Quill and Quire

REVIEWS

« Back to
Book Reviews

Variable Star

by Robert A. Heinlein, Spider Robinson

With Variable Star, B.C. science fiction writer Spider Robinson (author of the cult favourite Callahan series) picks up the reins to complete a “new” Robert A. Heinlein novel, 18 years after the death of the master.

In 1955, Heinlein filled at least eight pages and 14 index cards with an outline and notes for a new story, which he then filed away. The first seven of those pages, and the index cards, were recently discovered, and in 2003 Robinson was asked to write that story using Heinlein’s notes.

Graduating from a junior college in 2268, Joel Johnston and his girlfriend Jinny Hamilton have their entire lives ahead of them. Dreams of a future together are broken when Joel discovers that Jinny is not all that she appears, and he takes the irrevocable step of signing on to homestead a planet 80 light-years away. The far-reaching consequences of both Jinny’s secret and Joel’s departure will follow him as he meets up with a cast of unmistakably Heinleinesque characters on a 20-year voyage aboard the RSS Sheffield.

The early pages of Variable Star are slowed down by an immense amount of information, setting the scene in excruciating detail. As the story progresses, and the setting departs from the strained descriptions of a futuristic Earth, however, it becomes a compelling read, moving in directions that are not in the least bit expected. The well-developed characters are recognizable types from both authors’ ouevres, and the work as a whole synthesizes the strengths of both writers, while avoiding some of their liabilities.

Both authors, for example, have favoured a first-person point of view in their works, and that tradition is continued here. Robinson avoids Heinlein’s tendency, common in his later works, to launch into proselytizing sermons. The combination works – it is impossible to discern where Heinlein’s notes leave off and Robinson’s own plot takes over. Throughout, Heinlein’s style and philosophies remain clear, and it is apparent that Robinson is honouring his own master with this work.