THE STAR VOYAGER ACADEMY
Commentary on Robert A. Heinlein's SPACE CADET by Joseph T Major
Opus #62; written December 1947; 60,000 words
I. MATT DODSON AT HAYWORTH HALL
After Rocket Ship Galileo (1947), Heinlein had a choice to make. For adults in the "slick" magazines, he was writing a future history describing an era of commercialized, established space travel. (Most of the readers, and perhaps even most of the editors, would likely have been unaware that this was the second of his projects along that line.) He could have as well, indeed in parallel, written a series of juvenile stories about a future history of the early days of commercialized, established space travel. But this would be influenced by the established forms of this genre.
However, instead of writing a Stratemyer Syndicate-style series about the Young Atomic Engineers and their adventures in the Solar System, each advertised in bold face in the previous volume, Heinlein chose a different path, choosing to write differentiated and unconnected stories. And to ease the transition from a series (to, it must be noticed in this case, a future history), he drew upon his own personal history:
Alexei Panshin, Heinlein In Dimension, pp. 47-8
As for the derivative, Heinlein did not seem to have held it in any great esteem. Tom Corbett, Space Cadet was one of the action-adventure television space epics of the early fifties. While it may have had a naïve vigor because there was no burden of precedents and expectations, it was nonetheless cheap and mindless. As Heinlein did not like the show he may have had it in mind when describing the juvenile space adventure show in The Star Beast (1954).
Whereas this story starts out quite more seriously:
"Having successfully completed the field elimination tests for appointment to the position of cadet in the Interplanetary Patrol you are authorized to report to the Commandant, Terra Base, Santa Barbara Field, Colorado, North American Union, Terra, on or before One July 2075 for further examination.
"You are cautioned to remember that the majority of candidates taking these final tests usually fail and you should provide"
Space Cadet, p. 7
As with the early version of one Heinlein standard, so with another, trying to read Matt's letter from across the aisle:
"Well, shake! M'name's Jarman I'm from Texas."
Space Cadet, p. 7
The train pulls into the station and they disembark. Before the contemporary reader can chortle enough at this failure of imagination, Matt's portable phone rings, with a call from his parents, showing Heinlein one step ahead of the game. Not to mention the familiar situation apparently parents are dissuaded from accompanying their offspring to this school.
It's well to remember that 1948 was the year the U.S. Armed Forces were desegregated, so the casual references to students of different colors which appear are more important than one would think. However, Heinlein did not go so far as to include the one change in the composition of the student body that has produced the most problems. Neither are there any nonhuman cadets.
Matt and Tex proceed to the main building, "Hayworth Hall, Earth headquarters of the fabulous Patrol." [p. 8] Inside is a reminder that benefits do not come without costs:
"It's the Kilroy " Tex said, almost as if he doubted it.
"It must be," Matt agreed in a whisper.
They moved to the balcony railing and read a plaque posted there:
USSF Rocket Ship Kilroy Was Here
first interplanetary ship
From Terra to Mars and return Lieut. Colonel
Robert deFries Sims, Commanding; Captain Saul S.
Abrams; Master Sergeant Malcolm MacGregor.
None survived the return landing. Rest in Peace.
Space Cadet, pp. 9-10
It should be noted that in the original hardback edition the inscription reads:
first true spaceship
From Terra to Luna and return Lieut.
Colonel Robert deFries Sims, Commanding;
Captain Saul S. Abrams; Master Sergeant
Malcolm MacGregor. None survived the re-
turn landing. Rest in Peace.
The ensuing conversation Matt and Tex have about "Admiral 'Bull' Kilroy" may be incomprehensible to those who don't know about the ubiquitous World War II graffito "Kilroy was here" and the Pacific fleet commander William F. Halsey, "Bill" to those who knew him and "Bull" to the superficial press.
And speaking of cultural incomprehension, they proceed to encounter another sort of diversity [as opposed to what goes for "diversity" nowadays], when Tex is asked the odd-sounding question "Excuse me but are those really shoes for riding on horses?" [p. 12] The questioner has the valid excuse (and in this universe, not at all odd) that he is from off-planet and has never seen a horse in his life. Another candidate is less polite as we shall see later.
Before they can expand their circle of acquaintances any further, their numbers are called and Matt finds himself going through the initial phases of processing for that "further examination". Again, while the existing audience would be familiar with mass medical processing of inductees, not everyone will be now.
After the physical examinations, Matt comes up against some arcane psychological examinations. Ushered into a cubicle containing a reaction time testing device, Matt reads the long instruction sheet with its complex exception sets and ponders the scoring system:
First, he told himself, there seems to be just two ways to make a score, one with the red light on and one with both lights out and one gate open.
Now for the other instructions Let's see, if the lefthand gate is not closed no, if the lefthand gate is closed he stopped and read them over again.
Some minutes later he had sixteen possible combinations of gates and conditions of lights listed. He checked them against the instructions, seeking scoring combinations. When he was through he stared at the result, then checked everything over again.
After rechecking, he stared at the paper, whistled tunelessly, and scratched his head. Then he picked up the paper, left the booth, and went to the examiner.
That official looked up. "No questions, please."
"I don't have a question," Matt said. "I want to report something. There's something wrong with that test. Maybe the wrong instruction sheet was put in there. In any case, there is no possible way to make a score under the instructions that are in there."
Space Cadet, pp. 19-20
Having survived the tests (the people giving them were a lot more respectful than the ones in Red Planet (1949), who were acting more like real psychologists) Matt and Tex finally find Matt's bunkroom, which is already occupied by another type:
"Enter, comrades," he said. "Don't bother to knock."
"We didn't," said Tex.
"So I see." The boy sat up. Matt recognized the boy who had made the crack about Tex's boots. He decided to say nothing perhaps they would not recognize each other. . . .
Space Cadet, p. 22
They decide to tour the Kilroy, but the line is too long and so they look over the rest of the dome. Besides various historical memorabilia of the space era, they find a monument: "Under the picture was a line of lettering: Lieutenant Ezra Dahlquist, Who Helped Create the Tradition of the Patrol 1969-1996." [p. 24]
This concept seems to have so energized Heinlein that he expanded it into a separate short story: "The Long Watch" [American Legion Magazine, December 1949]. John (!) Ezra Dahlquist is assigned to the nascent Interplanetary Patrol, stationed at a base on the moon. The executive officer of the base and others decide to stage a coup, using the "high ground" position of the base and the nuclear-weapons stockpile there to secure their position. Dahlquist, a nuclear-weapons officer, finds the idea of the coup intolerable and takes over the weapons storage bunker. He decides that even the chance of the coup planners being able to use the bombs is intolerable, and so he destroys the plutonium hemispheres. (That is, no fission weapons this is 1949.) Unfortunately for him, though fortunately for those who prefer their heroes safely beyond the ability to detract from or discuss their reputations, the radiological properties of plutonium do have effects (realistically, the poisonous effects would kick in first).
