Citizen of the Galaxy
By Robert A. Heinlein
Published by Blackstone Audio Books
Read by Lloyd James
This was originally published as one of Heinlein’s juveniles, but it has some pretty heavy themes for a book intended as a juvenile.
We first meet Thorby as he is being auctioned off on the slave block on a distant planet. He is a young boy who does not remember anything about himself or his past save for his name and having been bought and sold by several slave owners. He is not prime merchandise by any means and at first no one wants to buy him, threatening to hold up the auction. He is eventually purchased by a crippled beggar called Baslim, mostly using the fund of a rich bystander whose main motive is to get Thorby off the block in order to make room for more desirable merchandise.
It very quickly becomes apparent that Baslim is more than just a beggar, but just how much more it takes the entire book to learn. He guides young Thorby, training him not only to be a beggar, but a keen observer and with a fair home-schooled education. One day, however, Thorby returns home to find Baslim has been arrested and killed and that he must get off the planet or suffer the same fate. Fortunately Baslim had a plan he had been coaching Thorby in and Thorby, bright young man that he is, manages to use it and thereby join a ship of “Free Traders.”
The Free Traders are an independent culture of space farers whose ships’ crews are each an extended matriarchal family. Thorby is adopted by the captain, thereby assuring a place of good status on board this ship, Sisu, but Sisu is not Thorby’s ultimate home. The story continues until Thorby’s true identity is discovered and he grows into his rightful position.
Written for kids (or teens, perhaps)? Yes, I suppose, but this is a well-crafted story that should hold an adult’s attention and interest. Heinlein not only cobbles up a complex and logical plot line, he invents many good characters and future cultures. There is little of the classic “Hey son, let’s build a spaceship and go to Venus this weekend” juvenile SF to this story. It has serious adult themes that do not simply resolve themselves without hard work on the parts of the characters and, indeed, by the end, Thorby understands that to truly achieve his goals he will have to devote his entire life to them.
This is a great story and it is a shame we do not have many more like it.
Lloyd James has read quite a few of Robert Heinlein’s novels and for the most part I enjoy his reading. He delights in using his vocal skills to present a wide variety of accents and vocal mannerisms and generally I like his choices. Some of the minor characters in this book sound like he was really stretching for a unique voice when perhaps that was not necessary.
However, the more major characterizations are well chosen and fun to listen to, Mister James provides a fine reading most of the time and if an accent jars a bit here and there, it is never so jarring as to ruin the book and also never lasts too long. Besides, most of the time his performance enhances the story, which, of course, is his job.
So this is a really good story. Perhaps it is not as sophisticated as it might be, but it has Heinlein’s clear and readable style with a good story and more than just a simple, one-dimensional plot line. Lloyd James delivers his usual good performance making this is definitely one worth listening to.