Commentary by Joseph T Major on Robert A. Heinlein's RED PLANET

Opus #69: written during April 1949; c. 62,000 words


Book will have to be changed before it can go on the recommended library list. There is a certain amount of censorship in the juvenile field. Publishers must sign an affidavit when asking for books to be purchased by libraries, saying that there is nothing in them which will offend either youngsters or parents. Dalgleish is sending list of changes needed in Red Planet. Once those changes recommended by the juvenile librarian are made, Scribner's will take book. Scribner's is a respected house and excellent connection for RAH.

Grumbles from the Grave, letter of March 18, 1949, p. 52

These days, for what they now call a Young Adult Book to be approved for purchase by libraries it often seems that the book must contain material which will offend parents "raise the consciousness of the coming generation," that is. In 1949 it was all very different. In this letter for the record (at least that's certainly what it looks like), Robert A. Heinlein's agent Lurton Blassingame describes the strictures that began Heinlein's alienation from the publisher who contributed so to his success.

One of the things that alienated Heinlein so from the first critic to write and get published a book devoted solely to the works of a single SF writer, I think, was that so often that critic had succeeded at "getting inside" Heinlein's head, determining how he had arrived at a given conclusion. The perceptive deduction by Alexei Panshin of the genesis of this book, by comparison with the preceeding Rocket Ship Galileo (1947) and Space Cadet (1948) is a prime example of this:

. . . In the case of Red Planet, however, I think Heinlein started from an entirely different angle first he worked out social, economic, and physical conditions, and then planned a story that mnight arise from them. In many ways this is the most effective way of writing a science fiction story. Backgrounds are always more difficult to invent than plots. Once worked out, any detailed background can provide room for a number of plots, characters, and situations that are completely independent of each other, and any story that is set against such a detailed background automatically has a solid base. On the other hand, stories in which backgrounds are constructed to suit plot vagaries often seem makeshift and hollow.

Heinlein In Dimension, p. 50

As a piece of science fiction, Red Planet is a much more difficult and much more carefully handled job than either of the two books before it. . . . This book, on the other hand, has a planetary matrix most carefully worked out from a dozen different sciences all more complicated and esoteric than descriptive astronomy and reaction engines. . . .

Grumbles from the Grave, letter of March 4, 1949, p. 50

Small wonder that Heinlein had been so exercised about Panshin's having read his letters. If those to "Sarge" Smith, then perhaps those sent to others, perhaps even this one. But apparently this particular insight had been derived independently of such transgression.

That comment about detailed background is a harbinger of many things, not all of them desirable. If it provides a justification for the future histories such as Heinlein had created and others such as Anderson, Asimov, Dickson, Piper, and Pournelle&Niven were to follow the Grand Master's deeds with, it also justified the lamentable, and in the end less than fulfilling, innovation of shared-world series that had seemed so to be the eighties' wave of the future in SFdom. And Heinlein was indeed to use that background again.

Neither does Panshin seem to find anything lacking in the story, any obvious lacunae or papered-over gaps, the way he was to find in, for example, Double Star (1956) with the tribute that failed when its honoree became a competitor. This in turn may say something about the cuts that were made to suit the publisher's desires for conformity. And in fact such things were not overly apparent to the reader back then, who just sat back and enjoyed the story.


Jim Marlowe just sat back and enjoyed his story, too. Going off to school for higher education, which lies in his immediate future, is common enough. Having the entire home town, or at least its people, pack up and move to the other hemisphere regularly every 340 days isn't. So we begin with a scene that is a blend of the familiar and the unusual; Jim going to the doctor's to have his pet looked at not a cat, as might have been expected from Heinlein, but a native animal.

As this pet, a native Martian being the Terran interlopers refer to as a "bouncer", will serve as a motivation for many of the events in the story, the introduction to it (we'll discuss the gender issue, which turned out to have been involved, later) should be repeated:

. . . [The] door opened automatically, Jim said, "Come along, Willis," and went on in.

The ball developed three spaced bumps in its lower side and followed after him, in a gait which combined spinning, walking, and rolling. More correctly, it careened, like a barrel being manhandled along a dock. They went down a passage and entered a large room that occupied half the floorspace of the circular house plan. Doctor MacRae looked up but did not get up. . . . The doctor stared down at the creature. Willis was at his feet, having come up to watch the dressing of Frank's thumb. To do so he had protruded three eye stalks from the top of his spherical mass. The stalks stuck up like thumbs, in an equal-sided triangle, and from each popped a disturbingly human eye. . . .

The doctor saw a ball covered with thick, close-cropped fur, like sheared sheepskin, and featureless at the moment save for supports and eye stalks. . . .

Red Planet, pp. 8-9/2-3

You can see how the species got its name. Jim and Willis (no hyphen) are here for a reason; Willis has been rather torpid of late when going out and Jim is understandably concerned. Of course, the fact that it's late autumn, with winter coming up, just might have something to do with it. From references to "the end of Zeus, nearly November", which was when Jim first found Willis, and "March, almost Ceres", which it is now, it looks like the Martian calendar has for its twenty-four month names the twelve Julian months interleaved with other classical references. (It's also clear that we're in the southern hemisphere.) With all the effort that had been put into building this background, it seems unfortunate that there was not more room to go into the establishment of the colony or otherwise see it in a noncrisis situation. Perhaps another book might have been in order.

Since this is a frontier establishment, specialties tend to be a luxury; we are approaching here Heinlein's definition of the well-rounded human. This means that Dr. MacRae has to serve as veterinarian as well. Perhaps xeno-veterinarian in this case. In this case, too, he has an advantage that his terrestrial colleagues lack:

"That seems definite, but we'll try it from another angle. Willis, do you want to stay with Jim?"

"Willis stay with Jim." Willis added meditatively, "Warm!"

Red Planet, p. 13/8

Willis the bouncer can talk, if with a grasp of higher concepts and grammar no better than that of many college graduates. This seems to resolve the problem, though Dr. MacRae is running up against the higher question of Willis's nature. The colony is not that well-established to have a reference datum on the bouncers.

Speaking of references, Heinlein even checked the available references to establish the site for this colony, a part of that working out of the planetary matrix. Any interested contemporary reader could have done the same with some effort: "South Colony was in an area granted by the Martians, just south of the ancient city of Charax there is no need to give the Martian name since an Earthman can't pronounce it and between the legs of the double canal Strymon." [p. 15/11]

"[Granted] by the Martians"?! While Heinlein was writing this book, he was also working on an article giving his predictions for the next half-century. It sold to Galaxy and editor Horace Gold stuck to his usual habit of making changes for changes' sake, changing Heinlein's title of "Pandora's Box" to "Where To?" One prediction is relevant in this context: "12. Intelligent life will be found on Mars."

(It is an indication of Heinlein's isolation from his colleagues that when Gold did the same to The Puppet Masters (1951) Heinlein bleated at length to Blassingame (see Grumbles from the Grave, pp. 163-5, letter of August 20, 1951) while Doubleday editor Walter Bradbury's required changes which altered the book far more profoundly did not seem to be worth protesting at such length. Frederik Pohl has recounted how he and Cyril Kornbluth had once gleefully done unto Gold as Gold had done unto others (The Way the Future Was, pp. 162-3) and with a reputation like that it would seem that Heinlein should have known, unless he had been seriously isolated. Incidentally, he had married Virginia Gerstenfeld in October of 1948.)

Even to someone raised in the tradition of hostility towards Indians, it would seem that some consideration should be given to the problem of a conflict with intelligent natives. Later on in another context Heinlein would indeed be hinting at that sort of possibility: "the LRF did not want to repeat the horrible mistake that had been made with Mars." [Time for the Stars (1956), p. 120] And, though we are getting ahead of our story here, the matter of relationships with the native Martians does figure prominently in the events of this book. While there had been problems, there is no evidence, though, that there had been a "horrible mistake" fortunately for the characters. (Some unfortunate occurrences occured on the first expedition, but nothing so bad as, say, a murder-suicide driven by adultery leaving an orphan forced to depend on local foster parents.)

