THE CRYING OF LOT NINETY-SEVEN
Commentary on Robert A. Heinlein's Citizen of the Galaxy by Joseph T Major
Opus #126; written November 12 - December 8, 1956; 90,000 words
Serialized in Astounding Science Fiction, September-December 1957
I. ILLEGAL CHAMPAGNE BEGGING
In 1957 the FBI arrested illegal immigrant Emil R. Goldfus alias Martin Collins, a photographer living in New York City. In 1957 Israeli Defense Forces Rav Seren (Major) Ze'ev Gur-Arieh, seeing few prospects in his future military career, began a different course of work. And also in 1957 Scribner's published, and Astounding serialized, Robert A. Heinlein's juvenile novel for the year, Citizen of the Galaxy.
What do these events have in common?
"Emil R. Goldfus" wasn't his name. He had come to the U.S. in 1948 as "Andrew Kayotis"; that wasn't his name either. He finally broke down and told the FBI that he was "Rudolf Ivanovich Abel"; that wasn't his name either. His name was William August Fisher, and he was born in Newcastle-upon-Tyne in 1903 to German-Russian professional revolutionary parents; he himself was as well a worthy son of the Revolution. For Colonel Fisher was an "illegal"; a chekist agent sent to lie low and pretend to be an ordinary citizen of the Glavny Protivnik, the Main Adversary, passing on information to the Socialist Motherland and orders to other agents.
After a dramatic trial Colonel "Abel" was convicted, sentenced to thirty years, and then in 1962 traded for U-2 pilot Francis Gary Powers. He spent his declining years as a trainer for the KGB's First Chief Directorate, passing on to other spies tips on how to survive in the Main Adversary and other foes of the U.S.S.R. before he died in 1971. (See Games of Intelligence (1989), p. 224, by "Nigel West" (Rupert Allason) and Special Tasks (1994, 1995), pp. 241-245 by Pavel Sudaplatov with Anatoli Sudoplatov, Jerrold L. Schecter, and Leona P. Schecter, for background, and Abel (1970, 1982) by Louise Bernikow for the basic story.)
Ze'ev Gur-Arieh, like many Israelis, had had a different name when he was born, in Mannheim, Baden, Germany in 1921 to Hans and Helene Lotz. Though little Wolfgang Lotz was the son of a mixed marriage, in free democratic Weimar Germany, the most liberal country in the world, no one cared if your mother was Jewish or your father Goyish. No one cared, that is, until the year that Wolfgang turned twelve; and Helene suddenly felt a chill in the air, a chill that blew her and little Wolfgang all the way to Palestine. After a change of name, the now Ze'ev Gur-Arieh served in the British Army and then in the Israeli Army. When old age began to creep up on him, Ze'ev Gur-Arieh became Wolfgang Lotz again, for the Mossad.
In 1959, Afrika Korps veteran Hauptmann Wolfgang Lotz of the 115. Panzergrenadierregiment (this is still the same man, note) set up a riding school in Egypt. Many of the exiled German community of Egypt gathered at Lotz's place, drinking his champagne, heiling Hitler, and remembering the good old days. (An uninformed Mossad agent wanted to infiltrate Egypt and bump off that Nazi paskudnyak mamzer Lotz. He was talked out of it.) In the Mossad, because of his high living, they came to call Lotz "the Champagne Spy" but since he managed (for example) to get Otto Skorzeny to betray his Nazi buddies to Israel, they must have figured his bar bill to be worth it. Lotz would be caught by the Egyptians, swapped for Egyptian prisoners of war, and have a stormy post-spy life, but that's another story. (See The Champagne Spy (1972) by Lotz for the basic story.)
Citizen of the Galaxy begins with an old beggar at a slave auction. This isn't a case of Tarl Cabot helping sexually frustrated women's libbers realize their authentic submissive nature with a touch of the whip here, mind you. Baslim the beggar feels an inexplicable touch of charity for lot 97, and buys it or him, rather, a frightened boy. (The slave mart is the "Plaza of Liberty". The Louisville slave mart was on Liberty Street. Ironies are everywhere.)
Lot 97 calls himself "Thorby". Baslim sees something in Thorby, and sets about training and educating him. (Much is made of a system of memory improvement invented by one Samuel Renshaw. This system is also featured in "Gulf" (1948; but not in its ostensible sequel Friday (1982)), an unrelated story. Renshaw was a real person that Heinlein had been impressed by, but whether he did invent that system is another question. What he did do was to invent the tachyscope, a device for measuring reading speeds.)
And probably just as well. Baslim is Up To Something. It's not your everyday ordinary beggar who lives in a palatial (well, ordinarily equipped) suite of rooms hidden in a semi-demolished arena complex. It's not your everyday ordinary beggar who seems to know everybody and be everywhere, and turns out to be more fashionable or less as needed. Baslim has got himself an assistant. But for what?
The town of Jubbulpore, on the planet Jubbul, site of the Praesidium, capital of the Nine Worlds, the setting of this initial sequence, is described by Damon Knight as a "Kim-like wicked oriental splendor" [In Search of Wonder, p. 88]. Well, the world certainly is, but the story is set in the un-splendorous underside of it; the grungy netherworld of the splendid Arabian Nights stories that others might write. The thieves' world that makes up this underside is far from romanticized; that archetypical jolly tavern full of fun-loving characters from the Robert Asprin series is conspicious by its absence in this community of hard cases: "Ziggie would turn him in for the reward, for two minims Ziggie would sell his own mother Ziggie thought that anyone who didn't look out for number one first, last and always was a sucker." [p. 55] is Thorby's description of one character in his thieves' world.
One of the recurring themes of this work is the significance and interconnection of liberty and responsibility. Damon Knight says it very well: "[What] Baslim has to teach is not technique but character. Baslim is an old-fashioned, stiff-necked moral individualist, who keeps undeviating standards for himself while insisting on absolute freedom for other people. He rules by love, teaches by example." [In Search of Wonder, p. 87]
Heinlein displays this theme in all its fullness in the opening scene with Baslim and Thorby. Baslim has bought Thorby and brought him to his incongruous residence. He orders Thorby to take a bath and is not nonplussed by Thorby's futile attempts to make a run for it. Then he serves dinner, unlocks the door, and is not nonplussed when Thorby again makes a run for it as far as the passage outside. Baslim finishes eating. Then:
The boy did not answer. "All right," Baslim went on, "if you won't, I'll have to close the door. I can't risk leaving it open with the light on." He slowly got up, went to the door, and started to close it. "Last call," he announced. "Closing up for the night."