This story was published in the collection The Green Hills of Earth (1951) with the other stories of Heinlein's "Second Future History" the stories published after the war in the "slicks", the ones intended to be the history of a solar system where space travel was a commonplace. (By that time Heinlein had connected them to his initial Future History, the stories published before the war in Astounding. They do not fit very well.) There are similar ties (of varying plausibility) between other stories of that collection and other juveniles. It could have been possible for Heinlein to create a more detailed "Second Future History" around The Green Hills of Earth and such of his juveniles as this, Rocket Ship Galileo, and Farmer In the Sky (1950).
Panshin did not like this story for some reason. "Probably the American Legion Magazine was the perfect place for this story. I have no doubt the hero of this story is the model of the American Legion image." [Heinlein In Dimension, p. 50] Somehow I think the American Legion would want to have as an ideal a soldier who died resisting illegal and immoral orders. The war just completed had seen too many soldiers who had been willing executioners of illegal and immoral orders and too few who had resisted.
Nasty Young Weasel Burke, who pops up now, has a not dissimilar take: "They don't tell you he disobeyed orders of his superior officer if things had fallen the other way, he'd be called a traitor." [p. 25] Burke styles himself a practical man others might call him a cynic. Usually Heinlein is in favor of "practicality".
Things might have been settled a lot earlier had Matt and Tex pounded Burke to a pulp then and there as they offered to do, but as a result we might not have had much more of a story. Instead all and sundry have to go to bed.
The next morning brings acceleration tests. Lacking the B-747 "Vomit Comet" used for training astronauts and filming scenes for Apollo 13 (1995), the Patrol uses a giant roller coaster with a two thousand foot drop (not a 600-meter drop?) to produce the variable acceleration. To cut down the need for barf bags, the testees are advised to eat lightly if at all, so seeing one consuming an extra-large breakfast is startling. But he has a reason: "You see, sir, I was born on Ganymede." [p. 27] Their supervisor Cadet Sabbatello then becomes immediately solicitous.
Indeed, Heinlein presents the Interstellar Patrol as being not only anti-discrimination, but thoroughgoingly opposed to recognizing such differences. Earlier on, Cadet Sabbatello had counseled another testee, "Mr. van Zook, in the Patrol we never ask a man where he is from. It is all right for Mr. Romolus to volunteer that he is from Manila; it is incorrect for you to ask him." [p. 17] There is a story of a Marine sergeant calling the company to formation and saying "I don't see black or white. I see green!" in response to racial ethnic unrest. And this attitude is echoed by the Hegemonic Guard of Citizen of the Galaxy (1957) and the Mobile Infantry of Starship Troopers (1959) [where it did not even come out until the end of the book that the protagonist was a Filipino].
Panshin points out that Heinlein seems attracted to Ganymede; this trainee from Ganymede, Pierre "Pete" Armand, started a tradition of Ganymedean ties that ran through colonist Bill Lermer of Farmer In the Sky (1950) and Don Harvey of Between Planets (1951), born on a ship going there. With Pete, Heinlein is subtly demonstrating the value of difference; he is not going to have trouble with weightlessness or space sickness, but the triple-strength gravity of Terra is an immense burden to him.
The acceleration and drop tests wash out a number of trainees. Matt and Tex both make it to seven gravities. (One wonders how well Pete Armand did.) After lunch comes a more extreme version of this test a suborbital rocket flight. Today a flight beyond fifty miles (80 km) is sufficient to qualify one for Astronaut status, but these nascent space cadets are going up to 115 miles (184 km). Matt's suborbital jaunt is uneventful, but he gets a drastic demonstration of the problems involved when another rocket crashes.
Burke is less shocked. His levity shocks Matt, who has been appalled at the deaths of eleven people. But cynical Burke knows better; the examinations have been as much psychological as physical. There has been a strong "sickener" factor contained therein, intending to force out the psychologically unfit as well as the physically unfit. This was why it was so easy to see how far the drop for the drop tests was, for example. Even coming from a negative character, this is a realization that is undeniable.
And now, Burke says from the height of his superior knowledge, this last little incident was the capper. As the son of a prominent industrialist and manufacturer of space ships, he knows how idiot-proof spaceships are. They can't crash unless they are deliberately crashed and so the higher-ups carried out a powerful sickener, crashing an empty ship and announcing the deaths of eleven trainees.
This has a horrid plausibility, in spite of its source. (Odd that Heinlein would put it that way, but it does fit the plot.) The concerned Matt raises the issue with their overseer, Cadet Sabbatello, who responds that the Patrol would hardly play games with lives, or invoke St. Barbara in vain and there was a Mass said for the eleven dead. (Another oddity, when one thinks of the resolutely irreligious Heinlein. Could it have been for the audience?)
Having survived all the testing, our heroes are sworn in. Tex is assigned a puzzling task; he is given a slip of paper with a name on it and asked to respond for that person, "a classmate of yours who can't be here tonight". This puzzler suddenly becomes clear when, after all the names from A to Z are called, and the last of the new cadets has joined formation, Ezra Dahlquist is called. With remembrance of the display in the dome, Matt's and Tex's bewilderment is brought to an end. Had it been "Rivera", "Wheeler", or "Martin" (the name Tex had been given) confusion might have been worse confounded.
The Interplanetary Patrol is deeply concerned with imbuing its officers with moral responsibility. Thus this concern with its secular martyrs. (The only other one whose martyrdom is described is Rivera, who had had his own home town nuked, with himself in it, when he was taken hostage during a negotiation. [p. 123] This says something sinister about the policies of the Patrol and the casualness with which the use of nuclear weapons was considered.) There is firm evidence that this attitude is not just the feelings of the characters in this book, but a deeply-held value of the author's.
In his lecture to the Naval Academy on "The Pragmatics of Patriotism" [Expanded Universe, pp 459-470], given April 5, 1973, discusses the traditions of the Navy in remarkably similar terms, spanning the self-immolating attack of Torpedo Squadron Eight at Midway and the last wounded cry of Commander Gilmore of U.S.S. Growler, also the demise of the first Company man Nathan Hale. It can be concluded that in this case the pathetic fallacy is inapplicable. An author can write about characters with views and opinions that differ from his own and in some cases, some genres, he had better do so but all too often it is taken for granted that the characters speak for the author. Intelligent reading requires the ability to differentiate; it is all too easy to become cynical and come to assume that the author is detached from the views of the characters.
