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Double Star by Robert A. Heinlein

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message 1: by Gilbert (new)

Gilbert Stack (gilbertmstack) | 78 comments Mod
Double Star is my favorite Robert A. Heinlein novel. It’s the story of The Great Lorenzo, a down-on-his-luck actor, who gets roped into impersonating John Joseph Bonforte, the best known politician in the solar system. Bonforte has been kidnapped and as a result is about to miss his adoption into a Martian nest (the first human to be so honored). This would be considered a great impropriety by the Martians and at the very least would drastically set back human-Martian relations. The problem? Lorenzo hates Martians and just about everything that Bonforte and his Expansionist Party stands for, but he’s literally the only person who can do the job.

I’m going to resist the temptation to review the whole book here because if you haven’t read it yet, I want you to have the chance to do so without having the story spoiled for you. Suffice it to say that its Hugo for best novel in 1956 was well deserved. We’re going to open the discussion of this book on Written Gems on May 29, 2019.


message 2: by Charles (new)

Charles  van Buren | 3 comments Even though Heinlein is one of my favorites, I haven't read much of his work since high school and college so I bought a copy of Double Star for this discussion. Does everyone read at their own speed and inclination or do we read along at the same pace?


message 3: by Gilbert (new)

Gilbert Stack (gilbertmstack) | 78 comments Mod
Welcome to Written Gems, Charles. What we've done in the past is read the books before the discussion starts and then the host will prepare a few discussion starting questions to ask over the next week or two. Everyone is welcome to put forth their own questions or two cents, and that's true for past discussions as well if you've read the books and want to chime in. We're glad to have you! I hope you enjoy Double Star as much as I do!


message 4: by Chris (new)

Chris Adams (chrisladams) | 75 comments Mod
I'm about a third in and loving it. Like Charles, I read a lot of Heinlein novels in my youth, but mostly short stories since.

Charles, so glad you joined the group. Your reviews are excellent, like Gil's, so I'm really looking forward to your comments.


message 5: by Gilbert (new)

Gilbert Stack (gilbertmstack) | 78 comments Mod
Robert A. Heinlein has had too great an influence on science fiction to cover comprehensively in a short essay, but I want to make a few comments on his incredible career. In 1974 he was named the first Grand Master of Science Fiction and over the course of his life won four Hugo awards and seven retro-Hugo awards. He helped create the subgenre of hard sf by stressing scientific accuracy in his work. He invented several words (like “grok” and “waldo”) that have worked themselves into popular English. Moving paths and the cell phone showed up in his stories long before they were invented. Many of his books and stories have been translated into screen and movie productions.

He got his start writing for the pulp magazines and quickly mastered the short story genre. Later he serialized many books into novels before the industry evolved enough for him to write straight science fiction novels. He started writing “boy’s fiction” which was enjoyed by audiences of all ages. His works explore themes surrounding politics (mostly libertarian), race (many of his protagonists are people of color), sex (he depicts atypical marriage relationships in many works), gender relations (he believed in the equality of women) and the military, but while he was often ahead of his time when he wrote them, many of his themes (especially regarding gender relations) feel awfully dated today.

His works are not lacking in controversy. Starship Troopers is set in a society where corporal punishment is a common criminal penalty. Stranger in a Strange Land explores themes of sexual freedom and satirizes religion. The Door into Summer ultimately becomes a romance where in suspended animation allows a man to wait for an eleven old girl to grow up so they can get married. I could go on, but it’s easy to see the point. Heinlein was not shy about pushing the boundaries in telling his stories and if sometimes the circumstances were a bit uncomfortable, they were always interesting.

Robert A. Heinlein is an author of unusual breadth and depth. I won’t claim I’ve liked every story and novel of his I’ve ever read, but I’ve never regretted giving one of his works a try.


message 6: by Chris (new)

Chris Adams (chrisladams) | 75 comments Mod
I've been reading some of the reviews of Double Star to get an idea how others feel about the book, and have seen a lot of complaints about RAH's overall blatant over-use of politics, soap boxing, etc in his novels.

