Commentary by Joseph T Major on Robert A. Heinlein's BETWEEN PLANETS

Opus #88; written February - March 1951; 65,000 words

Serialized in Blue Book September-October 1951 as Planets In Combat


The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language defines "synecdoche":

A figure of speech by which a more inclusive term is used for a less inclusive term or vice versa; for example, head for cattle or the law for a policeman. [Latin, from Greek sunekdokhe from sunekdekhesthai "to take up (or understand) with another": sun-, with + ekdekhesthai, to take from, take or understand in a certain sense: ex, out of . . . . + dekhesthai, to take, receive . . . .]

Or another example, one we will encounter in this book, would be using its constituent "steel" to represent a knife. Some people don't understand this.

Alexei Panshin dates 1951, the year that Between Planets was published, as a transition point in Heinlein's career; when he shifted from being primarily a short-story writer to being primarily a novelist. (See Heinlein In Dimension, pp. 58-9, for this discussion.)

Between Planets was serialized in Blue Book, which had previously run "Delilah and the Space-Rigger", one of the stories from Heinlein's abortive second Future History. It's hard not to make a broader connection when you consider that the setting of this novel is very similar to the one that Heinlein had been considering for the stories; the first century or so of human expansion into the Solar System, that later era "of commercial (not exploration nor adventure) space travel" [Grumbles From the Grave, p. 105] that Heinlein, thrilled by the first steps into space, had been planning to write of back in 1946. Generalmajor Dörnberger had cheerfully told Freiherr von Braun "Today the spaceship was born!" and had Heinlein known of this reaction to the first A-4/V-2 launching, he would definitely have agreed, expecting that an early-fifties manned moon landing would be only the beginning of a vast exfloration of humanity into the Solar System [see Grumbles From the Grave, pp. 147-8 for his hopes as of 1947].

It's not all the same. Heinlein uses in this book enough identifiers different to the ones he had used in those stories to make it seem distinct. The general background, the type of setting, is much the same; some of those names might have been changed since the era of "Delilah and the Space-Rigger". But there are other indications we shall see of differences. It seems mainly to be a state of the author's mind.

There are ties forward, as well, to the more political novels that were to come, such as Farnham's Freehold (1964) and The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress (1967) presenting the struggle for freedom against oppression. This is one of his earlier novels in which that struggle was explicit, instead of being implicit. As Janis Joplin sang, "Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose."

Our hero, Don Harvey, is what one might call an archetypical product of this expansion; born in space to a father from Earth and a mother from the Venus colony who had themselves met and married on Luna. As our novel begins, though, Don doesn't think he will be losing anything. What he finds is that more inclusive terms can suddenly become less inclusive; like "people with rights" including (or excluding, as required for state security) "Don Harvey".

Like other Heinlein juvenile heroes, Don finds himself jerked abruptly out of a familiar comfortable setting into a stressful situation, where he will find how much he lives in the sort of world that Dörnberger and von Braun occupied. The conflict of the book is based in questions of loyalty but first Don has to decide what he will be loyal to, which in turn first requires finding out what he is.

What he is now, in another sense, is a student at a boarding school on Earth. And he is having the rug jerked from under him in a matter of minutes by a telegram from his parents "requesting" that he take a ship going to Mars immediately, instead of the one leaving three months later, after his graduation.

The circumstances under which he gets the telegram are a curious blend of extrapolation and nostalgia; he learns about it over a mobile telephone in his fancy saddle ("When are you going to learn not to jump when the phone rings!" [p. 8] Don bellows at his shying horse). One would expect that telegraphic communication would be revived in an interplanetary communications environment, light-speed making conversations rather drawn-out (see the last chapter of Podkayne of Mars (1962) for an example of a different approach). The nostalgia this scene generates is intensified by a later reference to twice-a-day mail service. (They used to deliver mail that infrequently, but as efficiency increased at your friendly Postal Service, due to the installation of advanced processing machinery and more efficient coding, sorting, and distribution procedures, they increased the number of deliveries to once a day.)

As Don prepares for his premature departure, signs of an impending crisis and a long-term oppression surround him. The headmaster grants him an exit interview, congratulating him on getting out before the war starts a person of no loyalty just might get in trouble. This leads to a quarrel over the crisis and then there comes a real shocker:

The man did not answer. Don burst out, "The whole thing is silly! If the Federation weren't trying to bleed Venus white there wouldn't be any war talk."

Reeves stood up. "That will be all, Don. I'm not going to argue politics with you."

"It's true! Read Chamberlain's Theory of Colonial Expansion!"

Reeves seemed startled. "Where did you read that book? Not in the school library."

Don did not answer. His father had sent it to him but had cautioned him not to let it be seen; it was one of the suppressed books on Earth, at least. Reeves went on, "Don, have you been dealing with a booklegger?"

Between Planets, p. 10

And with this inauspicious insight into the prevailing atmosphere of censorship and oppression, Don escapes by the skin of his teeth, free (temporarily?) to go to New Chicago to catch his ship to Mars. The first stage of this trip is another of those examples of "the road not taken", because Don takes a helicopter to the Albuquerque terminal and transfers to a point-to-point rocket ship. (To take that left turn? Never mind.)

At the spaceport, Don goes through another round of restrictions. (He acts as if he is encountering these delays for the first time. Could that be the case?) Some are only normal bureaucratic failures of communication, but between passport restrictions and security checks, we get a clear impression that something is deeply deeply wrong.

Since Don has to wait anyway, he might as well take care of the other family request; look up an old friend of the family and say goodbye. Many families have that sort of friend, someone called "Uncle" or "Aunt" but not kin. (Until much too late I could not make that distinction among "Uncle Clyde", "Uncle Don", and "Uncle Alec" respectively such a nonrelative, my mother's brother, and a grandfather's brother.) This relative bears the evocative name of Dudley Jefferson (those names have an interesting set of associations; Thomas Jefferson did not have quite the same attitude towards government as did, say, John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland), known both as "Uncle Dudley" and "Dr. Jefferson."

Aside from one crucial encounter, how crucial we shall see later, what Don proceeds to go through next is a tour more in the manner of others. Many writers, from "Doc" Smith through Doc Asimov and on past Doc Pournelle have sent their characters into a vast domed city, as resident or as visitor, willing or no. In just this incident of a longer novel concerned more with other matters, Heinlein has drawn as vivid as any a picture of life in such a warren. (But Heinlein begins this with a sinister implication; the town is New Chicago and the landing field is the slightly radioactive former site of Old Chicago.)

They start off this phase of their acquaintance in a faintly comical style, when Don finds himself unable to pay for his taxi; fortunately Uncle Dudley is accustomed to this state of financial embarrassment himself and can take appropriate steps.

From that inauspicious greeting they go to a restaurant, for Dr. Jefferson feels that they should "gather ye fleshpots while ye may". The resulting bistro scene, which one would think Miss Dalgleish would have cut out, is on the surface a broad-spectrum examination of these fleshpots. Don ogles the waitresses, only to be reminded that they're there to see the show, which is even more spectacular, if only euphemistically described. (We are after all on the glory road to the spacers' bar of Starman Jones (1953) and the exotic floor show of Citizen of the Galaxy (1957).) Perhaps it was the pessimistic undertone to the prospects for the many worlds of humanity (and other intelligent races we shall be meeting) that soured it for Dr. Jefferson:

". . . . That's part of my own reason, Don. Take a good look around you; you'll never see the like again."

"No, I guess not not on Mars."

"That's not what I mean. Sodom and Gomorrah, lad rotten at the core and skidding toward the pit. 'these our actors, as I foretold you . . . are melted into air' and so forth. Perhaps even 'the great globe itself.' I talk too much. Enjoy it; it won't last long."

