A LONG-TERM PROJECT
Commentary on Robert A. Heinlein's THE STAR BEAST by Joseph T Major
Opus #118; written August 28 - September 23, 1953; 75,000 words
Serialized as The Star Lummox in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction May-July 1954
I. TERMINATION OF PARENTAL AUTHORITY
In 1993, 14-year old Kimberly Mays of Hardee County, Florida was involved in a child custody case. Court battles of this sort take place all the time, but this one was unusual in that she was the one initiating the case. She wished to have her parents' parental authority over her terminated. The case has other bizarre ramifications, including that the reason her adoptive parents were originally unaware of that fact was that right after she was born, Kimberly was switched for a dying infant of an affluent local family so that they could finally have a child, but while you could write a book about that (The Baby Swap Conspiracy, by Loretta Schwartz-Nobel (1993)), such matters aren't really relevant to the fact that Kimberly Mays sued to divorce her parents. (It got even more interesting after that.)
This event was the cynosure of the tabloids, print and electronic. Thirty-nine years before that, such legal postulates were by way of contrast more of a matter for prior restraint, as Heinlein was to grumble to his agent Lurton Blassingame:
Grumbles from the Grave, letter of October 8, 1954, pp. 69-70
From our perspective in the future, this seems to be a particularly trivial and absurd point over which to elicit such an expansive response. One also wonders about the degree to which Miss Dalgleish was willing to kowtow to the feelings of the people at Library Journal. Likely she feared that as it was the principal source of information for librarians, a bad review there would render impossible any sales for the book. And indeed, Learned T. Bulman gave his recommendations on SF books for high-schoolers in the October 15, 1954 issue of the Library Journal, and The Star Beast was definitely not among them. (Also, the Scribners' advertisement in that issue listed The Star Beast directly below a book by Alice Dalgleish, which I'm sure just thrilled Heinlein no end.)
Another commentator had formed rather a different, and certainly admiring, opinion of the developmental level of the book:
Alexei Panshin, Heinlein In Dimension, pp. 68-69
II. THE MOON MAID
And speaking of reincarnation: Edgar Rice Burroughs's The Moon Maid (1923) recounts the story of Julian 5th on the first trip to the Moon (well, it turned out to be the first trip to the Moon) as communicated by his grandfather Air Admiral Julian 3rd. The Julians are not only sequential-lineage reincarnates, but their memories work backwards, so that our narrator Julian 3rd can mention his own demise, among other matters.
Another item raised in this feat of backwards memory is the long and distinguished military career of the Julians. Julian 5th boasts of having been the fifth of his line never to have owned any civilian clothes (which must have made them real party-poopers on leave).
John Thomas Stuart XI was not quite as bad off as the Julians (The Moon Maid seems to have been written after its sequel The Moon Men (1925), to explain the conquest of the Earth by the evil empire of the Kalkars from the Moon whose harsh rule is described in The Moon Men, after the mundane alternative of having it be a conquest of the Earth by the Bolsheviks was judged to be unacceptable) but he had his own inherited problems. One was a noble and distinguished ancestral reputation to have to live up to: Our hero's great-great-great-great-grandfather "John Thomas Stuart IV was killed on the first trip to the moon" [p. 136] (presumably not by Kalkars) following in a family tradition. John Thomas Stuart, Jr. "had killed himself flying a box-kite affair termed an 'aeroplane.'" [loc. cit.] and John Thomas Stuart III had gone out on a submarine patrol and not returned. (Heinlein must have been thinking of the fates of some of his classmates here.)
John Thomas Stuart VI was a Hero, having led the successful rebellion that brought about the independence of Mars. One wonders whether, had this book been written at a later point in Heinlein's career, if he might have tried to connect the rebellion on Mars in it to the rebellion on Mars in Red Planet (1949) in the fashion by which he had tried to connect the rebellion in The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress (1966) to the Lunar society in The Rolling Stones (1952). This would mean that Jim Marlowe of Red Planet would become "James Thomas Marlowe VII" he was "Jim Marlowe, Jr." But perhaps then we would be having to wonder why it was that "James Thomas Marlowe XI" and the other beings in this book had never had to deal with the Church of All Worlds and its unearthly mentors. There are references to indigenous intelligent Martians, the "Great Race of Mars" [p. 49] so something of the sort may have been in Heinlein's mind.
Given also what happens to John Thomas Stuart VII in this book it would not augur well for "James Thomas Marlowe VII", either. For John Thomas Stuart VII ended his days in prison exile, and his wife pulled a Constance Wilde/Holland on him. As soon as possible their son changed his name back to John Thomas Stuart VIII albeit Heinlein is stacking the deck by having his other name be "Carlton Gimmidge". This one established a tradition of space exploring which the next two generations followed and the third intends to.
One wonders, though, why John Thomas Stuart X had had such slipshod judgment in such matters as getting married, for example. Panshin has a description of his spouse in his comments on stock supporting characters: "One is that of Whining, Useless, Middle-Aged Mama the mother of John Thomas Stuart in The Star Beast is an example." [Heinlein In Dimension, p. 129] Unfortunately for our hero's plans, his immediate ancestors emulated their progenitors in other ways. His great-grandfather and father both disappeared on space expeditions, while his grandfather was dismissed from the service after taking the fall for a commander. Which has embittered Whining, Useless, Middle-Aged Mama against her son doing anything at all risky, and against her inlaws' legacy (except the property).
The book begins with one commentator, of which more next, noting something about John Thomas (Heinlein seems to have occasionally given the progatonists in his juveniles names which are also slang terms for the penis; note also Rod [Walker] in Tunnel In the Sky (1955); this could be happenstance, unconscious symbolism, or an attempt to covertly twit the sensibilities of people like Miss Dalgleish and Mr. Bulman) at the current stage of his life:
The Star Beast, p. 7
And later on we will see how Betty has her intentions of marriage decided long before her
intended has even had any say in the matter. It looks, therefore, if whatever trouble John Thomas
Stuart XI may be having with his spouse, it won't be anything of the sort what his father and
great-great-grandfather had had. It may be, however, just what he needs.