As the door was almost closed the boy squealed "Wait!" in the language Baslim expected, and scurried inside.
"Welcome," Baslim said quietly. "I'll leave it unlocked, in case you change your mind." He sighed. "If I had my way, no one would ever be locked in."
Citizen of the Galaxy, p. 13
In this, the first of four sections in the book, Heinlein develops simultaneously two plot lines, showing a masterful skill at plotting, a skill that often he did not bother using, thus enhancing the contrast. Thorby has to grow up, and grow up from a violently dysfunctional environment, psychologically torn by the abuse of slavery. In spite of that, and in spite of the morally lax and vicious environment they live in, Baslim brings him up as a moral being, a product and a follower of his own strait and narrow moral course.
At times Baslim becomes almost manic in expressing his opinions. The example above is merely a sample; time and again Baslim expresses in word and deed a preference for freedom and an utter hatred of its opposite. A discussion of Thorby's future turns hostile and Thorby tries to recover the situation with the best possible expression of gratitude he can think of:
"I'm not your master!"
"Paper says you are. Matches the number on my leg."
"Don't talk that way! Don't ever talk that way."
Citizen of the Galaxy, p. 31
Now he was again nothing and nobody, again about to be sold.
Citizen of the Galaxy, p. 5
But like the fabled cat, Thorby comes back. Something has changed in the meantime:
"I registered your manumission at the Archives the day you left. You're a free man, Thorby." . . . .
"You mean I can stay?"
"This is your home."
Citizen of the Galaxy, p. 33-4
After the discussion of character and character of a character given above Knight continues: "Only by inference, almost casually, does it appear that he [Baslim] is something more than an incongruously educated beggar: he is a spy, smuggling out information about the space traffic of Jubbulpore." [In Search of Wonder, p. 87] Now you see the relvance of the stories of William Fisher alias Rudolf Abel alias Emil Goldfus and Wolfgang Lotz sometimes Ze'ev Gur-Arieh.
In addition to this story, one that would overwhelm the writing (not to mention the writing skills) of many, Heinlein also develops the second plot line. It gradually but inexorably comes out that Baslim is reporting on something. Thorby finds himself passing information to space traders. Usually such passing on is done "blind", with no apparent connection between the source and the recipient. Having Thorby service dead drops (places where spy information is dropped off by the agent to be recovered by his controller or courier) would likely not be as interesting as what he does, which is being a live drop for couriers, and I even doubt whether Heinlein's knowledge of spy practice extended to such. (Lamentably, the U.S. espionage agency, the CIA that is, was established and practiced on the basis that they were dropping supplies into occupied France to help fight the Nazis, thus depriving the U.S. of a genuine intelligence agency, and giving us the Bay of Pigs in return. Worse yet, everyone else outside the Company seemed to be thinking that that was the way it should be.)
So, Thorby is a courier, not unlike Whittaker Chambers in 1930's Washington. And as a witness to Baslim's activities, schooled in observation and retention by Baslim himself, he becomes inexorably embroiled in the toils of espionage. The penalty for failure is much more than five years in a comfortable Atlanta prison for perjury, followed by the adulation of many and an eventual reinstatement to the bar by Michael Dukakis, as it was Alger Hiss's fortune to fall heir to; there will be no trades for a captured pilot or five thousand Egyptian prisoners of war, as Fisher and Lotz (respectively) were swapped.
Wolfgang Lotz blew it; he was picked up as part of an Egyptian effort to show Walther Ulbricht that they too were anti-fascist, and assuming he knew too much Lotz started talking. Willy Fisher had it blown for him; his incompetent assistant Reino Hayhanen defected and started talking, which eventually led the FBI to "Emil Goldfus".
Something starts going wrong for Baslim too. He sends Thorby out to deliver one of those messages and there's no one to deliver it to. And the police are after somebody or something. So Baslim uses some of that training for a different reason; he implants a nonsense message in Thorby's mind, a message to be retrieved by somebody, the right somebody. Thorby's reaction to having lost his hard-won secure home is agonizing:
Most of the damage seemed the sort that results from a search which takes no account of cost, aiming solely at speed and thoroughness. Every cupboard, every shelf had been spilled, food dumped on the floor. In the large room the matresses had been ripped open, stuffing spilled out. But some of it looked like vandalism, unnecessary, pointless.
Thorby looked around with tears welling up and his chin quivering. But when he found, near the door, Pop's false leg, lying dead on the floor with its mechanical perfection smashed as if trampled by boots, he broke into sobs and had to put the candle down to keep from dropping it. He picked up the shattered leg, held it like a doll, sank to the floor and cradled it, rocking back and forth and moaning.
Citizen of the Galaxy, pp. 46-7
Baslim had already foreseen his future and given Thorby three different routes to escape. Remember that memory training? Thorby has three different messages in languages he doesn't speak (it's explained he has learned several) to people who might get him off the planet. And there was that nonsense message Baslim implanted in Thorby's memory . . .
Even at the end of his life Baslim takes responsibility for those who depend on him, even by the ending of his life. Baslim is beyond the reach of the authorities; now Thorby has to get out before they catch him and make him talk, as the next most likely to know. (Wolfgang Lotz's wife Waltraud died after her release, as a result of her (mis)treatment in Egyptian prisons, for example.)
As it happens, one of those couriers is in port. Captain Fjalar Krausa of the Free Trader spaceship Sisu is findable, and finds himself saddled with an obligation. "Debts are always paid!" he says, and this debt especially must be paid. Why? We'll see.
II. I'M STRONG TO THE FINNISH
Unless memory has failed me, "sisu" is the Suomic (i.e., Finnish) term for that national spirit that made Otto Kuusunien's liberation of Helsinki from capitalism a Stalinist wish-fulfillment dream. It turns out to be appropriate. Somehow Baslim the beggar had put a starship captain under such an obligation that the captain had to risk his entire ship, crew, and clan (and it turns out that the last two items are congruent) for a "fraki" (as they call Thorby and all other non-Traders), a stranger in a strange land.