Between Planets, p. 25

He might want to flatly deny the reality of the next part of his world. But then people (as a whole) are not so easily disposed of. As a space raid (drill, it turns out) blacks-out the town (a remnant of WWII thought there) and Dr. Jefferson takes advantage of this to exit the restaurant for a private little talk. It's a dismal conversation, rather different to the jovial banter they had had. (Like Dr. Jefferson's hope that the number of habitable planets could be increased by bringing in Neptune (no such luck, it's a gas giant) and Pluto and moving outwards Mercury. That Don has to ask about the Jovian moons in this context is one of the items that implies that we may not be in the universe of Farmer In the Sky (1950); a counterargument to the thesis of these being separate parts of a second Future History.)

The good doctor discusses some adverse factors of the organization of society the pervasiveness of state security overseeing the individual in particular and then informs Don that they have to go off somewhere to prepare him to deliver a special message. What he isn't allowed to know just now. But first they have to go to his place to pick something up. Where one of those factors the doctor mentioned intrudes; there are people waiting for them, security policemen who take them away for separate little talks.

The kindly security man Ghod forbid that your friendly neighborhood chekist not provide inquisition with a smile gives Don a little lecture on methods of interrogation and what might happen to a boy who falls into bad company. Then they part, with the sad news that Dr. Jefferson wasn't able to stand the shock of such a friendly questioning; he has died of heart failure. Only after he is on his own, on his way to the spaceport, does Don realize that, after all, everyone who dies has heart failure and, just maybe, there might have been other contributing factors involved.

Stunned, he tries to get a few hours of sleep at a hotel and also use the other facilities there, like the washroom. (Once a friend who was involved in plumbing fixtures planning at General Electric offered to hire me for a research project on bathroom fittings in science fiction. I declined, since there wasn't that much material on that topic; aside from short references without much detail such as in this book (p. 44) and other Heinlein works like Methuselah's Children (1941, 1958) and Stranger In a Strange Land (1961, 1991) there was not much available, Asimov's Robots of Dawn (1984) not having come out back then.) At the hotel, he receives a package, containing a ring. Concluding that this must be the package with the message that Dr. Jefferson had mentioned, he decides to hide the message by writing a letter on the packing paper to conceal the secret-ink writing on it.

After a rude awakening (ooh those alarm clocks!), Don goes to the spaceport. He'd already been worried about losing his baggage claim check; now he finds out that the security police have already attended to that little matter. They submit him to one final little search and seizure of the paper, mainly. This really makes his day.


In and among the events of his checkered past, Don has conveniently learned the language of the indigenous Venerians (Venusians? Cythreans? Whatever). Thus when he finds himself waiting for Dr. Jefferson (this is flashback time, kiddies) and notices a large, reptilian, multi-tentacled, Argus-eyed creature waiting for a cab, he could do nothing less than engage the fellow in a friendly chat in his native tongue. This one goes by the Earthly name "Sir Isaac Newton", Venerian names not being usually usable by your average Terran.

Heinlein's aliens are among the most striking features of his works, and this is another example of such (see Heinlein In Dimension, pp. 128-9 for Panshin's comments on this). This is no casual encounter, as one might guess from this character's merely being mentioned in a work where every word is at a premium. (For what it is worth, besides the curvaceous cuties at the bistro, there was also a Martian. Some people could make a great deal of this sharing a Solar System with two other intelligent races; divine quarantine regulations are not in force here, either. Heinlein will makes his own kind of great deal in this book, as we shall see.)

Coincidences coincide again, as Don ends up sharing his cabin on the shuttle [the Glory Road, which may later have suggested a book title] with "Sir Isaac". Heinlein tosses in a example of how unusual Don's tolerance for nonhuman races is by showing us some people who don't want to share a compartment with a "hideous monster", a turn of phrase leaving Don embarrassed for his species. Once this stress is resolved, they take off, and the stresses of the takeoff render the Venerian temporarily unconscious. As the only interpreter available, Don feels the obligation to do something about his condition, which involves getting both medical revival and electronic repairs. As well as its bearer, "Sir Isaac's" voder (nowadays we'd call it a voice synthesizer) had given way under the strain of takeoff, and besides being ill he is effectively voiceless, at least with humans.

Besides translating for the concerned attendants and medicating his unwell fellow-traveler, Don dispatches the device to the shipboard techs for repairs. (The Glory Road seems rather well-equipped for what is essentially a shuttle bus.) Sustained by this aid and assistance in a time of need, "Sir Isaac" becomes very grateful. [This behavior alone shows that he is not human.]

The brief but eventful shuttle trip to Circum-Terra, the Terra-orbiting space station and transfer point, now comes to an end. "Sir Isaac" and Don part in peace and contentment, Don on his way to Mars and the Venerian to his home planet. So much for dreams.


In Heinlein's aborted second Future History, the space station and transfer point for interplanetary ships and planet-shuttles was called "Supra-New York". These stories were published in the period 1947-9 in so-called "slick" magazines like The Saturday Evening Post and Blue Book ("Delilah and the Space-Rigger", 1949; "Space Jockey", 1947; "The Long Watch", 1949; "Gentlemen, Be Seated", 1948; "The Black Pits of Luna", 1948; "It's Great to Be Back!", 1947; "Ordeal In Space", 1948; and "The Green Hills of Earth", 1947; they can be found in The Green Hills of Earth (1951) along with "Logic of Empire", a story from the initial Future History (Astounding, March 1941) and " We Also Walk Dogs", another divergent story shoehorned into the Future History (Astounding, July 1941, by "Anson MacDonald")). Heinlein had had great hopes for this market but found that slick editors weren't as tolerant as John W. Campbell, Jr. had been. (See Grumbles from the Grave, p. 154 for his complaints about the uncooperativeness of editor Stuart Rose of The Saturday Evening Post in this regard.)

Circum-Terra has a function that Supra-New York seems to lack; it serves as an orbiting A-bomb platform which has the high ground for all of Earth. Later on in the story there is a reference to "seven hundred and thirty-two bombs ready to go, with component parts for many more, plus enough deuterium and tritium to make up about a dozen Hell bombs." [pp. 73-4] The distribution of weapon types is not what later weapons production would have made it, but then predictions on the progression of nuclear weapons often tended to be considerably behind the actual development, when they weren't going off into far-flung nightmares of super-destructive weapons. (See for example, Philip Wylie's Tomorrow! (1954), rendered obsolete almost immediately by the hydrogen bomb, followed by Triumph (1963), which displays a Soviet forwardness and aggressiveness in nuclear matters quite beyond their ability in the real world.)

Such security matters aren't on Don's mind when he disembarks (he has had other security matters to concern him), but soon enough he is reminded of them when armed, uniformed men show up in the transit lounge. It seems that Circum-Terra has been taken over by the armed forces of the Venerian Republic. That interplanetary crisis the headmaster, Dr. Jefferson, and all the rest were all so concerned about was just a little further along than it had seemed at the time.

This situation puts Don in a dreadful bind. He is a native-born citizen of Venus and also a native-born citizen of Earth. His mother was born on Venus, his father on Earth, and so he has derivative citizenship from both planets. (It's not quite as bad as in Stranger In a Strange Land where due to differing legal definitions of legitimacy V. M. Smith is the legitimate child of three parents, but it's getting there.) In fact, Don was born in space (on a ship going to Ganymede, for what it's worth). So he can become an enemy alien (not like "Sir Isaac", the other kind of alien) on either planet, which may be why going to Mars is the preferable thing for him to do. In any case, this predicament isn't quite within the authority of the people on the scene to resolve, so Don gets the chance to sit and wait even longer than the other passengers from the Glory Road.