Most reviewers, although aware of this tendency of Heinlein's, really seem to enjoy this particular novel, however, despite that fact - because of its story elements. There are a few detractors, to be sure (won't there always be?) You can't please'em all. In actuality, I don't see how any writer could write without instilling a bit of his own core beliefs in certain of his characters, and their diametric opposites. The stories we write are, after all, part of who we are - not just bits of disconnected imaginative thought without meaning.

As a young guy reading Heinlein in high school and college I never noticed these hidden meanings, or these lurking social beliefs Heinlein is accused of putting in practically everything he wrote. I just read for enjoyment (and I still do) and didn't look for those things. I never look for them. I won't begin to look for them. If I want political opinions, I won't pick up a scy-fy novel, I'll turn on the TV and listen to a talking head.

To be honest, I could care less what the author's political, sexual, societal, etc beliefs are unless he and I are sitting down, eye to eye, man-to-man, and discussing those things in person. If he dumps that stuff in his story, and I like the yarn in lieu of that fact, it doesn't matter to me if I agree with the ideas postulated or not, because it's just a story to me. If he shoves it hard in my face and I find it doesn't work for me, I'd probably set it aside. I do that all the time with TV shows that shove things in my face I don't care for. I just say, "I'm done with this." Click

That said, I don't recall that that has yet to happen with a novel. You come to expect blatant tangents from the norm in science fiction and fantasy. You must expect it. If a person doesn't want to read about societies that are perhaps radically different from those of reality, well--that person might possibly stick to nonfiction. Most of us read science fiction to escape the hum drum of everyday life, not to get an extra dose of it.

Those divergent elements are why we really enjoy reading science fiction to begin with, I feel, because those types of stories are so different from the norm. Of course, you can't ignore the politics in Double Star because it is the main purpose of the plot. It's there. The political theme will certainly smack you in the face until you take note of it if you don't acknowledge its existence.

I caught a 'commie' reference about half-way through the novel and was reminded that this was written in the 50s -- smack in the middle of the 'cold war'. Does that 'date' this novel? Heck no. Not by a long shot. Commies are still alive and---well, I would say, "well", but we know they aren't, at least not in present day NPRK and VE. But they are alive, of a sort, although they might be half-starved and full of parasites.

I guess the one thing I hope doesn't happen for me, and I'm already wondering if it hasn't happened already, is that all the negativity I've read in the reviews about Heinlein's embedded politics may end up coloring my own former deep appreciation of his work. Before, I took the polito-societal stuff as a simple plot points in the stories and didn't think any more of it. But everyone wants to go on about Heinlein's political bent to the point I want to stick my fingers in my ears and shout, "la la la la -- I can't hear you so shut up -- la la la la..."

I want to continue to love this guy. Some of my absolute favorite stories are by RAH. The next time I read "And He Built a Crooked House" or "The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag", will I be so distracted looking for dang political mind-control threads that I miss out on the enjoyment? Gads, I freaking hope not.

On second thought, I wish I hadn't read all those bad reviews.


message 7: by Gilbert (new)

Gilbert Stack (gilbertmstack) | 78 comments Mod
It's May 29 at last and time to start our discussion of Double Star by Robert A. Heinlein. Lorenzo may be Heinlein’s best character of all time. The entire story depends upon the credibility of his growth throughout the novel. That growth is the story. So let’s start by taking a few moments to explore how Heinlein makes the character so vivid.


message 8: by William (new)

William Hahn | 39 comments Mod
Great way to start out, I'm always in for the character discussions.
I think one key is that acting, as a profession, is both intimidating to most folks and yet ultimately accessible to readers. Everyone KNOWS what they would have to do in Lorenzo's shoes- they just don't believe they can. And those moments early on, when the need to impersonate is just coming crucial (say at the hotel), the authors adds some wonderful depth and believability by having Lorenzo opine that make-up and prosthetics, etc. actually won't get the job done. Just BE the part! That gets one thinking.

