Title: Tunnel in the Sky
Author: Robert A. Heinlein
Publisher: Pocket Books (New York), 1955
Robert Heinlein’s ninth juvenile, Tunnel in the Sky proposed another alternative for space travel: energy tunnels. At the time science fiction writers loved the idea of someone coming along and taking Einstein’s theories and standing them on their head and Heinlein was no exception to this. The idea of using energy gates to move without moving became a big hit for many authors.
Like all of Heinlein’s juveniles it is a coming of age story concerning Robert Walker a senior in high school who is taking his final in Advanced Survival where the school drops participants off on a semi-hostile world and expects the students to survive for seven to ten days. In this particular case a planet in a different part of the galaxy. Robert soon finds himself along with his classmates and others from other schools, including college students, trapped on this world with no expectation of recovery. What follows is a tale of survival, primitive society and human beings overcoming great challenges to create a small civilization. After a couple years, the group is rescued and the greatest choice Robert has to make is to stay or leave.
Technologically, the book is a contrast between the great advances in technology that make such trips possible and the primitive technology of a colony of young people stuck on a world with no support where everything requires great effort to create and maintain.
Sociologically, Heinlein begins to hint at the difficulties of governments that become too bureaucratic, how primitive societies evolve and the necessity of freedom for survival. There are other elements as he hints at sex for the first time with older kids getting married and needing honeymoon cottages as well as making a little light fun at how much resources it would take to make clothing that could be put to other uses. Scribner’s (the first publisher Heinlein worked with) did not seem to have problems with this one, although it was at this time Heinlein expressed his grief over having to work with them.
Stylistically, this is one of his better juveniles as it has some great descriptive language and yet is a pretty straightforward story. Not to say it does not have any plot twists or turns, it does and they are brilliant. Heinlein’s characters are realistic as always, They argue, make fun of each other and have joy and sadness. We see another strong female character in this book but in the end the 1950s chivalry wins out a lot.
Rating: 3 and a half stars. A good simple story that addresses some basic issues of survival on an alien world. It has a good central character and some entertaining stuff. Not one of Heinlein’s best, but I would say a good read.