Soon enough the matter is settled, and enemy alien Don Harvey is about to be shipped back to Earth (where he would become enemy alien Don Harvey). However, cast your bread upon the waters . . . Prepared to meet his doom, Don finds himself summoned to meet the commander of the Venus Republic raiding force, who is peeved at having to deal with a case of political influence. As Don listens in with great relief, "Sir Isaac" pulls strings to get him sent to Venus.

And he can't win, either; having already been accused of being a security risk by Federation chekists, Don finds himself being accused by the Venus Republic commander of being a Federation spy, subtly planted on him by Terran state security. Everyone is a suspect, it seems, even if it takes a mind-twisting bending of coincidence worthy of Anatoli M. Golitsyn himself to make a case.

In the midst of this grim spy story Heinlein lets loose a spasm of wit, never underestimating the intelligence of the media audience. The only thing that may hinder understanding this is that one year's commonplaces are another year's unknowns:

All global broadcasts originated in, or were relayed through, the communications center of Circum-Terra. Since the Nautilus had touched in at Circum-Terra, a cosmic Trojan horse, the regular broadcasts had been allowed to continue uninterrupted. The commodore's G-6 staff officer (propaganda and nerve warfare) picked as the time for the commodore's announcement to Earth of the coup the time ordinarily given over to "Steve Brodie Says:", the most widely heard global news commentator. Mr. Brodie immediately followed the immensely popular "Kallikak Family" serial drama, an added advantage audience-wise. . . . . Inside the space station, now utterly devoid of life, the television center continued its functions unattended. The commodore's speech had already been canned; its tape was threaded into the programmer and it would start as soon as the throb show was over. . . .

As the day's serial episode closed, Celeste Kallikak had been arrested for suspected husband murder, Buddy Kallikak was still in the hospital and not expected to live, Father Kallikak was still missing, and Maw Kallikak was herself suspected of cheating on ration stamps but she was facing it all bravely, serene in her knowledge that only the good die young. After the usual commercial plug ("The Only Soap with Guaranteed Vitamin Content for greater Vitacity!!") the tank faded into Steve Brodie's trademark, a rocket trail condensing into his features while a voice boomed, "Steve Brodie, with tomorrow's news TODAY!"

Between Planets, pp. 72-3

That word is "Vitacity" another example of a coined advertising term that seems to mean something but on which a disgruntled user can't pin the company down if anything goes wrong with the product. (Reading about various soaps and deodorants these days advertising their Vitamin E content, however, indicates to me that this can rank as another thoughtful predictive insight of Heinlein's.) As for Mr. Brodie, I hope he enjoyed the jump according to the story, the legendary Steve Brodie reportedly jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge and lived to tell the tale.

Finally, in 1912 psychologist Henry Herbert Goddard, a staffer at the New Jersey Institution for the Feeble-Minded, had published the book The Kallikak Family: A Study in the Heredity of Feeble-Mindedness [sic.], a sociological report on the hereditary nature of social ills, which became a crucial and famous work on this topic.

Beginning with the case of one mentally retarded inmate, a girl he called "Deborah Kallikak", Goddard recounted and analyzed the history of her family, descended from a liaison during the American Revolution between a young man of good family and, as he put it, a feeble-minded barmaid. While the scions of the legitimate side were decent law-abiding citizens, the descendants of the prostitute's child were a fine collection of alcoholics, syphilitics, madmen, criminals, and morons, as Goddard showed in a detailed (if anonymous) set of family descent charts. His access to genealogical data must have been phenomenal. (The conclusions presented in this work, and in the other similar one it is paired with in reference and common parlance, The 'Jukes' by Robert L. Dugdale (1910), have since been seriously questioned, as have been the data.)

"All global broadcasts originated in, or were relayed through, the communications center of Circum-Terra," as Arthur C. Clarke had proposed. Clarke wrote stories himself about this; likely he disapproved of the additional use. But then he and Heinlein would disagree over such uses of space. (See Requiem, p. 264, for Clarke's comments on their debate over the Strategic Defense Initiative.)

Also note the three-dimensional video broadcasting system. Here Heinlein maintained consistent terminology, referring to "tank" in this as in Stranger In a Strange Land and the Future History.

In any case, this Mr. Brodie's fans are going to have a fall of their own. Instead of seeing the news reported, they are going to see it being made. (The extended version of James Blish's, A Case of Conscience, with a similar comment, would not come out until 1959.) Instead of the usual program showing "tomorrow's news TODAY!!":

It cut suddenly, the tank went empty, and a voice said, "We interrupt this broadcast to bring you a special news flash." The tank filled again, this time with the features of Commodore Higgins.

His face lacked the synthetic smile obligatory for all who speak in public telecast; his manner and voice were grim. "I am High Commodore Higgins, commanding Task Force Emancipation of the High Guard, Venus Republic. The High Guard has seized Earth's satellite station Circum-Terra. We now have all of Earth's cities utterly at our mercy."

Between Planets, p. 73

Commodore Higgins's strategy is aimed at dividing the people on Earth from the Federation Government by showing their common interests with the Venus colonists. Stating briefly the war aims of the new Venus Republic in his speech, he ends by announcing that they will now destroy Circum-Terra and it blows up. Perhaps the ordinary people of Earth will now be pleased at losing the constant threat of being nuked from the orbiting high ground.

Clarke had imagined that a relay station would need to be crewed, for purposes of maintenance. (Changing valves Amer. "vacuum tubes" to be precise.) Presumably Circum-Terra has a similar purpose. The development of transistors and then integrated circuits has made it possible for comparatively small unmanned satellites to be used instead, enabling redundancy among other things. If one satellite blows up (or is blown up), another can take its place.

Depending on a single orbiting station for relay means that this redundancy is lost. Those who have come to rely on worldwide communications (including the ruling class of the Federation) might be less pleased. (Somewhat like the one passenger who complained at the disruption of travel the raid entailed if he couldn't get to the Moon he would lose millions. The colonists guarding him, who had never even had thousands, were not impressed. [p. 65]) Though, through references to Circum-Terra passing over the Earth's surface, it may be inferred that it was not a geostationary station, which would make it less effective as a relay. And so, Don is off to Venus, rather far from his intended destination.


The trip to Venus is comparatively uneventful, though Don quickly finds he made the right choice in going there instead of back to Earth. The ship with the returning passengers had been destroyed by a panicky if not paranoid Earth defense system.

Not that the Venus colonists seem any less suspicious themselves. At one point, Don finds himself being interrogated again by suspicious colonist security officers, investigating a serious charge of contacts related to suspicion of espionage. That is, he was lost in the ship and passed near the corridor to the nuclear weapons storage area. For now, he passes the test. They are concerned, though, that the omnipresent, omniscient, and prescient I.B.I. has all the same managed to plant spies in the task force. This concern requires that they take even more steps to screen out the alleged spies.

The mentoring of lower-stage Heinlein Individuals by higher-stage ones, the frequent subject of a Heinlein novel, does not feature in this book. Indeed, Don is thrust out on his own to face the world without mentoring, training, or protection. He faces outright hostility on all sides, as we have seen thus far and will see even more of later.

What he does get is advice. In this section, a sympathetic noncommissioned officer advises Don that the way to achieve his goal of going to Mars is through joining the Venusian High Guard, their space force (as opposed to their air force, the Middle Guard, and their marines/riverine troops, the Ground Forces). Joining the High Guard is the only way for Don to get there, provided he remembers to strive for the proper back-door influence with the planners. (Don believes that this scenario is a little optimistic.)

And so they arrive at Venus, dumping Don off to sink or swim. Given that Heinlein had adopted the then-popular theory of a warm, wet, swampy Venus for this story, that figure of speech is multiply appropriate. After yet another hostile encounter with security, which condescends to let him off on a leash he decides that the best thing to do is let his parents know where he is. (This is always a good idea under such circumstances.)

