Review: “Tunnel in the Sky” — by Robert A. Heinlein

Most of what I’ve read in the past year or so has been non-fiction (or occasionally fiction masquerading as non-fiction …), as fodder for my current events news column.

Having put aside the column recently, I found myself looking for something to read and determined to read something just for fun. My wife popped out a quote from Robert A. Heinlein over on Facebook, and I thought, “That’s the ticket. I haven’t read Heinlein in 10 years, I’ll bet.”

My first thought was to reacquaint myself with “Stranger in a Strange Land” or “Time Enough for Love” or “Starship Troopers,” some of my favorites. But once I got to the shelf, I found “Tunnel in the Sky,” a Heinlein I had not read previously. So I snatched it up.

It was worth the read. I’ll call this one “science fantasy” as opposed to “science fiction,” as there really isn’t much plausibility in the premise, which relies upon interstellar stargates that transport people and goods from one world to another instantly. Don’t let that put you off, however; Heinlein uses this set-up the same way “Star Trek” uses transporters — as a means to quickly get interesting characters into interesting places to solve interesting problems.

In this case, a group of students is sent to another world to test their survival skills and, or course, things go horribly wrong. Once the stargate plot element gets left behind, the story is much more of a wilderness drama, with political overtones.

“Tunnel” is a breezy read, told in solid if not sparkling prose (too often marred by typos in my copy). The book provides its share of Heinlein’s trademark quotable tough-talk one-liners, of course.

One thing I really liked was the way the story shifted directions; each time it seemed things were settled, Heinlein changed gears in a believable way. Heroes and villains alike are portrayed with a level of complexity that another author might not have attempted in what is essentially an action/adventure story. It could have been a simple “shoot the monsters” tale, but it ends up being something more.

Not too much more, though; the book isn’t particularly preachy or anything. It’s not quite as overtly political as “Starship Troopers,” for instance. Call it a good old-school science fantasy adventure that will leave you with some things to think about afterward, if you wish.

— Steve

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5 thoughts on “Review: “Tunnel in the Sky” — by Robert A. Heinlein

  1. Thanks. And yes, something should always go horribly wrong in a good story.

    This is one of Heinlein’s “juvenile” oriented stories, but I found it entertaining enough despite my own advanced age.

    — Steve

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  2. I ought to read that one again. It has been at least 35 years…
    I read Heinlein’s “Double Star” recently and while not a “juvenile” it was a good romp.
    -Deven

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  3. I haven’t read “Double Star.” I’ll have to see if we have that one around. Gere’s a Heinlein fan and has a bunch of the books from way back.

    Hey, did you see my previous post regarding the “Star Trek” movie? Just curious as to your thoughts on that.

    — Steve

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  4. I loved that book when I was a kid. I think I read it at least twice.

    I am glad people have blogs, as I seem to have lost your e-mail. I’ve been too busy for so long that I forgot what it was like to have time to keep track of people I valued. I am glad to see you still out there. I feel like I have my life back again. I’d really like to sit down with a big stack of Calthus stories and read ’em. How far along are you on his saga now?

    I saw your Star Trek comments. That was a great nit, and one that I hadn’t thought of. The thing that drove me crazy was the way the new writers set up the transporter to be all-powerful. Even putting aside the crazy ass warp transporter thing, which they could say couldn’t be reduplicated without future Spock, they were still beaming all the way from Saturn’s orbit to Earth. The transporter was enough of a plot problem in the original series even with the limitations they gave it. Just seemed to me like there was some lazy writing there.

    Hope you can drop me a line and let me know how things are.

    best,
    Howard

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