Sunday, 13 January 2013

Cannonball Read #01: Variable star, by Robert A. Heinlein and Spider Robinson

Yey! Let Cannonball Read number 5 begin! Even if it is with a disappointing book...
It's hard to review a book and do it justice when you've read a bad translation of it. It was such a bad translation that half the time I didn't know what was going on. I kept trying to translate it back to English so that it would make sense. It's even harder to know which parts of it were bad because of the translator and which because of the author.

Variable star is a science fiction book by Spider Robinson, who wrote it based on notes by the late Robert A. Heinlein. Joel, a struggling musician, is crazy about Jinny. She wants to marry him, but he can't bring himself to propose to her before he can earn a good enough living to start a family. Jinny, in her desperation, reveals that she's secretly the granddaughter of the richest, most powerful man in the universe, and brings Joel to grandad's hideaway to meet him. Grandad wants Joel to marry Jinny and take over the family business, a prospect that makes Joel panic, reconsider his feelings for Jinny and finally board a starship carrying 500 humans on their way to colonise a newly discovered planet.

It was an amusing enough book at times, easy to read (if it weren't for the translation issues), even captivating enough occasionally to keep me reading. However I felt that the suspense was uneven throughout the book. The middle sags, with some isolated incidents that don't seem to have anything to do with the story in general. The book's redeeming feature is its last fifty pages, where action suddenly picks up and things get interesting. My only complaint about an otherwise satisfying ending is...

Jinny suddenly turning into an evil bitch, where at the start of the novel her only crime was lying about being poor to make sure Joel loved her for who she was and not for her money. Understandable behaviour, no? Then Evelyn's significance: Joel spends little, if any, time thinking about her, and when he does think about her it is mostly as the little girl that helped him escape. But now, within two minutes of seeing her, he's fallen in love with the barely-adult Evelyn who suddenly appears before him? I had difficulty buying that. It was mildly disturbing.

I can't help feeling that the book would have benefited from cutting out some of the middle and extending the last part instead. Space travel is an exciting thematic area to explore, and I wish that Robinson would have taken more time to do that. I haven't read any books by Heinlein, so I can't tell if Robinson did him justice. All in all, an average book that I would recommend to a Heinlein or Robinson fan, or someone who wants a quick read (despite it being 350 pages long).


  1. Why would you read a Heinlein novel (even if actually written by somebody else) translated into Swedish? Heinlein is a fun writer to read (until he got old and in his dotage got extremely fascinated by nipples that crinkled, however even then some of the books are still really amusing).

    1. It was a gift! Otherwise I always try to read books in the original language (unless it's in Japanese. Or Swahili.)
      It sounds like I should give Heinlein a try, any particular book you'd recommend? :)

    2. Sorry for my really late reply. If you send me your address (joggpost to Ava) I'll send you some - trying to clean out my bookshelf and having a few hundred bad cases of separation anxiety so it would actually help me!
      Then again, if you want to read GOOD science fiction I suggest the Foundation trilogy ( by Isaac Asimov - long time now since I read it (and of course it was written in the 40's so may be somewhat outdated now) but I do not think I've read better sci-fi anywhere since!