Pvw's Reviews > Citizen of the Galaxy

Citizen of the Galaxy by Robert A. Heinlein
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Jun 17, 2011

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bookshelves: science-fiction
Read from April 23 to May 03, 2011

An earlier novel that contains a partial blueprint for Stranger in a Strange Land. Here too, we have an orphan, Thorby, who is brought up as a slave on a distant planet but turns out to be the heir of a vast corporation when he returns to Earth.

The book is a genuine plea against anti-slavery, perfectly fitting Heinlein's liberalistic and anti-authoritarian views. Being sold as a slave in the hegemony of the Nine Planets, Thorby is bought by the beggar Baslim The Cripple, who luckily brings him up like his own son. Baslim turns out to be a secret agent and he wants Thorby to deliver intelligence about the slave traders to the federation fleet. In his quest, Thorby is first picked up by the ship Sisu and adopted by the Free Traders. They deliver him to the military and on Earth he is finally reunited with his family, where he can continue Baslim's battle against slavery from the much more luxurious position as main stock holder of, among others, an interplanetary shipbuilding company.

The story has a nice pace and even if there are technicalities about shooting at raiders in a multi-dimensional approach or the nessecities for obtaining a controling majority of shares, they are explained in such an manner that they do not interfere with the overall reading pleasure.

The most interesting part acoording to me is Thorby's life among the Free Traders on their huge ship Sisu. It is a real micro-society where generations are born and spend their life. Heinlein captures this idea very well and practically invents a culture from scratch. Thorby learns their language, which contains hundreds of specific names for family relationships instead of our mere twenty. They can say things like "my aunt's (on father's side) husband's brother's second nephew's daughter" in just one word. Next to that, they consider themselves the most free people of the universe since they don't have a home planet and always travel. Their only rulebook is "The laws of Sisu", which regulates the proper decorum to observe in contact with family members and the different ranks on the ship. Their society is mainly matriarchal, with the Captain's mother as civilian head-of-state. The amount of detail to which Heinlein has worked out this micro-society is incredible. And it doesn't end there, because the trade ship comes into contact with different races on many planets and when Thorby exits the ship, the Captain explains to him all the peculiarities of each race, both on economical level as the organisation of their family structures. Now Heinlein could have perfectly written this book without inventing whole new cultures and just done away with it easily. It is to his merit though that he didn't!

An interesting adventure story, maybe somewhat abrupt in the end, but even for the part on board of the trade ship Sisu alone it is well worth a read!

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