III. THE STAR LUMMOX
Noting Betty's intrusion is the title character of this book. (The title in draft was The Star Lummox.) Lummox is a large and intelligent creature who combines engaging curiosity and narrow judgment about property rights with great physical size and strength. This makes Lummox an attractive nuisance, as the neighbor who has a dog and several rosebushes eaten in the first few pages would agree.
John Thomas Stuart VIII had been on one of the first long-range interstellar expeditions. In the diary he kept of the epochal second expedition of the trailblazing starship Trail Blazer (and one wonders why this valuable record isn't in some governmental or university archive, but that would crimp the exposition of this story) which is frequently consulted by his descendants, he recounted the story of one planetary landing where he acquired a local animal which he called "Cuddlepuppy". Cuddlepuppy seems remarkably intelligent and certainly is omnivorous. It seems remarkable that the diarist could obtain a biological specimen and get it off the ship without attracting notice, but the usual Heinleinian abhorrence of outside authority and the seeming casualness of the expedition apparently explain this.
In the intervening hundred years "Cuddlepuppy" has grown up, especially after eating the old Buick (interesting comment there about the survival of brand names from other items of evidence the story is dated in the twenty-second century and the Buick likely was an aircar) and now stands higher at the shoulder than John Thomas Stuart XI is tall and is, in Heinlein's words, about the size of half a house (either half). And so the current name of "Lummox" fits.
And maybe the neighbors might have a different name in mind, even perhaps one that if Miss Dalgleish were to see written down would knock her dead on the spot (a replacement editor might be worse, note). After relandscaping the neighbor's place and practicing a little animal control, Lummox lumbers towards town, demolishing a few greenhouses along the way. Proving remarkably immune to illegal assault weapons, too, as the greenhouse owner, with the currently unfortunate name of Ito, lets fly at this nightmare from the movies with "a relic of the Fourth World War of the sort known affectionately as a 'tank killer.'" [p. 15] about as useful as such arms are in the Gojira ("Godzilla") movies, too. Heinlein couldn't condone gun control of the broad scope deemed minimal today by opinion-makers.
Scattering ground vehicles, crushing motorized pedways, and smashing store windows, Lummox proceeds to make quite a spectacle downtown. The authorities deploy fire extinguishers (not hoses?) and the elaborate riot control equipment that has been "standard for any city safety force since the Riots of '91," [p. 21] (that's a sinister suggestion; indeed that with "the Fourth World War" makes this seem not at all a bright beautiful future full of hope) and drive this dangerous animal under a bridge until the arrival of the only man in town thought capable of resolving the problem.
The police have arrived at John Thomas Stuart's house and borne him off. While everyone else seems utterly petrified at the thought of confronting this cosmic horror, John Thomas is sadly used to such things, and chastens the eight-legged urban renewal device (sadly, due to Heinlein's limited fund of cultural references, or perhaps his estimation of the limitations of the audience, no one compares Lummox to Sleipnir, Odin's eight-legged horse which might even be appropriate, since John Thomas will be riding on Lummox-back), which snivels back "I didn't mean to." [p. 21] Oh yes, it should be noted that Lummox can talk. And there is even more to Lummox.
This alien horror needs to be dealt with in court. And, there being a higher authority to be consulted, in more than court. Fortunately, such an organization exists, the Federation's Department of Spatial Affairs (you were maybe thinking the Galactic Patrol)?
IV. YES MINISTER
British Prime Minister the Right Honourable James Hacker chronicled his rise to power, and more to the point, his struggle with the Civil Service as epitomized by his Permanent Undersecretary Sir Humphrey Appleby, in two volumes exported to this timeline as The Complete Yes Minister and Yes Prime Minister. The theme of the books is inertia; the Civil Service forms a permanent, unelected government that manages affairs while the elected ministers are no more than display pieces, whose terms in office are nowhere near long enough for them to learn the functions of their department, but who keep on insisting in meddling in those matters.
The third human protagonist in this drama is "His Excellency the Right Honorable Henry Gladstone Kiku, M. A. (Oxon.), Litt. D. honoris causa (Capetown), O.B.E., Permanent Under Secretary for Spatial Affairs" [p. 27]. Like Sir Humphrey, he considers himself to be the actual government, the Man Who Knows How, saddled with incompetent meddling political bosses.
It does help Mr. Kiku's case that his boss is far more incompetent than James Hacker. Another of the stock supporting character types Panshin notes is "the Pompous Male Blowhard for example, Secretary for Spatial Affairs MacClure, to go again no farther than The Star Beast." [Heinlein in Dimension, pp. 129-130] By way of contrast to the incompetence of his supervisor, Panshin highlights Mr. Kiku as an exemplar of the Heinlein Individual, and his assistant Sergei Greenberg as a second-stage Heinlein Individual, the one who knows how things work, as between the third stage, who also knows why, and the first stage, the competent but naïve youngster [Heinlein In Dimension, pp. 128-9]. In this book those roles would seem to fall to Mr. Kiku and John Thomas Stuart respectively.
Were Sir Humphrey Appleby to be consulted, he would likely offer his opinion that Mr. Kiku had been sadly underrewarded with an Officer of the British Empire instead of (say) a K.C.M.G. (Knight Companion of the Order of St. Michael and St. George, also referred to as "Kindly Call Me God"), the usual honor for a Permanent Undersecretary. (Or maybe Heinlein noticed the strings of letters after the names of British notables and just picked one set.) Mr. Kiku is from Kenya and perhaps that had something to do with it; the name hints of "Kikuyu", though the attribution may be coincidental. (And apparently like most Kenyans, he longs to own a farm, which hopes sustain his spirit during the many struggles he endures.)
Sir Humphrey, though, wouldn't for a moment consider his colleague to be underrewarded with problems, though. Dealing with a deliberate introduction of exotic flora, the cold equations of building a research station while becalmed in Hell, and the immense value of the Secretary for Spatial Affairs in making it possible for him to be getting the real work done are everyday trivialities for him. It's interviewing the Rargyllian middleman Dr. Ftaeml that gets him down. Back in those days outside the boma, Mr. Kiku had developed a fine herpetophobia. And in the famous words of Dr. Henry "Indiana" Jones, Ph.D., "It had to be snakes" Rargyllians are medusoid.