Another form of detachment threatens, however. Separating the Patrol from the civilian population and imbuing its members with an aura of moral superiority seems to be a plan for military rule. This was the political justification for feudalism; the knightly class undertook the defense of the community, and received privileges in return for having taken on this burden. By now the reader should be wondering why it has taken so long to mention Starship Troopers in this context. Well, that book has its own problems.
The Commandant of the Academy has a glimmering of this problem, even though he sees it in a "pragmatic" fashion, for what might be done with and to this class of fine young boys:
Space Cadet, p. 48
The focus on heroic death and maiming (Commodore Arkwright lost his vision during a single-handed rescue of the crew of a space yacht) is in some ways more reminiscent of the Nobility of Failure Japanese culture. The archetypical story in this tradition is of the lone samurai, gradually overcome by the immense strength of his enemies, finally taking his life in expiation of his deeds. The effects of this belief have varied and have not all been positive.
Heinlein would not analyze the problem of what to do with such a potential ruling class until Starship Troopers, finding an answer that raises its own questions. For Matt, virtue is to be its own reward.
II. THE EDUCATION OF M*A*T*T D*O*D*S*O*N
In Leo Rosten's The Education of H*Y*M*A*N K*A*P*L*A*N by "Leonard Q. Ross", he presented the struggle of learning a new system of values, as filtered through an imperfect acculturation. Also, Hyman Kaplan questioned the structures of the English language and American civilization, perhaps a little too unreasonably (see Oscar Gordon's declaration in Glory Road that "The man who always obeys the law is even stupider than the one who breaks it every chance." [op. cit., p. 75]).
Matt Dodson has to learn much more than Hyman Kaplan, and in a setting comparatively as alien. Creating an isolated environment for its students, the Patrol teaches them at first in an obsolete ship in orbit around Terra (thus emulating the British tradition of training ships). The first problem is cutting down the weight (yes indeed, the man said "weight," instead of "mass") of personal gear Tex has to leave his collection of photographs of his girlfriends (yes indeed, plural), for example.
And writing the description of how they got to that station required the famous three days of paper-and-pencil calculations (see Expanded Universe, pp. 519-520) for one line of writing. John Campbell would have been pleased to learn of this, but Heinlein was now writing for an editor who did not appreciate such effort.
The curriculum is nothing if not ambitions. The Patrol officer who is Matt's educational supervisor lays it out for him. While it will be necessary for the well-educated Patrolman to speak several languages, perform complex mathematical calculations, understand the environments, cultures, psychologies, societies, foreign relations, etc. of the several intelligent races of the Solar System (Matt is to learn both Martian and Venerian, which rather suggests that there are intelligent races there indeed, the Venerians will play a significant role in the story and there is also a reference to extinct Selenites, which may be a tie to Rocket Ship Galileo where such evidence was found) the real education is far more involved.
To go with the moral burden of upholding the traditions of the Patrol Matt will have to take on a massy philosophical burden:
Space Cadet, p. 72
Matt's educational supervisor Lieutenant Wong (yes indeed, the Patrol is anti-discriminatory) points this out to Matt as yet another reason he can flunk out. Patrol training is beginning to sound like prewar Japanese pilot training. By dint of ruthless and high-powered training with a merciless pruning of failures, that produced the highest-class staff of pilots in history. And by the same token, that high level of training made it impossible to maintain that level of quality once losses began.
Educationally, to save time wasted on memorizing by rote things that go by rote memorization, the Patrol has hypnopedia. As Matt finds out after going from Lieutenant Wong's office to a sleep-learning cubicle, taking an unknown course, and returning to find he can now speak Venerean. Hypnotic learning being another Heinlein favorite, though Oscar Gordon found his initial language class to be a lot more interesting (it had to do with the company).
Space patrolmen should be able to maneuver in space, which entails a spacesuit course. Heinlein would not really get into spacesuit design principles until Have Space Suit Will Travel (1958) so for now Matt and Tex can worry only about becoming involuntary vacuum breathers or additional satellites.
Good students deserve a break. I suppose it was because of the after-effects that Miss Dalgleish allowed the drinking scene, where Tex argues Matt and Pete into trying mint juleps, and when they pass up theirs, drinks it all himself. Getting so drunk on only three juleps whatever will the Jarmans think? (Probably that it served him right, since they don't drink.)
Real-world education is matched by scholastic education of a different sort, as our cadets graduate into a course titled "Doubt", where all basic principles are questioned. Commodore Arkwright, the heroically blinded academy commandant, has become concerned about the nature of On The Psychology of Military Incompetence even though Professor Major Dixon may not have written, or perhaps even existed, in this universe:
Space Cadet, p. 101
One might be suspicious and argue that "Doubt" is Commodore Arkwright's and his masters's "Hundred Flowers Campaign". The Chinese Communist Party under Mao Tse-tung (Mao Zedong) launched the "Hundred Flowers Campaign" in the late fifties to urge the airing of criticism. Critics who stepped outside acceptable boundaries soon found themselves in trouble. Somewhat less sinisterly, such a course might well encourage an automatic cynicism, a devaluation of all values. Then, that might encourage the sort of nihilistic behavior we shall see the Patrol wants in certain situations.
There is a social life on board the cadet ship. Matt and his friends are co-opted into their dormitory aisle's impromptu band. (The section goes by the homey title of "Hog Alley".) After the night's cacophony dies down (one could wish for the useful British term "sod's opera", were not that it might cause other confusion), the cadets have themselves a bull session that perhaps unsurprisingly always gets around to the topic of the one item that's missing, which brings the conversation to a close, since talking about women in their absence is to them extremely pointless. (Yes, it was a single-sex academy. That was the rule then. They were also down on single-sex sex then, to answer your next question.)
By this point we should be getting to an incident of self-doubt. Sure enough, we have one. In fact, we have two. The senior cadet in "Hog Alley" resigns, doubting his ability to destroy entire populations on command. And, to be Johnsonian, Matt starts feeling meanly of himself for not being a soldier that is, a marine (read perhaps Starship Trooper?). The latter Mr. Wong can analyze by pointing out the different psychological orientations of the Patrolman and the Marine, and how the former is more suitable for Matt.
After all, for all that they wear uniforms, swear oaths, obey orders, march in formation, serve in commissioned warships, and so on, "the Patrol is not a military organization at all" [p. 110], says Mr. Wong. Say what? Rather, the Patrol is the guardian of weapons too powerful to entrust to military men. This sounds rather like the raison d'etre of the Peace Commission and its Patrol in "Solution Unsatisfactory" [Astounding, May 1941, by "Anson Macdonald"]. The structure of that other patrol as given has implications which even the author may not have realized. They are described as "a deliberately expatriated band of Janizaries". The Janissaries became a technologically stagnant politicalized army, and had to be disbanded by their ostensible Ottoman masters with much bloodshed.
