THE BROTHERHOOD OF PSI
Commentary by Joseph T Major on Robert A. Heinlein's TIME FOR THE STARS
Opus #123; written November 11 - December 1, 1955; 69,000 words
I. BROTHER TO TELEPATHS, BROTHER TO GEEKS
The title of this book is taken from a Robert Heinlein novel about a foundation dedicated to very long-term scientific projects. The foundation prided itself on funding only projects whose prospective benfits lay at least two centuries away. To the dismay and embarassment of the directors, however, the foundation's most preposterous enterprises quickly began pulling in large profits.
Alan Lightman, Time for the Stars: Astronomy in the 1990s, p. ix
In 1956, though, the halcyon (and ecstasy and prozac and valium and especially cocaine) days of Robert McNamara-style management were little-known to the public but much-heralded by insiders. In that vein, a foresighted, albeit narrowly-focused, individual with the right access could see a storm coming from Scribner's:
Grumbles from the Grave, letter of December 13, 1955, p. 75
Strains, too, in the lives of Tom Bartlett and his twin brother Pat. The concerns of this society are remarkably like those of that in Farmer In the Sky (1950); it's the solutions that are different. It's possible that this book is set in the same universe; however, it does postulate a different solution set than the one presented in the other.
The crowded world of this book has a different answer to the overpopulation problem, as Tom and Pat's father complains once a year. While maneuvering, avoiding, and finally protestingly paying the head tax on the two children over the limit that he and his wife have had, that is.
The essential Heinleinian stubborn individuality and nigh-anarchism for all that Heinlein himself declared that shooting an anarchist should only be regarded as vermin-eradication, and all that his characters demand thoroughgoing obedience from their followers, they seem to be remarkably antagonistic to the idea of obeying laws they disapprove of (see particularly "The Number of the Beast " (1980)) manifests itself here in tax resistance, among other things. Every year, Pat and Tom's father refuses to go through channels in accepting his two children over the limit, and every year he ends up bowing down to the higher power of the State. He is less successful than Mr. Russell of Have Space Suit Will Travel (1958), but then, what all would you expect from a man who named his sons well, perhaps Tom can say it better than I:
Time for the Stars, p. 8
It seems odd to contemporary observers that this restraint and constraint should be required for a world population of only five billion. But then, standard of living is a drain on resources that can far outweigh sheer numbers; surely, keeping the five billion that exist on Earth today at decent lifestyles would be more of a strain on the environment in some ways than keeping ten billion in poverty. Heinlein was on to something there.
Small wonder, then, that Tom and Pat were on to something there, and would seek to slip out of their cramped flat, even for a day, and take this test that the Long Range Foundation is offering. And make taking the test worth their while the Bartletts, not the testers, that is. However, when they got there, it seemed like all the twins in the world had had the same idea.
After various humiliating physical examinations (fondly remembered from Heinlein's days in navy tuberculosis hospitals, no doubt) the boys are ushered into a test of a different sort:
Of course we had, for they were the classic Rhine test cards, wiggles and stars and so forth. Every high school psychology class has a set and a high score almost always means that some bright boy has figured out a way to cold-deck the teacher. In fact, Pat had worked out a simple way to cheat when our teacher, with a tired look of anger, split us up and made us run tests only with other people whereupon our scores dropped to the limits of standard error.
Time for the Stars, pp. 17-8
Perhaps, though, the Bartletts don't live in a universe like ours. In any case, they proceed to repeat their simple way to cheat for a new bunch of suckers. Tom our narrator is given a shot (he demands that they tell him the drug, which from the malevolance with which the psychologists treat this reasonable request shows that some things never change) and then brother Pat is wheeled in and starts whispering numbers to him.
All very nothing and it's not until they check up and find out that those injections had been only water that things start getting really interesting. And speaking of "checking up," their descriptions of the test don't quite match, which would only be the case if they had been in fact separated and communicating by telepathy.
Which leads us to the question of why and wherefore. The answers are given by a remarkably repellent Long Range Foundation PR flak at a mass meeting of telepathic twins. In syrupy advertising language he points out the crowded state of Earth (as if anyone hadn't noticed) and the inutility of the other planets. Which leaves only other solar systems as a relief. One torchship has already left for Alpha Centauri, but already some problems have come up. So:
"And this, ladies and gentlemen, is where you are indispensable to this great project for living room for you will be the means whereby the captains of those ships report back what they have found!"
