Author: Robert A. Heinlein
Publication Date: 2/1/11 (Audio)
Publisher: Blackstone Audio
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Travel to other planets is now a reality, and with overpopulation stretching the resources of Earth, the necessity of finding habitable worlds is growing ever more urgent. There’s a problem though—because the spaceships are slower than light, any communication between the exploring ships and Earth would take years.
Tom and Pat are identical twin teenagers. As twins they’ve always been close, so close that it seemed like they could read each other’s minds. When they are recruited by the Long Range Foundation, the twins find out that they can, indeed, peer into each other’s thoughts. Along with other telepathic duos, they are enlisted to be the human transmitters and receivers that will keep the ships in contact with Earth. But there’s a catch: one of the twins has to stay behind—and that one will grow old—while the other explores the depths of space and returns as a young man still.
Slowly but surely, my obsession with young adult space stories will knock every Heinlein juvenile book off my to-read list. A month or two ago, I read Podkayne of Mars and while I did enjoy the audio format and the underlying world-building, the characters grated on me. I'd read and heard from several sources that Heinlein's treatment of his female characters can be a huge turnoff and he's two for two on that note for me thus far. I'm not going to go over why I felt the way I did about Podkayne but in Time for the Stars, though it was far less frustrating, I was still not satisfied with the female presence in the book. But I'm getting ahead of myself, what's the book actually about? It's a futuristic Earth setting where families are allowed only a certain number of children before they get taxed. Identical twins Tom and Pat are asked to come in for some testing by a huge research organization, one whose mission is to fund the projects that have projected results so far into the future that no one else will fund them. Through the testing, Tom and Pat find out they are telepathically connected. The foundation intends to explore the galaxies to find potential colony planets and uses telepathic pairs to communicate between ships and between ships and Earth when radio transmissions no longer work. I don't want to spoil which twin goes to space and which stays behind because I enjoyed that aspect of the story. I cannot think of another instance of a book where identical twins do not really get along. Heinlein adds in a realistic amount of sibling manipulation that rang true to life. ("Do your chores, Dad will be home soon." "Why? If I don't, I know you'll just do them for me." - Me and my sister)
The science and philosophy are very much present in this novel and some of it went over my head. Faster than light, simultaneity, time, relativism, the science of aging, and various equations and theories are all present and accounted for but never in a severe infodump kind of way. The book is set up as a diary written by the twin in space. I am not sure if it is broken up as such in the traditional book as I listened to the audiobook but the scientific conversations were usually just that--conversations between the twin and someone else on the ship. However, there is very little action to keep the book going. The interest lies in the world Heinlein has created and the scientific offshoots. I was fascinated by the idea that as one twin was aging "regularly" on Earth, the other was aging at a far slower rate, so much so that the twin in space had to do the telepathic work with several generations down the line. What action there is is backloaded. His books, to me, feel like someone is writing about a fantastic futuristic world and then realizing halfway through that there's supposed to also be character building and plot movement.
On to the creep factor. There was just an episode of 30 Rock on television wherein Liz Lemon realizes that she is dating her third cousin. They say, "On the count of three, say how many cousins removed we'd have to be to try to make this work." He says fifth and she says never. I really think my answer is also never. There are several pubescent boy relationships in this book as well as adult relationships but there is one that relates to the 30 Rock episode I just spoke of. I won't ruin it for any potential readers but Heinlein basically glossed right over the relation aspect and it felt cut and dried in the most awkward way possible. I actually said, "Whaaaaaaat? Dude." to my car stereo. You're going to marry your relation, no matter how distant? Ew.
Back to Heinlein's treatment of women. Here's the gist: If you want to read any of his books, just think to yourself, "Am I okay reading a book where no female character will ever be completely rational? One where she will never be seen as anything other than a gender stereotype or achieve life goals beyond society's expectations during the forties and fifties when these books were written?" If the answer is yes, then read away. As I've said, Heinlein creates some interesting scientific worlds and stories. However, if you're answer is no then these books will be a nightmare for you. There are entire conversations about the best way to tell a mother that her son/s are joining a space program but also how to manipulate her irrational emotions. A grown woman wants to join a specific mission and another character tells her to check with her husband. (who also tells her later that they will be moving back to Earth to raise their family and she will not be working anymore) The mission finds a planet and fights in a battle but both times women are excluded from the teams--until one planet is deemed "safe enough that even the women could go!" Being a woman in Heinlein's world just seems like it would be so depressing. Who wants to achieve their dreams of being independent and going into space? Not so fast, vaginas!
I believe this is the first audiobook I've listened to that is narrated by Barrett Whitener, and I enjoyed his narration for the most part. Though they are not coming to me at the moment, there were a few words he pronounced in a weird way (maybe alternate pronunciations?) and several of the characters sounded the same. At one point, I wasn' t sure if the captain had an American, British, or Australian accent. He is a conversational narrator so his voice was/is well-suited to the diary-entry format of Time for the Stars.
As is the story with Podkayne of Mars, there is enough fun world-building present that I wish Heinlein would set more books in this world, perhaps even incorporate some of the same characters. I have a feeling my wish will come true with the rest of his young adult books. I anticipate each one will be a fun sciencey adventures/feminist's nightmare.