And Matt has serviced orbiting A-Bombs, much to his parents' horror. (Not many people noticed that the clever segue from past to future in Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) is from weapon to weapon: after winning the fight for the water hole, the australopithecine flings his bone club into the sky in glee, and the scene cuts from the spinning club to a free-falling orbital nuclear weapon.)
When Oscar Gordon returned to Los Angeles, he found that being on Center had spoiled him for his home planet. And so it is with Matt, who finds that everyone and everything in Des Moines isn't what it used to be. When you consider that the first satellite was nine years in the future of the writing, Mrs. Dodson's utter incomprehension of "what holds it up" is more understandable. And given what the original workings of the United Nations were, Mr. Dodson's confidence that the Patrol was essentially a branch of the North American Union is equally understandable. (The U.N. was dominated by the Security Council permanent members until the effects of decolonization took effect.) And personally, such things as Matt's ex-girl-friend having found a new steady serve to reinforce that position of being part of a separate elite. (Which makes one wonder what was Tex's "harem" doing if indeed they weren't just a Texas brag.)
But Mr. Dodson was quite sure that the Patrol would never expunge Des Moines from the face of the Earth. Lieutenant Wong is implicitly less certain, pointing out to Matt as a consolation that at least he would not have to do it it's all a matter of probability, and if the odds fell out wrong his commanding officer would lock him up.
The possibility of the corruption of power exists; that was the point of "The Long Watch" and later on Heinlein actually looked into this possibility in Between Planets, where the space station Circum-Terra had such a stock and was ready to use them on behalf of the oppressive Federation. This would seem to be why there is such a stress on moral philosophy, if not history, in the Patrol. Matt is expecting problems to be clear-cut and simple, and they aren't.
After they came back from leave, the cadets go through their final phases of training, now involving supervision. Matt has looked on cadet life from both sides now: "The difference in perspective is startling, and it is a measure of the distance he has traveled. The problems that bothered his earlier self are simply not the problems he has now. It is a compelling little scene and is a good illustration of the central point of the book the growing of a boy into a man." says Panshin [Heinlein In Dimension, p. 48] in tribute to good writing.
And then, the men get their midshipman assignments to their first ships.
III. MR MIDSHIPMAN DODSON
The popular idea of diminutive, curly-haired and rosy-cheeked young midshipmen bravely fighting back fear amid the thunder of gunfire as the ship went into action and spending the time before and after battle being bullied and eating poor food was correct but only in the sense that every broken-down drunk lying sprawled in an alley was once a bouncing baby. . . . The first step in going to sea on the long voyage which a boy hoped would eventually reach a landmark when he hoisted his flag as an admiral began with a captain or admiral granting a favour by agreeing to take a particular boy to sea with him. . . . It cost the captain nothing; he did not promise to teach the boy seamanship or navigation he could pick that up as he went along and the boy's parents provided his clothing. What the captain gave the boy was 'sea time'. He could not be promoted until he had passed his examination for lieutenant, and he could not sit for the examination until he produced certificates showing his name had been on ships' books for at least six years, two of which had been spent as a midshipman or master's mate.
Dudley Pope, Life In Nelson's Navy, pp. 64-5
For all that it was possible to hang on for a long time (as with the case Pope cites of Midshipman Billy Culmer, who finally passed the exam for Lieutenant at the age of fifty-seven [Life In Nelson's Navy, p. 75]), our heroes all pass out of the training at the same time and get posted. Pete Armand is being sent home, an immense relief to him in memory of the two-year trip he had taken down to Terra. [What if he has to provide some Ganymedean place with millisecond urban renewal?]
Matt, as was said, has been assigned to the Aes Triplex as has his Venus-colonist colleague Oscar Jensen, last noted rebuking a drill in the native tongue. But Tex has been posted to another ship. Or was posted, until he started working his powers of persuasion. With all the psychological concerns about balance of needs, one would think such decisions would be firmer, but Tex works his way onto the crew list of the Aes Triplex.
And one other individual is getting posted, sort of:
"What list? Oh, you mean the 'Passed' list. Don't bother me, children you're talking to a free man."
"So they finally bounced you?"
"Like fun! Resignation accepted, effective today. . . ."
Space Cadet, p. 128
They have three weeks to prepare for their new assignment and apparently they haven't wasted them. In one sense. "Matt was not feeling his best; the previous evening at Tycho Colony had been late and noisy." [p. 129] And given that he had slept in his uniform, one can derive some interesting conclusions about what they were doing so late that was so noisy.
Perhaps not surprisingly, Captain Yancey of the Aes Triplex informs his new middies that training has deteriorated since his cadet days and there will be none of this newfangled stuff for him on his ship. (That is, the standard greeting in such situations.) Oscar had a slight family acquaintance with him back on Venus, not a good one. Matt had made a bad impression, being slovenly. But it works out.
For the Aes Triplex has to depart on a mission of rescue, searching for a Patrol ship lost among the asteroids; where they will find well, wait and see.
IV. INTERPLANETARY PATROL
Thus far we have been considering literary influences that were "in the air" at the time and that Heinlein might have read. There is one such parallel and influence of which we can have no doubt:
Room A, the private office of the Commandant himself, the dreadful lair into which an undergraduate was summoned only to disappear from the Hall and the Cadet Corps; the portentous chamber into which each year the handful of graduates marched and from which they emerged, each man in some subtle fashion changed.
E. E. "Doc" Smith, Ph.D., Galactic Patrol, p. 9
Heinlein prided himself on his acquaintance with the polymath doughnut chemist Edward Elmer "Doc" Smith, Ph.D., author of the above, as one can easily determine from the tribute he paid the writer of the Lensman series in Expanded Universe, "Larger Than Life: A Memoir in Tribute to Dr. Edward E. Smith" [pp. 494-499] And as he saw Smith, that author was possessed of certain intense moral virtues:
He believed in Good and Evil. He had no truck with the moral relativism of the neo- (cocktail-party) Freudians.
He refused to concede that "mediocre" is better than "superior".
He had no patience with self-pity. . . .
Worse yet, in his greatest and longest story, the 6-volume Lensman novel, he assumes that all humans are unequal (and, by implication, that the cult of the common man is pernicious nonsense). . . .
Expanded Universe, p. 499
Well then, for what are human beings responsible? They are responsible for propitiating their wise protectors who give them magic amulets, they are responsible for avoiding their terrible and omnipotent assailants. All other activity is meaningless, a mask, a system of levers leading to the only great source of good and evil.
Human beings are, in short, about eighteen months old.