Time for the Stars, pp. 31-2
Elation is followed by depression as Tom realizes that perforce one has to stay behind, and given his brother's luck he'll be the one. (It later turns out that there are pairs where both go to space, though.) The home fires seem a little brighter burning too. One would think that Dad might be relieved to have his dependents turning into supporters, but it isn't until the scholarship provisions are pointed out to him (by Pat, that clever dog) that he becomes enthusiastic. And then there turns out to be a little matter of high salaries:
"So it says."
"Regular LRF pay scales?"
"Yes. I don't know how much that is, but I believe they ordinarily hire skilled ratings beginning at third grade."
Uncle Steve whistled. "I'd hate to tell you how much money it is, Bruce but the chief electron pusher in Pluto is tenth pay grade . . . and it took him twenty years and a doctor's degree to get there." Uncle Steve looked at us. "Give out, shipmates. Where did they bury the body? Is it a bribe?" Pat did not answer. Uncle Steve turned to Dad and said, "Never mind the fine print, Bruce; just have the kids sign it. Each one of them will make more than you and me together. Never argue with Santa Claus."
Time for the Stars, p. 38
Some of it is only mildly cynical:
"But we've abolished war."
"So we have. So chaps like me get paid to stomp out brush fires before they burn the whole forest. Boys, if I tell you the rest of this, you've got to keep it to yourselves now and forever."
I don't like secrets. I'd rather owe money. You can't pay back a secret. But we promised.
"Okay. I saw the estimates the Department of Peace made on this project at the request of LRF. . . . each ship has one chance in thirty-six of coming back."
Time for the Stars, pp. 44-5
Other of Heinlein's commonplace opinions enter in here. The opinion that "the root cause of war is population pressure" crops up here as it did in Between Planets and would again in Starship Troopers (1959). Here he does not have to defend it in the detail that he would have, or should have, in the other books, given the setting.
On the other hand, "I don't like secrets. I'd rather owe money. You can't pay back a secret," is new, yet very much in keeping with other opinions. Next year, in Citizen of the Galaxy (1957) the characters maintained that "Debts must be paid!"; this is another facet of that attitude, one that stems from Heinlein's general perception of the proper relationship between the individual and society. The Heinlein Individual maintains strict and stern self-discipline, while granting total liberty to the rest of the world; these attitudes towards external obligations just referenced follow from this. As Uncle Steve says, "a man is entitled to die the way he wants to; that's one thing they haven't taxed." [p. 46] Which is why the Bartletts have to reconcile themselves to losing one of Tom and Pat, or Leo and Michael, or Useless and Double-Useless. (They don't seem pleased enough. Why?)
But then as Heinlein was to say under later circumstances, "the theme of the novel [he was talking about Podkayne of Mars (1962)] is that death is the only destination for all of us and the only long-range hope for any adult lies in the young and that this double realization constitutes growing up, ceasing to be a child, and putting away childish things." [Grumbles from the Grave, p. 88, letter of March 10, 1962]. One of the realizations that has become accepted as we learn more about Heinlein was that he was of a piece, that the views in his novels stem from a common set of beliefs and perceptions.
II. TO LOVE HIM LIKE A BROTHER
Pat and Tom are "mirror-image" identical twins Tom is the left-handed one. In spite of such differences, they have been confused in the ways identical twins have been confused, even by the family. One would think those who live in such closed quarters would have been able to notice, but apparently not. (At least the senior Bartletts' opinions about naming and honoring kept them from handing out "twin" names, like "Gregory" and "Grant" [p. 32] or "Prudence" and "Patience" [p. 104] as others in this book were not so fortunate: at least there's no "Esther Pauline" and "Pauline Esther" involved, or maybe they were saved for the advice columns.)
But early on Tom saw that he was the loser of the two. His first hint of this is trivial "a certain white cake with chocolate icing and how he [Pat] confused things so that he got my piece, too" [p. 10]. Childhood hurts seem to linger longest.
