Manny's Reviews > Double Star

Double Star by Robert A. Heinlein
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Feb 13, 2009

really liked it
bookshelves: science-fiction

Brian Aldiss, in Trillion Year Spree, says this is Heinlein's most enjoyable novel. Who am I to fault his judgment? It is, indeed, a lot of fun: pathetic, failed actor Laurence Smith (stage name, "Lorenzo Smythe") is hired to impersonate John Joseph Bonforte, leader of the Expansionist party, and the Solar System's most important politician. Bonforte has been kidnapped, and for complicated reasons there is an appointment he must attend; no excuse will be acceptable if he fails to turn up on time.

So Smythe is drafted in, proceeds to learn Bonforte's mannerisms and background story, and starts his unusual new job. The first public appearance goes fine, and no one suspects a thing. Then he has to do another one, and then yet another. Pretty soon he's living Bonforte's life for him. I don't want to give away too much of a fun plot, but the basic message is that politicians, even good ones like Bonforte, are fakes. Any halfway competent actor with a few weeks of prep time could step into their shoes, and they would do just as well.

I think Heinlein was unusually prescient here. When he wrote it, remember that there was no Reagan or Schwarzenegger. And even now, the book has some punch left. Politics is less and less about ideas, more and more about appearances; you need a good script, and the ability to project your character in a convincing way. For a couple of weeks in 2008, it looked like Sarah Palin had a decent shot at becoming Vice President (and maybe, later, President), largely on the strength of her "hockey mom" persona. It now seems that that was largely a construct, but I believed it at the time, even though I didn't like it.

In England, it appears that we're going to get David Cameron as our next Prime Minister. He's a Conservative, and he's campaigning on a platform of helping the poor and the environment; it's difficult to believe it's any more honest than Dubya's "compassionate conservatism". But that's not the important thing. He interprets the role imaginatively, and he looks convincing; if this were the Oscars, I'd be tipping him for a statuette, and most voters are viewing the election in pretty much that way. Heinlein had a point.

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Reading Progress

Started Reading
January 1, 1971 – Finished Reading
February 13, 2009 – Shelved
February 16, 2009 – Shelved as: science-fiction

Comments (showing 1-1 of 1) (1 new)

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message 1: by David (new)

David Katzman quite accurate. Politics is also performative in the sense that it's much more about rhetoric than action. Say one thing, do another. Or quite often, do the opposite. "Clean coal" "Welfare reform." It's all about positioning.


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