Israeli humorist Ephriam Kishon once made a comment about British reserve and good manners: while he was on a crowded train leaving London, he saw a man push his way down the aisle, bumping and jostling standees and those fortunate enough to have seats. Someone mildly remonstrated. He replied "I paid good money for my ticket and I'm not going to stand all the way to Birmingham!" And so, an entire car load of passengers remained reserved and quiet, saying nothing until the train reached Southampton. Talk about misdirection.
Social structures are influenced by many things; one of them happens to be population density. Crowded countries, like England, Japan, and the Netherlands, evolve a restrained reserved structure of narrow and strict rules. Open countries, like Texas and Australia evolve an open freewheeling structure of broad and loose rules. This produces contrast:
Q. How do you define gross vulgarity?
A. One hundred and forty-four Australians.
Q. What did the Englishman say when he discovered his wife with her lover?
A. "I say, didn't we go to Eton together?"
A spaceship is the tightest of closed cultures. In this case especially, where the crew and the clan are one and the same, the rules must be explicit, narrow, strict, and polite. Rather a contrast from the wide open nature of the thieves' world of "Kim-like wicked oriental splendor" that Thorby left. And he begins with the handicap of being an outsider in a tribal society (the People versus the not-People problem). Heinlein believed highly in the value of politeness, and in didactic digressions here and later explained his reasons and reasoning:
"The Notebooks of Lazarus Long", Time Enough for Love, p. 247
"If a Trader became dissatisfied, where can he go? Space won't have him without a ship around him, nor can he imagaine living on a planet among fraki, the idea is disgusting. His ship is his life, the air he breathes comes from his ship; somehow he must learn to live in it. But the pressure of personalities is almost unbearable and there is no way to get away from each other. Pressure could build up until somebody gets killed . . . or until the ship itself is destroyed. But humans devise ways to adjust to any conditions. You people lubricate with rituals, formalities, set patterns of speech, obligatory actions and responses."
Citizen of the Galaxy, p. 93
In his description of Heinlein's character types Alexei Panshin laid a particular stress on the theme of mentoring:
Heinlein In Dimension, p. 170
The first mentor is as much of an outsider as Thorby, and moreover a different kind of outsider. There is an anthropologist on board the Sisu studying the unique customs of the Free Traders. (One thinks of the ironic comment that a typical American Indian family consists of a father, a mother, four children, a grandparent, and an anthropologist.) Since Thorby knows as little about their customs as we do, this gives us the readers a chance to learn and see the character develop. (Knight found ironic "the name of the woman anthropologist who is traveling with the Traders (Margaret Mader)." [In Search of Wonder, p. 89] Given what has been learned about Margaret Mead's rewriting of society in Samoa - the locals thought that lying to this gullible off-islander was quite funny - this now has a new spin.) An outsider's view for an outsider, and a teacher learning while teaching. (Heinlein liked to think of teachers eternally learning. In The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress (1967) Manuel described with joy how Prof de la Paz would teach anything, just so long as he could keep one lesson ahead in the textbook.) The last quote given from the book is from a discussion between Dr. Mader and Thorby; an example of her mentoring.
The debt must be paid, and Baslim laid upon any of his couriers the edict that in regard to Thorby his adopted son, he must "succor and admonish him as if you were I". The method is clearly indicated; to pay this debt Captain Krausa must take Baslim's place, and become Thorby's adopted father as Baslim had been. Now Thorby has a place again, but he is not qualified to fill that place. He has to be mentored by his social equals, the young people who grew up in the Trader society and know how their society works, but not why (as opposed to Dr. Mader, who knows why it works, but not how).
This portion of the story deals with Thorby's emotional maturation, the time when he comes to terms with the possibility of his death, or worse yet, re-enslavement. (There are those who say there is nothing worse than death, nothing worth dying for. Nietzche called them "slaves", and they are enslaved in their own minds, if not in fact and law.) Heinlein cleverly runs through the climax of this passage twice, first as farce and then as drama (the inverse of the usual order).
The term "maturation" has physical as well as emotional aspects, and one aspect common to both has been commented on. In the development of Thorby's maturation, it seems to some people that sexuality has been explicitly excluded:
I take this to be a restriction imposed on Heinlein by librararians' censorship, and for all I know he may have emphasized it deliberately to show how foolish it is.
Damon Knight, In Search of Wonder, pp. 88-9
Grumbles from the Grave, letter of December 11, 1956, p. 78
Loeen pretends to know nothing about the geometry of the space drive so that she can be tutored in it by Thorby, and just coincidentally, get close to him off stage (it also informs the readers, but the characters should hardly care about that). When it turns out that she had tutored others in that subject on her previous ship, Thorby has the grace to be embarrassed. (Is this another case and another "it" of "emphasizing it deliberately to show how foolish it is"?)
The third mentor acts in this connection. They call her "Grandmother" (she's the one who smiled at Thorby above) and she is Captain Krausa's mother. She is also the chief of the clan that makes up the crew of Sisu, and thereby as "Chief Officer" far superior, morally and socially, to her son who is merely the captain of the ship. Dr. Mader understands why but not how; Thorby's new stepsiblings and stepcousins understand how but not why; Grandmother knows both how and why. (Panshin commented on the hierarchy of mentorship, but didn't mention this picture-perfect example.)
Grandmother Krausa determines Thorby's destiny at a distance, but her power over him and his destiny is great even before his adoption. In one scene, she manages to give a moral lesson as well as determine that destiny (for the time being), not to mention giving a lesson to her oldest son Captain Krausa:
"Why, he speaks of him as his adopted son. I thought "
"You didn't think. If you take Baslim's place, what does that make you? Is there more than one way to read the words?"
Krausa looked troubled. The ancient went on , "Sisu pays debts in full. No half-measures, no short weights in full. The fraki must be adopted . . . by you."
Citizen of the Galaxy, p. 83
What was Baslim to the People, the Free Traders? The People of Sisu, and indeed all the Free Traders, know, but Thorby has to be told or not told, for there is something in the Trader culture that makes it untellable:
"What? How, Father? What ship?"