And now Pat seems to have done it again. In the confusion and time pressure to get their parents to sign on the dotted line, Pat got himself named as the one going to space. And in spite of all of Tom's asking when this was decided, no one seems willing or able to say when, or whether it could be reconsidered. Even their friends think that way about Tom: "'You liked having him push you around. You've got a "will to fail."'" [p. 50] one says and she's his ostensible girlfriend at that. (Later on we will see Pat doing it again in this context.) Perhaps Tom had realized this: "I knew he was determined to go and I knew I would lose." [p. 36]
Having resigned himself to being earthbound and in geriatic care from his late teens, Tom is surprised when Pat puts himself out of the running in an accident, a fall that leaves him paralyzed from the waist down. He is then resigned to a lifetime of financial stringency and oppression. But will the LRF be forfeiting its special talents? [See Starship Troopers] Of course not, and Tom gets offered the switch he has just been switched out of. This offer and future raises emotional pressure in the Bartlett family no end, not to mention blood pressures, and perhaps it's just as well that the LRF has "conveniently" offered to take Tom and leave Pat on Earth. (We can wonder how convenient that accident was, too.)
They end up shipping Tom around the world, first to Zurich where the telepaths are waiting, and then on to the South Pacific where the ships are waiting. (One would think that by the time he finally got there, Tom's inner clock would have died in convulsions from all the jet lag.) Pitchforked into a shipful of strangers, Tom finds himself having to make acquaintances as he can:
Then there were three who were older than the rest of us: Miss Gamma Furtney, Cas Warner, and Alfred McNeil. . . .
Time for the Stars, p. 57
You note that there are represented in this staff a diversity of cultures and nationalities. White Anglo-Saxons seem to be in a distinct minority, though it includes the narrator. Heinlein's attitudes towards minorities often seem straddled in some ways he was ahead of his or even our time, in others far behind.
The odd one out, in more ways than one, is McNeil "Call me 'Uncle Alfred'" [p. 58]. It's less exotic now than it was at the time to note that Uncle Alfred is Negro, black, African-American, Melanin-Enhanced, whatever. That's not the oddness or the outerness. The differentness is more in their line of business his telepathic partner is not his twin, but his grand-niece.
(So older telepaths were acceptable for communication between ships; this doesn't do them much good now but what if there had been a shortage? Pat and Tom could both have gone, but . . .)
Heinlein seems to be letting down his barriers here; Uncle Alfred is a devout Christian. (This was a commonplace in black society then.) When his niece and her husband died in an accident he was handed a family responsibility (another commonplace of black society how observational was Heinlein?), and continued raising his grand-niece until the LRF found out that he was specially equipped for keeping track of her. One wonders how their telepathic link came to the attention of the LRF in the first place.
Well, Tom has been boring Pat with all the great new people he has met. Tom mentions how annoyed Pat was; but you realize this implies that Pat did not at the time think it worth mentioning much (or even perhaps anything at all) about his training to his brother. And now it's time to go off to space in the good starship Lewis and Clark. (The ships are named after explorers there is a Vasco da Gama, a Henry Hudson, a Richard E. Byrd (that's another model about whose doings there have been some interesting revelations since this book was written), a Leif Ericson, a Marco Polo, a Cristoforo Columbo, and a Magellan and exploring ships there is a Nautilus, a Nina, a Pinta, and a Santa Maria.)
The takeoff itself has a character-defining incident. Remember that Tom had said it was easy to hate Dusty Rhodes; an example of why it's easy occurs here. Thinking that the rules don't apply to him, Dusty slips out to run around the ship while everyone else is preparing for takeoff, only to find that crew who disobey regulations get disciplined. It looks as if Dusty is auditioning for the role in this book of Nasty Young Weasel (see Heinlein In Dimension, p. 130).
Not all the crew is so unpleasant: "The first thing that happened in the L.C. made me think I was dreaming I ran into Uncle Steve." [p. 64] There turns out to be even more to Uncle Steve than first seemed, as he not only had enough inside influence to get on the right ship after volunteering, but he was a reserve officer in the Peace Force (sometimes regular army noncommissioned officers are commissioned officers in the reserve; see Delta Force by Colonel Charlie A. Beckwith and Donald Knox, p. 143 for one example) and so is now an officer, the commander of the ship's guard. (An attempt to increase that one in thirty-six chance.)
Nevertheless he starts off on the wrong foot, as when he goes to lunch he is supposed to be at his watch station. Pat presumably was given the station bill but anyway Tom doesn't know about it, and gets a bawling out.