So Mr. Kiku is undergoing a hypnotic desensitization. This is another example of Heinlein's beliefs in hypnosis. You would think that the hypnotherapist would have to be security-screened, to keep him from, say, implanting a command for Mr. Kiku to order all non-humans off Earth. Since there are groups which have such beliefs, this question is not academic. So an assistant the above-mentioned Sergei Greenberg, to be precise has to go take care of this case of a potential e.t. which blundered its way into town.
V. CAME THE COMPLAINANT
Heinlein's works, for all that they abound in lawyers, show a certain suspicion of the efficacy of court procedures. The "reasonable person" of legal legend might find implausible such lawsuits as the one in "Requiem" (Astounding, January 1940) where D. D. Harriman's heirs sought to preserve the value of their as-yet unrealized inheritance by restraining him (and not their stepmother Pam?) from selling stocks, but the more cynical, knowing individual would sigh and note yet another, less pleasant than most, Heinlein prediction.
In this case, Lummox's little jaunt has spawned a plethora of legal challenges. It should be noted that Heinlein's predictive ability did not extend to "speedy trial" realism. (Modern-day jurisprudence permits a defendant to win a delay in a trial date by filing for a speedy trial.) Unless the technological and social advances by the time of this book have somehow also affected legal procedures, the plethora of lawsuits presented here should all have been coming to a preliminary hearing to determine whether there should even be a preliminary hearing at about the time that John Thomas Stuart XII was starting school. (Perhaps even law school.) Instead, it's the next day
Against a plethora of angry legal talent representing the aggrieved neighbors and the exercised municipal authorities, there stands alone the sole brave figure of Betty Sorensen (!). Rising to the occasion, she takes a vigorous stand against the multiplicity of advocates and well-nigh worsts them but that's getting ahead of our story.
Heinlein himself had examined the question of where human status begins in "Jerry Is a Man" (Thrilling Wonder Stories, October 1947). The parallel here is more with H. Beam Piper's Little Fuzzy (1962), with its court trial to determine the sapience of the title being and his companions of his species. Piper even seems to have paralleled the use of a lie detector in court with the scene here where the Stuarts' neighbor is embarassed by her exaggerations [pp. 66-9] it is to be hoped that this is a more reliable device than the ones used today.
And similarly, Piper's Federation seems to be better-organized at determining the sapience of new races than Heinlein's is. Perhaps it's merely experience. Moreover, the decision is complicated by a parade of political spokesmen on different sides of the broader issue of human standing in the universe and on Earth. Finally, the judge was being overseen by Sergei Greenberg, himself sent by Mr. Kiku.
Betty puts forward several pointed arguments about the nature of potential threat, in the "brisk, bright, clever metaphor" of Heinlein Individuals [cf. Heinlein In Dimension, p. 144]. Since later on we see Mr. Kiku talking this way, this would seem to be contradicting two of Panshin's theses (the other being that on female characters).
All that this needs to make confusion more confounded is for something to disrupt the court. Something, or someone (which of course is actually the issue being resolved), does so:
"Lummox!" cried his friend. "Stand still. Stay right where you are. Don't move an inch!"
Of all the faces in the room, that of Special Commissioner Greenberg presented the most interesting expression.
The Star Beast, p. 80
The irruption may have upset Mr. Greenberg. He decides that it is in the best interests of all that Lummox be destroyed. This creature can't be considered sapient, since it lacks arms, it is incapable of manipulating its environment. In Piper's Federation, the sufficient but hardly necessary rule was that a being had to be able to talk and to build a fire. At the climax of his namesake novel, Little Fuzzy leads his people into the courtroom, where assembled spectators hearken to their ultrasonic speech shifted down into audible pitch through relay devices. Then, in a manner commonplace then but nowadays the target of prodigious loathing, he pulls out a pipe, fills it with tobacco, and lights up [op. cit., pp. 151-3] thus fulfilling the second part of the requirement, to the ultimate satisfaction of everyone except the corporate executives now forced to adjust to a realigned business climate and the lower-ranked fellow on trial for killing a Fuzzy.
Jerry in "Jerry Is a Man", was certainly capable of manipulating his environment; indeed, were that to be considered the prime defining characteristic he would be doubly empowered, thanks to the prehensile feet chimpanzees have. The question then becomes, therefore, whether he is capable of abstract reasoning. If he can appreciate art, the court decides, that will be sufficient, whereupon Jerry proceeds to emote about being "Way down upon de Suwannee Ribber" (interesting commentary there that he should be singing a song to be sung by slaves), which suffices. Panshin wondered why it was, then, that Jerry's elephant buddy earlier seen beating time with its trunk in accompaniment to the chimp song wouldn't also qualify under those criteria [Heinlein In Dimension, p. 45].
The matter of abstract reasoning also features, also in an oblique fashion, in Piper's posthumous book Fuzzies and Other People (1984) where the question arises of putting Fuzzies under lie detection. For it to be demonstrated that they can be shown to be telling the truth, it has to be established that Fuzzies can lie. This paradox baffles the Fuzzies, but in the end it works out.
By definition, Mr. Greenberg has been denied these precedents. While it does not seem unlikely that there were no such similar precedents in the history of this universe, it is possible. More likely, there were and he did not, or perhaps could not, take them into account. It appears that he has made a snap decision, against what one would think would be a presumption of sapience. Having his beloved pet treated like a biting pit bull hardly seems to please John Thomas Stuart XI and needless to say does not thrill Lummox. It also turns out that the authorities charged with putting the decree into execution have their own problems in carrying it out, but that's another chapter.
VI. IT HAD TO BE SNAKES
Mr. Greenberg reports back to the boss, and conveniently for the reader (and the copy-editor at Scribner's) describes in a few paragraphs what in exposition would take many pages to show going on. The police chief had found it hard to hold this dangerous beast, much less dispose of it, though he had tried both drowning and poison. And Mr. Greenberg had formed his own opinion, too, and was not remiss about imparting it to Mr. Kiku:
"Why stupid? I note that its master with the history-book name claims it is bright."
