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The Hugo Award Novels, 3: 1956, Double Star

Posted 05-07-2009 at 12:41 PM by chexmix
Updated 06-17-2009 at 12:22 PM by chexmix

... and so we come to Robert A. Heinlein. His novel Double Star won the Hugo Award for best novel in 1956.

I had no idea what to expect from this one outside my experience of other Heinlein works. I'd never read it before. Unfortunately, my experience of other Heinlein books has been a mixed bag ...

... but maybe many, or even most people can say that. RAH was and is a controversial figure. And I'd guess that that is how he wanted it -- my impression is that on some level or other he wanted to be a gadfly. Whether he succeeded or whether the attempt was worth it is for someone else to say. I've already strayed too far from my original intent ...

... which is to provide a short review of Double Star, the novel.

I walked away from this book with a decided "that was fun, but a Hugo?" feeling. Even its plot is decidedly UN-original: a washed up (and fairly annoying) actor is swept up in a bar and signed on to "play" one of the Solar System's more famous political figures to cover up the fact that the real John Joseph Bonforte has been kidnapped by his enemies. So, Prisoner of Zenda goes to Mars. Got it!

The central character (and narrator) is nevertheless intriguing, since at the beginning of the novel he strikes me as the sort of person Robert A. Heinlein would not have liked at all. Over the course of the book he becomes less passive and more of a "can do" and "take no guff" person which is, it strikes me, the kind of person RAH did like (jeez, it is nearly impossible to discuss Heinlein's writing without bringing the man into the discussion!).

The pieces of the book that notch it up a bit from just pleasant are its decidedly odd Martians, the fact that the central character does go through quite a transformation, and the fact that Heinlein seems to have been either fairly knowledgeable about the theatre going in or, failing that, did his research while writing (I was an actor, so I can say this).

On the downside (for me) were the standard-issue Empire where humans lead by default (and who put the Dutch in charge??), the typical-for-the-time treatment of the female character, and the creeping you-should-all-be-individuals-but-only-RAH-approved-types feeling I think I cannot help at this point but get from Heinlein's books. I'll have to go back and read some of his fabulous early stuff. Things like The Number of the Beast left an awful taste in my literary mouth, and I don't know whether I'll recover.

In sum, a pleasant little read for the most part. But Heinlein did many better (I DO think that, despite the above).
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