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REVIEW: Farmer in the Sky by Robert A. Heinlein

REVIEW SUMMARY: A fun read from a master of SF.


BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Bill and his dad emigrate to Ganymede to join its colonization efforts.


PROS: Excellent sense-of-wonder story loaded with science; quick read.

CONS: One or two slow parts in the middle.

BOTTOM LINE: Excellent novel.

Bill Lermer is a teenager who lives with his dad, George, on an overpopulated Earth. When George decides to move to a space colony on Ganymede, one of Jupiter’s moons, Bill tags along. Bill soon learns that living in a fledgling space colony is not for the faint of heart. After making the dangerous trip out to the moon (my favorite part of the book), he is met with unexpected hardships and tasked with the difficult chore of starting the family farm.

The first thing that impressed me about this book was the clear, concise and straightforward writing style of Robert A. Heinlein. Heinlein manages to create a swiftly moving story (except for on or two spots in the middle when the farm is just getting started) infused with real science and some made-up, but believable, science too. And he manages to do all of this within relatively few pages. No small feat, that. You really get a feel for what living on a space colony might be like through the trials and tribulations experienced by the colonists. (Reading this story, by the way, has (1) Reminded me of how well David Gerrold captured this style in his Dingillian Family series. (2) Paved the way for reading Gregory Benford’s unauthorized prequel, Project Jupiter Jupiter Project .)

Along the way, there are lots of off-the-cuff sf creations that lend to the world he is creating, like calorie rationing on an over-populated Earth and ‘copter-driving Boy Scouts. And it’s always interesting to me to see a pre-manned space flight perspective (in this case, from 1950) on space travel and outer space.

Farmer in the Sky is targeted at a younger audience (so-called juvenile sf). As such, the young main character, Bill, undergoes a rite of passage into adulthood. Bill must learn to deal with responsibility and gain independence if he is to survive, let alone become an adult. All of the characterizations are well done and the situations the characters face are realistic and dramatic. The worst I could say about any characterizations was that George seemed a bit too much like perfect dad Mike Brady. He never got mad, even when the situation would have made it understandable. But that’s only a minor nit.

This was a fun read. Farmer in the Sky is a fine example of why Heinlein is considered a master.

[NOTE: A Farmer in the Sky glossary can be found at the Heinlein Concordance website.]

About John DeNardo (13012 Articles)
John DeNardo is the Managing Editor at SF Signal and a columnist at Kirkus Reviews. He also likes bagels. So there.

6 Comments on REVIEW: Farmer in the Sky by Robert A. Heinlein

  1. Good review, but where did you get the bit about Benford’s “Jupiter Project” (not “Project Jupiter”) being an unauthorized prequel? As I recall, Benford’s book was more a early version of the themes he explored in “Against Infinity” and much expanded in the quintet of “Galactic Center” books (now being re-released in a new unified edition with glorious covers).

    I’ve been lucky enough to find all of the RAH young adult novels (which I prefer to that other term) in hardcover, except for “Starship Troopers”. I love the original artwork. Great books that I’ve read and re-read endlessly. Heinlein got me into another collecting bit–slidrules, inspired by Kip in “Have Starship”, the twins in “Rolling Stones” and Max Jones in “Starman Jones” (probably my favorite of these books).

    You’re right about the Gerrold books–he does a good job of capturing the look/feel. There are a few other author’s who have managed to capture Heinlein’s “voice”–I can think of Michael Flynn (the “Firestar” books), Allen Steele (his stories about near-future exploration/exploitation of space) and a few others off the top of my head.

    One interesting publishing effort was from Tor Books–the “Jupiter” books. Most of the titles were by Charles Sheffield, but there was one by James Hogan, a co-written effort by Sheffield and Pournelle (that captured the Heinlein “voice” pretty well). The series lasted one or two years, but there was one Pournelle book that came out that had the cover style of the series, and was originally supposed to be part of the series (“Starswarm”).

    If I recall correctly, the Gerrold books were suppose to be part of the series, and they did come out from Tor, so that’s good enough for me. Fun books.

    On the other hand, the man who is slated to expand/finish a Heinlein novel found after Heinlein’s death–Spider Robinson–is pretty erratic. Sometimes I think he gets it, most of the times he doesn’t get the “voice”.

  2. D’oh! Darn these late night reviews!

    Yes, Benford’s book is indeed called Jupiter Project. The prequel comment comes from Amazon, where the first review supposedly comes from Benford (I am assuming it is actually Benford. If it’s on the Internet, it must be true!). He calls Farmer in the Sky both an hommage and a “prequel”. He also cites Against Infinity as a follow up to Jupiter Project.

  3. Read the comment/review, I think it is Benford. But see the quote marks around “prequel”. I would put it more in the hommage department; a prequel in spirit, but not in the literal timeline of the “Farmer in the Sky” universe.

  4. I’m likely to believe it’s Benford as well since the rating is zero stars, a hopefully humble gesture.

  5. Thought of a couple more “young adult” SF novels that might be worth a look.

    Clarke, Arthur C.: Islands in the Sky–recently re-read this, and was interested to see that it is a sequel (or at least in the same universe) as Clarke’s “The Sands of Mars”. Don’t know if it is still in print, but second hand copies ought to be easily found.

    Pournelle, Jerry:

    Exiles to Glory–same universe as the stories in “High Justice”, but more of a YA book. Young man emigrates to the asteroid belt to escape a depressing early 70’s-style US. Similar themes to the Sheffield/Purnelle “Higher Education” that I previously mentioned.

    Birth of Fire–another YA novel from Pournelle. Young man (seeing a theme here?) is convicted of a gang-war related crime and is sent to a prison on Mars, where he eventually gets involved in a revolution. You could think of it as a simplified version of “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress” (Heinlein).

    I’m sure I’ll eventually come up with more titles, but on the theme of “books similar to Heinlein’s YA novels”, those were what I came up with…

  6. Thanks for the recommendations. SciFan’s awesome database has a comprehensive list of Young Adult SF.

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