Greenberg smiled. "He is prejudiced. I talked with it, boss. It's stupid."
"I can't see that you have established that. Assuming that an e.-t. is stupid because he can't speak our language well is like assuming that an Italian is illiterate because he speaks broken English. A non-sequitur."
"But look, boss, no hands. Maximum intelligence lower than monkeys. Maybe as high as a dog. Though not likely."
"Well, I'll concede that you are orthodox in xenological theory, but that is all. Some day that assumption is going to rise up and slap us in the face. We'll find a civilization that doesn't need to pick at things with patty-paws, evolved beyond it."
The Star Beast, pp. 87-8
Nevertheless, in spite of his admiration for Lummox's cleverness at annoying would-be executioners, Mr. Kiku figures it more important to support his subordinate, and initials Mr. Greenberg's decision. There are more important things to do; Dr. Ftaeml the Rargyllian is coming to negotiate a certain matter. (And, as was said earlier, Mr. Kiku has to have his conditioning reversed.)
The relationship between Mr. Kiku and Mr. Greenberg is in one sense that of the third-stage Heinlein Individual educating the second-stage one, mentor to student. It is conducted, though, in the bantering tone of more equals, which would appear more in Citizen of the Galaxy (1957) between Brisby and Stancke. So we have here a relationship which could itself have been given a book of its own. The parallel could also be made of the relationship between Poul Anderson's master trader Nicholas van Rijn and his first-rate field man, grandson-in-law, and heir David Falkayn. Perhaps the Solar Spice & Liquors team could even handle the current crisis at a profit.
A spaceship from a heretofore-unknown race, the Hroshii, has arrived in Terran space, containing an embassy with a demand (and a translator, Dr. Ftaeml). It would seem that somewhere along the line, a Hroshia (singular of "Hroshii") came to Earth, and now they want their fellow-being back.
This section of the book discusses the Rargyllians more than the Hroshii, which for now are merely veiled menances. In personality, the Rargyllians seem to combine Heinlein's own scrupulously honest and not overly forthcoming Fair Witnesses from Stranger In a Strange Land with the thoroughgoingly commercial Ferenghi of Star Trek. While being honest brokers for all kinds of races, at the same time they require payment, and charge all that the market will bear.
Yet they seem overawed by the Hroshii. A Hroshii ship appeared at Rargyll for the first time in five centuries, Earth time, with a request for the services of one expert translator and broker. Dr. Ftaeml explains that the Hroshii find it well-nigh impossible to learn other languages, hence the need for an interpreter. [p. 105] (So he had studied a language that no one had used or had any use for in the last five hundred years, used by a race seemingly averse to contact? It hardly seems worthwhile.) Later on we learn that this inadequacy on the part of the Hroshii comes from having their own language, as we would say nowadays, "hard-coded" into their brains, making them able to speak their own tongue with fluency from near-birth. This will prove to be significant.
The Hroshii have a very exact description of the time, place, and suspects in the abduction. The first two being in Rargyllian notations will need to be translated. The last is explained by a peculiar hypothesis on the part of the Rargyllians, or Dr. Ftaeml anyhow. The Hroshii description was quite specific and extremely detailed: "The creatures they wished to locate were men of Earth in every possible detail down to your fingernails, your internal organs." [p. 108] (Which says something about the Hroshii senses.) Since the humans have not heretofore admitted to any contact with the Hroshii, and the Hroshii did not know where the planet these beings came from was, there must be another race in the universe exactly like humanity.
Or so Dr. Ftaeml explains. Nevertheless he took them to Earth. Mr. Kiku hands over the coordinates to an expert for translation, but has also to hand himself over to his nominal superior for a discussion of another matter altogether. Which saddles Mr. Greenberg with the task of looking after Dr. Ftaeml. Knowing who makes the decisions that matter, Dr. Ftaeml uses Mr. Greenberg as a tour guide to the exotic night life of Earth (with Sam and Max and Don and Dr. Jefferson and Thorby and Garsch? Never mind).
During one of those floor shows Dr. Ftaeml let something slip (which if Heinlein hadn't been so determined on the matter we might have called a "Freudian slip") that should have upset Mr. Greenberg's sleep, had he actually got any:
"What do you mean?" Greenberg had asked.
"When mighty Earth is volatilized . . ." the medusoid had begun, then stopped.
Greenberg had pressed him about it. But the Rargyllian insisted that he had been joking.
The Star Beast, p. 115
And they may well be justified, too. While Sergei was out having fun the boffins were pulling an all-nighter grinding their brains out translating coordinates (information systems here seem more devoted to data retrieval than calculations) to make sense of the figures they had been given:
Greenberg looked and felt his eyebrows crawl up toward his scalp. He turned to the answer machine and started to code an inquiry. "Don't bother," Kiku told him. "Your recollection is correct. The Trail Blazer. Second trip. . . .Yes, it's Lummox."
"But it can't be Lummox. No hands. Stupid as a rabbit."
"No, it can't be. But it is."
The Star Beast, pp. 115-6
VII. STUART'S FREE HOLD
For all that Lummox has proven resistent to conventional animal control methods (by the standards of Tokyo) John Thomas Stuart XI is still worried that something will happen. (It doesn't help that, all unbeknownst to him, when Mr. Kiku decided that maybe it wouldn't be a good idea to aggravate the Hroshii, and canceled the kill order, a routing error sent the reprieve to Pluto, which probably confused the people there [p. 118].) He's already got on the wrong side of the law and isn't particularly enchanted at the prospect of getting in deeper.
Several possible solutions present themselves. One in fact presents itself, or actually himself, that evening, when a museum representative turns up with an offer for this unique specimen, which is wondering what the all the fuss is:
"Oh, nothing, nothing. He just wanted to see you."
Mr. Perkins stared. "He talks! Mr. Stuart, the laboratory must have this specimen."
"That's out, I told you."
"I'm prepared to go much higher, now that I've seen him . . . and heard him."
John Thomas started to say something rude, checked himself, and said instead, "Look, Mr. Perkins, are you married?"
