inherently inimical, with a collective hive mentality.

Space Cadet takes a lighter tone throughout, with more humor and high-jinks, details of living in space, and adventures-in-nature; rather than substantial battle-training and deadly battles.

I don't think any reader who first had absorbed Space Cadet would have been surprised by Starship Troopers, or would be now. Each is a fascinating novel in its own right.

Bill Patterson in his excellent biography, Robert A. Heinlein: In Dialogue with His Century. Volume 1, 1907-1948: Learning Curve, discusses an alternate climax to the novel that Heinlein struggled with before rejecting; that alternative situation itself is discussed in the novel as hypothetical: less "dramatic", but far more reasonable and accurate in tone as well as suited to a "juvenile" novel.

If you've ever wondered where so many of our common presumptions about free-fall and living in space originated, you might as well start with Heinlein. In fact, a lot of it is right here in Space Cadet. A lesson aboard the Patrol's big orbital training ship:

The sergeant crouched in the air, his feet drawn up. "At the count of one," he was saying, "take the ready position, with your feet about six inches from the steel. At the count of two, place your feet firmly against the steel and push off." He shoved against the steel wall and shot into the air, still talking, "Hold the count of four, turn on the count of five —" His body drew up into a ball and turned over a half turn. "— check your rotation —" His body extended again. "— and make contact on the count of seven —" His toes touched the far wall. "— letting your legs collapse softly so that your momentum will be soaked up without rebound." He collapsed loosely, like an empty sack, and remained floating near the spot where he had landed.

Space Cadet is a fun novel. I began enjoying it when I was age eleven or so, and still do.


© 2014 Robert Wilfred Franson

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