I was a bit disappointed, a few chapters later, at how easily Lorenzo was able to get over his repulsion for Martians. Kind of expected that to grow over time- but then again, it was a point where the tale became more truly sci-fi! The worst thing about this plot in a sci-fi story would have been if Lorenzo could don a holo-hat or something and just immediately look and sound like Bonforte. Ick, no story there.


message 9: by Gilbert (new)

Gilbert Stack (gilbertmstack) | 78 comments Mod
I agree with you, Will, about acting being a central tool of making Lorenzo real. It's not the actual acting, but how each and every thing that happens in the story is associated in Lorenzo's mind with some part of the acting profession.

Similarly, and I think, perhaps, even more to the case, Lorenzo's father makes Lorenzo come to life for me. His father is dead before the story starts, but Lorenzo's frequent recollections of him, the way the parent clearly shaped his character, make the father feel totally formed as a person. His influence on Lorenzo really helps us understand who Lorenzo is and why he acts the way he does. To me this is much more effective then watching Lorenzo play Benny Gray or walk like a spaceman even though those abilities also help make him more real to me.


message 10: by Chris (last edited May 30, 2019 10:34AM) (new)

Chris Adams (chrisladams) | 75 comments Mod
Heinlein just did a fantastic job painting Lorenzo's character in a way that really brings him to life. I found it interesting that he could almost mold his face to resemble whom he was portraying and needed very little makeup to 'get into character'. He pointed out that he used the supplied cheap cosmetics only to satisfy his clients, but that he really didn't need to do so; he just let the character come thru, while simultaneously adjusting his stance and walk in mimicry of the person he was portraying. This also made it an actual process which took him a few moments to reverse when he resumed his own 'shape and form'.

As Gil pointed out, his character was fully fleshed out across the narrative with his flashbacks of memories of his father. Just very well constructed character development. One could do worse than to model Heinlein's method of bringing these character details to life for the reader.


message 11: by Chris (last edited May 30, 2019 06:18AM) (new)

Chris Adams (chrisladams) | 75 comments Mod
I always enjoy researching the publication history of authors' works, especially those that were in what I consider the pulp genre.

It was interesting to discover about Double Star that it was serialized in Astounding Science Fiction, with the first segment appearing in the issue for February 1956.



Double Star was published by Doubleday that same year.



Source


message 12: by Gilbert (new)

Gilbert Stack (gilbertmstack) | 78 comments Mod
I've never seen that Astounding Science Fiction cover before. It's pretty amazing.


message 13: by Chris (new)

Chris Adams (chrisladams) | 75 comments Mod
:)


message 14: by Gilbert (new)

Gilbert Stack (gilbertmstack) | 78 comments Mod
While we think about why Lorenzo is such a vivid character, let me throw out another question, this time on the topic of technology. An important part of Science Fiction is predicting the future and that includes guessing what the tech will be like in the future. Heinlein actually has a pretty good track record here, but some big blunders as well--especially in this novel. His pilots are still using slide rules and his computers are massive big brains that are obviously few in number. So I'd like to know what parts of the tech stood out to you. Did he get them right or wrong. And then I'd like to know if this affected your enjoyment of the story.


message 15: by William (new)

William Hahn | 39 comments Mod
:: puts soapbox down to rant :: Actually, I must start with the view that this is not as much of a sci-fi story as it lets on! Space travel, laser-type guns, sure, but the heart of this tale is about high-level intrigue, an actor's motivations (which is to say, a person's) and things that could just as easily be found in a spy or political thriller. Of course, those tales usually have very modern gadgets...