Reporting to the local office of IT&T (Interplanetary Telephone and Televideo, not to be confused with the Terran company International Telephone and Telegraph, known as ITT) on Buchanan Street, Main Island, New London, Venus, Don tries to send a message:

. . . A young lady was seated behind a counter desk. "I'd like to send a radiogram."

"That's what we're here for." She handed him a pad and stylus. "Thanks." Don composed a message with much wrinkling of forehead, trying to make it both reassuring and informative in the fewest words. Presently he handed it in.

The girl raised her brows when she saw the address but made no comment. She counted the words, consulted a book, and said, "That'll be a hundred and eighty-seven fifty." Don counted it out, noting anxiously what a hole that made in his assets.

She glanced at the notes and pushed them back. "Are you kidding?"

"What's the matter?"

"Offering me Federation money. Trying to get me in trouble?"

Between Planets, p. 88

Again Don is the helpless prey of political pressures, as the Republic has issued its own currency and demonetized the Federation's. In any case, he couldn't send the message anyway, since the Sun is between Venus and Mars. (George O. Smith would note the absence of a Venus Equilateral, the location in his stories of that title (The Complete Venus Equilateral (1976)) of the Trojan-position relay station established to prevent such contretemps. However, in this universe a Venus Equilateral would likely be just another Circum-Terra, one way or another.) In the two weeks until the orbits get right, Don has some time to make connections, find a money exchange, get a job, or otherwise get into a position to be able to pay for his message.

There is one small solace in this nightmare on Buchanan Street:

. . . She glanced at the message. "Looks like you sort of ran into hard luck. How old are you " She glanced at the message. "Don Harvey?"

Don told her.

"Hmmm . . . you look older. I'm older than you are; I guess that makes me your grandmother. If you need any more advice, just stop in and ask Grandmother Isobel Isobel Costello."

"Uh, thanks, Isobel."

"Not at all. Usual I. T. & T. service." She gave him a warm smile. Don left feeling somewhat confused.

Between Planets, p. 89

One of Miss Dalgliesh's complaints later would be that Heinlein had lost Scribners' the Armed Services market by making the protagonist of one novel too young. Heinlein grumbled in response: "I can make my central character any age she wants at the opening of the story. But it can only be one age." [Grumbles from the Grave, letter of March 9, 1956, p. 77]

From the references to school Don is most likely about eighteen. But being nonspecific makes this not a necessity. Curiously enough, the complaint she had made was about Time for the Stars (1956) where he had "very carefully made the boy just graduating from high school with an implied age of eighteen and he is too old, she tells me." [loc. cit.] Same age, but different reactions.

Heinlein is working here from a different model of communications, one that he was familiar with. In the intervening years in the real world, the telegram model lapsed. Different models of communication came into being, which is why Don does not punch up the message himself and have his account automatically debited. One wonders if a frontier-type community would even have such expensive measures measures of control, too, perhaps too much for a colony at odds with a repressive home government. (And besides, he wouldn't have met Grandma Isobel.) There is enough control on Venus as it is, as we shall see. Meanwhile through sheer (Burroughsian?) coincidence Don has made a friend. With all the problems of settling down, he will certainly need one.

Trying to get his money changed, Don goes to a bank, where he finds out how illiquid his assets are. Through random chance, he meets up with a freelance moneychanger, who seems to have some interesting ideas about the future usefulness of Federation currency. Could somebody be expecting something? Stuck with the check at the Cantonese restaurant, the Two Worlds Dining Room, where he went to discuss the exchange, Don finds himself with a job as a dishwasher. (In these days where every hire is fraught with the potential of a future lawsuit charging discrimination on the basis of lateness against blue-eyed left-handed Armenian foot fetishists, and likely to incur assitional non-productive costs for such things as the unfunded employers' mandate of legal counseling for employees for future lawsuits over discrimination (and so on), and so no one is hired, it only seems unimaginable that someone could walk in off the street and get hired.) Earlier on, Heinlein had mentioned that the destruction of Circum-Terra above the North Atlantic had made its fissile end visible to "most of the habitable portions of the globe" [p. 75]. Since we know that there's been a nuclear war sometime in the past, there might well be a reason for those unhabitable portions. But "nearly half of the contract labor shipped in during the early days of the Venerian colonies had been Orientals" [p. 92]; the banker, the moneychanger, and the restaurant's owner-cook are all Chinese, so presumably China is habitable, enough to be able to bury late emigrants. Heinlein doesn't quite seem clear on the subject. (The presentation of the Chinese in this book should be noted; Heinlein has avoided stereotyping them.)

Don's luck flips from good to bad so fast he hardly needs a fan to stay cool; having been stuck with the check he finds himself in a center of information, and not too far from his girlfriend at that. But as usual there's a snake in the grass. The first night he works at the Two Worlds Cafe there is a break-in. They weren't after the money. They weren't after the equipment. Don finally concludes that they were after something he had.

Everyone seems to be interested in the ring he got in the package Dr. Jefferson sent him; the money-changer had wanted to buy it and the burglary seemed to be aimed at getting it. Since any message must have been on the wrapping paper, which had been confiscated by the I.B.I., that cheap ring must not be of any value. (Having possession of the paper, the I.B.I. could determine if it had a message or not, which Don doesn't seem to consider.) But everyone seems interested in the ring. So it must be worth something after all.

There's only one thing to do, and so Don asks Isobel to keep the ring for him, which he does while inquiring into the latest possibilities of sending a message. He also finds out how she got that job with I.T.&T. her father is the manager of the local office. Mr. Costello is also forward with suggestions about how Don could pay for a message, or technically how Don could have his father be responsible for paying for a message.

Don demurs, not wanting to commit his father to paying for something. While this responsibility is something worth noting, and to be wished for in children of all ages, you would think that Don's parents would be relieved to learn that their child was not vaporized by a jittery Federation Defense Force. Responsibility, indeed, is a substantial theme in this book, to be encountered under many differing circumstances. Don's assumption of responsibility as second nature, done instantly, seemingly without even a second thought, is a sign of maturity.

Heinlein describes the social contrast between the affluent mother planet and the colony:

Between times [Don] stoked the water boiler back of the shack . . . . Electric water heating would have been cheaper; electric power was an almost-costless by-product of the atomic pile west of the city but the equipment to use electric power was very expensive and almost unobtainable.

New London was full of such frontier contrasts. Its muddy, unpaved streets were lighted, here and there, by atomic power. Rocket-powered sky shuttles connected it with other human settlements but inside its own boundaries transportation was limited to shank's ponies and to the gondolas that served in lieu of taxies and tubes some of those were powered, more moved by human muscle.

New London was ugly, uncomfortable, and unfinished, but it was stimulating. Don liked the gusty, brawling drive of the place, liked it much better than the hothouse lushness of New Chicago. It was alive as a basketful of puppies, as vital as a punch in the jaw. There was a feeling in the air of new things about to happen, new hopes, new problems

Between Planets, pp. 103-4

That comment about nuclear power harks back to the early optimistic claims that nuclear electricity would be unmetered. (No such luck.) As one who grew up on the brink of the frontier, in western Missouri, Heinlein would be aware of that newness, the desire for a fresh start and the resources to make that fresh start that provided Americans with that "gusty, brawling drive". It's curious, though, that the capital is New London. Heinlein may have been thinking of the naval base in Connecticut (something Lieutenant J.G. (ret.) Heinlein, U.S. Naval Academy Class of 1929, would be thinking of).

It almost makes you forget this gusty, brawling city is in the middle of a rebellion, a revolution and a war. Hanging over Don's head is the possibility of conscription. The possibility of a draft is explicitly denied by a customer at the Two Worlds, a legislator; the draft bill is passed the next day. (A bit of adult cynicism there.) Remembering the advice given him about the best way to get to Mars, Don tries to beat the draft by joining the High Guard. Several thousand others had had the same idea before him. This threat is then counterbalanced by a puzzle. Having given a personal note to Mr. Costello (who was thinking that a son-in-law could pay it back?) to pay for the message, and Mars now being in line of sight, Don is expecting to hear of a message. There is no message. In fact there is no communication; Mars does not answer. The Federation must be in charge and that bodes ill.

