Space Cadet

Space Cadet

by Robert A. Heinlein, © 1948, Orb 2005 trade paperback,  science fiction – juvenile
Cover by Vincent di Fate

Since a nice set has been reprinted by Orb Books it seemed a good time to re-read my way through Heinlein’s juveniles.

This is the second of Heinlein’s science fiction for what today would be called YA readers and it’s a pretty good one. The title is a clue to the basic story element. Matt Dodson is a youth who has long dreamed of joining the prestigious Space Patrol. He has passed the entrance tests and as the book opens he arrives at the Space Academy, on Terra, in North America.  We follow Matt and the new friends he makes as they go through the beginning courses and training, then go to the orbiting Terra Station and on to a training ship, also in orbit. It’s pretty typical young-man-in-school stuff, with pranks, serious learning, slip-ups and problems with other boys. Note: there are no girls in the Space Patrol, but remember this is written in 1948. Rosie the riveter has sunk back into the housewife and mother role and men do “men’s work”.

Eventually Matt and his two best pals become Cadets, and ship out first on a routine mission, then on a search for a missing ship and finally on a special rescue mission on Venus. They make a few mistakes, generally do the right thing, have some interesting adventures, and come out of it in good shape, even rescuing a former student from their Academy days.

Then, just when I wanted to see the idiot Academy drop-out get his just deserts, and the boys get their reward, neither happens. Well it does but it doesn’t. There’s kind of a non-ending, as if – and this is what I suspect happened – the page count was hit and Heinlein had to wrap things up. I’d rather have seen another 50 pages and the story filled out, but in 1948 it was sell at the publisher’s command. Probably still is, unless you’re Stephen King or Dan Brown. But I digress.

The lack of a big wrap up didn’t keep me from enjoying this, just as I enjoyed Farmer in the Sky, read previously. I’m working my way through these as between-other-books reading and enjoying them for the simple straight-forward old fashioned science fiction they are.

About Rick Robinson

Enjoying life in Portland, OR
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33 Responses to Space Cadet

  1. william says:

    Certainly agree with your analysis. I found Farmer to be a much better story, but I read it a long time ago.

  2. Todd Mason says:

    Heinlein’s juveniles never did much for me…Gordon Dickson’s, on the other hand…and Vincent Di Fate has never been as good at human figures, I’d say, as he is brilliant at spacescapes and hardware.

  3. Richard says:

    Most of the Dickson I’ve read is Dorsai stuff. Would that be considered YA?

  4. Todd Mason says:

    Not so much. He wrote a series of actual YA novels, the most important to me being THE SECRET UNDER THE SEA.

  5. Bill Crider says:

    I loved those books when I discovered them long ago, and I’ve enjoyed the ones I’ve re-read in adulthood, too. I was reading the adult novels at the same time and didn’t know the difference.

  6. I liked CITIZEN OF THE GALAXY the best of Heinlein’s juveniles. When I was a kid, I loved HAVE SPACESUIT, WILL TRAVEL. I reread it decades later and was disappointed. Big Time.

  7. Drongo says:

    I’d say this is middling Heinlein, a fine read but not quite as good as STAR BEAST or TUNNEL IN THE SKY.

    I really like the Steele Savage covers on the old Ace editions, although this more recent DiFate one isn’t bad.

  8. Richard says:

    I just finished TUNNEL, it will be reviewed here soon (after my vacation). Next is HAVE SPACE SUIT, WILL TRAVEL. Others to follow that.

  9. Art Scott says:

    Is it fair to assume that this book provided (no doubt uncredited) the titles for the two big kid SF shows of the ’50s: Tom Corbett-Space Cadet, and Space Patrol?

  10. Richard says:

    I’ve wondered that myself, and it certainly seems to make sense, but I’ve not read anything in the way of proof, such as a producer saying it was an influence.

  11. I just recently reread RED Planet, a 2006 edition that had Heinlein’s restored text(it was ruthlessly blue-penciled by the editor) and, in the back, had pages of his original manuscript showing those edits.

    I’m looking forward to your Tunnel review. That book was the first science fiction I read in those lost days of my youth and remains my favorite of all his books.