Willis wants to stay with Jim, and Dr. MacRae decides that that's a good suggestion. He cadges a dinner invitation from the Marlowes and goes off with Jim and Willis, saying goodbye to his patient Frank (who had had an annoying run-in with a different Martian beast, known as a "water-seeker").

Colonial life requires the colonists to get what entertainment they can, though the development of recording technology has expanded the boundaries of what's available somewhat beyond the Bible, the Complete Shakespeare, and Pilgrim's Progress. Still, in a community, human contacts are rewarding in their own right, and Dr. MacRae seems to be earning his keep. He protests, not very seriously, about being an unwanted guest but he seems to be earning his keep as a source of opinion, advice, and positive chatter.

"Alice Dalgleish, the editor as Scribner's, objected to . . . . the use of guns by youngsters," it says in Grumbles from the Grave, p. 252, and a passage referring to this was cut from the manuscript. Restored in a second edition (1992) of Red Planet and reprinted in the former book, the passage contains several interesting comments. For example, it is noted that Jim's younger sister Phyllis is as good a shot as he is, if not better ("This was true, and scarcely to be borne."). Also deleted was some noteworthy grumbling from the doctor:

. . . . Doctor MacRae muttered something into his plate. The remark was forceful and probably not polite.

"Eh? What did you say, Doctor?"

"I said," answered MacRae, "that I was going to move to another planet. At least that's what I meant."

"Why? What's wrong with this one? In another twenty years we'll have it fixed up good as new. You'll be able to walk outside without a mask."

"Sir, it is not the natural limitations of this globe that I object to; it is the pantywaist nincompoops who rule it. These ridiculous regulations offend me. That a free citizen whould have to go before a committee, hat in hand, and pray for permission to bear arms fantastic! Arm your daughter, sir, and pay no attention to petty bureaucrats."

Appendix A, "Cuts in Red Planet", Grumbles from the Grave, p. 253/Red Planet, pp. 12-3

Here we have the seed from which grew the Daniel Boone attitude Boone, you will recall, felt it was time to move on when he could see smoke from a neighbor's chimney, and so ended up in Missouri that would be displayed at different concentrations in The Rolling Stones (1952), The Moon is a Harsh Mistress (1965, 1966) and Time Enough for Love (1973). Editing it out of the text was a blow to the comprehension of the development of Heinlein's thought.

Though Miss Dalgleish let stand the passage concerning gun safety that Heinlein wrote as replacement. ("If all the people who had been killed with unloaded guns were laid end to end it would make quite a line up," [p. 16] is a worthwhile observation no matter what its provenance.) Some people's concept of what constitutes "offense" can be hard to predict. Heinlein deeply disliked the result.

What was left was still interesting and in some ways the reader never missed anything. We have the doctor as one of the earliest examples of Heinlein's "brisk, bright metaphor" befitting a third-stage Heinlein individual the cynical old mentor who's seen it all by now and come to the conclusion that it wasn't worth it. Such comments as "Never listen to newscasts. Saves wear and tear on the nervous system." [p. 17/14] make one wish that, again, we could see more of Doctor MacRae in a less stressful situation.

Also, that project referred to is interesting in its own right. Another part of that planetary matrix mentioned above has to do with assumptions about pressure and oxygen content. The Martian surface-level air pressure assumed in the book is at maximum one-third that of Earth's [cf. p. 15/11], which works out to about 5.4 psi (about 250 mmHg or about 33 kPa). This pressure approaches some Terrestial conditions:

"Among the colonists only Tibetans and Bolivian Indians will venture outdoors without respirators and even they will wear the snug elastic Mars suit to avoid skin hemmorhages." [p. 15/11] The relevant constituent is the partial pressure of oxygen; the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo spacecraft used pure oxygen at 5 psi which turned out to be sufficient for breathing (though having other problems) and the astronauts didn't need snug undersuits to avoid skin hemmorhages. Presumably the Martian atmosphere isn't pure oxygen, either.

It is possible for lowlanders to become acclimatized to lower pressures; the number and concentration of red blood cells increase and the breathing rate goes up. This latter in turn causes an increased loss of moisture through the lungs, which reauires an increased fluid intake in compensation. Himalayan expeditions have found that staying above 20,000 feet leads to physical deterioration; the highest known human settlement is the Andean mining village of Aconquilcha, which is at 17,500 feet. The British Mount Everest Expedition of 1953 under John Hunt (later Sir John Hunt; later Lord Hunt) which brought all this to the public attention was in the future, of course.

But this project is intended to in effect unrust the sands, converting them into iron and oxygen. Within a lifetime, or so Mr. Marlowe hopes, the partial pressure of oxygen will be sufficient for the colonists to get along without respirators. (Heinlein had minimized the preceeding works as mere "faked-up mechanical engineering". However he had done serious substantial work on them, as well for this book. In such examples as this it shows to advantage.) One could wonder what the Martians thought about it, and getting ahead of the story, we will have this question answered, if obliquely. (Consider, by way of commentary, though proabably not intended specifically as such, Walter Miller's story "Crucifixus Etiam" (Astounding, February 1953), about the sufferings of the workers on such a project who will never be able to enjoy the benefits of the project they are building and how they react to that consideration. Their respirators, however, were semi-implanted, unlike the masks here or the oxygen mask equipment of the Himalayan expeditions.)

Finally, we see that Willis can do more than just talk. Having ascertained his wishes in the matter, Dr. MacRae has persuaded the elder Marlowes to acceed to Willis's and Jim's wishes about going off to school together. Mrs. Marlowe has another reason to wish the bouncer safely away; he had overheard a conversation she had had about a disagreeable neighbor, and then, in the style of endless bad jokes about children displaying their increased vocabulary at inconvenient times, played the conversation back to the neighbor, much to her displeasure [p. 22/19]. The neighbor in question is one of Heinlein's stereotypical negative stock characters the one that Alexei Panshin had described as the Whining, Useless, Middle-Aged Mama [Heinlein In Dimension, p. 129]. It may be just as well.

Come the dawn, Jim and Frank are off to school. If you accept the canali as canals, canals full of water, and given the cold climate, the result is that you now have a number of somewhat erratically reliable superhighways. They're off to school in a turbojet-powered scooter, giving flight speeds without the problems of flight, or problems of suddenly-ended flight that is.

But the medium has its own problems, like when the ice isn't icy enough I did say "erratically reliable". At least there's a place to stop and lay over for the day, next to the forbidden, or at least closed, Martian city of Cynia, until the ice firms up again. Take two adventurous boys, stir in unsupervised free time, and what do you get?


Jim and Frank adventurously wander down the canal towards the city, watching Willis justifying his name, bouncing along the bank. Soon enough they come across an example of the reason that Cynia has been closed off to humans:

They had gone perhaps a mile and the towers of the city were higher in the sky when they encountered a Martian. He was a small specimen of his sort, being not over twelve feet tall. He was standing quite still, all three of his legs down, apparently lost in contemplation of the whichness of what. The eye facing them stared unblinkingly.

Jim and Frank were, of course, used to Martians and recognized that this one was busy in his "other world"; they stopped talking and continued on past him, being careful not to brush against his legs. Not so Willis. He went darting around the Martian's peds, rubbing against them, then stopped and let out a couple of mournful croaks.

The Martian stirred, looking around him, and suddenly bent and scooped Willis up.

"Hey!" yelled Jim. "Put him down!"

