Thanks to yesterday’s northeastern Snowmageddon, I was able to plow through a re-read of Heinlein’s Double Star. In short: More than 50 years past initial publication, this Hugo Award Winner holds up and remains an enjoyable read.*
Most of its endurance can be explained by the book’s focus on one character, the Great Lorenzo Smythe, rather than on the technology around him. Smythe is a down on his luck actor, sitting in a bar, hoping to hustle some credits out of a stranger. In walks Dak Broadbent, a spacer who eventually makes Smythe an offer he can’t refuse — an acting challenge that will keep a potential human/martian war from igniting.
Acting — in the actual past and in Heinlein’s imagined future — is not a tech heavy profession. While the modes of experiencing performances have changed, the basic tools will always remain the same. Acting is about what an actor can do with her body, her voice and her brain that drives the character. Even James Cameron will cop to this.**
The world against which Smythe exists is simply but thoroughly painted by Heinlein, as he does so well. Mars, Venus, the Moon all have major human settlements. On Mars, the humans are working to co-exist with the Martians, who are easily recognized as the same Martians from 1961’s Stranger in a Strange Land. There are futuristic breathing apparatuses and physics-defying space ships. Again, Heinlein, like so many writers of his era, failed to predict cell phones. And, again, a cell phone would have greatly changed bits of the plot.
Heinlein’s knee-jerk heteronormativity shows up here, too. When Broadbent invites Smythe to a hotel in order to discuss the job at hand, Smythe muses, “You don’t pick up a stranger in a bar and then insist that he come to a hotel room — well, not one of the same sex, at least.” Indeed.
Because Double Star is about Smythe’s journey from self-absorbed prig into a fully functional Heinleinian human, all of the moments like these that signal the book’s age don’t feel nearly as important as what Heinlein does to his character. Double Star is Smythe’s book. Even the standard Heinleinian didactic rants — here focused on the usefulness of politics and ethics — flow seamlessly into the narrative as Smythe ponders his ideals rather than jut out like awkwardly inserted lecture clumps.
Which isn’t to say that Heinlein doesn’t opine about some of his favorite topics, just that said opines*** are organically integrated. Like this one, which is part of a speech Smythe gives in a press conference:
“Let us protect our own — but let us not be seduced by fear and hatred into foolish acts. The stars will never be won by little minds; we must be as big as space itself.”
Fifty years on, we still forget this. Will we have a better grasp of the concept fifty years on?
* Somehow, Jo Walton and I are on a similar rereading kick
. And the laughable “modern” technology — like vacuum tubes and robot diaper changers — as well as the unsettling relationship factors Walton finds in The Door Into Summer
are entirely absent in Double Star
, which helps keep a modern reader from being thrown out of the story as violently.
** I am now seized by a compulsion to re-read Varley’s The Golden Globe
, if only to see how he approached the actor’s craft.
*** It is too a word, just maybe not when used this way.