  12. Carl V. says:

    This looks familiar. I just bought the same edition recently. I myself like the Di Fate cover on it. From your review it sounds like this will be another one I’ll enjoy and the ending issues seem to happen in a lot of these juveniles. They are plugging along and then “bam!” time to wrap it all up and be done. I felt the same way recently when I read Farmer in the Sky. Felt similarly about Podkayne of Mars. It hasn’t stopped me from really enjoying any of these novels though.

  13. Jeff Meyerson says:

    I didn’t read many of these when I was younger but I’ve read some lately.

    Anyone want to pick 2-3 you would especially recommend?


  14. Richard says:

    Randy – It may have been your review of RED PLANET that got me started on these. TUNNEL review after I return from a short trip, probably late next week. Might even turn it into a Friday Forgotten Book, though it’s not very “forgotten”.

    I read all of these when I was a kid (yes, it’s true, I really was once a kid) but so far having read FARMER, CADET AND TUNNEL I recalled nothing of them. Not surprising, it was probably 55 years ago.

  15. Richard says:

    Carl – I hope I don’t give away too much in my reviews. With books like this, a general statement like “there are pranks, they study and they graduate” won’t spoil anything, of course they’ll graduate. Anyway, FARMER ended a little less abruptly, but don’t let the ending keep you from reading this.

  16. Richard says:

    Jeff, let me read a few more and I’ll be able to do that, meanwhile hopefully someone else will jump in.

  17. Carl V. says:

    Oh no, your review won’t stop me at all from reading this. I really have my heart set on reading all of Heinlein’s fiction, however long that takes me in the midst of other reading whims, and this is one I bought recently so I’ll definitely be reading it.

  18. D.K. says:

    Good. Don’t want to be a spoiler.

  19. Patti Abbott says:

    Only thing by him I’ve read is STRANGER.

  20. Jeff Meyerson says:

    Patti, I recently read THE DOOR INTO SUMMER, which I liked more than whoever commented on it on your blog.

    Try it.

  21. Jeff S. says:

    My kids and I have read the first 3/4’s of Space Cadet and it’s been ok. I enjoyed The Rolling Stones, Have Space Suit, Will Travel, Red Planet, and Farmer in the Sky more than Space Cadet though. I think the kids and I are judging it against those books and that’s why we haven’t finished it yet. I have an old paperback version we are reading with a totally different cover than the one you have pictured. I like my copies cover better myself.

  22. Todd Mason says:

    Well, DOOR is marginally better than STRANGER, by me. If you want to read Heinlein’s novels, the place to start is THE MOON IS A HARSH MISTRESS…and it gets relatively thin after that. The ones to avoid altogether, as far as I’m concerned, include the YA PODKAYNE OF MARS, FARNHAM’S FREEHOLD, I WILL FEAR NO EVIL, THE NUMBER OF THE BEAST, and I didn’t care much for STAR LUMMOX, as it was serialized for no compelling (non-commercial) reason in F&SF, the YA book Drongo and perhaps most here like better as THE STAR BEAST. THE PAST THROUGH TOMORROW and other collections of early shorter work, including such shorter novels as IF THIS GOES ON– show how and why Heinlein was the Hammett/Hemingway figure in sf at that time, though he starts to lose me even as early as “The Green Hills of Earth”…the post-STRANGER fantasy novel GLORY ROAD starts well, but soon bogs down into the kind of lecturing mess that most of Heinlein’s later work became (I’ve taken in very mixed reviews of such last works as FRIDAY and JOB). Perhaps his most controversial novel remains STARSHIP TROOPERS, which he meant to be YA, but his publishers disagreed almost as much as the filmmakers reviled it. And yet it became a syndicated cartoon series.

    And Heinlein, much like Lovecraft, certainly nudged better work than the models achieved from Fritz Leiber (GATHER, DARKNESS! was a response, of sorts, to IF THIS GOES ON–/REVOLT IN 2100).

  23. Todd Mason says:

    My favorite of the few YA RAHs I’ve read was probably TIME FOR THE STARS, but I much preferred whole lots of stuff to that. Including at least a fair amount of Heinlein’s adult work.

  24. Soames says:

    Jeff – this one was really intended to be a beginner SF novel, it may be the simplest of the batch and it was published in 1948, over 50 years ago. I didn’t like it as well as TUNNEL or FARNER but it’s simple fun.

