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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Time for the Stars (audiobook) by Robert A. Heinlein

Published by Blackstone Audio
Duration: 6 hours, 36 minutes
Narrated by Barrett Whitener

Robert A. Heinlein’s Time for the Stars is a true bit of science fiction history and, in a way, embodies all of the “cool” stuff that made me such a fan – a bit of physics, adventure, young people off to explore unseen worlds, and some newfangled technology.

Heinlein (1907-1988) first published Time for the Stars in 1956, during a time period when he had a contract with Scribner’s to produce books that were young people friendly. They were aimed at young adults, although I enjoyed it as well. It is the memoir of the space travels of Tom Bartlett, who is also one half of a very talented set of twins.

The premise of the book is simple enough. The Earth is too crowded and a research corporation called the Long Range Foundation has invested in several ships to seek out new planets that humans can inhabit. There are already colonies throughout the solar system but they are too expensive and can only hold a limited number of colonists. The Long Range Foundation’s specialty is making investments in things that no corporation or government will invest in because the pay-off will be too long in coming to justify the investment. In this case, these spaceships will explore for decades and may not find anything useful.

Robert A. Heinlein 
The trick with all of these ships will be communication. The ships and their radio waves will travel slower than the speed of light and the process of finding a new planet, describing its location and the requirements to colonize it will take entirely too long. Instead, the Long Range Foundation has found that some very few people, especially twins, are actually telepathic and can be trained to speak to one another with their minds. They have also discovered that this telepathy is instantaneous – it is faster than the speed of light and the communication problem has been solved.

Pat and Tom Bartlett have this telepathic ability and are chosen to participate. One twin gets to go and one has to stay behind to relay the messages to the Long Range Foundation here on Earth. Several ships, all named for famous explorers, are outfitted with crews of about 200, including several telepaths. Tom Bartlett’s ship is the Lewis and Clark.  What happens is the classic physics discussion question in which one twin travels at near light speed while the other remains on Earth. Time travels much for slowly for the twin in the spaceship (in this case, the ratio can get as extreme as 250 days on Earth is equal to one day on board the space ship).

Of course, as the twin on Earth ages technology and culture on earth keeps on changing. One of the best things about the book is Tom Bartlett’s growing frustration with the change of language on Earth, especially slang, as he travels. The book itself is 55 years old. The language and style of Heinlein was probably very current, but now it is, in and of itself, a bit of a time traveler. This actually helps the storyline because Tom sounds a bit anachronistic with his banter and his conversational style, his ideas about fashion and his attitudes towards the proper roles of women – it reinforces the fact that at the end of the story, Tom Bartlett has indeed become a man outside of his own time.

There is plenty of low complexity discussion of physics, adventure, the nature of duty, danger, an acknowledgement of the value of scientific research for the sake of research and a fact that no amount of research will replace the actual men and women who have and will continue to put themselves at risk for the sake of exploration.

Veteran narrator Barrett Whitener does a great job of creating a voice for Tom Bartlett – a young, naïve-sounding voice that captures Bartlett’s enthusiasm, lack of self-confidence and wonder. There are a variety of accents involved in the story and they are handled well. Most interestingly, Whitener is able to make the identical voices of the identical twins sound just a bit different by changing their attitudes and pacing.

I rate this book 5 stars out of 5.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: Time for the Stars.

Reviewed on March 23, 2011.

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