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In 1955, at the age of 14, I was "trapped" on my back for nearly 12 months recovering from a severe bout of sciatica which affected both legs. It was the first manifestation of back pain (suspected of being poliomyelitis) which resulted from my being knocked over by a car in 1945, and is something I continue to suffer from. During that period, in New Zealand, unable to attend an ordinary school, I was enrolled in the NZ Correspondence School, an excellent institution which operates to this day (but now with modern communication technology). Every couple of weeks, in addition to my correspondence lessons, I received a bright green canvas bag which contained a couple of library books, which I was expected to read. Reading was not an imposition: my family were avid readers and my siblings and I had large bookcases packed with a variety of literature from non-fiction to fiction. To that date I had read no, or very little, science fiction, with the exception, perhaps of H.G. Wells, John Wyndam and C.S. Lewis. One such bag contained a novel for younger readers by Robert Heinlein––"Space Cadet" and I was hooked! For life! Being unable to move around, Heinlein presented me with a world I could dream about with no physical limitations: indeed the thought of floating weightlessly without pain was enticingly poignant. I immediately pestered my mother, who worked in our local village library, and in short order had available several others of Heinlein's novels for junior readers. None, however, made quite the impact on me that Space Cadet did with Heinlein's endeavours to introduce philosophical concepts that, at 14, I had not yet really begun to explore. I suppose at that age I had not yet thought to question the beliefs of my parents in the way that Matthew Dodson had to, and then decide to keep his peace because his father did not, perhaps could not, understand. Notwithstanding my later disagreements with Heinlein's political philosophy, none-the-less he introduced to me moral concepts, precepts and considerations which gave me the wherewithal to question his beliefs and help me draw my own conclusions. I have since read most of his books, and many of his other writings and essays, and I introduced my children to his work when they reached an appropriate age. He gave to me a love of good science fiction and I often re-read his novels for enjoyable reacquaintance and relaxation. His works led me to Asimov, Campbell, Clarke and Card. I have owned several copies of Space Cadet, each literally falling apart from family use. This Kindle copy now makes it available to me in a form which will not fall apart and I cannot but recommend it to anyone who would wish to interest their younger ones in science fiction, and, indeed, wish for some enjoyment themselves.
This was Heinlein's third published novel and the second of his 'juvenile' books, and as far as I can remember it was the first book by Heinlein I ever read. Perhaps for that reason more than any other it is still one of my favourite Golden Age sci-fi novels.
First published in 1948, Space Cadet follows the adventures of Matt Dodson as he works his way through the training necessary to become a member of the prestigious Space Patrol. Along the way Heinlein explores a number of themes, including racism (the Patrol is made up of members from pretty much every nation and ethnicity imaginable) and national pride (cadets are expected to abandon their loyalty to their homelands and instead focus on loyalty to humanity), as well as providing a surprisingly accurate depiction of space travel over a decade before Yuri Gagarin made his first orbit of the Earth.
Despite the book's age it still manages to present us with a good story, and along the way shows off Heinlein's ability to educate as well as entertain; much of the science and technology presented in Space Cadet was cutting edge back in the late forties. There's even a throwaway line regarding the protagonist's mobile phone, a device we take for granted nowadays but which would have seemed almost miraculous to contemporary readers.
I really do think this is one of Heinlein's better books, and would heartily recommend it to anyone wanting to get a feel for what he was capable of, especially in the early years of his career. It presents us with an optimistic and somewhat rose-tinted view of the future, but doesn't suffer any because of that.
Heinlein was one of the most prolific science fiction authors of all time, and it isn't just the sheer quantity of the work that he produced, but the consistent quality, that made him such a terrific author when I was a youngster, starting out with the genre.
Written in 1949 and perhaps over-shadowed with the author's musings on the on-set of what became the "Cold War", this is an enthralling tale of a young man undergoing the unique and transformative experience of preparation for a life in space - and the development from adolescent to adult in the process. The vintage is such that the author includes aspects [such as exploring a lushly tropical Venus] that more modern, scientific work has rendered tellingly obsolete, but, for all that, loses nothing in impact - especially the way that he describes the Cadets of the story adjusting to cultures completely alien to the one they know. In that, Heinlein was oddly prescient - the tale feels very close to the present distinction between what we today call Western and Eastern views.
This tale is perfect for any youngster who would enjoy a riveting "space yarn", or, for that matter, any nostalgic parent or grand-parent who would like a reminder of why they love classic, traditional science fiction stories.
Here is a tale from one of the all time greats in science fiction, from a writer who inspired the likes of Peter Hamilton, Iain Banks and all those who were to follow. This is simply perfect bed-time story material, written in a way that has the potential to instill a sense of adventure and a love of reading that will last a life-time.
Read this 30+ years ago and is still a good read. Appropriate that the first kindle book I have ever read is this one. I read this in part on my phone and this book envisaged mobile phones decades before they became a reality.
Read as a teenager and now again...lost none of its magic! Transports you into the world not only of a possible future but of valour, honour, honesty and courage, as shown and lived by a young man. RH is the Jules Verne of the 20th century.