Red Planet, p. 29/27

At this point we begin to learn what Frank's function to the plot is; he speaks Martian, after a fashion, and so translates between this triangular (there's a third eye to match that third leg, and in general the Martians seem to be well suited to watch out; another factor of that depth of "world-building" that lies behind this simple story) meditator and other Martians and Jim (and, not unconcidentally, the reader). The Martian is persuaded to accomodate their slower paces in various ways and takes the boys along into the closed city of Cydonia. And "into" is the right term, as they are conveyed beneath it to an assemblage of Martians. Some disturbing hints about the nature of the Martians are revealed here:

He was gazing at something few humans ever see, and no human ever wants to see; a Martian folded and rolled into a ball, his hand flaps covering everything but his curved back. Martians modern, civilized Martians do not hibernate, but at some time remote eons in the past their ancestors must have done so, for they are still articulated so that they can assume the proper, heat-conserving, moisture-conserving globular shape, if they wish.

They hardly ever so wish.

For a Martian to roll up is the moral equivalent of an Earthly duel to the death and is resorted to only when that Martian is offended so completely that nothing less will suffice. It means: I cast you out, I leave your world, I deny your existence.

Red Planet, pp. 33-4/32

Jim knows better than to bother this withdrawn individual, having heard of the mysterious disappearance of someone on the second expedition who had tried that. This is one of those problems concerning first contacts that had been so problematic in the early days.

For now, though, all is well. Indeed, far from being withdrawn or antagonistic, the Martians are remarkably accomodating towards their alien visitors. In this relaxed atmosphere, Jim is still aware of a powerful nascent technology underlying the quiet room; there is a realistic live-action mural of the outside, and somehow the air pressure and humidity are at humanly acceptable levels so they can breathe without respirators.

Other Martians turn up. This is a "growing together", a mass meditation session, and Jim goes with the flow. He feels immensely appreciative of the wonders around him, the strong serenity of the Martians, and what a great guy Frank is. (One trembles with fear at what contemporary standards could force on that last. Even back then Miss Dalgleish, guardian of social respectability and moral purity, just might have had a quiver of objection.)

The flow really goes, as it seems that Jim and Frank are about to receive an even greater honor: water. The Martian ritual of sharing water is laden with deep emotional meaning, as Heinlein conveys in the minimalist description of the ceremony given here. (By now it is blatant that that line about "any detailed background can provide room for a number of plots, characters, and situations that are completely independent of each other," applies to this book and Stranger In a Strange Land (1961, 1991); there is enough ambiguity to make any further connection unclear.) This is, of course, in keeping with his style of focusing on the function of a thing.

Oops it's almost time to get back on the scooter; time flies when you're growing together. The Martians kindly offer to make sure the boys don't miss their ride but there is a little matter of Willis, whom they want to keep. Dr. MacRae's solution offers a resolution; they ask Willis, who declares "Willis go with Jim." [p. 38/37] This declaration serves to persuade the Martians, who then proceed to deliver their guests to the station, where an astounded audience awaits them. (One of the Martians is named "Gekko", a name that had exotic implications then and was to acquire even more later a gecko is a lizard of the family Gekkonidae, while Tom Wolfe's rascally trader Gordon Gekko from The Bonfire of the Vanities was far in the writer's future, if the characters' past. Fortunately Gekko is nothing like that.) And so it's off to Lowell Academy, Syrtis Minor, Mars.


The school facilities are becoming overburdened; Jim and Frank, for example, are sharing a room built for one. (Think of the crowding the G. I. Bill generated.) The old headmaster, perhaps foreseeing a future of limits, has retired and the new one is remarkably obsessed with "bull". Jim and Frank have this obsession brought home to them when they get demerits for breaking rules they haven't had the chance to become aware of because they've been getting ready for inspection.

Like, for example, the one about having "barbaric decorations" on the respirator masks. Instead, the students will have their names lettered in inch-high letters across their suits. I suppose that it could have been numbers, so they seem to be at least free of that.

To someone who doesn't know how much easier it is to identify patterns than lettering which is where the original intent of heraldry comes in after all this rule only seems whimsical, but in a case where someone might need to make an identification at greater than reading distance, it is profoundly foolish.

Enter the "wiseacre without whom no Heinlein story is complete" [In Search of Wonder, Damon Knight, p. 77]. Smythe, a fellow student, very kindly and fairly cheaply offers to paint over those "barbaric decorations", the original paint having soaked in. The ensuing conversation descends to the level of Heinlein's usual approach to banter; it makes one think of the chat between Brisby and Stancke in Citizen of the Galaxy (1957). Evidently Smythe has a bit of a reputation for being a money grubber, among other things:

"Smitty, you would sell tickets to your grandmother's funeral." Jim produced a quarter credit.

"That's an idea. How much do you think I could charge?" . . . .

"Smitty, what do you think of these trick rules the new Head has thought up? Should we knuckle under or make a squawk?"

"Squawk? What for?" Smythe gathered up his tools. "There's a brand-new business opportunity in each one, if you only had the wit to see it. When in doubt, come to Smythe special services at all hours." He paused at the door. "Don't mention that deal about tickets to my grandmother's funeral; she'd want a cut on it before she kicks off. Granny is a very shrewd girl with a credit."

"Frank," remarked Jim when Smythe was gone, "there is something about that guy I don't like."

Frank shrugged. "He fixed us up. Let's check in and get off the punishment list.

"Right. He reminds me of something Doc used to say, 'Every law that was ever written opened up a new way to graft.'"

Red Planet, pp. 48-9/47

Another one of those rules forbids pets. This puts Willis in a bit of a quandary, to give you his slant (which had been going on in Belfast for about a year) on the matter. All Jim can do is try to toughen it out. However, events conspire to worsen the situation.

Headmaster Howe starts his mastership by lecturing the students about the importance of "bull", though he wouldn't put it that way. Jim challenges him and gets put on restriction for the weekend. At least he has Frank to help get him over the rough parts and make things a little easier, like buying a new tape. (It's obvious that the tape is a reel-to-reel tape; prediction can only go so far. The song is titled "¿Quien Es La Señorita?" which could be translated as "Who's That Girl?", though there's no evidence that Madonna's songwriters have ever read this book.) Thirsty for stimulation, Jim plays the tape over and over again, only breaking when Frank insists that they stop so they can study. (You'd think Frank would have insisted they stop before he strangled Jim with the tape.)

And then when they do break off for the night, Willis proceeds to display that talent for recording. Headmaster Howe shows up in remarkably swift time. (Was he prowling the corridors on guard against nocturnal emissions?) Ranting about people who have no considerations for the rights of others by blasting away with loud intrusive music (you know, I have some sympathy for that feeling), he turns off a turned-off recorder, and finally discovers the real cause of the commotion. But not before Willis follows up the music by repeating a conversation containing one last incisive, if ill-timed, judgment by Frank: "I think Howe is nuts, I mean really nuts. I'll bet he was a coward when he was a kid and it's twisted him inside." [p. 54/52] It was apt psychological summaries of that sort that had earned Heinlein the unwanted label of Freudian (see The Issue At Hand by James Blish, p. 74 for this).

Howe may be twisted inside, but at least he's fast on his metaphorical mental feet. Jim finds this out the next morning when he turns up to ask for Willis back. Howe's response anticipates Catch-22 (1962) by a bit; if Willis is a pet then Jim can't keep him, of course, but if he isn't, then Jim has no particular claim over him so Howe will look after Willis's best interests. (Presumably Howe would not bother to ask Willis's opinion in the matter, and since, going by previous experience, the reply would be "Willis go with Jim," from his point of view it definitely would not be a good idea.)

And also that morning Howe had another order posted, requiring that all the students keep their guns in the armory. These days that order sounds even more unusual than it did at the time. Heinlein had complained that under editorial pressure he had been forced to completely alter his original unconfined schema of gun ownership, instituting in its place "a complicated ritual, including codes, oaths, etc." [Grumbles from the Grave, p. 55] of licensure.

In the past few years the presence and use of guns at school has rather dramatically failed to produce the polite, respectful society of, say, L. Neil Smith's stories. It's been almost as ineffective in that field as the Sullivan Act (see Grumbles from the Grave, pp. 55-6 for Heinlein's slant on this) has been in its field.

