Friday, July 15, 2016

Adventure classics – Cain and Abel among the stars

Time for the Stars

by Robert A. Heinlein

Tom Bartlett and his mind-reading identical twin Pat knew only one of them could board the spaceship Lewis and Clark for a voyage in search of new Earth-like planets for humanity to colonize. By the terms of their contract with the Long Range Federation in Robert Heinlein’s 1956 Time for the Stars, one twin of each of the pairs selected for the project would have to stay home of Earth to provide a faster than light speed) simultaneous telepathic information link as the spaceship neared another solar system.

Although each young man insisted he was eager to go to space, Pat was the one chosen. So when he sustained an injury before the launch that prevented him from going into space, Tom was thrilled to take his brother’s place. Or wasn’t he?

He must be worried about his brother’s condition, he tells himself. But after Pat is cured by a surgical procedure (during which Tom is telepathically present) he can’t shake his feelings of unease.

“. . . I should have had the world by the tail,” Tom muses, “for I had everything I wanted. Somehow it did not work that way. Before (Pat) was hurt, I had known why I was down in the dumps: it was because he was going and I wasn’t. After he was hurt, I felt guilty because I was getting what I wanted through his misfortune. . . So I should have been happy once he was well again.”

However, what is apparent to the ship’s doctor, as well as anyone else who knows the brothers, is, “that you don’t like your brother. . . you have been told from birth that you love him. Siblings always ‘love’ each other; that is a foundation of our civilization, like Mom’s apple pie. People usually believe anything that they are told early and often. Probably a good thing they believe this one, because brothers and sisters often have more opportunity and more reason to hate each other than anyone else. . .”

It's a truism as old as the Bible's story of those very first brothers, Cain and Abel.

As William Shatner writes in Leonard, his memoir of fellow Star Trek cast member Leonard Nimoy, the bonds holding the show together were not the science fiction, but the relationships between the crew.

And in Heinlein’s pre-Star Trek vision, it is the relationships between the characters even more than their adventures in a starship that hold readers’ interest, even after the 60 years that have passed since Time for the Stars first saw print. The claustrophobically close relationships between the 200 crew members aboard the Lewis and Clark (LC or Elsie, as the ship is affectionately known), as well as the family members they have left behind (and in some cases are still telepathically linked to) that make Time for the Stars still relevant.

This shipboard camaraderie and antipathy wasn’t new to Heinlein, who served on board several ships as a U.S. Navy officer from his graduation in 1929 from Annapolis until receiving a disability discharge in 1934.

He had received a bachelor’s degree in naval engineering. He later took additional classes in mathematics and physics without obtaining any further degree, and held a variety of jobs, including unsuccessful dabbling in politics, before he began writing.

And – he had a brother with the successful military career Heinlein might have hoped for. Or did he?

(Next Friday, Adventure classics continues a July of science fiction with Tom Bartlett’s revenge on his grabby twin, in Robert Heinlein’s Time for the Stars.)

No comments:

Post a Comment