Double Star is now the earliest novel by Robert Heinlein that I have read. It shows it too. Winning the third ever Hugo for Best Novel, Double Star is the first of many of Heinlein’s books that I will be reading. I found Double Star to be as compelling as anything else I have read by Heinlein, though it seems underdeveloped and more a good idea than a great novel.
Conceited indeed! Aside from a cold appreciation of my own genius I felt that I was a modest man.
Released in 1956, Double Star plays off of the main idea of The Man in the Iron Mask. The novel’s main character, Lorenzo the Great, is a not-so-great and out of work actor who ends up having to play the role of one of the galaxy’s most prominent politicians who has been kidnapped in secret by a rival political operation. The politician, John Bonaforte, is on the verge of forming a lasting piece with the aliens that inhabit Mars, a peace that could move mankind one step closer toward the stars and bring in yet another civilization to its confederation of planets.
The setting is science fiction, but Double Star‘s plot and characters rely less on the trappings of the genre. Instead, it functions more as a political drama with an atypical scenario. Lorenzo is a man trapped in an impossible situation. His peers are the advisers to politicians, the team that make up the singular political force, and without the appearance of a figurehead their power is lost. Lorenzo initially has his arm pulled into the situation, but he grows more and more into the character. While he doesn’t truly embrace his role until the novel’s conclusion, it is clear throughout that he feels no means to escape from his current role without serious consequences.
Worst of all, a man is not a single complexity; he is a different complexity to every person who knows him …
The novel works best as a character drama. It would have dragged had it been any longer, but Heinlein wrote this at the perfect length for his audience. The prologue in my version talked about he approached many actors for research in crafting his novel. It shows in the believability of the character of Lorenzo the Great, but the story felt skeletal. There’s political intrigue, the personal conflict of being someone who are not, and the like, but it is one of the more passive novels I have read in recent memory.
I spent more time laughing at the science fiction elements of the story than I did appreciating them. For example:
“Penny had led me on what she called a shortcut through the Archives—miles on miles of endless files, each one chockablock with microfilm and all of them with moving belts scooting past them so that a clerk would not take all day to fetch one file”
As it has been with every Hugo book thus far, I love how out-of-date these once futuristic stories are. Heinlein’s world in Double Star is almost no different from the actual world of the 1950’s, give or take a few fantasies about traveling through other planets or the additional problem of aliens on Venus and Mars. It is pure fantasy.
What isn’t fantasy is the amount of political philosophy Heinlein injects into the story. Yes, Double Star is a novel about political intrigue first and foremost, but the way Heinlein so breezily handles matters of state intrigue was a real treat for me. My favorite Heinlein novel is The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress which features a rebellion on the moon. I may not always agree with his politics, but Heinlein knew how to wax philosophic enough to create realistic governments and worthwhile commentaries on their effectiveness in his novels.
“My opponent,” Bonforte had said with a rasp in his voice, “would have you believe that the motto of the so-called Humanity Party, ‘Government of human beings, by human beings, and for human beings,’ is no more than an updating of the immortal words of Lincoln. But while the voice is the voice of Abraham, the hand is the hand of the Ku Klux Klan. The true meaning of that innocent-seeming motto is ‘Government of all races everywhere, by human beings alone, for the profit of a privileged few.’
On the whole, Double Star was a breezy read and a great example of Heinlein before he was fully developed into the author I better know him as. I would not say it is especially good however. There’s not exceptional or unique about its premise. The characters and the setting are all likeable enough but lack development.
Double Star is worth more than two stars, but I imagine I will forget it just as quickly as I read it.
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