However, Smitty knows a way around everything. "What do I need a gun for around here? I've got a brain." [p. 56] he says, and when you think about it that's a more useful attitude in the long run. However, not all long-run survival tactics will work very well in the short term. As it happens, for a fairly reasonable price he will store, sight unknown, two packages that for some odd reason happen to be about the size and shape of handguns. I can't imagine why.

Jim may be stuck in Catch-22 but he can do better than to whine about stealing a B-25 and flying to Sweden; he's going to break Willis out. In their close quarters Frank has to notice and since he figures he would be implicated anyway, he gets involved. They slip through the empty halls (maybe the headmaster usually wasn't prowling the corridors at night after all) to the office, which turns out to be rather secure against break-ins.

Not breakouts, though. After fumbling unsuccessfully with the various air vents, Jim calls out to Willis, who hears and responds. In more ways than one, for Willis cuts his way out of the desk and then the office, using a heretofore undisplayed skill that astounds Jim. He hadn't ever cut his way out of rooms at home, even when Jim had locked him in.

This sort of indicated to Jim that his career at school is done for, even though the headmaster would be hard put to explain that bouncer-sized hole in his desk and wall. Frank tries to talk him out of doing anything unwise, only to be interrupted by another example of recording that changes everything.


One would think Headmaster Howe would have thought it unwise to discuss intimate matters around something that can record. Underestimating one's surroundings can be hazardous and in a situation like this, fatal. While pleading with Jim to be reasonable, Frank said "The chances [to sneak out] ought to be good after noon" and just recently Willis had heard someone else say "Good afternoon!", which sets him off. The someone else was the Resident-Agent General, representative of the authorities on Earth, that is, come to see his friend Howe to discuss certain matters.

It looks as if Howe has hit the jackpot; Resident Beecher knows of someone who will pay at least fifty thousand credits, and likely more, for a Martian roundhead Willis, that is. Dr. MacRae was right about the graft, and apparently the company practices nepotism, too, as Howe is the nephew of someone important. If this blatant greed isn't enough to get Jim upset, the next conversation that Beecher and Howe were so imprudent as to have in the presence of a living wiretap was even more disturbing.

Because winter is coming, it's time for the colony to migrate. That planetary matrix Heinlein developed contains a certain set of assumptions about conditions on the Martian surface. One of them is that it gets almost unlivably cold at the temperate latitudes on Mars; hence, the colonists have to move away before that happens.

Except maybe not this time:

"I am happy to say that the board came around to your uncle's point of view. South Colony will stay where it is; this next ship load and the one following it will go to North Colony, where the new immigrants will have nearly twelve months of summer in which to prepare for the northern winter. . . . I want this handled with the least possible friction. No one must know until the last possible moment. There are hotheads among the colonials who will oppose this policy, even though it has already been proved that, with reasonable precautions, the dangers of a Martian winter are negligible. My plan is to postpone migration two weeks on some excuse, then postpone it again. By the time I announce the change it will be too late to do anything but comply."


"Thank you. It's really the only way to handle colonials, my boy. You haven't been here long enough to know them the way I do. They are a neurotic lot, most of them failures on Earth, and they will drive you wild with their demands if you are not firm with them. They don't seem to understand that all that they are and all that they have they owe directly to the Company. Take this new policy; if you let the colonists have their own way, they would continue to follow the sun, like so many rich playboys and at the Company's expense."

Red Planet, pp. 70-1/70

You can see where Howe is coming from; this sounds like a prime recipe for "bull". "Maybe he'd like to stay inside for eleven or twelve months at a time or go outside when it's a hundred below," snorts Frank [p. 71/72] in response. Presumably that's one hundred degrees Fahrenheit; -100 C is -148 F. The U.S. Antarctic Research Project's Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, where such winter temperatures are encountered on a regular basis, and the Soviet, now Russian, Vostok base at the so-called "Pole of Inaccessibility", where even colder temperatures are regularly observed, would not be built for another seven years. In fact, at Amundsen-Scott Station the staff plays a game called "The Four Hundred Club"; to join, when it's -100 outside, one sits in the sauna at 200, then runs out (naked, of course) in that 300 temperature difference 100 yards to the pole. But back then, as in the case of the Everest expeditions, there had been no such reference point. (The expeditions of the twenties and thirties did not engage in such scientific planning and analysis, as one might guess from their method of assisting respiration at higher altitudes, which happened to be smoking. On another note, given the extremes of conditions and the capital investment involved in building paired colonies in the temperate areas, one could wonder why all the colonies had not been established in the Martian tropics.)

It's rather obvious that the folks back home will be vitally interested in this revelation, and suddenly Frank is no longer concerned about waiting until after noon. This entails a call upon Smythe to get their guns back, and after a credit check to get some money, since they don't quite have enough to buy two tickets.

After selling everything they have salable (Frank's slide rule you do remember slide rules that had cost twenty-five credits new went for ten) and borrowing the rest at six percent per month (bad risks have to pay loan-shark rates) they get ready to go. But there is the little problem of a locked front door. Also a locked back door. However, as Smitty points out "it did not occur to brother Howe to install a lock on the garbage dump." [p. 74/75] And he even will operate it for free, oddly enough, since someone has to stay inside to flip the switch on the big (human-sized, in fact) rotating hopper.

After being dumped out like garbage (do they just drop it in the street?), Jim and Frank get to the station, buy tickets, and take the scooter going south without problems. However, radio is still faster and the driver is appropriately warned about two dangerous criminals. Thus when they arrive back at Cynia and disembark for a snack, the scooter driver takes advantage of the opportunity to, ah, scoot.

In the morning, another scooter full of armed security guards will arrive to take these two dangerous felons into custody. Where else can they go? And of course communications are "temporarily out of service" one of the first things to do in a coup is to get control of communications. The Left SRs failed to take over the Moscow telephone exchange during their coup of July, 1918 and Lenin reached out and touched someone, or someones. Seventy-three years later Boris N. Yeltsin would take advantage of the same mistake made by Lenin's heirs to rally support worldwide. So Beecher at least has learned something.

While staying with the Martians would keep them alive, it still leaves them out of touch. But it's only seven hundred miles to Charax and they can skate two hundred miles a day. (Another little "insignificant consideration" that trips up the plotters.) So they take off.

One would think that they might have some problems about staying outdoors overnight during this little pleasure jaunt. Frank had proposed skating at night and resting by day, but Jim demurs from experience: "I saw a man once who was caught out at night. He was stiff as a board." [p. 81/82] But remember that oxygenation project? There are shelters scattered throughout the area between Cynia and Charax, so they will have places to stay indoors overnight.

The first day goes without any substantial problems. Even when Jim tripped and fell, sending Willis bouncing along the ice, the only reaction was a "Whoopee! Do it again!" from Willis, to which Jim replies "Not if I can help it." [p. 83/84] And just about at sundown, just in time, they find a station.

And just in time for Frank, too. The Martian air is dry, and the respirator masks include water tanks for humidification and drinking. Frank had let his water tank run dry and was a little uncomfortable. There isn't any food in the shelter fortunately they stocked up before they left but there is water, also a flashlight, which Jim thinks may be useful and takes over Frank's demurrals.

In the morning they set out again. The day passes normally, but at its end there don't seem to be any shelters handy. When they get off the canal to look, Willis bounces off, up to a Martian plant, a very large one called a "desert cabbage", which will be closing up for the night soon. Willis seems to be thinking they might as well let it close up on them. It looks to be their only hope to survive the frigid night.


The famous "trick issue" of Astounding, dated November 1949, contained the stories reviewed in Richard Hoen's letter of comment in the November 1948 issue. Hoen had been particularly enthused by Anson Macdonald's serial "Gulf". The editorial request to write "Gulf" put a strain on Heinlein, since he had sworn off pseudonyms, was aiming higher for sales, and no longer thought so well of Campbell. (JWCjr had dared to question his opinions! The very idea!)