As the Lewis and Clark, or L.C., or Elsie, shakes down for its long cruise, the crew begins shaking down. Heinlein has given a lot of thought, and perforce someone in authority in the book has given a lot of thought, to the dynamics of a group under such circumstances. The namesake of one of the ships once had to do so himself; in Alone Richard E. Byrd described his reasoning for the complement of Advance Base of the Second Byrd Antarctic Expedition in that two would have problems while with three any clique would be a majority. (He ended up being the sole staff there because of problems with transporting the stores out and then was one of four because of even more problems, some of which led to his nearly dying before the rescue mission arrived.)
Some of the explanations hark back (this isn't explicitly stated, though) to the era of surface exploration. A large crew not only makes more useful specialties available, but provides for more social space within the community any individual member can find compatible company and avoid incompatible company. In addition, those skilled people can increase the educations of their shipmates. Particularly in the ship-handling skills, so that the ship can acquire redundancy in case of losses (that has to be considered). After failing at several specialized skills, Tom finds himself doing lab handywork, which was what he had been doing on Earth back when the LRF first looked for the brothers.
That theory of avoiding incompatible company gets its first test right away. Would-be Nasty Young Weasel "Dusty" Rhodes shows his general asociability in several annoying ways, especially for a roommate. The climax is when he picks an allegedly pickproof lock to recover a camera Tom had impounded, and leaves unmistakable, not to mention annoying, traces of his presence on Tom's once-clean shirts. Clark Fries would have been proud see Podkayne of Mars (1963, 1993) for the story of his lockpicking.
And then to cap it off, Dusty complains to the Captain that Tom is picking on him! Tom feels that in spite of being the wronged party he is about to get the short end of the stick again, only to learn:
"Uh, is that important, sir?"
"It could be. We won't know until we need it. But it could be crucially important. Otherwise I would never have permitted a spoiled brat to come aboard this ship." He frowned. "However, Dr. Devereaux is of the opinion that Dusty is not a pathological case."
"I never said he was, sir,"
"Listen, please. He says that the boy has an unbalanced personality a brain that would do credit to a grown man but with greatly retarded social development. His attitude and evaluations would suit a boy of five, combined with this clever brain. Furthermore Dr. Devereaux says that he will force the childish part of Dusty's personality to grow up, or he'll turn in his sheepskin."
"So? I mean, 'Yes, sir?'"
"So you should have smacked him. The only thing wrong with that boy is that his parents should have walloped him instead of telling him how bright he was." He sighed again. "Now I've got to do it. Dr. Devereaux tells me I'm the appropriate father image."
Time for the Stars, p. 74
Grumbles from the Grave, letter of March 10, 1962, p. 88
Improper nurture can be as much too little attention as too wrong attention, but the results seem to be the same in each case. The implication seems to be that the Nasty Young Weasel is a Heinlein Individual gone wrong that the traits found admirable in the hero can all too easily be distorted into malign reactions, that the self-sufficient, strong, self-educatable person is but a step away from the infantile monster, no part of the human race and indifferent to the wellbeing of others. The key seems to lie in that last part, that "ability to teach himself" [Heinlein In Dimension, p. 169].
III. TO BOLDLY GO WHERE NO BROTHER HAS GONE BEFORE
Meanwhile back on Earth, Pat is going to have an operation on his back, with hopes of alleviating his paralysis. In spite of mild warnings about potential problems, Tom "sits in", so to speak, and suffers sympathetic anesthesia followed by sympathetic incisions. As Doc Devereaux, the Ship's Surgeon, who is actually primarily a psychiatrist (note his opinion above about Dusty Rhodes), says: "[The] human mind is complicated and we don't know much about it." [p. 86]
After this personal shock there is another, general, shock with the loss of the first expeditionary ship the Vasco da Gama. Presumably they did not run into the Ming Emperor's fleet off the coast of Africa. (One might speculate that there is an Eurocentric bias, there being no ship Cheng Ho (or to be Pinyin and ahead of our story, Zheng He) Cheng Ho having led the Ming Yung-lo (Yongle) Emperor's fleet into the Indian Ocean 80 years before da Gama came in the other end. Had Heinlein written this book later perhaps he might have included Cheng Ho, or so one can guess from noting the diversity of cultures among the telepaths.)