Don has developed a loyalty to the Venus Republic and so the likelihood of being forced to defend it is not altogether unwelcome. (Later Heinlein would declare an antipathy to conscription, but he was still flexible enough to have characters possess attitudes he disagreed with.) It isn't likely to mean anything, since the prevailing opinion is that the Federation won't attack anyhow. Such a campaign wouldn't be feasible. And so to bed, in puzzled mind.

Whereupon: "That night the Federation attacked." [p. 113]


Heinlein had two novels published in 1951, Between Planets and The Puppet Masters. It was perhaps slightly surprising to learn that The Puppet Masters had been substantially edited before publication. Heinlein seemed to be trying for a blending of the hard-boiled detective and spy-thriller genres (in addition to the then-newsworthy flying saucer theme) in that book. Works of both these genres had sexual content and so it was the same with this one. The editor at Doubleday, Walter Bradbury, wanted the sexual material removed, which Heinlein grudgingly did. (This was the first novel, he seems to have believed, that he could publish without having it previously edited for sexual content. Had the reading community been aware of this concern the initial scene of the book as originally written has the protagonist in bed with a woman when the telephone rings the more lubricious passages of I Will Fear No Evil (1971) and succeeding books might have come as less of a surprise.)

The Puppet Masters also had a considerable political content. This was also removed, perhaps because that silly sci-fi stuff was for children and serious political matters would go over their little heads. Between Planets was also written with a political theme. In spite of that book being aimed explicitly at juveniles, the politics in it survived. But since The Puppet Masters had political events and Between Planets had political theory, the various editors may have figured differently. (One thinks of Rod Serling resorting to SF and fantasy in The Twilight Zone to be able to comment on current events, since mundane television drama could not be permitted to do so out of fear of offending sponsors and powerful people with ties to the FCC.)

But for the Venus Republic, survival just now is less certain. In those fervid political debates in the Two Worlds Dining Room, seeming center of the political world of the energetic young Venus Republic (at least the dishwasher thought so), the possibility of intervention by the angered Federation was discussed and dismissed. It was totally illogical for them to attempt to wage war over interplanetary distances, all present agreed.

The attack should not have happened, of course. The rice farmer sergeant had been perfectly right; the Federation could not afford to risk its own great cities to punish the villagers of Venus. He was right from his viewpoint.

A rice farmer has one logic; men who live by and for power have another and entirely different logic. Their lives are built on tenuous assumptions, fragile as reputation; they cannot afford to ignore a challenge to their power the Federation could not afford not to punish the insolent colonists.

Between Planets, p. 113

Despite the polylogicist assumptions implied in the first sentence and refuted in the second (rice farmers and men who live by and for power have the same logic but that logic operates on entirely different premises) the argument is basically sound. It's a reminder that many should have taken to heart, from the number-crunchers around Robert McNamara who fervently believed that Vietnamese villagers liked being bombed because it kept the Cong away to Heinlein himself, who in denouncing the Korean War as the first war America lost forgot about the original objective, which was to preserve South Korea, and that this objective was in fact accomplished, which should have classified that war as a victory, or a success anyhow.

Now Don Harvey now has a further crimp in his plans. You will recall that when the Republic passed a conscription act (right after he heard that they wouldn't do such a thing you would think that after all that's happened to him he would have learned that the best indication that something is going to happen is when it's officially denied) he decided to beat the draft and sign up for the High Guard. With a little office politicking in the right places, he had been advised, he could attain his goal of being on the mission to Mars. No such luck only about ten thousand or so other guys had had similar advice.

Perhaps it was his lucky day after all, for the Federation's attack began with the destruction of the entire Venus Republic space navy. The confusion and concerns technological advances involve in conflict are are highlighted in Heinlein's description of the turmoil the gradually revealed news of all this engenders. In this day of electronic communications, it seems odd for the concerned colonists of New London to be clustered around the I. T. & T. office listening to the reading off of bulletins; more like it was in the old days in rural Missouri waiting for the election results. But this again highlights Heinlein's earlier comment about the blend of the future and the past that economics and technology made of the Venus colony.

In the confusion that this Togoesque strike engenders, the marines land and the situation is well in hand. That is, the Federation Peace Forces, striking with a zeal and fervor worthy of the Mobile Infantry (or maybe even the F.F.N. Peace Dragoons), begin their peacekeeping mission by landing on Venus near New London, and presumably near the other cities. This comes down on Don personally when they start burning down the neighborhood.

Alexei Panshin complained, not without cause, about the melodramatic scenes of forced emotion to be found in The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress (1966) [Heinlein In Dimension, pp. 112-3]. He might have used incidents from this book as a better example of this, or to support his thesis by showing a broader tendency. The conflict in this book is more personally drawn, which makes the melodrama more grating, vitiating genuine feelings by introducing forced ones.

As we can see when the F.P.F. starts cleaning out that particular district of New London. In what perhaps might be considered a somewhat ill-judged act of resistance, Don's employer Old Charlie attacks with his cleaver one of the spaceship troopers busy pacifying the area and though successful, is burned down by another one of his comrades. (In Starship Troopers (1959), you'll recall, when a Skinny civilian resisted (albeit with more than just a cleaver) his burning down the neighborhood, Juan Rico was so horrified that he tossed a grenade into a room full of them. Autres temps autres mores.)

The unarmed Don hasn't the opportunity to show resistance. (Likely this means that the F.P.F. doesn't carry weapons to be posthumously issued to enemy terrorists killed while resisting capture [cf. John Peters in Mercenary by Mike Hoare].) Horrified at this atrocious murder at least Don thinks of it as a murder, while the author points out that it is a legitimate act of war carried out in front of his eyes, at gunpoint he is herded out into the streets, while the F.P.F. peace dragoons proceed to burn down the Two Worlds with their ray guns. (They must have forgotten their cigarette lighters.)

Don is herded down the street to a large prison camp, a secure if short-term facility consisting of an electric-fenced enclosure. (Shortly thereafter he finds out that the place was built by the Republic, which says something about them that Heinlein may not have meant to be saying.) After being lost all these months, Don finally finds somewhere where he is wanted. Wanted by the I.B.I., that is. This fulfillment of his dreams is not quite to his liking.

Everyone still seems to be after the ring he got in that package Dr. Jefferson had sent him; the genial interrogator (and remember, our chekists interrogate with a smile) kindly asks Don for the ring. Of course, he doesn't have it; he gave it to Isobel Costello and by the way he's sick out of his head with concern that she may be dead, not having seen her at all this day. So there is more than one reason that it wouldn't do to mention this. [Could it have been the ring after all?]

Fortunately, the desire of the F.P.F. to have a hot time in the old town tonight provides Don with a ready-made excuse and a temporary reprieve. Thoughts of being interrogated more stringently still oppress him, implying that escape is in order. While discussing the possibilities (and the constraints, such as that fence) with a fellow prisoner, Don hears his name called, presumably for further chekist checking, which gives him a certain impetus to turn thought into action:

Don swarmed up the fence.

He hesitated before touching the lowest of the three strands, flipping it with the back of his hand. Nothing happened then he was over and falling. He lit badly, hurting a wrist, but scrambled to his feet and ran.

There were shouts behind him; without stopping he risked a look over his shoulder. Someone else was at the top of the fence. Even as he looked he heard the hiss of a beam. The figure jerked and contracted, like a fly touched by flame.

The figure raised its head. Don heard the major's voice in a clear triumphant baritone: "Venus and Freedom!" He fell back inside the fence.