"Why, yes. Why?"
"One, a little girl. She's just five." His face softened.
"I'll make you a deal. We'll swap even. No questions asked and each of us does as he likes with his 'specimen.'"
Perkins started to flare up, then suddenly grinned. "Touché! I'll shut up. But," he went on, "you were taking a chance. One or two of my colleagues would have taken you up. . . ."
The Star Beast, pp. 123-4
For the moment John Thomas retreats to his secret lair in the attic and looks over his cache of secret documents, some of which are suitable for Miss Dalgleish and her type. Indeed, one of them would seem to be more suitable for Mr. Perkins or even Mr. Kiku; the diary mentioned above which recounted how John Thomas Stuart VIII acquired "Cuddlepuppy". Had the latter had this valuable record, it might have saved the astronomers a sleepless night, as the valiant explorer noted that the indigenous intelligent race of "Cuddlepuppy's" planet bore a definite resemblance to his new pet.
A raft trip down the Mississippi is impracticable for many reasons, including the fact that the Mississippi is some distance away. However, there is a large wilderness reserve nearby, complete with obsolete and crumbling concrete roads leading into it. Here, too, "The Roads Must Roll" (Astounding, June 1940) as powered roads have taken over the transport business.
Like Huck Finn, he can afford an outfit, mostly because he already has it. (He revels in a powered sleeping bag that would have absolutely delighted that Farmer In the Sky (1950) Bill Lermer [pp. 146-7].) The main problem is food, which he has at least short-term. (At first it seems rather backwards technologically for him to be taking cans, but they turn out to be self-cooking meals.)
And so the gallant twosome lights out into the Territory. This little trip shows us some more curious but useful adaptational features that Lummox is blessed with, including night sight, a special "guardian eye", and a secondary dinosaur-style brain [p. 144], all which enable owner and pet to sleep together while traveling.
However, John Thomas for some reason thinks that a moving target is more noticeable and decides to sleep in that remarkable sleeping bag. In the morning he observes that Lummox has been quite helpful in disposing of incoming vermin. "They are eaten by a bear" is not quite a stage direction with which to end this story, though Lummox by disposing of a large grizzly may have added "killing an endangered species" to a long list of felonies and misdemeanors. This, anyhow, encourages John Thomas in return to look after a problem Lummox has been having.
Back after that little urban renewal exercise, John Thomas had noticed swellings on Lummox's back above the front legs [pp. 39-40]. These have developed and swelled to the point where they look definitely tumorous, which is something to be worried about. And Lummox is now complaining that they itch. Scratching that itch causes one "tumor" to rupture, to John Thomas's horror, and from the rupture there emerges . . . an arm [p. 157]. Once he realizes this John Thomas then helps open up the other swelling, which contains a matching arm. Now if Lummox will only light up a pipe and sing "Way down upon de Suwannee Ribber" everything will be okay.
The next day they continue their flight into the wilderness. Along about dawn the dawn patrol finds them. "I thought like a mule and went where the mule would. I knew you would be along this road, so I started out at barely 'can-see' and swooped along it," is Betty's description of how she found them [p. 161]. And she feels annoyed at having been left out, too. For the moment, John Thomas was planning to hide out in a disused mine (shades of Farnham's Freehold (1964)!) while Betty thinks one of Lummox's sometime victims, Mr. Ito the gardener, may be willing to be forgiving.
They break to eat in a wooded part of the reserve, in the process giving Lummox a chance to observe human mating rituals, or what Heinlein thought that the editors would consider not unedifying for impressionable youth. (I wonder how the wrestling [p. 168] got past Miss Dalgliesh?) But every romantic morn must be interrupted, and this time it's by the constabulary, armed with immobilizing field.
VIII. OUT OF THE OFFICE
While James Hacker's reminiscences can hardly be considered to be an unbiased source, we can reasonably conclude that Sir Humphrey Appleby had little enough to lose sleep over in the performance of his various Permanent Secretarial duties. Mr. Kiku might well envy him, especially now.
That sleeplessness seems to have been communicable. You will recall that during that all-nighter of fun and games Mr. Greenberg got a waker-upper when Dr. Ftaeml made a slip about how much he would miss Earth once it had been vaporized, and the boss (Mr. Kiku, that is) had been worrying about that himself.
First thing in the morning he puts in a call to clear that little matter up. Unfortunately, Dr. Ftaeml has skipped breakfast and left for the spaceport. The news Mr. Kiku gets when he gets there is no better; that little slip last night was not an error. Dr. Ftaeml explains it all to his astonished enquirer: The Hroshii are possessed of weapons and potentialites of immense power. This single ship of theirs was perfectly capable of obliterating Earth without expending any extraordinary effort. And they are about to give a hint of this power.
This makes Mr. Kiku's news about this "Lummox" to be particularly welcome. In fact, he manages to offer a bluff that might convince the Hroshii to avoid marking up the Moon, lest they undo the entire end of their mission. Pleased at the adroitness of this ploy, Dr. Ftaeml leaves to consult with his employers, and Mr. Kiku leaves to consult with his subordinates.
Where, blast it, there's more trouble. Lummox and John Thomas Stuart have vanished during the night, into the local wilderness reserve. Worse yet, the local authorities won't accept that the euthanasia order has been properly revoked. Though they are busy:
"Just about. I've got a call in for the mayor he's out of town. Another for the governor he's in a closed grand jury session. And another for the chief forest ranger . . . I think he's out after the reward. As soon as I switch off I'm going to twist the arm of the acting chief until he sees the light and . . ."
The Star Beast, p. 154
The above passage is a demonstration of why this book is so hard to place. Panshin points out that: "this book stands by itself among Heinlein's books in being filled with satire and black humor" [Heinlein in Dimension, p. 70]. And this is hardly the bleakest of the black humor in the book. (Though some might make some comments about the advisability of applying the term in the vicinity of Mr. Kiku.)