As one of their special talent communicators, Cas Warner, had a brother, Caleb Warner, on the Vasco da Gama, there is a special shock for his crewmates beyond the normal dismay in the community the LRF's fleet was. (At least their parents were original, instead of having a "Pol Warner", unlike the Stones in The Rolling Stones (1952).) Cas pulls himself in as he has a reason for withdrawing. Tom does too, though he doesn't. Before long, he finds himself having to explain things to Doc Devereaux, who explains things back:
Time for the Stars, pp. 94-5
"Yes. The way he would a dog that always came when called. He feels protective toward you, when it doesn't conflict with his own interests. But he's rather contemptous of you; he considers you a weakling and, in his book, the meek are not entitled to inherit the earth; that's for chaps like himself."
I chewed that over and began to get angry. I did not doubt that Pat felt that way about me patronizing and willing to see to it that I got a piece of cake . . . provided that he got a bigger one.
Time for the Stars, p. 96
So Tom has to make a choice, to come to terms with reality or become a psychotic. (It might serve Pat right!) For all that Heinlein professed to despise Freud he was acquainted with the bases of psychology to write this book he had to be.
As part of his therapy, Tom starts fighting back. "I cured [Pat] of bothering me unnecessarily by bothering him unnecessarily he could shut off an alarm clock but he couldn't shut off me." [p. 108]. Having stood up for himself, he can now value his brother as a distinct person. (A flaw common in the way many twins are treated like, for example, in The Rolling Stones.) And as another part, the doctor has Tom write a diary, or a narrative anyhow, telling of how he came to be this way. It's as good an excuse for a framing sequence as any.
IV. TIME IS ON MY SIDE
There were times when Heinlein's knowledge (not to mention understanding) of relativistic mechanics was less than perfect. In Methuselah's Children (1941, 1958), for example, he used the Newtonian equation of kinetic energy when the relativistic one would have far better suited his purpose that is, it would have given him an even bigger number of ergs. Here he deals with the t-tau relationship of accelerated frames of reference, and shows an insightful comprehension of this strange counterintuitive reality.
It begins with Pat waking Tom up in the middle of the night with warm Happy Birthday wishes. Yes, it's their birthday, and this time Pat doesn't even have to pretend in order to get all the cake. Maybe he secretly hopes his brother got a smaller one; he surely was pleased that he got to have Tom's box of chocolates.
You never know what you're going to get next. Tom doesn't have any cake, because it isn't his birthday yet. In his frame of reference, that is. The accelerated frame of reference on the Lewis and Clark has a difference in elapsed time now accounting to about a week.
As the ship's velocity increases time dilation becomes blatantly obtrusive instead of merely mildly so:
At 99% of c it was seven to one and all we could do to make ourselves understood. Later that day we fell out of touch entirely.
Time for the Stars, p. 108
The other special talents find that the hampering of their special task produces differing results. That earlier concern about community size has another ramification. The ship is small enough that the various department heads can chaperone (and chaperon) the public spaces, just happening, or "just happening", to come along whenever anything serious gets started. (What they do in their cabins is their own business, I guess.) Perhaps Tom had figured it out early on: "I hooked my bunk up while wondering if there was an Eye-Spy concealed in my room taking down my bunk during working hours seemed always to result in my being paged." [p. 76]
Some of the crew get married (some were already married). And some just court . . . As with Tom and Pru Mathews. One dramatic night when they shared a watch and went to have a snack afterwards, they brushed up against each other and:
She didn't make any fuss. She stopped dead for an instant, then relaxed.
Girls are nice. They don't have any bones and I think they must be about five degrees warmer than we are, even if fever thermometers don't show it. I put my face down and she put her face up and closed her eyes and everything was wonderful.
For maybe half a second she kissed me and I knew she was as much in favor of it as I was, which is as emphatic as I can put it.
Time for the Stars, pp. 104-5
But only for half a second, as there's another observer not-quite present; Pru broke the clinch because: "My sister doesn't like you, Tom." [p. 104] Patience Mathews is remarkably impatient with her sister's suitors. And you thought Tom had to stand Pat.
But there is one time when Prudence can be imprudent, and that is when Patience is patiently waiting out the years in which the Lewis and Clark is flirting with the speed of light. And someone else kisses her for more than half a second; Tom is too gentlemanly to say who (in his private diary?) [p. 109].