Nevertheless, he strove to create a story to specification. Under this pressure, he considered and rejected many story ideas, one of them in particular for lack of space. This one, suggested by his new wife (see Mrs. Heinlein's proud acknowledgments in Grumbles from the Grave, p. 52 and p. 222) took the idea of looking into how a Man from Mars, a human raised by aliens and able therefore to offer a completely different perspective, would function. Then Heinlein put it aside and wrote the story published as "Gulf", a tale of a superman that shows the strain of writing to spec and is not up to par.

This idea, however, joined up with the detailed background that Heinlein had just created for his latest Scribner's novel to eventually produce Stranger In a Strange Land (1961, 1991), which also fails of its several promises. But then, Heinlein often promised and then found himself unable to deliver to his own specifications.

Meanwhile on the planet Mars, Jim Marlowe, his friend Frank, and his pet Willis had better hope that their equipment and surroundings perform to specifications. Trapped far from shelter with a frigid Martian night rapidly approaching, they have taken refuge in a desert cabbage, a native Martian plant, that consists of a large (four feet by ten [pp. 89-90/90]) ball of leaves that spread in the daytime to absorb sunlight and roll up at night to conserve warmth and moisture.

Frank seems not to have lost his head, as he advises them to spread out and create a larger space inside the closing-up plant. Jim however has, as he lives through the inverse of the old saw "Time flies when you're having fun." After a panicky night that turns out to be about an hour (rather like the Long Range Desert Group verifying the British decodings of secret messages by hiding out in the Libyan desert near the coastal road and counting the German and Italian trucks that drove by, and every two hours the road watcher would check and it would be fifteen minutes later), he decides to throw a little light on the subject, and turns on that flashlight he had "borrowed" back in the shelter: "We might have a use for it," [p. 86] he had said.

Heinlein, as has been pointed out earlier, was proud of the vast amount of background research and extrapolation that went into these books, work that was unseen by the reader and or so he felt unappreciated by the editor:

. . Take that one point about how the desert cabbage stopped crowding in on the boys when Jim turned on the light. A heliotropic plant would do just that but I'll bet she [Alice Dalgleish, the Scribner's editor] doesn't know heliotropism from second base. I did not attempt to rub the reader's nose in the mechanics of heliotropism or why it would develop on Mars because she had been so insistent on not being "too technical."

I worked out in figures the amount of chlorophyll surface necessary to permit those boys to live overnight in the heart of a plant and how much radiant energy would be required before I included the incident. But I'll bet she thought of that incident as being "fantasy."

Grumbles from the Grave, letter of March 4, 1949, p. 50

This particular grumble makes Heinlein sound as if he is pining for the Good Old Days of T. O'Connor Sloane at Amazing. If an author failed to have the characters provide enough lecturing on the scientific principles involved in the stories [discourses on the order of: "As you know, Miss Gerstenfeld, the fixed disk stores information by magnetizing minuscule regions of the magnetic substance, a compound of ferrous oxide and binders, on its surface. This wondrous device can contain up to one hundred sixty-seven million, seven hundred seventy-two thousand, one hundred sixty such individual bits of information . . . "] the elderly Sloane would add footnotes containing such vital material. When later on Heinlein became liberated from editors and their constraints he would be rubbing his readers' noses in different kinds of information.

But as the man said, the light shining on the leaves of the desert cabbage induces sufficent production of oxygen to keep its desperate residents from stifling. Like the reader (and editor) they don't for now notice that life-saving production; they merely notice that the plant is opening up inside and they have a little more room. Not as reassured as he should be, Jim dozes off into even more nightmares.

Thus when the desert cabbages opens up again, dumping two cramped but alive colonists and one very bouncy native onto the Martian soil, Jim doesn't quite seem to be sure if this is another nightmare or what. "Somehow we lasted through the winter, though I don't know how. Now we " he babbles to Frank [p. 94/96] who cuts off this flood of discussion of floods by pointing to the more autumnual position of the rising sun.

Chastened, they set off to the canal to skate the day's two hundred miles, only to receive another shock. Someone in the colonial administration is capable of thought; there is a scooter out there searching still for those two dangerous criminals on the run, who have been sleeping in the atmosphere project shelters and looting flashlights. And their skate tracks are rather obvious signposts showing the way.

They set out towards the other leg of the double canal, skating as far as possible along a branch canal and walking when it peters out in swamp. This little trip isn't helped by Frank's increasing ill-health. That minor oversight of his in not topping up his water tank has had serious consequences; breathing unhumidified Martian air has dried out his throat, encouraging the spread of infection.

Remember the datum about mountain climbing, where explorers had to drink eight pints of water a day to compensate for the increased loss from a variety of breathing-related circumstances, so the air pressure would also have something to do with it. Not to mention the limited amount of water on the planet anyhow. (Enough for canals-full, though? Perhaps this was something which hadn't been fully thought out.) Finally, recall that the Martians have made a ceremony of sharing water, a ritual laden with significance and deep meaning. (Which would become important in Stranger In a Strange Land.)

All these factors go to show that water is important in Mars and this particular lack of it particularly so, and that Frank has had a serious lapse of memory, in circumstances where such could be fatal. Jim had already suggested that Frank give up, and incidentally mislead the pursuers, but Frank argued that that wouldn't work [pp. 97-8]. So it's on over to the next canal, through the dunes.

This leads to another problem. Frank is too weak to go up a dune, while Jim wants to look for signs of the canal they are headed for, so he wants to do some sand-climbing. (Major Ralph Bagnold of the Royal Signals, brother of the author of National Velvet, had spent most of the 1930's developing methods to travel in the desert, including how to drive up sand dunes without becoming bogged down, and how to prepare for a breakdown and walk to safety, albeit not over iron-oxide sand or to artificial canals. His work first resulted in a paper on "The Physics of Sand Dunes" that earned him membership in the Royal Society; then it brought him the command of the Sahara Desert traveling reconnaissance unit the Long Range Desert Group.) This means that they are separated every now and then.

When we had first met Frank back in Chapter One he was being treated for a injury incurred while trying to impair the Martian ecological balance of nature; he had killed a Martian animal called a water-seeker, which is a predator, and had injured himself destroying the egg sac so there would be fewer ones in the future. Now another one is trying to restore the balance of nature, and Frank is just too weak to defend himself. Fortunately for him, and for Willis, who has also been taking the easy path, Jim isn't, and he is a good shot. (So there was a good reason for teenagers to be carrying guns, in these circumstances.) This evokes a bare flicker of response from Frank, a sign of how bad off he is.

Fortunately, their journey is about near a way station. They have just about reached that other leg of the canal that they were heading for, and better yet there is a Martian town there. For Frank, though, the Bradburyan spires look to be his gravemarkers, as he is just about done for. They make their way into the abandoned town, where Frank sits down, perhaps for good. Before Jim can go look for a cellar to spend the night in, he has to find Willis, who has disappeared. But Willis reappears, being carried by a Martian. This could mean safety if only they could communicate, but Frank is too out of it to even translate. By improvisation and suggestion Jim conveys to this Martian that they are water-brothers to his fellow-indigene Gekko and that Frank is too sick to walk. Apparently this K'boomch knows Gekko and is willing to lend a palm-flap to a water-brother in need.

They go down the steep ramps to the underground part of the town (Edgar Rice Burroughs's Martian cities also had ramps and extensive belowground construction; later on we will see yet another parallel) which has higher air pressure and other facilities. They go into a small room where K'boomch takes a seat; then suddenly, Jim feels heavy, then light, then heavy again. After a moment the door opens and there are several Martians waiting for them, including Gekko.

They get settled down and Jim realizes with dismay that they are back in Cynia, three miles from the station they had fled in fear of the Company police. Disgusted at the waste of effort, he turns to tending Frank, whose condition is not being helped by the dryness of the air in their room. He tries to explain to Gekko the need for humidification, and in spite of his limited vocabulary he achieves some success, fortunately for the unconscious Frank.