"All ships. He was elected at a Gathering. Son, a longtime ago a shameful thing happened. Baslim corrected it. It put all the People in debt to him. I have said enough."
Citizen of the Galaxy, p. 114
"A long time ago, Baslim saved a whole Family. The People have never forgotten it. The Hansea, it was . . . the New Hansea is sitting right over there. The one with the shield painted on her. I can't tell you more, because a taboo was placed on it the thing was so shameful that we never talk about it. I have said enough."
Citizen of the Galaxy, p. 147-8
Baslim continues to influence Thorby's life even from the grave (or wherever the Jubbulpore authorities put the corpses of dead spies). Every now and then, when in a crisis, Thorby thinks of "What would Pop [Baslim, that is] want me to do?" Towards the end of this section it starts becoming explicit, when Thorby is in an extreme crisis and Captain Krausa is pressuring him for a decision:
Thorby sighed. "I guess I have to, Father."
Citizen of the Galaxy, p. 158
What is this problem? We noted earlier the speech tags. That is the sort of little thing that makes a society, and a story, "real". But it can also have a deeper significance, and Dr. Mader the outsider puts it on the line in one of the most significant passages of the book:
"Yes, with no 'buts.' Thorby, what sort of people have so little freedom? Slaves? Can you think of a better word? . . . . Thorby, being a slave means having someone as your master, with no hope of changing it. You slaves who call yourselves the 'People' can't even hope for manumission."
Thorby scowled. "You figure that's what's wrong with me?"
"I think your slave collar is chafing you, in a fashion that does not trouble your shipmates because they were born with theirs and you were once free."
Citizen of the Galaxy, pp. 125-7
It also comes back to that one repeating plot element throughout the several sections; abodeness. Thorby is not of the People no matter how hard they each try to assimilate. They both gain by the contact, but someone else said it very well:
President of the United States of America
"You are like the wind,
and I, like the lion
You form the Tempest
The sand stings my eyes
and the ground is parched
I roar in defiance
but you do not hear
But between us
there is a difference
I, like the lion
must remain in my place
While you, like the wind
will never know yours."
From: Mulay Hamid El Raisuli
Lord of the Riff
Sultan to the Berbers
Last of the Barbary Pirates
John Milius, The Wind and the Lion (1975)
It is the Day of Remembrance for the Free Traders. Thorby, as the adopted son of Baslim, the mysterious creditor of all the People for ineffable reasons, has to take up one of the rituals of home, to speak for the dead in the memorial service. There are far-reaching plans in train to make him a pawn in a political game. But Baslim reaches out from the grave to take a hand in matters, again. There were still those three messages to certain Free Traders he made Thorby memorize; Captain Krausa was merely the first of them to come along. What had Baslim said through Thorby's mouth that had been so important?
Citizen of the Galaxy, pp. 61-2 [edited for coherence]
"'"Greetings, old friend,"'" Thorby repeated, "'Greetings to your family, clan, and sib, and' why I understand it!"
"Of course," Krausa said gently, "this is the Day of Remembrance. Go on."
Thorby went on. Tears started down his cheeks as he heard Pop's voice coming from his own throat: "' and my humblest respects to your revered mother. I am speaking to you through the mouth of my adopted son. He does not understand Suomic' oh, but I do!" . . . . When Thorby reached "' I am already dead '" he broke down. Krausa blew his nose vigorously, told him to proceed. Thorby managed to get to the end, though his voice was shaking. Then Krausa let him cry a moment before telling him sternly to wipe his face and brace up. "Son . . . you heard the middle part? You understand it? . . . . Then you know what I have to do."
"You mean . . . I have to leave Sisu?"
. . . "Baslim didn't make me a gift of you, Son, just a loan. And now I must pay back the loan. You see that, don't you?"
Citizen of the Galaxy, p. 157
III. HO! FOR THE LIFE OF A SPACEMAN
Thorby faced the choice between security and freedom twice before. In each case, to some extent, the decision was made for him; in spite of his need for a place to call home the actions of others made his home unsecure. Now he is mature enough to understand the situation more or less.
Thorby's second stepfather Captain Fjalar Krausa of the Free Trader ship Sisu had been put under an obligation by Thorby's first stepfather Baslim the Cripple of Jubbulpore, capital of the Nine Worlds. Thorby, the orphan, was to be treated by Captain Krausa as his own son, and delivered to the first ship of the Hegemony for repatriation. It turned out that those two commands were contradictory, but to his credit Captain Krausa fulfilled them both. Why, though, should any ship commander of a star-spanning law enforcement force care in the least about an orphan of mysterious and indeed unknown parentage? Well, the step-parentage has something important to do with it, and as presented resolves an ongoing mystery or two as well:
Citizen of the Galaxy, p. 159
To further this resolution, and to pay the debts of all involved, there is but one choice: Thorby must join the Hegemonic Guard, following in his step-father's footsteps. This purpose will, more than he first thought, stay with him through strange changes in life. While we're solving unsolved mysteries (and without Robert Stack to give a running commentary!) there is the special service Colonel Baslim did for the Free Traders, as Thorby's new commanding officer Colonel Brisby (the Hegemonic Guard seems to use some army ranks and some that seem to be unique to Heinlein; well, so much for his fanatic devotion to the Navy) of the H.G.C. Hydra explains when his executive officer Vice-Colonel "Stinky" Stancke asks why:
"You think I would fail to wear the ribbon? No, thank goodness; I had been transferred. That was a hand-weapons job. Messy."
"Maybe you would have had the sense not to volunteer."
"Stinky, even you would volunteer, fat and lazy as you are if Baslim asked for volunteers."
"I'm not lazy, I'm efficient. But riddle me this: what was a C.O. doing leading a landing party?"
"The Old Man followed regulations only when he agreed with them. He wanted a crack at slavers with his own hands he hated slavers with a cold passion. So he comes back a hero and what can the Department do? Wait until he gets out of the hospital and court-martial him? Stinky, even top brass can be sensible when they have their noses rubbed in it. So they cited him for above-and-beyond under unique circumstances and put him on limited duty."