Between Planets, pp. 124-5

More realistically, having him say "Mother, Mother, Mother, make it stop . . . ." while being a genuine non-melodramatic depiction of a wounded, dying man's last words (ask Sergeant William Manchester, U.S.M.C. or see his Goodbye, Darkness), wouldn't convey the point Heinlein is making about patriotism and the other virtues. Such melodrama and forced emotion vitiate the exposition of these virtues, which I doubt Heinlein would really have wanted or was trying to do. (Some of those who have commented on such matters like having opinions they oppose being cheapened in this fashion, too.)

Meanwhile, Don has (for the moment) escaped from the I.B.I. Maybe it wasn't such a good idea after all for the F.P.F. greenies to burn down everything including the power facilities.


Heretofore Don had not been finding being a citizen of the solar system any great advantage. However, New London is built on an archepelago in the shallow Venerian sea. Venus being at a moderately high average temperature and in effect lacking weather, its bodies of water never "turn over" [see page 126]. So the colonists never swim but Don has been other places where that is possible. So he escapes by swimming away, angry F.P.F. in hampered pursuit, cooking various items of innocent Venerian fauna with their ray guns.

Among the strengths of Heinlein's attention to background was the explication of unobvious consequences. "The Menace from Earth" (1957) and The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress (1966) discuss one of those; if you have a large air reservoir in a low-gravity environment, it will be possible to have human-powered flight in it. Another strength was his awareness of environmental factors; a central element in Farmer In the Sky (1950) and in this plot element.

In Don's flight to the wilds of Venus, he meets, or is glad not to meet, other examples of its indigenous fauna. Some, like the lower forms of the intelligent species, he never quite runs into, fortunately. Others, like the satyroid gregarians, or "move-overs", are more helpful (at dinner with Uncle Dudley, Don had guiltily noticed that they tasted good). Heinlein had definite ideas about how these looked:

. . . The move-overs should resemble in appearance the mythological fauns or satyrs, the "goat-men", but should avoid too close a resemblance, i.e., avoid terrestrial musculature, articulation, and physiognomy both of goats and men. Faunus veneris is a biped, horned, and smaller than a man, but its appearance merely suggests the faun of Greek mythology. It is not actually related to any earthian life form; there is plenty of elbow room for the artist to use his imagination.

Grumbles from the Grave, letter of June 3, 1951, p. 62

This description may possibly have exceeded the conceptual reach of the Blue Book illustrator, but it does give an insight into Heinlein's thoughts on the matter. (The hardback illustrator Clifford Geary, whose white-on-black scratchboard illustrations were a noteworthy addition to this and other volumes of the Scribner's juveniles, had a good grasp of what needed to be done.)

The help comes from the gregarious nature of the gregarians. Hearing his doom catching up with him, Don hides in a curious herd of them. The F.P.F. greenies follow the trace into a milling crowd of animals and decide that it isn't worth pursuing further, much to the relief of their target, who is within earshot yet virtually undetectable.

This assistance continues, with Don's recognition of the move-overs' knowledge of their own habitat. Following the herd as it crosses through the shallows to new feeding grounds, he finds the next island, then strikes off on his own, hoping to find a feeding ground of his own. Only to get a bad turn when he is stopped at gunpoint by, it turns out, a Venusian colonial soldier.

By now Don knows which side he is on, but it takes some persuading for the local commander to come to agreement with him. However, Don has two useful abilities; one, he can speak the language of the Venusian dragons, and two:

"Well, I can wash dishes."

Busby grudged a faint smile. "That is unquestionably a soldierly virtue. . . ."

Between Planets, p. 137

The F.P.F. is fighting a war in a swampy place, facing an enemy that has a knowledge of the terrain and conditions. They are never able to strike at the enemy's forces, fighting for a specific place and then abandoning it as soon as taken. Does this sound like anything that happened in another place and time? (It would have been too much if a key position, defended by several battalions of F.P.F. troopers, had been named "Seat of the Border County Prefecture" in Venerian (which by the way happens to be "dien bien phu" in Vietnamese), and anyway that wouldn't be relevant for a couple of years.)

[Don] learned the ways of the guerilla to infiltrate without a sound, to strike silently, and to fade back into the dark and the mist before the alarm can be raised. Those who learned it lived; those who did not, died. Don lived.

Between Planets, p. 137

There are some things absent from this romanticized map of the street without joy that the Venus colonials are directing the F.P.F. greenies down. Some such matters were even known of at the time. One wonders if the greenies ever had occasion to reenact the incident at Oradur, for example, where several hundred French villagers paid the price for the daring adventures of the maquisards, doing to the SS what Don and his fellow soldiers are doing here to the greenies.

A more thorough analysis would call into question the ability of the colonials to continue operations. Other guerilla groups have had the advantage of a more or less reliable and regular supply of war materials. When (for example) the Yugoslav government under Tito closed the border and otherwise quit supporting the ELAS/EAM communist partisans, the communist guerilla war in Greece came to an end. By contrast, in a similar case with a different sort of ending, the various sources of supply for the Cong and later the NVA in South Vietnam never were interdicted, in spite of immense efforts. Where will the colonists be getting their weapons and munitions?

Heinlein mentions one not overly willing source of supply: "He stopped to roll up the hammock and stuff it into his pocket it weighed only four ounces and had cost the Federation a nice piece of change on cost-plus contract. Don was very careful of it; its former owner had not been careful and now had no further need for it." [p. 140] As anyone who knows about the Battle of the Bulge will recall, depending on the enemy's generosity for supplies is a recipe for being on the short end of the stick when the quartermaster issues them.

So while they are successful for now, the long-term prospects for the colonists are not all that promising. Which makes the reason Don is rolling up his hammock all the more interesting.

At first it seems to be only a casual unimportant piece of busywork. "A high mugamug among the dragons wants palaver. You're to go to see him. At once," says Don's company commander [p. 140] and after some resistance (the resistance was about to stage a fun raid) Don gives in and is off. After a hazardous trip by airboat through the mudflats of the Mekong Delta and shallow seas of the area Don finds himself at the home of this "high mugamug" and hears a remarkably familiar synthesized voice: "Donald, my dear boy! How very happy I am to see you!" says "Sir Isaac" [p. 142].


His casual encounter at the space port back on Earth has again turned out to be crucial, for it turns out that "Sir Isaac" was indeed a dragon of importance. When Don had been pulled off that doomed ship headed Earthward, the High Guard commander had complained about political pressure:

"Mmm" He paused, then went on, "You might as well know what influenced me. 'Sir Isaac,' as you call him, traces his ancestry directly back to the Original Egg, placed in the mud of Venus on the day of Creation. So that's why I'm stuck with you. Orderly!"

Don let himself be led away without saying a word. Few if any Earthlings have been converted to the dominant religion of Venus; it is not a proselyting faith. But none laugh at it; all take it seriously. A terrestrial on Venus may not believe in the Divine Egg and all that that implies; he finds it more profitable and much safer to speak of it with respect.

Sir Isaac a Child of the Egg! Don felt the sheepish awe that is likely to strike even the most hard-boiled democrat when he first comes in contact with established royalty. Why, he had been talking to him, just as if he were any old dragon say one that sold vegetables in the city market.

Between Planets, p. 71

(It's an interesting commentary to note that Heinlein seems able to imagine that only nonhumans can have valid religious beliefs.)

Don has found it useful to have the acquaintance of this prince, and has hoped to someday be in a position to repay his kindness and charity. Now it looks as if he may be having the chance.