But as to the question posed, the first thing that jumped out to me was of course the existence of an alien race. Heinlein I thought did a good job of keeping them in a supporting role, marking their culture and ways as different without getting lost in it. The most disappointing "tech" I came across was the rather easy way the doc hypnotized Lorenzo to suddenly not hate or fear Martians any more. I thought it was a cheap out, frankly, as I was already starting to imagine how difficult it would be for him to impersonate Bonforte while feeling such revulsion.

Hypnosis is pretty soft-tech for a sci-fi tale. But that's part of my point, I don't think the sci plays a huge role in this fi. Maybe the most important thing he predicted was the easy way a TV broadcast would reach so many millions of people, the instantaneous communications network that in the 1950s really didn't exist.


message 16: by Chris (last edited Jun 03, 2019 06:55AM) (new)

Chris Adams (chrisladams) | 75 comments Mod
William wrote: ":: puts soapbox down to rant :: Actually, I must start with the view that this is not as much of a sci-fi story as it lets on! Space travel, laser-type guns, sure, but the heart of this tale is about high-level intrigue..."

I see your point; the novel does dive in and stay buried in the politics of the tale quite a bit.

And yet, at the heart of every science fiction yarn is usually just a basic tale that could, with tweaking, be converted to any time frame or level of tech advancement in any society you care to name.

Imagine Star Wars with muskets and horses and trans-Atlantic steamers and you have a western spanning, not star systems, but continents.

I guess we really have to determine, "what exactly defines Science Fiction?" and then check off the bullet points.

Does it utilize tech or knowledge that doesn't yet exist, yet may exist in the future?

Is it based on cutting edge knowledge, and then make leaps in scientifically based assumptions to what may come next?

We already know rockets exist, and we've already went to Mars. But in Heinlein's time, we had not done much of what came later -- lunar landings, satellites with cameras taking photos of Titan's stunning imagery, etc. Yet he foresaw, with the quasi-primitive rocketry of his day, the possibility of those being at some point utilized to travel to other worlds. That pretty much cinches it for me.


message 17: by Chris (new)

Chris Adams (chrisladams) | 75 comments Mod
Gilbert wrote: "While we think about why Lorenzo is such a vivid character, let me throw out another question, this time on the topic of technology. An important part of Science Fiction is predicting the future..."

One of the things that stood out to me was the breathers they used on Mars. The fact that Heinlein even went to the extreme of inventing different models (precisely what would happen in the real world) lent vivid realism to his gadget.

I thought it was neat that, although he was familiar with them, Lorenzo was suddenly put on the spot when he was forced to wear Bonforte's different model with which he was unfamiliar. It was also a higher end model, giving one the ability to eat and talk while wearing it, which the model Lorenzo was accustomed to made impossible, as I recall.

Cool tech.


message 18: by Gilbert (last edited Jun 04, 2019 02:34PM) (new)

Gilbert Stack (gilbertmstack) | 78 comments Mod
Chris wrote: "William wrote: ":: puts soapbox down to rant :: Actually, I must start with the view that this is not as much of a sci-fi story as it lets on! Space travel, laser-type guns, sure, but the heart of ..."

Chris, I think those are great points about how versatile the basic stories of science fiction are. I agree completely. For me, this story is sf fundamentally because of Martian culture. The whole story fails without that threat of unforgivable impropriety if the adoption ceremony is missed. But the tech is also important and there are things we take for granted today that just don't factor into Heinlein's story at all.

For example--the omnipresent video surveillance cameras that would have made it hard for Dak to get Lorenzo off earth. DNA testing probably could have been handled in the same way as the fingerprints were.

And here's one that is cultural but fits the same theme as tech here. The journalists are too polite and they all responsibly wait to check out there story before rushing to print. The internet and social media of today were not imagined by Heinlein. Similarly, I believe that hundreds of journalists would have been looking for the Great Lorenzo after the accusation was made that he is doubling for Bonforte.

