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!)?
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…