With all the signs of an unobtrusive high technology available to the Martians, you would think that Jim would have guessed right away that they and K'boomch had traveled on some sort of subway back to Cynia. (It will turn out, by the way, that the Martians' technological resources are even greater than had been thought not to mention their non-technological ones.) As it happens, he doesn't realize this until he tries to explain it to Frank, who has recovered after an odd, wild, and nasty dream about hiding in a desert cabbage.

(This is the section where there was one of the more notorious deleted passages, the one in which Willis lays eggs [Grumbles from the Grave, pp. 254-5/Red Planet, restored edition, pp. 111-2]. Why allowing alien beings to have their own life-cycle should be objectionable is a curiosity of that era.)

Now that Frank is back on his feet again, the thing to do is to continue their trip, by one means or another. Jim won't leave without Willis, who has wandered off somewhere in the meantime. He himself wanders through the community on this search, shouting and disturbing innocent Martians who had been meditating. Somehow he survives. Gekko finds this disturbing invader too much for him to handle, so the only thing left to do is to go into the other world. He takes Jim down several ramps to a small room, then pulls in his thoughts. Left alone, with only a withdrawn Martian for company, Jim understandably feels constrained. At least he dimly appreciates the local customs, and decides to just sit and wait.


Before he went into his trance, Gekko had described the place he took Jim to: "This is a gate to the other world." [p. 111/114] Looking at a withdrawn Martian loses its thrill after a while and Jim drifts off himself into his own sort of trance.

By now he should be accustomed to strange occurrences, and what happens next certainly counts. What he sees is the Martian landscape, observed from a low angle and a perspective that frequently rotates. During one of those full-circle scans, he sees a water-seeker approaching with mayhem in mind. Then, suddenly, it disintegrates, and another exotic horror appears, lifting him far above the ground. Then a voice which ought to be strange but instead is familiar issues from this new creature: "'Well, aren't you the cute little fellow!' . . . He heard his own voice say, 'You're too little to be wandering around by yourself; another one of those vermin might really get you. I think I'll take you home.'" [p. 113/116] (Jim must really be used to hearing his own voice in recordings. Most people find hearing themselves from outside to be different. It's mainly the absence of the reverberations inside the skull cavities.)

What follows is indeed a case of the power "to see ourselves as others see us", and a rare appreciation of an alien perspective. Usually in Heinlein's books, and in science fiction in general, aliens are observed, not point-of-view characters. In this brief passage, Jim lives through the entire memory record Willis has of his life with Jim. There are only the briefest hints there, tantalizing ones, of a different mental nature the passage is only about a page long.

And having come up to the present in Willis's experiences, Jim comes back to himself. The induced calm has passed and he wants to look around. Where, in the next room that hadn't been there before, he encounters another Martian, one that seems to him to be a bit older, as best as he can tell given the limited field of reference for Terrans and Jim's limited knowledge in that area. This old one speaks English, fortunately for Jim's limited xenolinguistic capabilities. ("I have but lately learned your tongue. Forgive me if I stumble," he says [p. 115/118], but to Jim he sounds rather reminiscent of Doc MacRae or of his own father. That's about all he can say by way of description) He also seems to have seen the same show that Jim just saw, with a deeper comprehension than either of them. Jim and Willis have become, if not two of a kind, at least parts of a whole; they've saved each others' lives often enough. It would be terrible to break up such a team, so the Martian is making a kind offer of permanent housing and security for Jim among the Martians.

Promising as that offer may seem, Jim does have other obligations to consider. There is, after all, that matter that led them to flee in the first place. Perhaps grudgingly, the Martian accedes and takes him and the now-awake Gekko (rather, Gekko picks Jim up and carries him) to a room full of bouncers. Fortunately, Willis will come when called, or they'd never have been able to pick him out of the mimics.

Gekko then carries Jim, who is himself carrying Willis, back to the higher level where Frank is waiting, his elder following behind. And when they get there they find that Frank is deeply concerned. After all, it's been three hours since Jim left and he can't be waiting lunch forever. After blinking, Jim accepts this chronology, but in any case lunch will have to be on the run, as the Martians have offered them a subway trip back to where they came from.

They rush to the subway and board the little room, all except Gekko. The trip is unexceptional and when they get out the door closes too quickly for Jim:

. . . He turned, intending to speak to the old Martian, but the archway door behind them was already closed. "Oh, that's too bad," he said.

"What's too bad? That they gave us a run-around?"

"They didn't give us a run-around; it's just that this room looks like the one in Cynia. You'll see when we get up to the surface. No, I was saying 'too bad' because I let" Jim hesitated, realizing that he had never got the old fellow's name. "because I let the old fellow, not Gekko, the other one, get away without saying good-by."


"You know, the other one. The one that rode with us."

"What do you mean, the other one? I didn't see anybody but Gekko. And nobody rode with us; we were in there by ourselves."

"Huh? You must be blind."

"You must be nuts."

"Frank Sutton, do you mean to stand there and tell me you didn't see the Martian that rode with us?"

"You heard me the first time."

Red Planet, pp. 119-20/122-3

Instead of continuing this fruitless argument, which all unbeknownst to them is far more important than most of what's been going on (we'll see how much more important as the story progresses), they decide to go to the surface so they can start skating on home again. Either the Martian town has been expanded substantially in the past few days or they're lost, as they are now in a somewhat larger municipality. Actually, neither one is the case; they are in Charax, next to South Colony. Jim had thought they were going back to where K'boomch had found them, but evidently the Martians were somewhat better planners. And so two desperate outlaws return to their hole in the wall, ready to continue their lives of crime.


The joyous reunion at the Marlowe place starts off well. (Scorning Jim as infantile for wanting cocoa is just too sophisticated to be sensible. Chocolate is a proven restorative and hot liquids will help in other ways.) Mr. Sutton gets called home from work (Mrs. Sutton, showing the usual high level of acuity in Heinlein's women that his detractors won't concede, had been careful about the prospects of surveillance) and sets about persuading his son to take responsibility for his actions. Jim is quite willing to take responsibility for his actions but first off he has to provide the complete context for his actions, which will serve to explain his complete responsibilities in the issue at hand.

Father is at least understanding once he learns about the new level of "bull" (and bull products) at the academy. The other matter is a little harder to believe at first, and Willis's unwillingness to repeat the crucial conversation doesn't help. Mr. Marlowe seems to have been taken in by the official cover story. However, the arrival of Company proctors indicates that perhaps there might be something to it, and the arrival of Frank and his father shortly thereafter helps clinch it. Frank at least can get Willis triggered off, and how they all react to the dirty little secret is a harbinger of things to come.

There is one other person who should know, and there are other reasons to go see him. Therefore, alert for the threat of the Law West of Strymon, they proceed to Dr. MacRae's infirmary. He examines Frank and being an old country doc ("Dammit, Jim, I'm a doctor, not a revolutionary!" Oops, wrong) he bypasses his diagnostic equipment and merely listens to his heart and respiration. From there it's time to ask about that strange night in the wilds:

"That's it, that's it. You didn't mention that before. The flashlight saved your lives, son."

"Huh? How?"

"Photosynthesis. You shine light on green leaf and it can no more help taking in carbon dioxide and giving off oxygen than you can help breathing."

Red Planet, p. 131/134-5

So he did sneak some of that "too technical" stuff by Miss Dalgleish anyhow.

Somewhat more important is that life of Willis that Jim saw. This has several different levels implications. How it was shown to Jim in the brief period of time elapsed is a mystery, but nothing as to why it was shown to him. And then the imagery, or illusions, continued. In the brief period of time left while the elder Marlowes and Suttons are going to deliver their message, there isn't much time to discuss philosophy, epistomology, and solipsism, especially solipsism (by the publication Stranger In a Strange Land this belief would become dominant in Heinlein's writing it features in that book and likely in his thinking, but look as far back as "They" (Unknown, April 1941) and you will see it) but he gives it a start.

