Monday, September 11, 2017

Double Star

Continuing with my exploration of classic science fiction I've missed, I've tackled Double Star, by Robert A. Heinlein. Written in 1956, it won the first Hugo award for Heinlein, who'd go on to accumulate a large handful. Surprisingly, Heinlein manages to make "one of the oldest plots in literature" engaging and entertaining. It's essentially a political thriller with a strong sub-theme of what it means to be who you are (as opposed to someone else). At what point does pretense become reality? The hero of the story, an actor who goes by the self-aggrandizing title The Great Lorenzo, is recruited (more like blackmailed) by a spaceman who works undercover for Bonfarte, a politician who is currently out of power but very popular. Lorenzo despises him, because Bonfarte wants to give the vote to native Martians (the solar system is dominated by humans). A thorough racist, Lorenzo has a deep revulsion for Martians. Nevertheless, he finds himself impersonating the great man, who has been kidnapped so he'll miss an important political event, ending his career. Lorenzo manages to navigate important parts of the political campaign, and slowly, over time, becomes a believer, especially when Bonfarte is returned, broken by the trauma of his kidnapping. He eventually dies, leaving Lorenzo to take on his role permanently. How this all plays out I'll save for a surprise. I've not read much Heinlein, and I like this one better than some of the other stuff I've read. If there was a way to combine a hippie and a fascist I think it might be something like him. But Heinlein's reputation is certainly deserved. This book was controversial when it came out - mainly because of the emphasis on whether the Martians should have the right to vote, and the author's clear belief that they should. When you remember this was written in 1950s America, it's easy to see what Heinlein is really talking about, and his readers would have certainly recognized it. Social implications are mostly buried, however, in what is at heart a simple, rousing space-opera-type thriller.