Not all the other telepaths are on the outs with their partners. I said Uncle Alfred was odd, and one day when he's showing off pictures of his partner "Sugar Pie", his grand-niece, we find out how odd. Tom wonders how she looks now, and while proposing a method to find out there comes:
I was looking at the picture and I nearly popped my fuses. For a moment it wasn't the same picture. Oh, it was the same merry little girl, but she was a little older, she was shy a front tooth, and her hair was different.
And she was alive. Not just a trukolor stereo, but alive. There's a difference.
But when I blinked it was the same old picture.
Time for the Stars, p. 105
This still doesn't do much for communication. What is done for communication is hazardous for the terrestrial partner, anyhow. They are put into trances with drugs and hypnosis so that they can stay in communication for the long t times necessary to match up to the ordinary tau times on the ships. As it happens, it's Pat who is first to do this.
This accelerates change: "At the end of that period . . . . my twin was more than eleven years older than I was and had a daughter seven years old." [p. 113] That divergence applies, as Pat is taking care of business and no longer interested in the people on the Lewis and Clark, while Tom finds his dealings equally incomprehensible.
That daughter, Molly, is going to take advantage of Sugar Pie's marvelous revelation, becoming Uncle Tom's next telepartner. (Mom doesn't think much of it and won't countenance their next daughter becoming another telepartner; "she said that two freaks in her family were enough." [p. 116] You'd think her husband would appreciate being able to know where the girls are when they're off on dates.
Just in time, too, for their destination of Tau Ceti is on hand.
V. TREAT HIM WELL, HE IS YOUR BROTHER
Opinion differs on the cruciality of the relationship between the brothers and its resolution in Time for the Stars. Alexei Panshin, who didn't think much of stories with psi, said that nonetheless:
Partly this is because of the well-developed relationship between Tom and Pat. Pat has more grab and winds up with the shipboard place while Tom is to stay behind on Earth, cut out of the trip. Then Pat has an accident that paralyzes his legs and Tom is back in the picture again. The kicker is that subconsciously neither of them really wants to go on this trip the ship is fairly certain never to get back safely and that Pat has won again. Tom's growing understanding of the real nature of his relationship with his twin is the core of the story.
Heinlein In Dimension, p. 75
Then, slowly, Heinlein turns this picture around and shows you the other side. Tom, unaware of it himself, has been using his half-conscious antagonism toward his twin as a shield for timidity, almost cowardice.
This kind of slow unfolding of character and motive . . . . gives the novel a structure which is firm and symmetrical enough to satisfy anybody. It is psychologically sound; dramatic; and complete; yet it rubs me the wrong way. Careful though it is, it seems an intrusive element; it does not belong in the story.
In Search of Wonder, pp. 85-6
Except for the final resolution which is yet to come, Thomas Paine Leonardo da Vinci Bartlett has dealt with his conniving twin brother Patrick Henry Michaelangelo Bartlett to his satisfaction, at least. Which helps to have got that difference of opinion settled and out of the way before the good starship Lewis and Clark begins carrying out the first phase of its mission, investigating the Tau Ceti system for habitable planets. To explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life, maybe new civilizations, to boldly go . . . enough of that.
(Radio astronomer and Searcher for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence Frank D. Drake chose Tau Ceti as one of his targets for his initial search in 1960, the famous Project OZMA, it being a nearby star likely to possess habitable planets.)
Heinlein pauses to give us a lesson in the theory of Habitable Planets for Man (the title of a popularization by Isaac Asimov and planetologist Stephen B. Dole of a more technical book by Dole alone titled Planets for Man that contains more mathematics and statistics). Tau Ceti is in the habitable range of stellar types, in the window of opportunity between too short-lived stars and the ones with too narrow a zone for habitable planetary orbits. (Near the bottom end of that range, though; Tau Ceti is of stellar type K-5, which is at the less bright end of the range of stellar types running from F-5 to K-5 of stars most likely to have habitable planets. Sol is type G-2.) Not to mention that it lacks any stellar companions to perturb planets out of their orbits, unlike the case with, for example, Alpha Centauri A and B. (The Vasco da Gama, therefore, might not have had much luck even if it had got there [p. 118].)