With a flurry of orders Mr. Kiku attempts to resolve the situation. As usual when there's nasty
work to be done, the
Starship Troopers Star Legion is to be called in. Incidentally, one of their
non-lethal weapons is the "tanglefoot field", a means of incapacitating opponents by immobilizing
them without otherwise injuring them. One wonders why, if technology of this nature is available,
they had all that riot control equipment that they were using on Lummox back during the big
This makes the mission easy to perform. Even though the rules of engagement were a trifle overdone: "We have orders to bring him in without a scratch on him even if we lost men in the process. Craziest orders I ever had to carry out." [pp. 176-7] What kind of missions have the Star Legion been carrying out?
Yes, these dire straits that Lummox, John, and Betty were in were nothing more than a rescue. Presumably they are being rescued from the more bloody-minded local authorities. One would think that the recovery of the lost Hroshia would at least bring about an end to all those lawsuits ("Keep on pressing for the replacement of that dog, and Earth is dead meat; so give it up, hey?"). And since they aren't mentioned again, such may well have been the case. But that is hardly an end to all their problems.
IX. BREAKFAST AT PIDGIE-WIDGIES'
Lummox is a "she" to begin with. Even that is not quite the proper pronoun, since the Hroshii possess far more than two sexes. Such variation was hardly new at the time either in science fiction as a whole or to Heinlein specifically, though the latter had been masked due to the editorial changes in Red Planet (1949, 1990). In "Venus and the Seven Sexes" by "William Tenn" [Philip Klass] we have, as one might have guessed from the story title, a seven-sexed race. But this was not a juvenile fiction story.
The prudishness considered essential to protect young impressionable minds might well have explained why it was thought objectionable that Willis and all the other Martian "bouncers" were female, while the adult-stage Martians were male. Looked at in this light it seems more likely that some of the features of this book are more successful reusages of themes deleted from the published Red Planet. All the more reason, then, to wonder about the product placement of this book, and to understand why possibly Mr. Bulman might have thought it unworthy.
(It should be admitted that the publishers and reviewers had to consider the market. This repression may not have been internal, but out of concern about protests against "publishing filth". Nowadays the pressure is of an opposite nature.)
For various political reasons people have sought to create "gender-neutral" first person pronouns, but the number of proposed ones has militated against the adoption of any one of them. However, some have been used in SF and others have been invented specifically for various works. Heinlein had enough trouble with this book as it was.
The comparative success of the alternative reproductive methodology presented in this book at least Miss Dalgleish didn't cut it out may well have made feasible the even more advanced differentiation presented in Have Space Suit Will Travel (1958). The Vegans in that book had twelve "sexes" not all of them genetic or, so to speak, even "sexual". The Mother Thing, for example, filled a role in a family, as a child-raiser, and there were "Father Things", too which need not necessarily have been female or male. All in keeping with Heinlein's opinions about family and child-raising. Which brings us to a cross-species example of the latter.
You see, while Lummox was away on far-flung Terra she had been busy raising pets. Being a person of great importance she feels entitled to take her hobby home with her. For some reason the local authorities seem to be considerably energized over the fact that this means shipping John Thomas Stuart XI off to the planet of the Hroshii. As opposed to shipping him off to a local jail, a project perhaps fortunately dispensed with.
That Lummox should consider the dynasty of John Thomas Stuarts to be no more than a succession of pets is a severe commentary on humanity. Now the theme of higher beings regarding humanity as pets was hardly new to Heinlein; it goes as far back as "Goldfish Bowl" [by "Anson MacDonald", Astounding, March 1942] and bears parallels to the far lower esteem evidenced at differeent levels in Methuselah's Children [1941, 1958]. (The degree to which Heinlein's viewpoints had changed, or deteriorated, may be guessed at from the off-hand means in which Lazarus Long boasted in The Number of the Beast (1980) of having disposed of one of the super-races from the earlier book.) Here its presentation is muted and casual. It makes the reader think about the nature of the Hroshii. Not quite as physically devastating as, say, the Martian invasion in H. G. Wells's The War of the Worlds, but perhaps more morally devastating. And there are more shocks in store later on.
Having found the source of his ("his"? One wonders, given the variety of genders among the Hroshii) quest, the commander of the expedition is not about to let any trifles stand in his way. Having already threatened to destroy Earth once, he does so again. Which evokes a response that begins in the neighborhood of Farnham's Freehold (1964) but cleverly slips to that of Double Star (1956):
"I shall, sir."
"Please tell them that their ultimatum is rejected with contempt. Please . . ."
"Sir! I beg of you!"
"Attend me. Tell them that and do not soften it. Tell them that we tried in every way to help them, that we succeeded, and that they have answered kindness with threats. Tell them that their behavior is unworthy of civilized people and that the invitation to join the Community of Civilizations is withdrawn. Tell them that I spit in their faces . . . find an idiom of equal strength. Tell them that free men may die, but they are never bullied."
Greenberg was grinning widely and clasping both hands in the ancient sign of approval. Dr. Ftaeml seemed to grow pale under his outer chitin.
"Sir," he said, "I greatly regret being required to deliver this message."
Kiku smiled icily. "Deliver it as given. But before you do, find opportunity to speak to the Hroshia Lummox. You can do so?"
"Most assuredly, sir."
"Tell her that the commander of the expedition, in his zeal, seems bent on killing the human, John Thomas Stuart. See that she understands what is threatened."
The Rargyllian arranged his mouth in a broad smile. "Forgive me, sir; I underestimated you. Both messages will be delivered, in the proper order."
The Star Beast, pp. 180-1
The clever change of tone and double-track approach that Mr. Kiku is more appropriate to the more political figures of the books; both John Joseph Bonfortes (the original and his surrogate, "the Great Lorenzo" Smythe) of Double Star [there will be a different sort of comparison between these books discussed later] or Uncle Tom of Podkayne of Mars (1963, 1995). Mr. Kiku is demonstrating an ability to find solutions, instead of make dramatic gestures. Neither skill is to be entirely derogated at the expense of the other note, for example, Kip Russell's dramatic threat against the Three Galaxies that tipped the balance in favor of Earth's being saved in Have Space Suit Will Travel but it can be noted that the latter skill is associated with maturity, with the later-stage Heinlein Individuals. One has more sympathy for that in the end.
