Book Review: Double Star, Robert Heinlein (1956)

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3/5 (Average)

Winner of the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 1956

I’ve never been blown away by Heinlein — twenty-five Heinlein novels later, the trend continues (well, I must admit, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress was very good).  Supposedly deserving of the 1956 Hugo Award for Best Novel, Double Star is a passable, lighthearted, political adventure story albeit with a pretty interesting main character — Lawrence Smith (“The Great Lorenzo”).

The Plot (Spoilers!)

The actor Lawrence Smith is drinking his last money away in a bar when a spaceman enters and attempts to hire him for a suspicious job.  Smith initially refuses but is cajoled into assisting — eventually they viciously kill some Martians who try to stop them (an aspect of the story which is never fully explained since all the other Martians are really nice).

Slowly the extent of the job is revealed to Smith — impersonate the prominent expansionist politician John Joseph Bonforte who’s been kidnapped by his political enemies!  Smith doesn’t agree with Bonforte’s politics and hates Martians — Bonforte on the other hand is palls with the strange fission creatures and their stinky smells and half-brained children.  This doesn’t jive with the job he must perform as Bonforte — a speech to the Martians so he can join their hive and eventually make them full citizens of the Earth Empire!  Some hypnosis so Martians smell suddenly like perfume and before long Smith’s internalized all the mannerism and traits of Bonforte.  The plot thickens and Smith slowly is forced to win Bonforte’s elections since the real politician’s been temporarily mind-wiped…  A visit to the Earth Emperor (A Constitutional Monarch) and his toy trains on the Moon spells potential disaster!  Will he be caught?  Will the real Bonforte recover (nope!)?

My Thoughts

Since Heinlein has “The Great Lorenzo” tell his tale in first-person the transformation from an irrationally racist egotistical actor into Bonforte himself is well done and we get some interesting insights about his character.  However, since the novel abruptly stops when Smith has to actually become Bonforte at all times the ‘who am I actually’ question is never explored in much detail.  However, this is a fun adventure with unbelievably silly aliens, dumb emperors with no power playing with trains….

I think Heinlein realized that describing Martians is a futile endeavor — hence they are but a back story here and even less of a back story in Stranger in a Strange Land.  Also, what starts out as an adventure story quickly turns into a turgid political ‘let’s win the election story.’  If only Heinlein buckled down and decided to be serious — the Smith/Bonforte character deserves a better backdrop (especially since all the the other characters in the novel are interchangeable and dull).  I remain unimpressed.  If you like Heinlein, pick it up — it in no way belongs in the ranks of Heinlein’s best despite its awards…

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9 thoughts on “Book Review: Double Star, Robert Heinlein (1956)”

  1. Wow! You’ve been busy posting while I was away!

    Reading Heinlein has always been a problem for me. His reputation is so big. (As you say, he got a Hugo for this one.) So, even if the novel is quite good, it’s hard for the book to match his rep’.

    A while back, I read “Space Cadet,” also an early work, mostly for the title’s now humorous connotations. I won’t review it here, because I may post about it, though the cover isn’t special. When you see it, you’ll say ” Huh? That looks ALMOST EXACTLY like the cover to ‘Double Star!'”

  2. I love this cover! SO much better than the crummy 1950s one. Which is still interesting….

    But yes, I have some series problems with Heinlein… I still can’t say I like Stranger in a Strange Land (I even read the uncut version) or even The Moon is a Harsh Mistress…. I guess his portrayal of women really bothers me.

  3. Can you remember a single worthwhile (not cardboard boring) female character from any of his novels? Maybe the lady in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress…. They all seem the same, boring and one dimensional.

      1. Thanks for visiting! I’ve read close to 25 of Heinlein’s novels (most a few years back, loved him as a kid).

        I found Friday to be a rather awful late stage Heinlein (bloated, self-indulgent, narcissistic)… I definitely prefer his earlier works. I found Double Star to be a lackluster experience….

  4. I’m going to disagree here. Heinlein has always b een a favorite for me. His Tunnel In The Sky was my introduction to SF when I was about eleven or twelve. I found it in the school library and gorged myself on those juveniles.

    His stuff near the end of his life dragged a bit, at least for me. Overall, he ranks among my favorites. Different strokes I guess.

  5. I definitely understand his appeal. Did you like Farnham’s Freehold? I’m somewhat partial to that work (despite its prevalent flaws) because I love stories about fallout shelters.

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