Citizen of the Galaxy, pp. 164-5
The events described also refers back to the theme of the book: freedom and the fight against slavery. A consistent theme and thematic development will tie together far more seemingly disconnected elements than is usually thought. Later Colonel Brisby explains the situation in more detail directly to Thorby. (Heinlein has him feeling odd that he has to show his most junior temporary petty officer a communication from the high command authorizing them to talk.) Here we have a more explicit description of Colonel Baslim's motivation, the thesis of the work, and the background of the work:
"Nor can human beings police it. It gets bigger every year. Dirtside police eventually close the gaps. But with us, the longer we try the more there is. So to most of us it's a job, an honest job, but one that can never be finished.
"But to Colonel Richard Baslim it was a passion. Especially he hated the slave trade, the thought of it could make him sick at the stomach I've seen. He lost his leg and an eye I suppose you know while rescuing a shipload of people from a slaving compound.
"That would satisfy most officers go home and retire. Not old Spit-and-Polish! He taught a few years, then he went to the one corps that might take him, chewed up as he was, and presented a plan.
"The Nine Worlds are the backbone of the slave trade. The Sargony was colonized a long time ago, and they never accepted Hegemony after they broke off as colonies. The Nine Worlds don't qualify on human rights and don't want to qualify. So we can't travel there and they can't visit our worlds.
"Colonel Baslim decided that the traffic could be rendered uneconomic if we know how it worked in the Sargony. He reasoned that slavers had to have ships, had to have bases, had to have markets, that it was not just a vice but a business. So he decided to go there and study it.
"This was preposterous one man against a nine-planet empire . . . but the Exotic Corps deals in preposterous notions. Even they would probably not have made him an agent if he had not had a scheme to get his reports out. An agent couldn't travel back and forth, nor could he use the mails there aren't any between us and them and he certainly couldn't set up an n-space communicator; that would be as conspicious as a brass band.
"But Baslim had an idea. The only people who visit both the Nine Worlds and our own are the Free Traders. But they avoid politics like poison, as you know better than I, and they go to great lengths not to offend local customs. However, Colonel Baslim had a personal 'in' to them.
"I suppose you know those people he rescued were Free Traders. He told 'X' Corps that he could report back through his friends. So they let him try. It's my guess that no one knew that he intended to pose as a beggar I doubt if he planned it; he was always great at improvising. But he got in and for years he observed and got his reports out."
Citizen of the Galaxy, pp. 180-1
The unifying theme of freedom and opposition to slavery is repeated and emphasized. Someone who hates slavery with such a passion that he is willing to sacrifice his life to it is a powerful dominant character. Again, this is another case of Baslim continuing to affect the plot even after his death. Like in Norvell Paige's "Not Without Horns" or Theodore Sturgeon's Godbody for which Heinlein wrote the introduction we see the nature of this character not so much directly, but in how he affects the other characters.
The practical mechanics of spying are reconsidered. In 1957 Wolfgang Lotz's fellow Mossad agent Elie Cohen, alias Kamil Amin Tasbes, candidate for the post of Syrian Defense Minister, was caught when sending radio messages, courtesy of a GRU listening post. Brisby's "brass band" comment about communications turns out to have been very relevant.
Lotz himself was fortunate in that he was able to travel outside of Egypt to pass on messages. A wealthy horse breeder is far more mobile than a one-legged beggar. Willy Fisher could travel, too, and had a substantial espionage backup structure in Enemy No. 1 to help him out. So Heinlein was putting his character to an extreme test.
You will note the sober, serious style of language Colonel Brisby uses with Thorby, quite different to what he uses with Stancke. James Blish threw off a footnote comment on Heinlein's habits of dialogue: "Like George O. Smith, G. Harry Stine, and other engineers-turned-writers, Heinlein sometimes tries to prove his characters wits and sophisticates by transcribing page after page of the painful traveling-salesman banter which passes back and forth over real drawing boards and spec sheets." [The Issue at Hand, p. 71f] The discussion between Brisby and Stancke is a sample of this, for all that it isn't quite engineering, neither is it quite strictly transcribed. (Military conversation relies heavily on a four-letter word used as all parts of speech, the inclusion of which would have sent Miss Dalgleish directly into orbit, beating out Sputnik I, followed by Miss Tarant of Astounding.) It is however mercifully brief and even proper in its place.
Damon Knight identified the plot element that becomes manifest at this point in the story: "Once more Thorby has to begin from scratch in a strange environment; and along about here, you begin to realize that in spite of his apparently successful adjustments, Thorby is someone to feel sorry for: he has a real, tough 'Who am I?' problem." [In Search of Wonder, p. 88]
The emotional roller-coaster that Thorby goes through over his identification bears on this. As a means of following Colonel Baslim's orders to succor Thorby, Colonel Brisby and the Hydra's Paymaster contrive to enlist him in the Hegemonic Guard. Precise identification of a new recruit from unknown worlds is necessary and proper, and this way they can find out Thorby's identity while charging the cost of the search to headquarters, not the ship. When it turns out that Thorby's fingerprints are not on file, he becomes depressed:
Citizen of the Galaxy, p. 184
"Eh? Kris thinks he was about four."
"Skipper, that backwoods place where you were born: at what age were you fingerprinted, blood-typed, retina-photographed, and so forth?
"Why, when I started school."
"Me, too. I'll bet they wait that long most places."
Brisby blinked. "That's why they wouldn't have anything on him!"
"Maybe. But on Riff [Stancke's homeworld] they take identity on a baby before he leaves the delivery room."
"My people, too. But "
"Sure, sure! It's common practice. But how?"
Brisby looked blank, then banged the desk. "Footprints! And we didn't send them in."
Citizen of the Galaxy, p. 187
It is arguable that Heinlein is reiterating the "white-knight" theory of military service: wise, understanding officers who are never abusive, commanding a gaggle of friendly buddies in uniform. The typus from that typewriter is Starship Troopers (you will recall that book was rejected by Alice Dalgliesh and the Scribners editorial board).
One must consider the era. This book preceeds the era of "Question Authority" (and it's worth noting that those who posed that phrase have now set themselves up as authorities beyond questioning) so it can hardly be held to reflect an attitude that postdated it. The author, too, was disinclined to follow that line for all that he questioned unexamined authority. The key is in the "unexamined" part; as Oscar Gordon puts it in Glory Road, the man who blindly obeys every law is just as dumb as the man who rebelliously breaks every law.