Cyril M. Kornbluth, "The Failure of the Science Fiction Novel as Social Criticism"
[The Science Fiction Novel: Imagination and Social Criticism, p. 62]
Kornbluth has all the same identified a critical problem: "no human being is responsible" for the basic moral crises of the Lensman series. To some extent this is because the Arisians, the "wise protectors", and their antagonists the Eddorians, the "terrible and omnipotent assailants", are the principal actors in the story, not the various lesser races who are seen carrying out the struggle on their behalves.
This choice of presentation serves to undercut the point being made about the worthiness of proper moral values, and how the most developed morally should undertake the severest jobs. (Given Smith's and Heinlein's disdain for Communism, one wonders how they would have reacted to Cheka founder Feliks Edmundovich "Iron Felix" Dzerzhinsky's belief that the most socially developed should undertake the most distasteful jobs, demonstrated by his volunteering for latrine orderly while in prison?) By not having such superior beings in this story (there are references to Martians living on 'both sides' [pp. 143-4] which may also be a tie to Red Planet, but they do not seem to be handing out "magic amulets"), Heinlein has placed his moral lessons on a firmer foundation.
"Magic amulets" aside, Smith has, perhaps unknowingly, invoked the mystique of the impoverished, self-sacrificing graduate of the Junkerschule, willing to give up all else in order to save honor. To have an identifiably Prussian officer appear in a book written in 1937 showed an ability on an Arisian scale to rise above the portrayals of the Evil Hun Hordes of the Great War not long past, and the very real menace of the gathering storm in that land. This is the spirit of Beck, Stauffenberg, Tresckow, and Schlabrendorff, of the aristocrats of the Resistance, projected into the future.
The authority and mission of the Interplanetary Patrol of this book is of a similar scope, within its physical limitations, as are those of Smith's Galactic Patrol. And lacking any Arisians to invest them with moral authority or imbue them with its righteous spirit, the Interplanetary Patrollers have to earn it on their own.
Or perhaps "learn it on their own." For on the P.R.S. Aes Triplex, as on all vessels of the Interplanetary Patrol, "even the undesirable chore of cleaning the refresher was taken in turn by the entire ship's company, in accordance with custom, except for the Captain, the Executive Officer, and the Surgeon." [p. 133] (And what would they have made of Iron Felix as cited above?)
Their mission, and let there be no bones about "deciding to accept it", is to search for the missing survey ship P.R.S. Pathfinder, which has failed to respond to signals while on a survey mission. The Pathfinder had been out of radio range but should have reported in six months earlier. (It can be seen that Heinlein too failed to predict the vast increase in the receptivity of radio stations. Radio signals from the Pioneer and Voyager probes, sent using comparatively minuscule power levels, transmitted from beyond the orbits of Neptune and Pluto, are received on Earth.)
The mission is not as difficult as a survey of the vast spaces of the asteroid belt would lead one to believe, since "The possible locations of the Pathfinder were a moving zone in space, defined by using geometry, ballistics, the characteristics of the ship, her mission, and her last reported location, course, and speed." [p. 132] Presumably this definition was performed by means other than pencils and lengths of butcher paper.
They will also be required to carry out the mission that the Pathfinder had been performing, that of charting the position of the smaller asteroids. (Presumably radar and optics have not been so greatly developed as on other timelines.)
Fortunately, Heinlein has described the background of experience from which he was working, albeit the search was potential, not real. In Expanded Universe, pp. 452-455, he tells of how VF-2, the fighter squadron of U.S.S. Lexington, got lost on maneuvers, and what combination of skill and fortune it took to have them find the ship again. The parallel is hardly exact, of course, and he applies the lesson more to his own life on one hand (one of the pilots in that squadron would recruit him to work for the Navy at Philadelphia ten years later) and to his story "Searchlight" (1962) on the other. The reader will note, all the same, the problems of detection and finding that recur in this different, three-dimensional, setting.
For all that Captain Yancey had seemed to be devoted to "bull", he did take into consideration the training needs of the cadets on board: "Captain Yancey assigned Lieutenant Thurlow as training officer who in turn set up the jobs of assistant astrogator, communication watch officer, junior assistant engineer, and assistant bomb officer and arranged a schedule of rotation among these quite unnecessary positions." [p. 133] Actually we shall see that, in a sense, these positions will become quite necessary.
It's Thurlow's position that could be considered unnecessary, he being the bomb officer unless one believes that there are asteroid belt communities that will need to be fatally chastised. With nothing else to do on a ship where every hand is required, he has been tasked with educating the young gentlemen.
Notice also that there is one distinct caste barrier missing; there is no separate engineering department. Instead of being divided into command ("line") and noncommand positions, the Patrol regards all its officers as command-capable. And correspondingly, that they all be cross-trained so as to be able to fulfill any of those positions when required. Presumably there is also no crippling side-effect from the engines of the sort that made the engine-room crews of the Free Traders' ships in Citizen of the Galaxy (1957) both daft and shunned, so Lieutenant Novak, the Engineer (there are a fair number of characters named "Novak" in Heinlein's works, climaxing with "Gwen Novak" of The Cat Who Walks Through Walls (1985)) presumably has no qualms in that regard. The propulsion device seems to be the reaction-mass device of Rocket Ship Galileo (1947).
The communications officers would be different in method if not in procedure from those of Time for the Stars (1956), so Lieutenant Brunn, the Communications Officer would be pleased not to have to deal with "Dusty" Miller's tantrums. And speaking of Millers, presumably Commander Miller, the Astrogator, would be gratified at being free of the additional stress laid on Max of Starman Jones (1953) in having to calculate for interstellar navigation, too.
Which leads us to one other assignment Max Jones might find familiar, if not exactly desirable: "Matt was appointed the ship's 'farmer'." [p. 133] From a reference to growing corn, one may presume that Matt has a farm background, albeit better than Max's. The functions of this department of the ship should be recognizable to the experienced science fiction reader. Whereas the space ships of our era use prosaic chemicals to recycle carbon dioxide from the air (cf. the crisis depicted in Apollo 13 over the adaptation of Command Module recycling filters to the Lunar Module recycling system), it is widely acknowledged that longer-term missions will require a different kind of air purification system. This was why, for example, NASA was involved to the extent that it was with the Biosphere Two sealed-environment experiment. Matt is growing tall corn potatoes, tomatoes, scallions, and so on, actually on the Aes Triplex to not only fill the stomachs of the crew, but also to fill their lungs.