The search for new worlds, if not new civilizations, hits pay dirt right away:
I looked at it. It was a sheet of paper with figures on it; it could have been Mama O'Toole's crop-rotation schedule. "What is it?"
"Can't you read? It's Bode's Law, that's what it is!"
I thought back. Let me see . . . no, that was Ohm's Law then I remembered; Bode's Law was a simple geometrical progression that described the distances of the planets from the Sun. Nobody had ever been able to find a reason for it and it didn't work well in some cases, though I seemed to remember that Neptune, or maybe Pluto, had been discovered by calculations that made use of it. It looked like an accidental relationship.
Time for the Stars, pp. 118-9
Harry is so enthusiastic about this discovery that he wants to change their more-than-five-year mission and immediately go on to Beta Hydri. No such luck; they were assigned to not only find planets but to find habitable planets, and the only way to find habitable planets is to come on in and take a look.
In fact they are concerned that there might be intelligent life on the planet Constance, named after Harry's daughter. Were such to be the case, their orders were to leave, it was to be hoped without having attracted attention, since "the LRF did not want to repeat the horrible mistake that had been made with Mars." [p. 120] That is an intriguing statement, provoking universes of speculation, and another sample of Heinlein's depth of background development through hints and often tantalizing references.
To take a side excursion to little Constance Gates and her fond dad: "How he found time to marry Barbara Kuiper I don't know, but Barbara was a torch watchstander, so it probably started as a discussion of physics and drifted over into biology and sociology; Harry was interested in everything." [p. 116] As another aspect of this universal interest Tom refers to Harry's willingness to discuss anything with anyone, anytime and anywhere. This is a feature of the Heinlein Individual, the mentoring factor, and it can be regretted that Heinlein did not see fit to develop this phase of the book in more detail.
On the other hand, there is the little matter of Harry's discussion of their status. "We're an oofoe, do you realize that?" he opines [p. 121] and expounds a theory of how the flying saucers were reconnaissance vessels from an alien ship just like the Lewis and Clark; they reconnoitered, found intelligent life, and having orders just like the LRF's, departed the scene. Apparently Heinlein's interest hadn't abated since The Puppet Masters (1951, 1991), though it should have been clear that the "flying saucer" stories were so contradictory and erratic that the "interstellar life" hypothesis was highly unlikely.
The Elsie investigates, finds no signs of intelligent life, and lands. Having been inside for two years, like everyone else Tom wants to get out, as part of an guinea pig team or not. But he's not like everyone else; that cross training just can't quite seen to work in training telepaths on board ship, so the special communicators are strictly enjoined from the landing party list. One of the other telepaths is annoyed too, so he starts suggesting that they find themselves temporarily unable to communicate and while no longer able to perform their unique activity, they can be available for more ordinary ones.
This enables Heinlein to get in some of his naval training, discussing the need for Captain's absolute unquestioned authority. Given the circumstances, the requirement is comprehensible. During the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition of 1914-6, one of the expedition members decided it was no longer necessary to obey orders, since just like on a merchant ship, pay and command alike had come to an end when the expedition ship sank. The expedition commander, the famous Sir Ernest Shackleton, had had to remind the expedition members that they were still under the articles they had signed. As the man couldn't have gone anywhere and expected to live for long, this seemed to have been a spasm of irrational behavior.
So something of the sort has happened before, which still doesn't make it right. There seems to be some sort of weakness in those carefully constructed inter-crew dynamics. Were the psychologists too busy diagnosing twin-rivalry, and the other administrators too busy breaking up sexual clinches, to be unaware of disaffection? Nevertheless, in this case Heinlein seems to be trending too far towards the Laws of Bossism:
Rule Two: When the Captain is wrong, see Rule One."
But all this concern comes to nothing: "Then it turned out to be an anticlimax; Connie was about as dangerous as Kansas." [pp. 129-30] After all that preparation for security against dangerous fauna or even flora, the planet turns out not to have much. The one large animal predator, "a big, lizardlike carnivore that was no bargain" [p. 131] is dismissed as being an easy kill, though the man who had been killed by one might not have agreed. And so harmless Constance, leisure planet of Tau Ceti, is designated as A Habitable Planet for Man.