One must also consider the audience. The softening of language has been mentioned, and the context in which it was softened. Earlier children's books presented a too "soft" portrait of society, with all the unpleasant factors removed. Contemporary ones, by way of overreaction, dwell lovingly on the ugly side of life. Moderation, as we have here, is the best course. Damon Knight summed it up: "The knowledgeable (and comic) descriptions of life aboard a military vessel may someday tip the scales for a Navy-minded man, one way or another." [In Search of Wonder, p. 89] It's realistic, but not offensive.
There is still the identity crisis to consider. Thorby has a "Who am I?" problem that is shared by all those who affect him. Baslim tried to find in Thorby's fear-ridden memory the identity of his parents but: "He had been unable to dig out their family name nor any way of identifying them they were just 'Papa' and 'Mama' so Baslim gave up a half-formed plan of trying to get word to relatives of the boy." [p. 18] So Baslim did not know anything about his new purchase it's been pointed out that this makes his beginning all the action by buying a slave (for an unknown motive) implausible.
Captain Krausa tried to dig this out of the records of the People, having a certain predisposition in the matter, only to find: "'Thorby was not born of the People. . . . There is not a ship missing, nor a child missing from a ship, which can be matched with his case." [p. 152] Chief Officer Krausa, his wife, won't believe this and it still leaves Thorby without a background. You can see that "Nothing and nobody" is indeed a terrible waking nightmare for Thorby to endure.
So when the footprints find Crusoe, so to speak, it's a big shock.
IV. LEVERAGED BUYOUT OF GOR!
Might as well point to one of the problems right away:
Whose limericks never would scan.
When asked why this was,
He answered, "Because
I always try to cram as many words into the last line
as I possibly can."
Damon Knight, In Search of Wonder, p. 80
In Citizen of the Galaxy, the final section has Thorby faced with a problem beyond his immediate powers to solve. The solution calls for another stage of mentoring (hasn't that always been the case?) and a final resolution of Thorby's four lives, not so much choosing among them (pace Knight) as combining them all into one life and persona.
In the dramatic climax to the last section, Colonel Brisby seems terribly impressed with the solution to Thorby's case of identity. At first it seems like another piece of Heinleinian "you know"-ism when Brisby is so impressed with "Thor Bradley Rudbek" (at least it makes the name credible "Thorby" from "Thor B.") when we haven't the least idea why. This is explained, though, unlike the case in a later work (c.f. the reference to "yes, that Nielssen" in Starship Troopers which is supposed to give the reader an impression of depth, but as it is never explained, only leaves readers frustrated and puzzled).
The name is at first as meaningless to Thorby as it is to the reader; gradually, as Thorby returns to Earth it begins to dawn on him that there is money involved, lots and lots of money. If it wasn't the naval ship being diverted to land at a private yard, it was the significantly affluent welcoming committee that greeted him that turned the trick.
In fact, it turns out that there is more than just a vast fortune involved; Thorby is now indistinguishable from a Highland chief, The Rudbek of Rudbek at Rudbek (and "Rudbek" sounds to me vaguely German or Lettish at that), laird of an entailed manor in the Hielands of Wyoming (Why not?). (For all that the Rudbek fortune seems American, it's interesting that Heinlein had to use the English law of entail and the Scots style of address for a clan chief; Thorby might well now be "Rudbek of that Ilk".)
The family he knew nothing of now pours in on him. Apparently his grandfather The Rudbek of Rudbek had only a daughter. This daughter, Martha Rudbek, married Creighton Bradley, son of a university professor, and because of lineage reasons they became Creighton and Martha Bradley Rudbek. Thus far, we are coming to sound like Winston Churchill's great-great-grandfather George, Duke of Marlborough, who changed the family name from Spencer to Spencer-Churchill to Spencer Churchill (John Churchill, the first Duke of Marlborough, had one son who died young, so the title was altered to pass through the female line, going to the descendants of his daughter Anne Churchill, who married Charles Spencer, Earl of Sunderland; one of the grandchildren of that daughter was the first Earl Spencer, ancestor of the late Lady Diana, Princess of Wales). It's probably a combination of inherent, editorial, and market considerations that led Heinlein to stick on the reason that "Martha was heir but Creighton had to preside" [p. 211] it all sounds rather different now.
The Rudbeck of Rudbeck also had a sister, Aria Rudbek (and others, but they seem not to have had children more on this later), who married twice, having one daughter by her first marriage, who has the matrilineal name of Leda Rudbek, her cousin Thor's greeter and guide. (Given what Heinlein says about Leda and how it contrasts with what he shows about her, one wonders all the more.) In their society there is a certain vanity about womens' ages which manifests itself as secretiveness; Thorby notes this in contrast to the Free Traders' belief in the wisdom of old age. This annoys him since Leda tells him she is three years older than him [p. 194] but since she won't tell him her age he still can't find out what his is. (For the record: he is over eighteen [p. 202] which makes Leda over twenty-one.)
Also present to welcome back the lost heir was Leda's stepfather, Aria's second husband, John Weemsby, chairman of the board of Rudbek Associates, the grand holding company and supervisory organization of the intricate Rudbek fortune. Fortunes and estates need various administrators, of course, if the heir is incapacitated or otherwise nonfunctional. (The current chief tenant of Blenheim Palace, John George Vanderbilt Spencer Churchill, Duke of Marlborough is establishing a trusteeship to manage the Churchill estate because his heir is a junkie, for example.) In this case when Martha and Creighton went on a second honeymoon (how romantic) they left good old Jack in charge, as in fact he had been ever since his father-in-law The Rudbek of Rudbek died. What kind of parents take their child on a second honeymoon?
Well, anyway, they're dead; all that has to be done now is to get that acknowledged legally. Thorby finds the anfractuosities of the legal system to be quite beyond him, a feeling shared by many. Fortunately Uncle Jack is all warmth and aid, offering to stay on and shoulder the burden of managing the complex structure of Rudbek Associates; all Thorby has to do is sign a few little papers.