Incidentally, like Bill Lermer, the Farmer in the Sky (1950), the Mess Officer (Lieutenant Brunn, in his other assignment) can cook the meals in a microwave oven: "Theoretically every ration taken aboard a Patrol vessel is pre-cooked and ready for eating as soon as it is taken out of freeze and subjected to the number of seconds, plainly marked on the package, of high-frequency heating required." [p. 133]
Heinlein gets in a considerable amount of badinage among the crew, including a dinner scene with a number of incidents. The Captain contributes another "war" story on how he dealt with an air plant crisis while the Executive Officer eats his berries (Strawberries? Let us hope there are no loose ball bearings on the Aes Triplex).
Indeed, the caste lines of rank seem to be a bit looser, as the Captain ends a chiding of Matt for having fallen behind in his studies with his next move in their chess game. Matt has been cultivating his garden a little too enthusiastically, but the flowers accidentally issued to the Aes Triplex do make a nice spot of color on the mess table, and their raising makes a nice bit of commendation for Matt.
The search has its problems, one of them being the "cabin-fever" factor, which is why it's just as well that they have enough pilots for two two-man crews for each of the two shuttles (which, from recent experience, are called "jeeps"). Not surprisingly, this means more opportunities for the cadets to gain experience. Unfortunately for his course record, Matt can't catch up on his studies while on reconnaissance, as Thurlow seems interested in using him as a sounding board. (The reader, on the other hand, will appreciate this information on such matters as, for example, the presence of sedimentary rock in the asteroid belt, a matter which clearly implies a planetary origin.)
Back in "Doubt" class, Matt had been required to argue that by holding back war, the Patrol was being an obstacle to evolution, the increased mutations to be caused by nuclear war being a desirable counterbalance to the losses of life and material incurred. But Lieutenant Thurlow has a more serious moral qualm:
"Would you abolish the Patrol?"
"Oh, my, no, Matt! But I wish there were some way to make people realize by how thin a barrier the jungle has been shut out. . . ."
Space Cadet, p. 142
On their next patrol, Matt changes the subject and talks about astronomy. The asteroids, as it has been established, are the fragments of a destroyed planet. Discussing the theory shifts to a discussion of the Martian idea of the "double-world" and living on "both sides". Thurlow thinks that this may be, not a religious metaphor, but a statement of fact. Before they can get into a metaphysical discussion beyond the reasonable limits of this book (about a potential link to Red Planet (1949) if not to Stranger In a Strange Land (1960, 1991), too), there comes an interruption. While Matt and Thurlow were discussing philosophy, the other searchers had been more fortunate; the Pathfinder has been found. Thurlow and Matt return to the Aes Triplex which in her turn makes a rendezvous with Asteroid 1987-CD and its temporary associate.
What happened on board the Pathfinder was sheer bad luck. In a deed of marksmanship worthy of James Fenimore Cooper's Pathfinder himself, a small meteoroid with a divergent velocity vector hit the Pathfinder. (It's a "meteoroid" in space, a "meteor" when burning up in a planet's atmosphere, and whatever survives to reach the ground is a "meteorite"; the "meteor" in the text is wrong.) The "marksmanship" was that the meteoroid hit the airlock when the outer door was opened, penetrating the inner door. All the crew was waiting eagerly around the hatch for the latest news and so died when the compartment decompressed. The man in the lock was also decompressed with a suit puncture from a fragment.
The reason for their eagerness is also explicable. The planetologist on board the Pathfinder had discovered proof that there had been life on the proto-asteroid planet. In fact, he had discovered that there had been intelligent life there were indisputably manufactured artifacts. And they had destroyed their planet in a nuclear explosion. That should look good for the Patrol next budget time.
In fact, one can see much of this book as a reflection in fiction of Heinlein's "world-saving" articles of the postwar period see "The Last Days of the United States", "How to Be a Survivor", and "Pie In the Sky", all in Expanded Universe [pp. 148-162, 163-174, and 175-180 respectively] for examples of this thought. His pessimism in that regard shares a common ground with his optimism regarding space flight, both stemming from exaggerated assumptions about the impetus of technological development. For example, regarding the "atomic rocket bombs" of "The Last Days of the United States", it was not until the mid 1960s that the Soviet Union possessed a reliable deployable ICBM, by which time radar had been developed to the point that his predictions of undetectable strikes had been rendered impossible. (But then Heinlein's perception of political realities had always been eccentric.) This is merely the final point about worldsaving he created a planet where it hadn't worked.
The Patrolmen aren't all sitting around discussing metaphysics, philosophy, planetary astronomy, politics, and peacekeeping, though. Even though apparently they won't be getting prize money (it had been abolished in the U. S. Navy but retained in the Royal Navy to at least the Second World War), Captain Yancey has decided to put a crew on board the Pathfinder and return her to base, transporting the valuable information that the late crew had discovered.
This involved refitting the entire ship; Matt, for example, has to start up a new garden, the existing one having died out from lack of care and carbon dioxide after all, only one compartment had depressurized when the meteoroid hit. More mechanical facilities require even more work, but soon enough the Pathfinder is functional. The recommissioning ceremony involved invoking the names of the eight deceased crew of the Pathfinder and the four heroes of the Patrol, after which the new crew takes over.
The twelve crewmen of the Aes Triplex were the right number for this. Also the right number for crews that cross-training comes in handy. Mr. Hartley and four others form the new crew, while Captain Yancey keeps the three cadets and three officers. And the importance of the discoveries made by the late crew of the Pathfinder necessitate a rapid return to Terra. This means that the Aes Triplex will be making a long return trip, having used much of her fuel to resupply the Pathfinder. (More butcher paper work on the part of the author and his assistant, it looks like. There is a footnote [p. 150] pointing out Walter Hohmann's original paper on orbital mechanics.)
So the two ships part. Thanks to the maneuvers of the Pioneer and Voyager space probes, the theory of gravitation-assisted boost is better known now than it had been when this book was written. And conveniently enough, the long looping orbit of the Aes Triplex will bring her near to Venus for one of those speed-ups; Matt jokes that Oscar might take the opportunity to jump ship and go home.
Somewhat more seriously, Matt also notes that they are filling the posts of commissioned officers. Combined with the extra time available for training, this might mean brevet commissioning for the three, or so Matt hopes. And certainly, Captain Yancey is treating them more like officers, or less like cadets anyhow. (But bear in mind the cosmically high standards expected of Patrolmen. One would think that the only way to get a commission would be posthumously.)
And when they do get near Venus, Matt's joke comes a bit closer to coming true.
V. DODSON OF VENUS
Not all Patrol peacekeeping involves the Hiroshima method. We should certainly hope so. When a distress call from the surface of the clouded planet goes out to all the Patrol, by mischance (in the broader view of things) the only ship anywhere near Venus is the short-handed P.R.S. Aes Triplex. If only it were anything as exotic as "Help! I am being held captive by the king of the zombies in his fortress city of Kormor . . ." No such luck.