In this book Heinlein presents an alien society of complexity and depth, comparable to the Martian society of Red Planet (1949) and Stranger In a Strange Land (1961). (The Martian society in this book, from the few glimpses we have of its sole representative, seems to be substantially different.) There were other hints of its depth besides the monarchist comment just made, as when Don wanted to put off diplomacy for fighting: "[These] people don't care about time; they're patient." [p. 140] (The point had been made that the colonists had the allegiance and coöperation of the dragons, while the Federation greenies looked on them as only big ugly scaly things [pp. 138-9]. Yet both Don and his company commander are talking in a rather alienated fashion about the dragons.)

Surrounded by "Sir Isaac's" family, or a substantial representation from it (which Don understands to be a high honor; friendship among Venerians must really mean something), Don is received into his host's home among much exotic technology, such as an anisotropic moving walkway (similar to that in Arthur C. Clarke's Against the Fall of Night (1953)/The City and the Stars (1956)/Beyond the Fall of Night (1990)). From there he is ushered into a quiet guest suite (no, not like it was in Clarke's 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)).

That bit about not caring about time and being patient applies still, as Don will have ample opportunity to rest. In spite of his having desired to go on the raid, he seems curiously able and willing to rest up. And eat which puzzles him, since Venerians don't cook, and yet here is a human style meal all laid out for him. (The comment about "Grand Rapids" furniture doesn't mean much now.)

In the morning, "Sir Isaac" gives us another commentary on that different view of time, and of relationships:

Sir Isaac lumbered in. "My dear boy, will you forgive an old man in a hurry for treating you with the informality ordinarily used with one's own children?"

"Why, certainly, Sir Isaac." Don was still puzzled. If Sir Isaac were a dragon in a hurry, he was the first one in history.

"If you are refreshed, then please come with me." Don did so, reflecting that they must have had him under observation; Sir Isaac's entrance was too timely.

Between Planets, p. 146

You must realize that "Sir Isaac" would naturally describe himself as a "man"; to him human beings would be some other kind of intelligent creature, one that thinks like a man but differently than a man. Campbell's observation works two ways. As another point, the stress on propriety and courtesy is very reminiscent of the Martians in Red Planet and Stranger In a Strange Land and the different Martians in Heinlein's Double Star (1956). On another note, in describing Don's arrival in "Sir Isaac's" study Heinlein manages to combine a commentary on the physical capabilities of the dragons with a sly, or snide, commentary of a different sort:

. . Above the racks on one wall was what Don judged to be a mural, but it looked like meaningless daubs to him; the three colors in the infrared which dragons see and we do not produced the usual confusion. On second thought he decided that it might actually be meaningless; certainly a lot of human art did not seem to mean anything.

Between Planets, p. 147

Note too how circumstances alter cases; the clouds of Venus provide a lighting environment where the human visual range is less than adequate, so the indigenous creatures can see in spectra of the sort more likely to be visible in their environment.

But there is a reason for violating courtesy, and Don makes a guess about the utility of there being available two human chairs in "Sir Isaac's" study which soon turns out to be valid. Another human arrives, another old friend of the Harvey family or so he says. This Montgomery Phipps could use a lesson in local courtesy and comprehension, as he starts out by demanding that this meeting should have been held last night, much to "Sir Isaac's" dismay. Then he manages to rudely introduce Don to the final attendee a Martian.

Heretofore the intelligent Martians haven't been overly important to this story. Don had seen one in that effete eatery in New Chicago [p. 25], noting that there must have been something crucial involved for him to be risking the triple-strength gravity of Earth; closed environment, prostheses, and all. Now here is one risking the triple-strength gravity of Venus; closed environment, etc. There must be something important involved for this Malath da Thon to be here.

Phipps crashes on, confirming that Don was a messenger, and asks for the ring. Don at first still refuses to credit what is by now obvious, and he has some other objections. First off, there is still his obligation to the martyred Dr. Jefferson to do as originally requested and take the ring to his parents. And second, he doesn't have the ring [this declaration takes the heart out of their Martian colleague Malath, who, feeling and being doomed, passes out in shock and horror] he gave it to Isobel Costello for safekeeping, and where is she?

Phipps looked utterly astounded, then lay back in his chair and roared. Presently he wiped his eyes and said, "Did you hear that, Sir Isaac? Did you hear that? Talk about the Blue Bird in your own back yard! Talk about Grandma's spectacles!"

Don looked from one to the other. "What do you mean?" he asked in offended tones.

"What do I mean? Why, son, Jim Costello and his daughter have been right here since two days after the attack." He jumped out of his chair. "Don't move! Stay where you are I'll be right back."

Between Planets, pp. 152-3

And a few moments later, Don finds himself being "swarmed by a somewhat smaller and female member of his own race. Isobel seemed determined to break his neck. Don was embarassed and upset and most happy." [p. 154] What all is involved in this happy reunion [Mr. Costello was there too], anyway?

Phipps was quite forthcoming about it all. He, "Sir Isaac", the Harveys, Mr. Costello, and the late Dr. Jefferson (he explains to Don) were and are all members of a conspiracy against the government, called "The Organization". These rebels united against a tyrannical empire are the latest generation of a movement over two centuries old, one dedicated to upholding the belief "in the dignity and natural worth of free intelligence" [p. 152] against the encroachment of the all-powerful state (a fear of Nietzsche's, too). In the past century the Organization has grown in fervor, if shrinking in numbers.

And now they have sent a crucial message off to Mars, using the method of divided messages. Dr. Jefferson had the one half; he was sending it there via his friends' and co-conspirators' all-unknowing child, who was going to Mars anyhow. Malath had the other half. Other rebels, however, diverted this little scheme. And this message oops, here comes Isobel with the ring. (Mr. Costello seems to be emotionally divided about the ring symbolism.)

Isobel then hands over the ring, to Don, whereupon Don reraises a serious issue: "You never did get around to explaining why I should turn it over to you." [p. 155] Phipps's explanation is sheer force majeure, trying to take the ring from Don. Which in its turn leads to Don's reacting in kind, but with a weapon, and with reaction has its own problems:

"Don held the knife with the relaxed thumb-and-two-finger grip of those who understand steel." (I understand that everybody at US Steel holds his knife in this manner.)

Heinlein In Dimension, p. 61

Which is worse: Panshin pretending not to understand synecdoche (referring to the whole (a knife) by a part (the steel of which its blade is made)) in order to make a lame joke, or Panshin really not understanding the concept of synecdoche? Or the Organization, established and dedicated to resisting tyranny, grand bullying, resorting to bullying, petty tyranny, in order to get its way? In this last section, there are many hints that The Organization may well be just as oppressive and arbitrary as the Federation it seeks to overthrow. While discussing such issues in the story would be extraneous to the plot and detrimental to its flow, the reader can't but be aware of the problem. "Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster," (Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarathrustra) applies all the more here and may have been unpleasantly fulfilled.

It also betrays a romantic but unrealistic view of the matter when the recent problems of the Organization are attributed to more efficient police work. In the history of genuine conspiracies, by far the most effective weapon security agencies have had against them are their own internal discontents. Whether it be serious policy disputes or the happenstances of criminal law, there will eventually be someone to talk to the authorities. One thinks of the Russian Socialist Revolutionary Party's Fighting Organization, the most effective terrorist group in the Russian Empire, led by the daring and innovative revolutionary terrorist Yevno Azef an agent of the Okhrana, the Russian Secret Police! (See Comrade Valentine by Richard E. Rubenstein (1994) for the strange double life of Azef.) Or, Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler was aware of the plans of the German Opposition to remove Hitler, but left them alone since they fit in with his plans to depose Hitler.

So rather than Heinlein's melodramatic scenario of cells of the Organization being penetrated by the I.B.I. arrest squads, it would seem to be far more likely that the Greenies would be on top of the situation all along, but waiting to see what they could get.

Don has a relevent complaint and comment about what has, or hasn't, been going on:

"You know," Don said slowly, "it seems to me that if Dr. Jefferson had told me what it was I was carrying and if you had trusted Isobel here with some idea of what was going on, a lot of trouble could have been saved."