  25. Richard says:

    Todd – seems like we all have our opinions of Heinlein. I like most of the short stories in PAST THROUGH TOMORROW, GREEN HILLS OF EARTH and so on. I liked REVOLT IN 2100 when I read it high school, don’t know what I’d think of it today. For me he peaked before STRANGER it seemed atypical when I read it, too focused on no SF themes, too full of the Heinlein ego. The books after that went downhill fast, he was known to the larger reading public after SinSL and didn’t have to make the books earn a paycheck any more.

  26. Carl V. says:

    I agree that we all have our opinions on Heinlein. I personally really enjoyed Podkayne of Mars and The Green Hills of Earth is right up with my favorites as far as short story collections go. Stranger is the novel I look forward to reading least in my plan to someday have read everything Heinlein wrote just because of preconceptions I have about the novel. I enjoyed Time Enough for Love so even though I don’t expect the other novels featuring or in the same universe as Lazurus Long, I do suspect that there will at least be parts of them that I enjoy.

  27. Todd Mason says:

    Just for clarity’s sake, I referred to the short story “The Green Hills of Earth”…which should probably be “‘The Green Hills of Earth'” since the story’s title refers to a song (I believe that was how it’s usually presented, with both sets of q marks)…when I posted above, rather than the collection named for that story.

    Yeah, hell, it’s true of all writers, just about, I think. Fritz Leiber’s greatest novels, to me, are the horror novels and THE BIG TIME, and THE WANDERER is the weakest…I’m sure you could easily find the opposite opinion very well argued by others.

  28. Richard says:

    When it comes to Leiber, these days my interest and reading begins and end with the Fafhrd & Grey Mouser works. Though of little consequence in the literature of the genre, they are a lot of fun, and mostly that’s what I read for.

  29. Carl V. says:

    Todd, it is funny that you mention The Big Time because a friend got copies of this for himself, me, and another friend a couple of years back and we all read it at the same time. They liked it significantly less than I did and as time has worn on I like it even more. I consider Greta Forzane one of my favorite literary crushes.

  30. Todd Mason says:

    Au contraire, Rick…the Fafhrd and Gray Mouser stories not only revolutionized sword and sorcery fiction (a term Leiber created), but they also were a fascinating barometer of Leiber’s own life…the characters aged as he did, and he used them and their fiction to ease himself around writing blocks and even to mark milestones in his own life…the brilliant “Ill Met in Lankhmar” followed the death of his wife, and the tailspin that put him in, for example. And, iirc, no less formidable a critic of fantastic fiction than John Clute, in the ENCYCLOPEDIA OF FANTASY, would be one of those who’d suggest the novel in the F&GM sequence, THE SWORDS OF LANKHMAR, is if not his best novel than certainly among them. (I’ve never cottoned much to Conan, but the s&s of Leiber, Jack Vance, Karl Edward Wagner, Janet Fox, Phyllis Eisenstein, Glen Cook at the top of his form and Ursula Le Guin and Avram Davidson when they’re in the right mood suits me down to the ground…and Moorcock and a number of others have certainly done notable work in the form as well. I don’t think any of these others would’ve done it quite the way they did had Leiber not begun his work in the form in the late ’30s and began publishing it soon after in UNKNOWN.)

    She is a vivid character, Carl, even if she gets to mostly be our observer stand-in in the novel, which almost everyone who reads it sees immediately as a play in prose.

  31. Todd Mason says:

    I meant to mention Joanna Russ in that list, with her Alyx stories…Russ and Leiber had their characters Alyx and Fafhrd meet each other in a story apiece by each…

  32. Richard says:

    I think the Mouser stuff is significant, but if you look at all those lists of Fantasy – 50 Best and 100 greatest and so forth – it seems Leiber and F&GM are rarely mentioned. No matter, I like them and am glad you believe they are of value. Also, yes, if Clute says so, I believe. I have both volumes (SF and F) and refer to them frequently. Massive, wonderful, essential.

  33. Todd Mason says:

    An such listing that manages to omit Leiber can be dismissed out of hand, I’ll suggest. I’ll expect it to be sprinkled with Terry Brooks and “John Norman” and the Other True Giants of the literature.

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