The M.R.S. Gary has landed in an unexplored section of Venus. The Patrol station received a message giving their position and calling for help against a native uprising. No other ship is nearby, as said, so the Aes Triplex will have to send help. (They seem to be assuming that there are survivors, or going by the belligerent poses heretofore assumed one would think they would simply nuke the site.)
But to send help they have to be orbiting the planet in the first place. Venus gives them a warm reception as they skip around the planet in a careful series of atmospheric braking maneuvers. At the end of this hot time in Oscar's old town (so to speak), the Aes Triplex is now in orbit. Presumably there isn't even a shuttle at the local base, since Captain Yancey is going to have to draw even further on his limited resources for a landing party. Instead of following a later but extremely familiar example and taking the executive officer, the doctor, and the engineer and going down himself on this mission, he sends down on this Away Team Mr. Thurlow (who has been executive officer) and the three cadets.
All goes well for the descent. Mr. Thurlow brings the "jeep" down in a radar-guided approach and switches to visual for landing. The "jeep" touches down in a clearing and the party prepares to disembark. Oops! In ordinary swamps they call it quicksand, in the desert they call it fech-fech, but here it's a commonplace of Venus. That "solid" surface hadn't really been all that solid after all; the "jeep" tilts over and sinks under the mud, while the astonished crew evacuates quite hastily, unable to take any supplies or equipment, and facing other problems.
Matt says despairingly "I could have caught her on her gyros." [p. 162] (interesting that, like the ship in "Destination Moon" (1950), this shuttlecraft is gyroscopically-stabilized instead of having altitude-control jets) but there's a bigger problem to handle than that. When the "jeep" tilted, and everyone was thrown off balance, Oscar fell and broke his arm. Worse yet, Mr. Thurlow fell and struck his head; he is unconscious. And Venus is not known for hospitality to Terran intruders out at night.
This is, of course, the standard wet, swampy Venus commonplace to science fiction of the thirties to fifties. And indeed such a Venus was to recur in Between Planets (1951), with different kinds of inhabitants. You should have guessed that if there were a Venerian language to learn, there would be beings speaking it. And fortunately, Oscar knows how to establish communications with those natives. This is after all his home territory, as well as theirs.
Open water ought to have Venerians in it. And after an exhausting hour's march through the rough, they find open water, which does indeed contain samples of the indigenous intelligent life. Which, in spite of recent local unpleasantnesses, proves amenable to conversation and willing to extend assistance.
The Venerian race created in this book is another example of Heinlein's skill at such. Indeed, given their later successes at better living through chemistry, it might well be said that this is one of the more outstanding fulfillments of John W. Campbell's dictum that an alien race should think as well as humanity, but not like humanity.
Being a "complete" race, they are possessed of standards of behavior (Oscar and the others use "tabu", which has unfortunately gained a connotation of being an irrational prohibition; sometimes "tabus" are based on obsolete conditions, or on psychological needs) which are "as well as a man, but not like a man". Their profound tabu against being seen to eat is an example it is easy enough to think of corresponding cases of human behavior.
And similarly they are possessed of a different standard of biology. "[Don't] say 'it,' Matt; say 'she,'" [p. 166] says their expert on things local, Oscar, grouchily. The males of the Venerian race are quite a mystery and one that isn't going to be elucidated in this book. And gender determines social structure, as all persons with responsibility are addressed in the Venerian language as "Mother".
Mother has had some naughty "girls" from far away come in and make a mess, which means when more of these types come in, they get a rather ungracious reception. Though even a welcome Terran visitor might have found the long swims underwater through tunnels nerve-wracking. Nevertheless, they all, even Mr. Thurlow (still in a coma), make it to the Venusian "village", only to be summarily dismissed by the local "mother-of-many", the leader of this clan.
At least their quarters are clean and they get fed. The next visitor is a little annoying; it's "Stinky" Burke, last seen warbling a happy tune as he disembarked from P.R.S. Randolph as a free man, not a number. He departed in prospect of his own command, and sure enough, he had had one, courtesy of an indulgent father.
Unfortunately, he must have been sleeping during the lessons on respect for different people. Burke had gone prospecting for uranium ores and had thought he could best get an agreement by keeping the mother-of-many locked up in his ship until she caved in. Since this wasn't a child-abuse investigation, the results were not totally favorable to the end desired; the Venerians stormed the ship and took it over. Burke sent out a desperate distress message; he was somehow ignored until all the others were dead, and in a fit of mercy he was taken prisoner. Now that the advance party is here, though in no better condition than he is, he is eagerly expecting the punitive expedition. It's up to Oscar to inform him: "Huh? What are you talking about, Stinky? This is the expedition, right in front of you." [p. 175]
Often Heinlein wrote at cross purposes to himself. Heretofore the Patrol has been presented as being deeply philosophical about the need to use nuclear peacekeeping measures. Now, it seems, they urge negotiation before escalation (cf. Patrol Martyr Rivera going down to talk with the political boss of his home town [p. 123]). If this had been stressed earlier, much of the (contrived) tension of the book would be gone. There are enough real problems in keeping the peace without having to make them up. Some writers would have created worlds with contrived crises, ones so severe as to make the reader wonder how the polity could have survived if such were the norm of experience. Heinlein did not, which takes this book back from the edge of such a failure.
And there isn't going to be a backup team to pull Matt, Oscar, Tex, and Mr. Thurlow out of their predicaments. They're on their own. This all turns out to be even more disappointing to Burke, who had compounded his problems by, essentially, offering to bribe the Patrolmen by offering to make them partners in return for painting the M&M logo on the tailplane and flying a cargo of cyanide pellets to a town in Upper Silesia . . . that is, flying him out so he can take up the business. Anyhow, they don't have a ship themselves.
In spite of the inauspicious ground-laying he had to deal with, Oscar's negotiations with the mother-of-many turn out to be quite successful. He takes a firm line to start off with, which perturbs Matt, leading him to fear that Oscar has overplayed his hand. The theme of his position is that the Venerians have violated their own customs by not treating the Patrolmen with all the courtesy due them. (He makes a point of disavowing Burke.) This line of argument is effective, and in fact the mother-of-many becomes very cooperative in recovering the ships.
Burke's ship was seriously damaged in the attack, and turns out to be unrepairable. But the Venerians can raise the "jeep" out of the swamp. Watching them at work gives Matt an indication that they are not quite the lesser beings he had believed them to be.