At this point in his story, though, Mr. Kiku is badly in need of Sir Humphrey's sympathy. Enter Secretary MacClure, with something in mind far more important than a little matter of Earth's being destroyed by aliens of immense power unless they violate the rights of a human. He wants Mr. Kiku to meet someone, someone important. Perhaps a Mother Thing is needed here to take a few people in hand. Instead they have Mrs. Beulah Murgatroyd:
"'Pidgie-Widgie?'" Mr. Kiku echoed.
"You're pulling my leg. The creator of the Pidgie-Widgie stories for children. You know Pidgie-Widgie on the Moon, Pidgie-Widgie Goes to Mars, Pidgie-Widgie and the Space Pirates. . . . Now she's taken Pidgie-Widgie on the air and it's really something. For the kids of course but so comical that the grown-ups follow it, too. You see, Pidgie-Widgie is a puppet about a foot high. He goes zooming through space, rescuing people and blasting pirates and having a grand ole time . . . the kids love him. And at the end of each installment Mrs. Murgatroyd comes on and they have a bowl of Hunkies together and talk. You like Hunkies?"
Mr. Kiku shuddered. "No."
The Star Beast, pp. 182-3
Heinlein had had something like this in his own background:
Grumbles from the Grave, letter of January 5, 1951, p. 45
(No one seems to have discussed this with Isaac "Paul French" Asimov. But in his autobiographies (In Memory Yet Green/In Joy Still Felt and I. Asimov) he never even mentions Mr. Bulman.)
This is not Mrs. Murgatroyd's first appearance in the book. She and the "Friends of Lummox" cropped up when the matter first became newsworthy [pp. 81-2]. Mr. Kiku had considered the issue trivial and taken steps to pass it off to the public information officer. "He amused himself with the idea of punishing the Secretary by inflicting Mrs. Murgatroyd on him, but it was merely a passing fantasy; the Secretary's time must be reserved for really important cornerstone-layings, not wasted on crackpot societies." [p. 82] It looks like his wishes came back on him, marvellously twisted.
Panshin referred to this particular character and situation as the culmination of the satire in the book [Heinlein in Dimension, p. 70]. What adults consider as appropriate for children is often demeaning. This could indeed, as was pointed out, be a commentary on such "dumbing-down", which is not only intellectual, but also an emotional "dumbing-down". (Which in turn may be a veiled slap at the editing.)
Perhaps fortunately for our sanity we never actually get to meet Mrs. Murgatroyd. Neither, fortunately for him and his, does Mr. Kiku, but he has to impose upon his superior an understanding of the proper priorities. He apparently hasn't had the time to have Secretary MacClure properly briefed, since the secretary's response to the Hroshii threat is straight out of Pidgie-Widgie's book: "I would have ordered the Inner Guard to close and blast them out of the sky, on my own responsibility." [p. 190]
Again, because of a lack of cultural referents, possibly even on the part of the author, Mr. Kiku has to go into an episode of East African history in detail, where a tribe found out that the colonialists were really determined to enforce their tax laws [pp. 190-1]. "Whatever happens we have got/the Maxim gun, and they have not." But in this case it seems more like "they" have got the equivalent of Sir Hiram's contribution to population control in the Third World and "we" have not. Prudence under such circumstances is a survival mechanism.
However, there is an alternative to both choices, and over the melodramatic objections of Secretary MacClure to surrendering a Terran hostage, Mr. Kiku has asked John Thomas Stuart XI to come on down and be persuaded to travel in his great-grandfather's footsteps to the planet of the Hroshii. Why didn't he mention this right off and save everyone the blather and bother?
X. YOU'VE GOT A FRIEND
The humorist Dave Barry gave the most decisive rebuttal to the claim that the U. S. government was keeping in some secret facility the bodies of a number of aliens who had died when their spacecraft had crashed: the fact that the Army, Air Force, NACA (now NASA), New Mexico State Police, NOAA, etc. were not falling over each others' feet with leaks designed to show their mastery of this crisis situation of dead aliens. Leaks are a fact of life in government work, intended (always) to display the super sagacity of the leaker.
Case in point:
Capital Enclave, Sep. 12 (GP) . . . Space Secretary MacClure revealed today that the xenic visitors dubbed "Hroshii" now landed at Capital port have demanded, under threats of war, that the Federation. . .
Kiku scanned down, saw that a distortion of his answer to the Hroshii had been credited to Secretary MacClure, with no mention of the possibility of peaceful settlement.
The Star Beast, p. 195
Heinlein was skeptical in any case of the veracity of the press. Note for example his absolute negative reliance on the reliability of Time Magazine in Expanded Universe, p. 384 (admittedly it was on his beloved "Bridey Murphy" case, which is unsound on linguistic grounds). This is another example of this irresponsibility, one with the possibility for far more grave results.
Mr. Kiku's response to this catastrophic pronouncement is a passive-aggressive one. He proceeds to Secretary MacClure's office with Robbins and asks for a briefing on the new policy. There being none, Mr. Kilu then proceeds to explain that a further press briefing will be in order; since the public has a right to know, they ought to know the entire truth, including how close MacClure came to ordering an attack on the Hroshii ship. Aware of what an uproar this would cause, even threatening his position, MacClure fires Mr. Kiku.
The Department of Spatial Affairs not having evolved the complex protective methods devised by our governmental bureaus for constraining the revelatory activities of former employees, this theoretically frees Mr. Kiku to do this anyhow. Robbins points this out and explains how MacClure can manage to survive his dismissal with some shred of political credibility. MacClure was after all the one who got everything wrong, and capping it by threatening to destroy the people who got it right is entirely in character. This counterpressure on Robbins's part settles that spasm of Pompous Blowhardness on the Secretary's part. Unfortunately, this is after all only fiction, where incompetent, malicious people suffer the consequences of their actions, instead of being rewarded for them.
As an example of MacClure's incompetence, note that he is careless about names: "Hoorussians" for Hroshii, and "Dr. Fatima" for Dr. Ftaeml. These may be approximations to how Heinlein wanted the names pronounced, or at least how a careless person would let the proper pronunciations slip. It reinforces the image built of MacClure; an incompetent, careless, lazy fool.
