Book review: Tunnel in the Sky by Robert Heinlein
I was a big fan of Heinlein’s juvenile novels when growing up – I’m still a big fan of them now – and I have kept my collection neatly lined up on a shelf over the years, occasionally dipping into favourites. My favourite is probably Have Space Suit, Will Travel, but Starman Jones runs it close.
Anyway, I’d not read Tunnel in the Sky for a long time, so I picked it up for a re-read (my edition dates from 1978 when it cost 60p!). In the end, I found it slightly disappointing. Tunnel in the Sky has all Heinlein’s usual virtues of tight writing and an apparently effortless evocation of a future Earth society, but it also showed some of the vices that were later to dominate his work: notably the tendency to use a novel as a showcase for his political and philosophical ideas. So what is basically a SF Swiss Family Robinson becomes an essay on ideal forms of government, complete with compulsively verbose older authority figure (although, on rereading Swiss Family Robinson, it also featured a compulsively verbose older authority figure, the father, so maybe Heinlein pinched this constant character from a Swiss pastor. Sounds unlikely, but stranger things have happened). Of course, being early Heinlein, it doesn’t lose the story completely, far from it, but if Churchill had, by some chance, reviewed 1950s science fiction he might have decided that it would have benefited from less jaw jaw and more war war.