This is a theme of this section of the book. Matt has condescendingly taken a liking to the Venerian who tends the still-unconscious Lieutenant Thurlow, initially on the same level as for a pet. He learns that the reality may not be in keeping with his initial perceptions: "He began to get hazily the idea that Th'wing was the sophisticated one and that he, Matt, was the ignorant outsider." [p. 195]
As if watching them recover the "jeep" wouldn't have been indication enough. The Venerians stabilized the mud around the ship, which implies a certain skill at chemical matters (which will be important later), and then proceeded to remove the now solidified material from without and within the ship.
They don't have what they don't use. The Venerians are utterly uncaring of astronomy. One would think that they might have some questions about the matter, having arrived at physics through chemistry and begun wondering about gravity, light, and so on. Th'wing is less curious even than Burroughs's Amtorians, though the Venerians haven't adopted the peculiar theory of planetography from those books in which Amtor (Venus) was a bowl floating in a sea of liquid metal, with the parts nearer the metal miraculously cooled. The distortions of distance entailed in mapping the equator to a point and the pole to a circle they were only aware of half the planet to boot were resolved by a complex, literally, calculation which Carson Napier summarized as "multiplying by the square root of minus one", denying his patent family mathematical background.
As for these alien invaders, the locals have a simple explanation: "[The] ones at South Pole think we came originally from North Pole and the ones around North Pole are sure we came from South Pole and it's no use trying to tell them anything different," [pp. 194-5] is Oscar's explanation of the matter. One wonders what a Venusian from one pole taken to the "home" of the intruders would think.
They also make distinctions that a Terran might not necessarily make. Burke, and his men, they differentiated from the Patrolmen in spite of the superficial physical resemblance. (The mother-of-many had proposed vivisecting Burke in order to gain the knowledge required to cure Mr. Thurlow, which Tex thought was immensely funny [p. 191].) The difference was a moral one; the Patrolmen acted in accordance with Venusian customs, and were therefore moral and of the Venusian moral level. Burke and his boys didn't, and so weren't.
It's already been mentioned how deleterious the aboveground environment is to alien life. The belowground environment seems to be no more amenable to alien artifacts (as this is Venus, remember, Terrans and things Terran are the aliens). The ship has been infested by a heretofore unencountered (by Terrans) worm and is riddled. This includes the rations, so there's no variety in their diet, either. (By now, one would think they would be concerned about vitamin or nutrient deficiencies.) What the worms in the mud didn't get, the mud itself did; the gyroscopes are burned out, for example, rendering the ship uncontrollable. They are stuck.
Or maybe not. Mother has something interesting in her attic:
It was a large book. On the cover, in large ornate letters, was:
L O G
Space Cadet, pp. 199-200
And, in this Peace of the Worlds, as in The War of the Worlds, the invaders from the next planet outwards had died from the local diseases, to which they had no immunities. And so, ever since 1972 or thereabouts (at least per paperback; the mission lifted off in 1971 which dates the flight of the Kilroy Was Here to before that, as being of the first interplanetary ship and they celebrated Christmas en route), when the last man of the expedition died, this log with its chronicle of success turning to disaster, has been safe in the hands of the local Venerians.
They hardly have time to have a good cry when they get hustled outside (through the tunnels). While being urged along, they start arguing about what additional artifacts they are going to find in the crumbling wreckage of the Astarte. Quite a few, it seems, as the inquisitive Venerians, respectful of these mysterious strangers who had come there to die, had preserved their vessel from the scourges of the elements, the flora, and the fauna. The Terran visitors do indeed find some useful artifacts; the provisions of the Astarte. Well, pancake flour and maple syrup, which is at least a change in the diet.
There is tossed off here an interesting hint at the nature of the Venerians: "Canst thou grow a new hand, if needed?" [p. 203] is one's comment regarding the requirements for handling cleaning substances. Apparently there's still a lot the Patrol doesn't know about the Venerians. Quite a lot, as we shall see.
The Astarte is a ship of the Patrol. There are four Patrolmen on hand, even if one is in a trance state. What else to do but have the other use the one for its proper destiny. Equipment is a bother, since the only fully functional set, on the Astarte, is obsolete. Effort and ingenuity suffices in this regard. But still, what the castaways have here is a fully functional ship with the needle on "Empty".
Well . . . The maple syrup found on the Astarte was more than just a condiment; they could give it to Mr. Thurlow. The locals seem to have noticed that. While taking his shift tending the Lieutenant, Matt had thought about giving him some water. However, almost all the water bladders in his room were full of maple syrup. The Venerians had copied it, flavor and all. Why not other compounds, like (say) alcohol and liquid oxygen (the useful abbreviation "lox" was not in circulation then) to power the Astarte?
Having hinted at Venusian scientific mastery before, Heinlein now comes out and declares it, as Matt argues with Oscar:
"They don't use power, eh? How about those orange lights?"
"Well, yes, but that can't involve much power."
"Can you make one? Do you know how they work?"
"What I'm trying to get at is that there may be more ways of doing engineering than the big, muscley, noisy ways we've worked out. You've said yourself that we don't really know the natives, not even around the poles. Let's at least ask!"
Space Cadet, p. 212
This makes fuel available, and fortunately the Astarte did not use nitric acid, hydrazine, or some other even more esoteric propellant. (The engines would have been tuned to more efficiently use such propellants; in fact, one wonders why the Astarte did not use liquid hydrogen as well.) In two days good work for such short notice the ship is fueled up and ready to go.
With all things in order the castaways prepare to make their escape. The paperback edition had had Oscar handling the log incomprehensibly:
He paused and said to Matt, "I still think we ought to shift the command."
Space Cadet, pp. 215-6
VI. MATT DODSON, SPACE RANGER
You would think that Matt had learned. In fleets throughout history, and even in fiction, ordinarily, acting as commissioned offices, not to mention establishing peaceful relations with nonhumans on the basis of a hostile beginning, resolving a century-old question, and restoring a ship to Patrol service, might be considered to be a real-world test of a cadet's worthiness for commission. Matt seems to be thinking so, as is Tex (Oscar is back with their new friends.) The Commodore thinks otherwise. Cadet Dodson's studies are proceeding satisfactorily, he notes, and his minor character blemishes are being worked out. He might be ready for commissioning in a year. It seems that all that other stuff is just in the ordinary nature of things for a Patrolman. At least the Commodore thinks he is developing the right stuff, the proper attitudes for a Patrol officer. Like application, judgment, and punching out Burke in a "secret" fight.
And why was it only ordinary duty for the cadets to accomplish such extraordinary results? Because of the high standards of their organization. This turns out to be paradoxically heartening: ". . . That's why we feel good. He didn't make anything of it because he didn't expect anything less because we are Patrolmen!" [p. 220]
Such an unapproachably high standard may be the only way to ensure the security of the worlds. This is heartening, but also dismaying.