These don't weaken the story because you have to read it in the context of when it was written, but these problems would be major obstacles for the modern writer trying to create a similar tale.


message 19: by Gilbert (new)

Gilbert Stack (gilbertmstack) | 78 comments Mod
Chris wrote: "Gilbert wrote: "While we think about why Lorenzo is such a vivid character, let me throw out another question, this time on the topic of technology. An important part of Science Fiction is predicti..."

I agree completely. And the name--was it a Mitsubishi Sweet Breath? Those little touches add a lot to the story.

At the same time, some of the language used does the opposite. It seems to me that Heinlein didn't understand how intensely urban our population was becoming. He still thinks in rural language. The phrase that comes to mind is "chicken scratch" or something like that. There are a large number of phrases used by Bonforte that feel very dated for science fiction.


message 20: by Chris (last edited Jun 05, 2019 05:11AM) (new)

Chris Adams (chrisladams) | 75 comments Mod
Gilbert wrote: "Chris wrote: "Gilbert wrote: "I agree completely. And the name--was it a Mitsubishi Sweet Breath? Those little touches add a lot to the story..."

Absolutely. Throwing out names for this tech makes it seem more embedded in the world the author is creating. To me, Lorenzo speaking of the Mitsubishi breather was akin to Luke when he said, "I used to bulls-eye womp rats in my T-16 back home..."


message 21: by Gilbert (new)

Gilbert Stack (gilbertmstack) | 78 comments Mod
Next Question: The key to this book is the slow transformation of Lorenzo into Bonforte. What do you think those moments are? I think the first one occurs when Lorenzo argues with Bill and Rog over the wording of the speech after his induction into Mars. He’s demonstrating his growing understanding of Bonforte and the way his mind works. That’s a long way from becoming the politician, but it’s an important step on the journey.


message 22: by Gilbert (new)

Gilbert Stack (gilbertmstack) | 78 comments Mod
Gilbert wrote: "Chris wrote: "Gilbert wrote: "While we think about why Lorenzo is such a vivid character, let me throw out another question, this time on the topic of technology. An important part of Science Ficti..."

To add on to this point-- "You tend to your knitting and I'll tend to mine." is not a particularly modern sounding phrase, where as "Hot Jets!" was clearly designed to show us we were in the future. Interesting that Heinlein understood the need but didn't apply it to Bonforte.


message 23: by Chris (new)

Chris Adams (chrisladams) | 75 comments Mod
Gilbert wrote: "Next Question: The key to this book is the slow transformation of Lorenzo into Bonforte. What do you think those moments are?"

I guess for me it's in the hotel room back on Earth when he first puts on the make-up, but more crucially just put-on Bonforte. If you recall, he said he didn't even need the make up to 'do' Bonforte. He put it on to make his clients happy (who had provided it). From that moment, he took his first step at becoming Bonforte.


message 24: by Gilbert (new)

Gilbert Stack (gilbertmstack) | 78 comments Mod
What do you think is the biggest weakness in the story? I think it is the response of the press to the accusation that Bonforte is really the Great Lorenzo. I would think that--even if no one believed the accusation--as a matter of human interest the press would have found the Great Lorenzo and interviewed him. Of course, they wouldn't have found him and that would have become a problem for our hero. Thoughts?


message 25: by Chris (last edited Jun 10, 2019 06:26AM) (new)

Chris Adams (chrisladams) | 75 comments Mod
I feel Lorenzo would have encountered many more trip-ups such as when he visited the Emperor who discovered immediately that he was an impostor.

When people truly know know a person, an impostor can't afford to mess up the itty bitty details that define them, such as the real Bonforte's dislike (or at the least, complete lack of interest) of the Emperor's playing with toy trains or not knowing what the Emperor's usual drink was. If someone pretending to be me went to my dad's, and asked him if he wanted cream and sugar in his coffee he'd be met with some raised eyebrows (dad likes his mud straight up black).

I can see pulling off this kind of caper at an event where you wouldn't be meeting a lot of people who knew you personally, and just having to fake 'the look' and the voice. Eventually, it'd fall apart, I feel, as you were put into one-on-ones with more and more individuals who knew well the person you were portraying.