They have to go to the meeting, and here the bureaucrats and administrators start fighting a rear-guard action. There are rules and regulations and requirements enough to infuriate even the most first-stage of Heinlein Individuals, and while the boys are annoyed, higher-stage ones like Jim's father and Dr. MacRae are even more stirred. (This works out to be a progression, with James Marlowe, Sr. being the second-level one to his son's first-level, and the doctor being the third-level one to them both see Panshin's Heinlein In Dimension p. 129 and pp 169-72 for the basics.) Stirred to action, too, as the members of this right-wing patriot militia take guns in hand and question authority. Jim's father gets elected chairman after Dr. McRae ducks the potential responsibility, and the chairman retaliates by putting the doctor on the board. (Heinlein would do this again in Citizen of the Galaxy (1957) when Thorby informs his cousin Leda that if she wants to take responsibility, she has to accept it, and puts her on the board of directors of Rudbeck Associates.)

It's hardly necessary to go over again what Willis had heard. It can be pointed out that here Heinlein discusses, as a trivial side point to the main narrative, the principles of voiceprint identification. Thus we have an example of his predictive thought and his talent at building even the trivial parts of a background. The attendees of the meeting, which is most of the colonial population, are outraged, and the decision is not to wait on events, but to take matters into their own hands.


Panshin says of this book that "Red Planet is a boy's book not because it is something less than good, but because we are for the most part given strictly a boy's-eye view of the revolution." [Heinlein In Dimension, p. 52] Panshin seems to be undercutting his argument, which is that Heinlein's juvenile novels are of no different degree than his adult novels, just with juvenile protagonists. And in fact, the "boy's-eye" view is that of an ordinary participant, age notwithstanding not to mention that that very question of adulthood comes up in the story at a crucial point.

One point that doesn't seem to have attracted much attention is how small the number of people involved is. "South Colony held at the time five hundred and nine persons, from the youngest baby to old Doc MacRae," is the figure [pp. 142-3/146]. Even assuming a large equatorial support staff and a sizable atmosphere project crew you can't be talking about more than two thousand at most for the entire human population of Mars. It hardly seems worth making a fuss about duplicated facilities for so few; but apparently the Company mentality was of the nitpicking sort.

(The Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station has a wintering-over staff of some thirty to forty, depending. The total U.S. presence is around four hundred. Add in the other nations' Antarctic bases and you should pass two thousand. The Argentines and Chileans have turned their stations in the Antarctic Peninsula into towns, with family quarters, city charters, and all the features of municipial government. Admittedly, the temperature in that part of the continent doesn't get down to one hundred below.)

This tiny band has, fortunately, enough transport to move the people, if not their goods, in one convoy. (Even without the one vehicle that the humiliated Resident Agent had taken to flee.) If the people are there, the Company staff can't keep them down in the colony. They load up and on and move out that night. It's already been established that the ice on the canals will be firmer at night.

Only to run into a stymie at the equatorial station. The procedure in more normal times is to transfer to boats there for the portion of the trip in the hemisphere where it is spring. Well, if there isn't going to be a migration, why would there be any boats? And there aren't. Begging Beecher the Resident Agent General (last heard trying to sell a bouncer to the London Zoo for seventy thousand credits) to recognize the facts won't do any good, as he isn't minded to cooperate with a rowdy rebel rabble. The only place around with enough room and other facilities is the school, as Jim remembers and quickly suggests to his father.

At least one other migrant thinks that would be a good idea, for other reasons: "One of the students, a great lout named Kelly, was telling me today what his father was going to do to me when he came through at migration," Headmaster Howe had said [p. 70/70], confident that such was not going to come to pass (and that his words would not get beyond those walls). Now Kelly senior is going to get that chance. We've already seen him being sergeant-at-arms and provost marshal at the meeting back at South Colony, where he shut up the Resident; now he organizes the next phase of the evacuation. The horde descends upon the school and settles in.

Once everyone is inside, they hold another meeting ("A revolution is not a tea party," but so far this seems to be because they haven't any tea) to keep everyone informed. Earlier on we had encountered one of Panshin's set-piece supporting character types (see Heinlein In Dimension, pp. 129-30), the Whining, Useless, Middle-Aged Mama, who had found out that Willis could repeat things, like her sometime housemate's low opinion of her [pp. 21-3/19-20]. Now her counterpart, Panshin's Pompous Male Blowhard, begins to assert himself.

This fellow, named Gibbs, wants to have Headmaster Howe plead with the Resident Agent General for boats to the north. Not only is this unlikely in the first place, but Howe is holed up in his office because of what Mr. Kelly wants to do to him. Nevertheless the proposal goes to a vote and is one-sidedly voted down.

Jim believes that the Martians might give them a lift (that seems to be presuming too much on the kindness of strangers in a strange land) and proposes it to the assembly, whereupon:

"A point of order, Mr. Chairman!" It was Gibbs again. "Under what rules do you permit children to speak in the councils of adults?"

Mr. Marlowe looked embarassed; Doctor MacRae spoke up. "Another point of order, Mr. Chairman. Since when does this cream puff" He motioned at Gibbs.

"Order, Doctor."

"Correction. I mean this fine upstanding male citizen, Mr. Gibbs, get the notion that Frank and Jim and the other gun-toting men their age ain't citizens? . . . Now this is a frontier society and any man old enough to fight is a man and must be treated as such and any girl old enough to cook and tend babies is adult, too. Whether you folks know it or not, you are headed into a period when you'll have to fight for your rights. The youngsters will do the fighting; it behooves you to treat them accordingly. Twenty-five may be the right age for citizenship in a moribund, age-ridden society back on Earth, but we aren't bound to follow customs that aren't appropriate to our needs here."

Red Planet, pp. 153-4/157-8

This is a more belligerent statement of a theme from Farmer In the Sky (1950). In the decade after the writing of these books, the argument would be restated as "Old enough to fight, old enough to vote." Heinlein would take this argument even farther in Starship Troopers (1959) and similarly the "real-world" experiment in adjusting the balance between participating in a community's essential functions and being eligible to participate in controlling the governance of the community is still working. Growing up is hard to do; having all the burdens of the world thrust upon one makes it even harder, but the result may be better. (See also Between Planets (1951) which has yet another analysis of this problem.) Gibbs is a negative character as was said, a Pompous Male Blowhard and while such unpleasant people often do hold ill-thought-out opinions, it is a somewhat cheap form of labeling to stick negative ideas on negative characters. Anyhow, when Beecher offers them one last chance to surrender, Gibbs takes it, as does the Whining, Useless, Middle-Aged Mama of this book and her husband. In a remarkably brief time, Gibbs is back; the other two weren't so lucky, they stepped outside the school and were shot down. It looks rather if Beecher's offer hadn't been quite on the up and up after all.

At least they won't shoot a bouncer (what, blow away seventy thousand credits?) and presumably Willis will repeat a message if it's given to him. And the guards wouldn't shoot Martians, either (let's hope) so the colonists could get out under native protection. That's Jim's plan, but Willis slipped out somehow and can't be found. Well, he was, outside the airlock. So the message will work, and they send him out again with one.

Meanwhile Dr. MacRae is sending out messages of his own. It is to be hoped that not all of the local staff is behind the Resident Agent General's plans, and the doctor is calling everyone he thinks might be of that state of mind. Until the phone gets shut down. Followed by the power for the building, which shows that at least someone knows about putting pressure on so to speak.

Especially when a couple with an infant, unsuited to staying in an unpressurized building, try to surrender and find that the shoot-on-sight policy is still in effect. This sacrifice has some value, at least. Dr. MacRae has an idea, and finds out that they should have posted sentries. There is a photoelectric trigger across the opening which will get anyone who crosses it shot. Not very nice, but also not very clever, or at least defeatable by anyone who can find where the beams are, and calm enough to avoid them. You'd think that Beecher would at least have had someone watching. Mr. Marlowe picks a squad, not including Jim and Frank, and goes for the power house.

