Can the award-winning science fiction novels of the past actually still be worth reading several decades later? Do they have messages, technology, and characters that are pertinent in modern society? Have I just been reading rehashed versions of past award-winners? There's only one way to find out...
read and review the Hugo, Nebula, and Locus award-winning novels.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Double Star by Robert A. Heinlein

Double Star, by Robert A. Heinlein, was published in 1956 and was the 3rd Hugo Award winner. It's set in a space-faring future, and native Martians are an important part of the story--if you can accept that as just a quaint pre-space-travel idea, and move on, there's not much about the story or the technology that's jarring.

The basic concept of the novel--body double is hired to stand in for a political figure--has been used by others, both before and after Heinlein. In 1894, author Anthony Hope used it as the basis for his novel The Prisoner of Zenda, which has spawned an endless parade of homages and adaptations over the years. In 1993, Kevin Kline starred in the movie "Dave", which used the same set-up.

By putting an actor in the role of body double, Heinlein made a larger statement than if he'd used a tourist or a temp agency owner. Heinlein's overall statement in the book is that the only thing separating an actor from a politician is that the politician believes strongly about something other than himself. Near the end of the story, in fact, one of his political characters comes right out and says that his job "could be done just as well by any second-rate actor."

In the days before President Ronald Reagan and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, this must have been a radical concept. Today, it seems darn-near self-evident. Put that politician in front of a camera with a slide show, Al Gore-style, and he becomes a second-rate actor again. Huh!

This wasn't the first time I'd read this book, and probably won't be the last. Despite Heinlein's clear sexism--which I've come to accept with a chuckle over the years--I enjoy his characters and how he writes them. The characterization in this book is even deeper than in most of his other writing, and it adds a lot to what otherwise might have been a lightweight read. Rating: 5/5

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