And here's where life experience kicks in; Thorby wants to know what's what, as best he can amidst legal boilerplate. He is still under the influence of his Old Ones:
Citizen of the Galaxy, pp. 203-4
All that worrying brings out something. One of those things Colonel Brisby revealed to his most junior petty officer was something nerve-wracking: there was a major shipbuilder building ships or helping to build ships for the Nine Worlds slave trade. That petty officer is now nominal owner of a major shipbuilding firm . . . which seems to have a lot of ships of the right type lost in the paperwork.
Paperwork: business practices can cause stress, as is well known these days. Having lost three families, Thorby tries to find what's left of his original one by visiting his grandparents Bradley. They have a philosophical hero, who on June 22, 1940 said: "Germans of future generations will honor Herr Hitler as a genius, a brave man, a matchless organizer and much more." Thorby comes into conflict with this philosophy, not because he is a ruthless bourgeois exploiter (indeed Marxism seems to be irrelevant in this time; a magnificent prediction) but because he nuked would-be slavers and they would rather he had appealed to their better natures by nonviolently resisting.
In other words, no, the Bradleys aren't Stalinists they're Gandhians! There is a real-life response to Gandhism that Heinlein would never have considered: Southeast Asian politician Nguyen Sinh Cung once commented that had Gandhi had to deal with French instead of British imperialism he would have long since been teaching nonviolent resistance to his ancestors. (Later, Nguyen Sinh Cung would change his name to Ho Chi Minh and send thousands of Trotskyite revisionists to meet their ancestors, never mind the Catholics of Annam and other bourgeois exploiters.) Presumably the Bradleys would never have read Harry Turtledove's masterful literary analysis of this theory "The Last Article" even assuming it exists in this time-line.
So much for rest and relaxation. (Later it turns out how spiritual and otherworldly the Bradleys really are.) Thorby is in over his head, and clearly in need of another mentor. The Bradleys, potential candidates for the post, are now out of the running. Weemsby takes himself out of the running by freezing Thorby out when he begins to follow up that peculiar suspicion about the ships that fell off the back of a truck . . . er, that is, off the registration list. This raises the question of "If he has nothing to hide, why is he hiding it so vigorously?"
Previously, Thorby had to take mentors as he could; he was fortunate in his random encounters. Now he can look for one and has to. Fortunately, he has a lesser mentor, the highly underrated Leda. "Thorby decided that 'X' Corps had missed a bet in Leda," [p. 228] and after the covert actions she undertakes to get him in contact with aid and comfort breaking tails and servicing live drops with a facility that Willy Fisher would highly value (and a lifestyle that Wolfgang Lotz would envy) the reader should agree. (I said she was underrated by everyone, including perhaps even the author, in exposition.)
Mentors come in all shapes and sexes and this last one is no exception: "He had never met a more mercenary, predatory old man he reminded Thorby of the old, scarred freedmen professionals who swaggered around the New Ampitheater." [p. 231] The structure of the last section has come in for considerable criticism; Thorby is not, it is said, the prime actor here but only a guilty bystander to the main legal action being carried out by the "mercenary, predatory old man", lawyer James J. Garsch: "The ensuing legal contest is treated in careful detail, but Thorby is hardly more than an interested spectator." [In Search of Wonder, p. 88]; "Thorby is only a spectator at the climactic legal battle, which is won by a Jubal Harshaw type (Harshaw, of course, is the brilliant lawyer and a major character in Stranger In a Strange Land)." [Jack Williamson, "Youth Against Space"]
The Harshaw reference should indicate the point that hasn't been considered. In each of his four different "lives" (which they are, in a sense) Thorby has had to depend on mentors to guide him through the new patterns of a new life, just as Valentine Michael Smith had first the aid of the Martian Old Ones to bring him up in Martian ways and then his very own "mercenary, predatory old man", Jubal Harshaw, to bring him up in Terran ways.
Coincidentally, Heinlein did a burst of writing on A Martian Named Smith (i.e., Stranger In a Strange Land, intermediate version) in early 1955, according to letters reprinted in Grumbles from the Grave [p. 225], that burned out quickly. The lapse of some twenty months from this period to that of the composition of Citizen of the Galaxy (Grumbles from the Grave pp. 77-8, letter of December 11, 1956, that begins "I have completed a draft of the next novel [Citizen of the Galaxy] intended for Scribner's.") rather weakens the case, but one might think that this time Heinlein was recycling a character type from an "aborted" his own description of the status of The Man from Mars/A Martian Named Smith/Stranger in a Strange Land at that time work. Smith is indeed a spectator at the climatic legal battle that wins him control of his huge fortune, but then he and Stranger In a Strange Land went on beyond that, whereas Citizen of the Galaxy ends shortly thereafter. However, Citizen of the Galaxy is more constrained. One can sum up by saying that Garsch is the most active mentor among a collection of active mentors in this book.
There is a third mentor to be considered. After having been aided by Leda and abetted by Garsch, Thorby tries to re-up. Colonel Brisby had had a certain admiration for the efficiency of the Exotic Corps, or "X" Corps, the secret intelligence service of the Terran Hegemony (that turn of phrase sounds better than "the state security of the Terran Hegemony" as in gosudarvestnoy bezopastnosti of "KGB" and more ept than "the central intelligence agency of the Terran Hegemony"), which acted on a remarkably straightforward, if somewhat exhausting, principle:
Citizen of the Galaxy, p. 167
Exotic Corps seems to be just as interested in Thorby as he is in them, especially when they realize that the nominal owner of Galactic Transport, a Rudbek Associates company, has come in with his accumulated data indicating Galactic Transport involvement in the slave trade: "As he was dropping to sleep one night he came wide awake with the black, ironic thought that one of those slave ships in whose stinking holds he had ridden might have been, at that very time, the property of the scabby, frightened slave he was then." [p. 210]
But we are not in the post-Church Commission era (in opinion, anyway) of "Intelligence can do anything." Exotic Corps can advise, it can act covertly, it can support, within its own limits, as Thorby learns when he gets hasty and wants to give up his wealth for work:
"Come on down this evening. I'll enlist you then I'll order you to detached duty, right where you are."
Thorby's chin dropped. "Jake! You wouldn't do that to me!"
"I would if you were silly enough to place yourself under my orders, Rudbek."