In the middle of this discussion is a throwaway passage that is the first hint of a matter that immensely troubled Alexei Panshin. While discussing how MacClure was grabbing the headlines, Robbins says: "But you were willing to sacrifice Henry's forty years of service to save your own ugly face." [p. 202] Since Mr. Kiku has an advanced degree, it can be assumed from this that he is in the neighborhood of seventy. (However, he has a Master of Arts from Oxford, which Heinlein may not have realized is not quite like a Master of Arts from an American university.) Later on, there are even more explicit references to his being of advanced age. So Panshin was worried about the barrier this revelation would impose on the reader's appreciation of the book:
Heinlein in Dimension, p. 128
However, to be fair to Heinlein, those functionalities did include indicators of at substantial time spans in Mr. Kiku's previous life. (Thanks to Panshin's publisher George Price of Advent: Books for raising this point.) When we first meet him it is made clear that he has been holding his current or a similar position for fifteen years [p. 28] and he is thinking seriously about retirement [p. 31]. In his next scene we find that he is senior to Sergei Greenberg, who is thirty-seven years old [p. 85]. Finally, Mr. Kiku refers to himself as an "old bureaucrat' [p. 197]. So there are indicators, but not necessarily ones pointing to advanced age.
Pompous Male Blowhard pushed aside, this leaves only Whining, Useless, Middle-Aged Mama to deal with. Mrs. Stuart believes what she reads in the papers and think that the boss is well informed. Well, she isn't supposed to be one of the more positive characters in this book. Mr. Greenberg has been given a second chance and is trying to persuade her to come to meet Mr. Kiku but surely, she says, if he is a staffer he can come here. Giving up, and deserted by John Thomas, Mr. Greenberg departs.
In fact, John Thomas has disappeared altogether after leaving that maternal diatribe. Mr. Greenberg has to fend off snooping reporters and bossy local police, not to mention a call from a Miss Brown who looks and sounds a whole lot like Betty Sorensen. (Amazing.) Miss Brown has a friend, Mr. Smith, who wants to go to see an old friend of his and needs a little help. Out of the greatness of his heart Mr. Greenberg decides to help this anonymous pair. Leda of Citizen of the Galaxy (1957) might have gotten a good chuckle out of it. A couple of hours later, Mrs. Stuart leaves for the Capital Enclave with Mr. Greenberg, in pursuit of her son.
And indeed Mr. Kiku finds John Thomas Stuart quite reasonable to deal with, accepting the situation philosophically. He couldn't have got this agreeable personality from his mother, who requires a long and bitter argument (that fortunately for the reader, presents much of the background in systematic form) to be even slightly persuaded.
Again, Heinlein seems determined here to earn the despised label of "Freudian" that James Blish pinned on him. But perhaps not, since the struggle to kill Father has suffered a sea-change (perhaps this should be "space-change"?), space having already taken care of that little matter, and instead John Thomas has to violently break free of the parental bonds of his mother. And small wonder:
"He's a man, Mrs. Stuart. Younger men have died in battle."
"Is that what you think makes a man?"
"I know of no better gauge."
He went on, "I call my assistants 'boys' because I am an old man. You think of your son as a boy because you are, by comparison, an old woman. Forgive me. But the notion that a boy becomes a man only on a certain birthday is a mere legal fiction. Your son is a man; you have no moral right to treat him as an infant."
"What a wicked thing to say! It's not true; I am merely trying to help him and guide him."
Mr. Kiku smiled grimly. "Madam, the commonest weakness of our race is our ability to rationalize our most selfish purposes. I repeat, you have no right to force him into your mold."
"I have more right than you have! I'm his mother!"
"Is 'mother' the same as 'owner'? . . . ."
The Star Beast, p. 219
And, sniveling and whining, the useless middle-aged Mrs. Stuart is pushed even farther out of the loop than now ex-Secretary MacClure. But the competent people have even more problems among their own to settle.
XI. A MARRIAGE MADE IN HROSHIJUD
Everything is settled. Ex-Secretary MacClure is going to the planet of the Hroshii, Hroshijud, as Ambassador, with Sergei Greenberg as chief of mission to really run things. Well, Mr. Kiku did say he intended Sergei as his successor, and how else to get "live-fire" training? Especially as Mr. Greenberg is learning the language and can control what the ambassador says, in effect, to the "Hoorussians". Perhaps they should all read William Lederer's The Ugly American (assuming that it exists in this time-line), written by a language instructor, which explains the stress on the problems faced by ambassadors who do not know the local language. (Is that making a job for himself or what?) John Thomas Stuart is also going, so that the Matriarch "Lummox" can continue her hobby. Oops!
Like a good diplomat, Mr. Kiku does not like to play his hidden cards until he must. As long as it seems possible that the Matriarch won't be allowed to pursue her hobby, he can extract concessions from the Hroshii. In this case, presents. To satisfy the scientists (no doubt in amends for making them have to pull that all-nighter) he invents a custom of exchanging presents under such circumstances. Presents are forthcoming, and all is ready to exchange representatives. The Secretary-General of the Community of Civilizations, no less, is there to preside over it (or actually, his stand-in for such ceremonies Panshin compares this to Lorenzo standing in for Bonforte in Double Star) and all goes well. Until the Hroshii commander demands the surrender of John Thomas Stuart.
That won't do. The conference breaks up in some disarray. However, John Thomas wasn't there. Coincidentally, he starts wondering how things are with Lummox, and decides to go over to the spaceport to find out. They are in some disarray, and it doesn't help that in letting John and Betty in the Hroshii display some of that super-powered capability they have. This does bring all the principals together, as Mr. Kiku and Dr. Ftaeml have rushed out to pick up the pieces. Finally somebody thought to explain the situation to Lummox, which gets her really mad. That settles it.
Except for getting Betty's consent to being a participant in Lummox's hobby. She blackmails Mr. Kiku into offering John Thomas a post as a honorary super-ambassador, which given his ability and MacClure's lack thereof might not be a bad idea, but he doesn't take it up. He does indeed marry her, though, and all's well that ends. For now, anyhow.