By Robert A. Heinlein
Published by National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped
Read by Michael Skinner
This is yet another of Heinlein’s juveniles, but as juveniles go, it is pretty good.
Max Jones is an intelligent and responsible young man who single handedly works the family farm in the Ozarks since his father is dead and his stepmother is slightly less useful than a rake in a cube farm. However, what his stepmother is good at is getting hitched or a bull lout even more useless than she is and Mister Lout (or whatever his name is) figures they can live on the all the money he will get by selling the farm. Max, on the other hand decides he has no reason to stick around, so he runs away from home, hoping to be able to enter the hereditary astrogator’s guild as the heir of his uncle. And since he hopes to be an astrogator, he carries his uncle’s books on the subject.
Along the way he runs across a hobo named Sam, who eventually robs Max of the valuable manuals. Max continues on to discover his uncle never named him as his heir but learns that Sam tried to cash in on the manuals by returning them to the guild. The guild apparently sees through Sam’s subterfuges and Max gets the money for the books, but no admittance to the guild.
Then Max runs into Sam again and for some reason I missed, he once again trusts Sam who uses Max’s money to get them both a berth on a departing spaceship. Max signs on as steward’s mate third class where among his duties is the care of various passengers’ pets. While caring for a semi-intelligent “spider puppy” he meets the owner, a pretty young woman named Ellie with whom he plays 3D chess.
One thing leads to another and through Ellie’s interference, the ships’ officers learn that Max has studied astrogation with his uncle (they learn later that he has an eidetic memory and remembers every word and number in his uncle’s manuals) and he is offered a chance to be an apprentice chartsman. Apparently in space the hereditary nature of the guilds is more flexible? It must be so, because he is soon made an apprentice astrogator instead.
Then the chief astrogator dies suddenly, and the captain screws up big time and they find themselves lost in space. They manage to locate a habitable world, where the passengers attempt to start a colony, but the local intelligent life forms take issue with that and kidnap Max and Ellie and then attack the colonists. Sam rescues the kids but is killed getting them back to the ship where all the passengers have retreated, intending to leave this new world.
Max returns to learn that the captain died in his and Ellie’s absence and when the acting astrogator destroyed the ship’s astrogation manuals and tried to illegally take command, Sam killed him, leaving Max as the only astrogator among the crew and passengers. So it is up to Max and his amazing memory to get them back to known space. Guess what happens next…
It’s a little far-fetched, but an entertaining story.
Michael Skinner does a quite acceptable job of reading this book. He has the right “Golly-gosh” note to his voice to match Max and the book in general. He also manages to put a good amount of emotion into his reading without using funny voices or accents. His performance is a good solid reading of the book and one gets the idea he respects the juvenile genre for what it is. In all his performance works very well indeed.
So, the story may stretch the reader’s credibility once in a while, but it is an interesting one nonetheless and more complex than many juveniles of its time (the early 1950’s), and Mister Skinner’s reading brings it fully to life. Even if you might normally put a juvenile aside, I think Michael Skinner’s performance might just keep you listening.