This leaves Dr. MacRae in charge and he picks a squad, including Jim and Frank. They slip between the beams, disable the automatic weapon, and clean up the snipers' nest Beecham had had set up. (You'd think they would have called the office. Oh well.) In the process Jim shoots a guard, who had given away his position by firing at someone behind Jim. No, not Frank, but Smythe. "I came along at the last minute to protect my investment. You guys owe me money," is his explanation [p. 172/177] This enables Kelly, left in charge, to bring out the rest of the troops (when Mr. Marlowe had asked for volunteers he got about two hundred, which would seem to be most of the men there, going by the figure given above. What about the women?) and Dr. MacRae to give them their assignments.

He himself is going to take out Beecher. After a hair-raising advance through the town, alert for armed opposition and seeing every shadow as a snipers' den, the assault force reaches its objective. Displaying a military skill not usually associated with physicians, MacRae disperses his force around the administrative building, and then demands that Beecher come out. After an escalating progression of requests and threats, the lock begins cycling and:

Then it was open and a single figure stood in it, the lock's light shining behind him. "Don't shoot!" said a firm, pleasant voice. "It's all right. It's all over."

MacRae peered at the figure. "Why, Doctor Rawlings!" he said. "Bless your ugly face."

Red Planet, p. 175/181


Dr. MacRae's calls had proven worthwhile. The staff wasn't all behind Beecher's ideas, and he started locking them up. Doctor Rawlings had persuaded their guard to change sides, and they then proceeded to lock up Beecher. The diagnosis they have is that Beecher was paranoid the paranoid was out to get them! One of the deleted passages was the opinion of MacRae that "Paranoia is a disorder contracted only by those of fundamentally bad character." [Grumbles from the Grave, p. 255/Red Planet, restored edition, p. 183] (Wonder if that says something about James Angleton?). The passage that replaced it has its own merits; in true Lazarus Long fashion Dr. MacRae ducks out of being named the new headmaster and manages to get someone else who might actually want the job named to that post.

Meanwhile, other people are flip-flopping. During all the shooting Frank had maintained that they had paid their debts to Smythe, who had disagreed. Now Smythe has come around to that point of view, only to be rebuffed by Jim in a typical Heinlein line: "No thanks. Marlowes pay their debts." [p. 178/184] Before he can explain this incomprehensible change of heart to Frank, there is another turn of events: The Martians have finally showed up. Gekko is carrying Willis, and has a question connected to him: "Where is he who stole our little one?" [p. 179/184] This isn't a hard question to answer, but it's a hard one to deal with. Gekko stuffs himself into the airlock, and then, unimpeded by the high pressure and muggy humidity (at least, that's how it ought to be feeling to him) marches to the headmaster's office. The door could keep Mr. Kelly out but not Gekko, who somehow just pulls it off the hinges. Amazed by this intrusion, Howe cries out and then falls silent. Gekko then leaves, leaving behind him an uninhabited office.

The Martian crowd then proceeds to where Beecher is being held, demanding another confrontation. This time they herd him into the middle of them, and the same performance occurs. Now it had been established that one obnoxious crew member on the second expedition had mysteriously disappeared in much the same fashion, and that was connected to a breach of relations between the explorers and the natives that had taken much time and effort to repair [p. 34/32-3]. So when they ask after Dr. MacRae, it ought to be worrisome for him.

And in a way it is. He learns what it is that the Martians want: "They want us to leave. . . . Get off Mars, go away, back to Earth. . . . it's an order, an ultimatum. They aren't even anxious to give us time enough to get ships here from Earth. They want us to leave, every man jack, woman, and child, they want us to leave right away and they aren't fooling!" [p. 182/188]

The transition to the next chapter shows how this justifies to some extent Panshin's characterization of this as a "boy's book", as the next section entirely excludes Jim. (He had been there when Dr. MacRae made the previous shocking announcement.) The doctor has been negotiating with the Martians and has won a reprieve for the colony. This is a meeting of the leaders; foot soldiers, even the sons of the leaders, are not allowed.

The Martians, like Edgar Rice Burroughs's kaldanes in The Chessmen of Mars, are pulling in; they will consent to let the strangers from the third planet have the surface they no longer care about. This seems to be part of a generalized shift in concentration. "They had interplanetary flight millions of years back . . . had it and gave it up." [p. 184/190] (In Between Planets Heinlein would do that again, albeit with a different approach for all concerned.)

What really bewildered Dr. MacRae was his negotiating partner: "I talked, so they told me, to to someone in the 'other world' the 'old one' I mean. Jamie, I think I negotiated our new colonizing treaty with a ghost." [p. 187/193] To those who have since read Stranger In a Strange Land the concept of the Old Ones who have transcended their material bodies and live in the other world is hardly new. This, along with that earlier Martian power of vanishing, is a sign of how much Heinlein took from the one book to the other. This concept of alternative planes of existence is mind-boggling; it certainly boggles Dr. MacRae's mind.

As does the hinge on which humanity was saved. "Jim's relationship to Willis pulled them back again. They compromised." [p. 185/191] Willis is a being of importance, and Jim's affection for him (or her) was recognized by the Martians as a spark of hope for humanity. As for what happens next, it seems that the "bouncers" are the initial stage of Marskind. Very soon, Willis will go into hibernation, change, and become a full-fledged Martian.

These are matters of immense portent. How will humanity comprehend dealing with another race, one that lives in constant communication with Heaven? Will the Martians continue to tolerate this contact and contactees? And what will this important being do in the next stage of life? Or as Dr. MacRae said thoughtfully: "But what becomes of Willis? I wish I knew." [p. 189/195]


On the other hand, it is fairly evident that you feel that the story is just about as good now as it was before. I am sorry to say that I don't think so; maybe it's good but it ain't a Heinlein story; it's been denaturized, had its teeth pulled.

Grumbles from the Grave, letter of May 17, 1949, p. 58

Not only Lurton Blassingame, Heinlein's agent and the recipient of the lament above, but seemingly everyone else who read the book, did not concur with the above opinion of Heinlein's. Grumbles from the Grave contains over twelve pages of correspondence, mostly from Heinlein, about the revisions, and the reader is left with the feeling that he felt that the book should really have been sold as "Red Planet by Alice Dalgliesh with additional material by Robert Heinlein".

The restored version, published in 1991, runs to 196 pages of text as opposed to the 182 pages of the original version. The main topic of disagreement seems to have been sexuality.

It has been noted that Heinlein inserted gratuitous nude scenes into his work. This complaint is most commonly directed towards the later works, but from what has been discovered in the past few years this sexualization seems to have been present at an earlier time in his writing career, but it was covered up so to speak by the editors.

Consider, for example, the first cut. "Jim was now stylishly and appropriately dressed for indoors on Mars in bright red shorts." [p. 8] is the edited text. You can see that editing might be in order from seeing the original version: "Jim was now stylishly and appropriately dressed for indoors on Mars bare naked save for bright red jockey shorts." [p. 2] Or when the doctor comes to eat (deleted text underlined): "Jim's mother blushed. She was wearing a costume that a terrestrial lady might choose for sunbathing or gardening and was a very pretty sight, although Jim was certainly not aware of it. She changed the subject, 'Jim, hang up your pistol.'" [p. 16/9] Given the mores of the times one could understand that such passages might be considered sexualized. Dressing down for indoors was clearly in Heinlein's mind, as can be seen in his predictions of such for 2000 in "Where To?" (1950) [see Expanded Universe, pp 317-8].

Less comprehensible is the odd insistence that the Martians not have a different breeding cycle. Much of the correspondence seems to be based on ill-defined ideas about psychoanalysis on both sides. At least, that is what can be guessed from the one side we do have.

Finally, there was the gun matter, which I have discussed earlier. But then, nobody missed all this until we were told to.