Between Planets, p. 158

The Organization is working for a solar system where such things needn't be. Which still doesn't put the ring into useful hands. The resolution of this stalemate would seem familiar to Lemuel Gulliver, if only after his fourth voyage.

Now Don can trust Isobel, but she's as bad off as he is. No one else here has both trustworthiness and position, no one except "Sir Isaac". How does he feel?

He looked up at the dragon. "Sir Isaac?"

"Yes, Donald?"

"What would happen if I refused to give up the ring?

Sir Isaac answered at once but with grave deliberation. "You are my own egg, no matter what. This is your house where you may dwell in peace or leave in peace as is your will."

"Thank you, Sir Isaac." Don trilled it in dragon speech and used "Sir Isaac's" true name.

Costello said urgently, "Mr. Harvey "


"Do you know why the speech of the dragon people is called 'true speech'?"

"Uh, why, no, not exactly."

"Because it is true speech. See here I've studied comparative semantics the whistling talk does not even contain a symbol for the concept of falsehood. And what a person does not have symbols for he can't think about! Ask him, Mr. Harvey. Ask him in his own speech. If he answers at all, you can believe him."

Don looked at the old dragon. The thought went racing through his mind that Costello was right there was no symbol in dragon speech for "lie", the dragons apparently never had arrived at the idea or the need. Could Sir Isaac tell a lie? Or was he so far humanized that he could behave and think like a man? He stared at Sir Isaac and eight blank, oscillating eyes looked back at him. How could a man know what a dragon was thinking?

"Ask him!" insisted Costello.

He didn't trust Phillips, he couldn't logically trust Costello he had no reason to. And Isobel didn't figure into it.

But a man had to trust somebody, some time! A man couldn't go it alone all right, let it be this dragon who had "shared mud" with him. "It isn't necessary," Don said suddenly. "Here." He reached into his pocket, took out the ring, and slipped it over one of Sir Isaac's tentacles.

The tentacle curled through it and withdrew it into the slowly writhing mass. "I thank you, Mist-on-the-Waters."

Between Planets, pp. 160-1


What is this project for which so many have suffered and died? The history of this universe (Heinlein could have written many books about it, exploring a vast field of endeavor a third, or second, Future History) contains tantalizing hints of an ancient Martian space empire, of which the aging remnants like Malath da Thon are but the impoverished heirs, clinging to survival in the ruins. This space empire was tied together by ships that zipped between the planets in days, not months as the Federation's vessels wend their way. The Organization has uncovered some traces of this lost knowledge on Mars. Seemingly we aren't in the conceptual universe of H. Beam Piper's "Omnilingual" (1954), where basic science is the universal conceptual structure that provides the bilingual for the lost Martian tongue. Rather, in this case Heinlein has set up a situation where his characters must deal with underlying conceptual constructs which need to be recreated in order to understand this knowledge.

This has been done. But it needs to be tested, which can only be done on Earth. This too was done, but the results needed to be evaluated and the products built safely away from the I.B.I. A message with these results was being sent safely to Mars when the Venus rebellion intervened. This left the Organization on Venus stuck with the need to realize the technology, and fortunately the parts of the message as well. Which doesn't get the message decoded, however.

Decoding it takes another set of improvisations and assemblage of skills. (It can be noted that along the way, Heinlein brings in another dragon who seems resentful of the upper-class snobbery of his betters. Social strains? One could wish he had had more room to expound on the society of the Venerian dragons, or even another novel.) The ring had contained a message wire, a microminiaturized recording-wire. (And those things do break and snarl, just like they did in the forties.) Once the message wires are combined and decoded, as an increasingly bored and sleepy Don and Isobel watch, Phipps gives Don back the now-exhausted ring, a valuable artifact worth much to a collector or a museum. Reiterating his basic theme of responsibility Don demurs: "I reckon I'll deliver it to my father eventually." [p. 170]

While everyone else is involved in the crash project to get a spaceship built you see, there is this little matter of the Organization having been penetrated, and a Federation fleet being sent off to clean up the "nest of snakes" on Mars Don has nothing to do, and is bored again. He recognizes they are giving him makework (Isobel, by contrast, has real work) and so "He gave up and went back to loafing, found that he could sleep all right in the afternoons but that the practice kept him awake at night." [p. 173] (Couldn't they have put him on the dishwashing squad?) With all this leisure time he begins to plan an escape, but obviously they can't let someone out who might be captured and spill the beans to the I.B.I. [Could they still not entirely trust him? The record is not overly favorable.]

The high-pressure production program, working against a deadline, has generated a working space drive. And the lost legacy of the First Empire has also provided a weapon for that desperate mission. The re-researchers have developed an impenetrable protective shield, a means of generating a perfect blockage against nuclear weapons or physical ones. As chief scientist Roger Conrad puts it, "How would you like to put a lid like that over the Federation's capital at Bermuda and leave it in place until they decided to come to terms?" [p. 175]

(Disturbing comparisons with the "bobble" of Vernor Vinge's The Peace War can be made. When "disinterested, altruistic" scientists in that book developed the means to pacify the world by sealing off the tyrants and the war-makers, they in turn became tyrants. Now when Heinlein had faced this problem once before, in "If This Goes On " (1940, 1953), he had had his revolutionary conspirators break the connection between the government and the revolutionaries, and he would have his characters do so again later in The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress (1965-6). But in each case the revolution turns out to be less than what might be hoped for. (Moreover, Panshin points out, each of those other two works is marked by a heavy use of forced emotional imagery (Heinlein In Dimension, pp. 15-18 and 111-116).) Each option has problems, therefore.)

Talking about solving problems; Phillips has determined how to solve his own problem. Instead of letting Don sneak off to rejoin the fight, he will send him off to rejoin the fight, on the ship going to Mars. (Evidently he could be trusted with that.) Many goodbyes are to be said, and none more than one:

. . . Isobel stepped out from behind a massive pillar. "Don I wanted to say goodbye to you . . . . Don, you stubborn beast! Don you come back. You understand me?"

"Why, sure! We'll be back in jig time."

"See that you do! You're not bright enough to take care of yourself. Well Open sky!" She grabbed him by both ears, and kissed him quickly, then ran away.

Don stared after her, rubbing his mouth. Girls, he reflected, were much odder than dragons. Probably another race entirely. . .

Between Planets, pp. 181-2

Which makes his later opinion that she would go with him on the interstellar expedition that has been pending likely true, though this seems to be a too-typical example of the banter that Heinlein passes off as married-couple talk. (In the nonfiction Tramp Royale (1992) he has similar talk between himself and his wife. One wonders.)

After all this preparation the great battle between the rebels and the Federation comes as an anticlimax. Conrad, now chief engineer and weapons officer as well as chief developer, has fears of reenacting Clarke's "Superiority" there was not time to test the equipment. Technical skills Don lacks but he does have one hard-earned ability, and his duty station on the warship Little David will be self-destruct officer; he sits on the dead-man switch and may have to let it go to blow up the ship, if need be. The ship has been traveling in the "discontinuity" for eleven days, able to accelerate at a rate of twenty gravities in the frame of reference of the external universe, while sustaining only one-third g in their own frame of reference. (Interestingly enough, in Starman Jones the starships travel in a "discontinuity" on Horst-Conrad engines, where the acceleration can be quite different in the internal and external frames of reference. This could have been the backbone of a Third Future History.)

Finally they emerge near Mars. The Venerian ship challenges the Federation fleet, the fleet counterchallenges, and *blip* the Federation ships are neatly packaged up. And then:

Mars at last . . . he'd be seeing his parents perhaps before the day was out and give his father the ring. This was certainly not the way they had planned it.

Next time he would try not to take the long way round.

Between Planets, p. 190