Variable Star
Robert A. Heinlein & Spider Robinson

Hold the phones, stop the presses – Robert Heinlein is writing new novels from beyond the grave!

Well, technically, it's a collaboration, but Variable Star by Robert A. Heinlein and Spider Robinson reads like a Heinlein novel, and delivers everything you could want from a book written by two of the greatest writers of modern science fiction.

Set in the not-too-distant future, just a little while past Heinlein's Crazy Years period, the protagonist is a young musician (saxophone) and composer named Joel Johnston.  Joel's pride and stubbornness (and a whirlwind series of events) cause him to book passage on a colony ship destined to become the Earth's 20th colony, on a planet 85 light-years away from everything he held near and dear to his heart.  The novel is as much about humanity, kindness, love, music, and hope as it is about the Joel's experiences on his voyage to the stars.

The novel feels like a Heinlein juvenile, and for good reason.  During the period that Robert A. Heinlein was writing his juveniles, he put together a very dense-but-unfinished outline of eight typed pages and fourteen 3×5" index cards of extensive handwritten notes about Variable Star.  And then, for some reason, he never wrote the novel and instead put them in a desk drawer, where they sat undiscovered until members representing his estate went through all of his works, and in 2003 asked Spider Robinson to turn the outline into a full novel.

Spider Robinson, first called "the new Robert Heinlein" by the New York Times Book Review in 1982, eagerly accepted the challenge to turn the outline into a novel that would make the Grand Master proud.  He managed to follow faithfully in the classic model of a Heinlein Space Opera, complete with RAH's own trademark phrases and quips.  Yet Robinson also poured his own life and soul into the story, bringing about a depth to the characters and scenes that only Spider Robinson could dream up.  Although he restrained himself somewhat compared to other of his novels (like his Callahan series), Robinson still managed to sprinkle a liberal dose of puns throughout the story – but rarely, if ever, do they appear to be puns for punning's sake.

Readers should be aware that Robinson does bring a bit of the contemporary to the stereotypical '50s style of Heinlein's earlier works.  There are some references to sex & drugs, and some minor profanity that you wouldn't expect if the novel was solely authored by Heinlein.  However, these are not very graphic at all, and I would say the book is a safe read for anyone 13 years and older.

This book is a fantastic read that kept me up way too late for many nights in a row until I devoured it from cover to cover.  As a long-time fan of both authors, I could not think of a more enjoyable story to cap off Heinlein's long writing career.  This is a definite must-read for anyone who is a fan of Robert A. Heinlein's books, and fans of one of Heinlein's greatest students will not be disappointed with Spider Robinson's latest creation, either.

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