"Tunnel in the Sky" by Robert A. Heinlein

Tunnel in the SkyTunnel in the Sky by Robert A. Heinlein
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Going into this book I knew the author and the title, nothing more.

I wasn’t surprised in the beginning when it appeared as though this might go all space wizardry with worm-hole like transport to distant planets. However the story didn’t take the Tom Swift route. It turned slightly domestic as it followed the main protagonist, a teenage student named Rod Walker, from lollygagging about, to his trip through a tunnel from the east coast to his home in the southwest, dinner with his parents and sister, his school, and finally the survival assignment that would set the main stage for the novel; a weekend on an unexplored but hopefully habitable planet.

Rod is dropped off, as are numerous others, for his weekend of survival. However catastrophe leaves them stranded on the planet and soon Rod does begin encountering fellow students. His first conscious encounter, after having been mugged, is with Jack. Jack is actually the female Jackie but, it appears due to her competence, Rod never actually catches on that she is not a male. It is another student who first makes this observation.

Eventually the colony attracts others. It is here that the story takes a turn that reminded me of Lord of the Flies. However, in Tunnel in the Sky the stranded survivors attempt to avoid any sort of regression by recreating the civilization that they left behind. They form a governmental body with marriage certificates, and stabs at democracy.

The book was written in the mid-fifties and it’s hard to totally ignore the times from which it came. The women are on the cutting edge of equality when survival is questionable but expected to fall back into the traditional roles of domesticity place as conditions allow; skirts for formal square dancing and all. This isn’t a criticism; just interesting. At the time it was probably a bold step forward; today it reads like one foot stuck firmly in the door.

I did have a problem with the main character. It may be a 50’s thing but by the end of the story, in spite of being portrayed as a savior of the community, I think he’s evolved into a whiney, who- gives-a-damn hindrance to the colony. For reasons that aren’t logical he decides against his proposal of moving to a safer, defensible area. When rescue does happen he acts the sullen and spoiled, like a dictator who enjoys the illusion that he was overwhelmingly elected.

In the end this is a well-written, sometimes exasperating book. The characters are observed and recorded but motivations weren’t , at least to me, very clear. Lately, I find , that I prefer books that are more involving yet able to avoid crossing the line into navel gazing. Three stars seem fair. This is a good book, but not one that I’ll be thinking about much after this review..

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