"But " Thorby shut up. There was no use arguing; there was too much work to be done.
Citizen of the Galaxy, p. 248
The touchstone of character in the final section is the attitude towards slavery. The Bradleys explain it away with sociological formulations and evasions, as when Thorby talks about having been sold:
"I don't know any other word to translate the Sargonese term."
"I could think of several . . . . But, my dear Thor, you aren't a student of human histories and culture. Grant me a little authority in my own field." . . . .
"But I can't translate any better I was sold and I was a slave!"
"Don't contradict your grandfather, dear, that's a good boy."
Thorby shut up. . . . . he had already found that while his grandfather knew much about many things, he was just as certain of his knowledge when Thorby's eyes had reported things differently.
Citizen of the Galaxy, pp. 213-4
On the other extreme we have the Exotic corps case officer Wing Marshal "Smith", the "Jake" of the conversation quoted above from page 248. This is a mentor who knows both how and why, and doesn't seem overly thrilled about it all:
Citizen of the Galaxy, pp. 233-4
In a position between the Bradleys and Wing Marshal "Smith" is cousin Leda, who perhaps is a little too optimistic about humanity:
"I was a slave."
Leda felt as if she had stepped off into water over her head. Had he said "cannibal," "vampire," or "warlock" she could have been no more shocked. She came up, mentally gasping. . . . . "I'd be happy to hear anything you don't mind telling."
"I don't mind," Thorby answered, "but, while I must have been captured, I don't remember it. As far as I remember, I never had parents, I was a slave, several places and masters until I reached Jubbulpore. . . . ."
Leda lost her company smile. She said in a still voice, "You really mean it. Or do you?"
Thorby suffered the ancient annoyance of the returned traveler. "If you think that slavery has been abolished . . . well, it's a big galaxy. Shall I roll up my trouser leg and show you?"
"Show me what, Thor?"
"My slave's mark. . . . "
She stared, round-eyed. "How horrible! How perfectly horrible! . . . But why doesn't somebody do something?"
Citizen of the Galaxy, pp. 194-5
One other point that Panshin raised must be considered: "However, on two separate occasions in the story he is pursued by attractive girls so openly that everybody else realizes what is going on, and in neither case can he see beyond the end of his nose." [op. cit., p. 149] This statement by Panshin is based on considerations that are true but not complete. There is, for example, the restraint of scope in sexual matters common to both juvenile literature and science fiction of that period. [Panshin's entire discussion of The Puppet Masters must be revised, for instance, in light of the release of the "original text", restoring the editorial excisions made in matters sexual and political.] There is the cramping at the end due in part to space limitations. And then there are the subtleties, like Thorby's final opinion of Leda:
But she was one bright spot in the gloom; she always bucked him up. If it wasn't patently unfair for for a Guardsman to marry But he couldn't be that unfair to Leda and he had no reason to think she would be willing anyhow.
Citizen of the Galaxy, p. 249
Citizen of the Galaxy, p. 223
The climax of the joint mentorships is that "flat" ending that Knight complained about. Facing unacceptable odds. Thorby has struck back as best as he can; he has hired a professional from the arena. This final conflict moreover takes place in the enemy's territory, in a special meeting of the stockholders of Rudbek & Associates. Thorby lacks the additional personnel to pull off a stock manipulation like the good guys did in Pohl & Kornbluth's Gladiator at Law (where they ended up with a real, not just a working, majority of the company) so he has to go head-to-head with Weemsby and his associate Bruder, the Peters & Guber of Rudbeck & Assoc., in a remarkably foreshortened proxy battle. Such things are usually expensive, c.f. Garsch's "This is going to cost you more." [p. 231]. Lacking the resources for a hostile takeover buy-out, Thorby has to challenge.
And, in spite of all the associates, this time he has to take the lead. And he does, nominating himself for Chairman and then sitting back to tote up the votes. (With a pocket calculator yes, here that commonplace item was predicted, unlike the slide rule that Kip Russell of Have Space Suit Will Travel (1958) boasted.) Earlier, during the preliminary hearings, Thorby had noticed that "Uncle Jack had kept everyone happy" [p. 242] and the recipients of this largess were quite willing to have it continue. The count goes down to the wire. A gloating Weemsby votes his proxies, which put him over the top. Defeated, Thorby begins to slink out of the hall, only to hear:
Leda was on her feet. "I'm here myself. This is my first meeting and I'm going to vote!"
Her stepfather said hastily, "That's all right, Leda mustn't interrupt." He turned to the Secretary. "It doesn't affect the result."
"But it does! I cast one thousand eight hundred and eighty votes for Thor, Rudbek of Rudbek!"
Weemsby stared. "Leda Weemsby!"
She returned crisply, "My legal name is Leda Rudbek."
Citizen of the Galaxy, pp. 244-5
The last chapter ends with both cheer and depression. Thorby is slowly creeping ahead in all his personae. The sometime slave Thorby of Jubbulpore is finding out the ramifications of the slave trade and the connections with the "big outfit". The Free Trader is giving back to his family, "blood in the steel, steel in the blood" and sometime Firecontrolman Thorby Baslim-Krausa is now able to give the Traders better arms. Guardsman Baslim is cooperating (to the point of compromise) with the Exotic Corps. And Chairman Rudbek of Rudbek, the consolidation of them all, is taking on the task of consolidating all these efforts.
But he won't do the sensible thing with Leda. Given his burdens, that seems to be a misjudgment. And those dual burdens, the wealth and the mission, have created for him a powerful irony that John Campbell had noted:
The John W. Campbell Letters, Volume I, letter of April 5, 1957, p. 324
I'll not change the title to "Slave" but despite the fact that there are no "Citizens" listed in Day's Index [of science fiction stories], I feel that "Citizen of the Galaxy" is not as powerful a title as that yarn deserves. How about something on the order of "There Is No Freedom"? Somehow the powerful irony of Thorby's freedom as the beggar's slave, and his unbreakable bondage as the controller of galactic power, needs to be keyed into the title.
The John W. Campbell Letters, Volume I, letter of May 3, 1957, p. 324
And so, his selves united, reconciled to his burden, the slave of his duty accepts his task:
Citizen of the Galaxy, p. 253