Farmer in the Sky
By Robert A. Heinlein
Published by Books on Tape
Read by Scott Brick
I have reviewed several others of Heinlein’s juveniles. In general, They are an interesting blend of mindless entertainment with some good socio-political commentary, whether you agree with Heinlein’s views or not. This one is fairly serious fare for a Heinlein juvenile, even compared to Podkayne of Mars, and a surprisingly realistic extrapolation of pioneer life in an interplanetary venue.
It involves teenaged Bill Lerner who lives with his father (his mother died sometime earlier) who decides to emigrate from an over-populated and underfed Earth to be a farmer on Ganymede. After some misgivings, Bill insists on joining his Dad and then the other shoe drops – only married couples and their families are going to be accepted. Once again, Bill; has second thoughts, being unwilling to accept any replacement for his mother no matter the reason, but here too he eventually becomes reconciled to the new situation and eventually accepts his new family.
The story does not skip over the trip outward during which quite a bit happens (hull breach from meteor, establishment of a Boy Scout troop, classes for the kids and so forth) and then they arrive on Ganymede where it turns out not all is as the authorities on Earth claimed. Sure they could homestead any land they wanted, but there is no viable farmland available and much must be done to create land that can be farmed.
Bill’s father works in town, but Bill goes ahead to establish their claim and in the way of pioneer societies the neighbors pop in to help build the house and assist in the creation of viable land from the crushed stone. Even now not all is wonderful as Bill’s new sister is unable to adjust to the low atmospheric pressure inside a specially constructed heat shield that encases Ganymede, but they build a pressurized room for her and once more all is well until a rare conjunction of Jupiter’s moons causes a massive earthquake that both destroys their home and the heat shield. About two thirds of the Ganymede colonists die in the disaster, but the survivors pick up and move on. There’s more, but why ruin the story for you?
I think this is a very good translation of pioneer spirit in a science fiction setting and some of Heinlein’s extrapolations have proven inaccurate. For instance, that the grand alignment of Jupiter’s satellites which figures so heavily in the story can never actually happen because the orbits are such that they can never align. Also, Heinlein’s Ganymede has a volcanic surface, but in reality most of its surface is ice or frost with a sub-surface ocean, however in the early 50’s that was not known and I do not think anyone could have predicted that prior to the visits to the Jovian system by the Voyagers and other probes. However, for a story originally written in 1950 (and then expanded for a 1953 publication) it is surprisingly accurate in the science involved – certainly better than some more recent attempts.
Scott Brick provides an interesting reading of this book. There is none of the “Oh wow” or “Golly” that I have heard used by some readers when reading juvenile books, and yet I felt I could detect a touch of Bill’s innocence in Mister Brick’s voice. If he has a deficiency it is that his character voices do not differ very much. However, the story is being told in the first person and I must admit that if I accept his voice as that of Bill, then all the others are Bill mimicking their voices. If that was intentional it was very well done. Certainly he uses a broad range of emotions as he reads. When Bill is angry, he sounds angry, when he is sad or anxious there is no mistaking his mood.
So the story is one of Robert Heinlein’s better ones and perhaps the best of his early work and Scott Brick certainly brings the characters to life in a dramatic and pleasing manner. Definitely read and/or listen to this one.