Thoughts?


message 26: by Gilbert (new)

Gilbert Stack (gilbertmstack) | 78 comments Mod
I agree and in fact, so did Lorenzo. The only way this will work in the long run is if they were smart enough to release the "fact" that Bonforte had suffered a small stroke. That stroke could be used to cover any memory lapses Bonforte / Lorenzo might display. And of course from this moment forward he is learning for himself there likes and dislikes. I don't know if it could realistically be maintained but remember, Heinlein didn't know about DNA.


message 27: by Chris (new)

Chris Adams (chrisladams) | 75 comments Mod
Gilbert wrote: I don't know if it could realistically be maintained but remember, Heinlein didn't know about DNA.."

At least he did take into consideration fingerprints, and had his savvy characters come up with a work around for the contingency.

If RAH had been astute enough to envision the discovery of DNA.... woah!

Those kind of inventions are always fascinating (such as Nictzin Dyalhis--a pulp favorite of mine--referring to "blasters" in his When the Green Star Waned before any one else.)

It'd be neat to come up with one thing that no one else has ever considered...


message 28: by Gilbert (new)

Gilbert Stack (gilbertmstack) | 78 comments Mod
The flip side of weaknesses is strengths. What do you think was the most powerful / memorable scene?


message 29: by Chris (new)

Chris Adams (chrisladams) | 75 comments Mod
I don't know about powerful, per se, but a couple of the more memorable scenes are the opening scene, of course, where Lorenzo describes how he can tell from a spaceman's walk that he isn't a ground-man.

Also, the scene with the Emperor was memorable, because the emperor was just so darn calm and collected when he asked Lorenzo, as he is impersonating Bonforte: "Who are you--really?"

:)


message 30: by Chris (new)

Chris Adams (chrisladams) | 75 comments Mod
An additional memorable scene popped in my head which illustrates another reason why The Great Lorenzo was perfect for the role for which he was selected. I'm thinking of the scene where he meets the Mayor of Mars's daughter (sorry-can't recall her name).

When she asked for his autograph, I thought perhaps it might be a stumbling point for Lorenzo. But man, did he make a quick recovery! Offering to send a poetic-signed autograph later in lieu of a simple signature was brilliant.

He really IS the Great Lorenzo!


message 31: by Gilbert (new)

Gilbert Stack (gilbertmstack) | 78 comments Mod
Yes, he's awfully fast on his feet. I agree with you that that scene with Emperor is one of the best--for me the second most powerful in the novel. Frankly there is so much character growth in this book that I could make an argument for half a dozen scenes. It's really wonderfully done.


message 32: by Gilbert (new)

Gilbert Stack (gilbertmstack) | 78 comments Mod
I think I'll wrap up my thoughts on Double Star with a note about how the book would have to be changed if you were to make a modern movie out of it. (And no, I don't mean, throw in a lot more explosions and action.) I'm talking about casting here.

Heinlein really was ahead of his time in placing intelligent and competent women into his books, but it still comes off very dated today. Penny is both personal secretary and MP and is, of course, deeply in love with Bontforte. I think she would have to be elevated to some sort of campaign strategist at the very least. Similarly, some of the guys would have to become women. I picture Dak (might favorite supporting cast member) as a spiky haired female with all that attitude and some martial arts moves.

What else would have to change to make this movie feel like a work of the future?


message 33: by Chris (new)

Chris Adams (chrisladams) | 75 comments Mod
Gilbert wrote: "...some of the guys would have to become women...."

Or gays or trans or other deviants from the norm. Adding women in leading roles is no longer good enough. RAH might not recognize his characters after Hollywood gets done with them.

https://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/...

https://nerdist.com/article/7-lgbtq-m...

https://www.themarysue.com/gay-repres...

https://variety.com/2019/film/news/ga...

https://www.gaytimes.co.uk/culture/10...


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