I've just finished reading "Variable Star", by Spider Robinson and ... someone whose name I can't quite recall. ;-)
For those who are not familiar with the book and the background behind it, there are further details here
I understand that this caused some adverse comment on alt.fan.heinlein a while back. I wasn't following the newsgroup at the time, and I thought I'd post some initial comments here before checking out what everyone else had to say.
My initial impression of the early chapters was that Spider was trying to write something of a pastiche of RAH; he seemed to be particularly reliant on Heinlein's Greatest Hits. Phrases like "But some people play water polo, voluntarily", "Enough to dimly understand how someone with muscles of steel and infinite wind might consider it fun", "She sent me a grin that felt like it started a sunburn" and "'After dancing like that, Stinky, a couple really ought to get married'" sound like they've been directly sampled from Heinlein's oeuvre.
Later on in the book, Spider seems to allow more of his own voice into the narrative. Personally, I preferred this; it seemed more like a piece of writing in its own right, rather than someone trying to resuscitate something that had already passed on.
Character names certainly seem to be worth a mention: Jinny, as the (apparent) heroine of the story seems to be deliberately misleading; Evelyn, as a female
character, seems like a tongue-in-cheek nod to Glory Road; and the reference to Peter Kindred being both "electric and sheepish", when he first appears, seems to be less than subtle. Pat Williamson, George R. Marsden, Hal deMann - are all
the characters SF writers in disguise? (And shouldn't Perry Jarnell have married someone called, say, Norry Levin?)
There appear to be a couple of slips within the book. One that particularly stands out is the assertion that the Sheffield was able to make use of a unique eclipse of the sun by the Earth as the ship left the Solar system. However, the reason that solar eclipses are so noteworthy on Earth is that the size of the moon and the sun in the sky appear to be roughly the same, so when the former eclipses that latter, parts of the sun's outer atmosphere become visible around the edges of the moon's disc. Since the Earth is around four times the diameter of the moon, an observer would need to be approximately four times the distance from the Earth to the moon to observe a similar effect, or approximately 1.6 million miles. In order to leave the solar system, the ship would have to be something like a thousand times further away; at that distance, the Earth would be undetectable against the sun - even the sun itself would cease to have a disc visible to the naked eye.
It isn't clear where the book sits within RAH's canon. It looks like a variant of the "Future History" (aka Leslie le Croix timeline), particularly with references to the Covenant, the Prophet and the New Frontiers. However, the ending appears to place it in a seriously divergent timeline.
It has become something of a truism that science fiction is always about the time when it was written. Like a lot of received wisdom, it's frequently rubbish, but there's one piece of the book where this particularly stands out as true: its handling of 9/11 and its aftermath. Not only does the author's view come down firmly on a highly debatable interpretation of what followed, but also these events almost certainly did not occur in the "Future History" timeline (given the rolling roads, sunpower screens, etc.) Still, at least his character didn't utter the words, "It was all about grabbing the ooooiiiiillllllll!!!!
On the whole, I liked this book, particularly once it started to gain its own voice. A minor plot point that is never revealed is why the young Joel Johnston bit the finger of his father's visitor - probably trivial, but it seemed intriguing enough to stick in my mind.
A more substantial point is that in the afterward, Spider reveals that of the eight or more pages of RAH's original outline, only seven survive. I'd love to know at what point RAH is cut off! (Come to think of it, the text of the outline and index cards would have been even better "DVD Special Features" than just the Afterward, alone.)
Now off to google groups to see what AFH made of it...
Tags: heinlein, spider robinson, variable star
Current Mood: curious