The Star Beast
by Robert A. Heinlein
 

Review by
Robert Wilfred Franson

as Star Lummox (abridged)
Fantasy and Science Fiction, May, June, & July 1954

Scribner's: New York, 1954
illustrated by Clifford N. Geary
282 pages
  

collected in —
To the Stars
February 2008

  

The Star Beast was first published about in the middle of Robert A. Heinlein's great run of "juvenile" science fiction novels. While enjoyable, it's rather a mixed bag structurally, and I believe this is why I've always thought it one of the weaker stories of the lot.

The titular theme is of aliens, particularly the exotic and interesting Lummox, who is about as big as an Army tank when we first meet him, hungry and lovable as your favorite pet and about as damaging and indestructible as that tank. The novel is set entirely upon Earth, so this is definitely the Earth-centered, or even Earth-bound, viewpoint looking at strangeness.

The second theme is the adventure of teenagers Johnny Stuart and Betty Sorenson, with and for Lummox, and more or less against the authorities: the latter consisting of grown-up neighbors, the local law and city government, and the Department of Spatial Affairs.

The third theme is the political and bureaucratic and diplomatic workings of the Department of Spatial Affairs, with its interplanetary and interstellar concerns; DepSpace soon begins to notice the case of Lummox. The Permanent Under Secretary of the bureau, Henry Gladstone Kiku, and his assistant Sergei Greenberg, are the principals here, contending with the politically appointed Secretary MacClure and an interstellar translator and go-between, the medusa humanoid Dr. Ftaeml.

All the characterizations are sharp, and feel realistic. Actions and reactions of the people involved seem reasonable. But the switching among multiple viewpoints (Lummox, Johnny, Kiku, Greenberg) undermines the sense of adventure, while undoubtedly heightening the social criticism. The plot thus oscillates from near-slapstick to Kafkaesque legal entrapment to interstellar life-and-death, and around again. And what does human mean, anyway? Heinlein almost always is more sympathetic to alien lifeforms in his juveniles than his adult science fiction, and in The Star Beast he blends very well the reactions of confusion, sympathy, fear, and fascination:

"Space is deep, Excellency."
  

I say a little more about the tone of The Star Beast in my review of James Gifford's fine handbook, Robert A. Heinlein: A Reader's Companion.

So this is not an adventure story, more of a light-hearted xenobiology and legal-bureaucratic-diplomatic procedural story. Bear that in mind, and The Star Beast is quite enjoyable.

  

© 2008 Robert Wilfred Franson


  
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