VI. HARD TO SERIALIZE
"Anthony Boucher thought the story was the best novel of the year and said that the only thing that kept it from being serialized in F&SF was that it didn't divide well into parts," reports Panshin [Heinlein In Dimension, p. 75]. He then goes on to point out that the last part of the book is weak; there is a short section that covers a long period of time during which the Lewis and Clark investigates two not particularly useful planets, and during which several people are swept off stage, so to speak, dying in an epidemic. (One being Prudence Matthews, the failed love interest who was always being inhibited by her twin sister. This could have been a means by which to wind up a plot element that didn't work out, but it seems a trifle extreme.) Tom thinks it might have come from Constance, which would make the planet not so harmless after all.
For various reasons essential to the plot (we'll see why in its proper time) Heinlein had to have a t-tau relationship of a certain proportion with about seventy years passing on Earth and four years on the Lewis and Clark. Also, because of the progression of the telepathic relationships from niece to grandniece to great-grandniece, this expansion of time could not take place in one single trip. So some of this organization, of the events of the book as written, is necessary.
Nevertheless, the pacing is not all that good. It is such erratic plot structuring as is found in this book (for example) which makes nonsense of Spider Robinson's vigorous and unquestioning defense of Heinlein's plots as being as great as all of the rest of all of his works, perfect and flawless.
Getting back to the serialization question: looking at the printed text, it would presumably be possible to break it into three sections, the first one ending with the takeoff and the second with the end of the excursion to Planet Constance. This would form a workable serialization. Perhaps Boucher was reacting to that dead chapter which would lead off Part Three, the one with two nothing planets and the passage that set off Panshin: "'Whistle Stop' wasn't worth a stop. We're on our way to Beta Ceti, sixty-three light years from Earth." [p. 139; see also Heinlein In Dimension, p. 76]
Here, as much as for Podkayne of Mars (1962-3) if not more so, the argument against writing a novel as diary seems to have a case, though in this example from the opposite end of things. In that book the journal was written while things were going on, resulting in a helter-skelter progression of always changing events sometimes even interfering with the writing. In this book the journal is written up after the fact, as a piece of psychological self-analysis. Heinlein had done this before in "If This Goes On" (1940, 1953). Sometimes (in each case) the plausibility for the journal-writer's having added on to the diary seems to be a trifle strained.
VII. AND GOD CREATED GREAT WHALES
Tau Ceti was near the lower size parameter; their current destination, Beta Ceti, is near the higher end, an F-class star. (Both stars are in the constellation Cetus (the Whale).) All their stars have had planets. "I can't see what use a star is without planets", Tom says [p. 141]. His boss Harry, meanwhile, has been gleefully proposing a theory similar to the Dole results mentioned above, without the aid of big clanking iron brains full of resistors and switches (which was what they would have thought needed to have been used at the time).
A somewhat more interesting comment comes next, where Tom goes on to say, "and I don't believe all this complicated universe got here by accident." [loc cit.] This is the closest to religion that Heinlein gets in this book. Or is it another case of his solipsism at work? Anyhow, it's time to send out the landing parties and investigate Elysia, this planet of Beta Ceti.
Tom has to let his latest contact know so the Long-Range Foundation back on distant Earth in turn can know. Time has passed with a vengeance, and he now has to get in touch with his great-grandniece Vicky, daughter of Kathleen, granddaughter of Molly, great-granddaughter of Pat (you do remember Pat. Don't you?).
Tom considers himself hardly related to Vicky: "[My] parents were two of her sixteen great-great-grandparents a relationship so distant that most people aren't even aware of relatives to that remote degree," he says [p. 142], which shows that someone isn't that much into family matters. In civil law, Pat and Vicky are related in the fifth degree and in canon law, they are related in the fourth degree.
Civil law counts the total steps through a common ancestor separating people: i.e. Vicky Kathleen Molly Pat Mom & Dad Bartlett Tom is five steps through the generations, so they are related in the fifth degree. Canon law counts the maximum number of steps from a common ancestor: Vicky Kathleen Molly Pat Mom & Dad against Tom Mom & Dad is a maximum of four steps, so they are related in the fourth degree. First cousins, who are within the prohibited limits of relationship for marriage in Kentucky (true!), are related in the fourth degree in civil law and the second degree in canon law. My great-grandparents Mabry (Sophronia and John Middleton) were first cousins once removed, making them related in the third degree in canon law and in the fifth degree in civil law.
But neither Tom nor Vicky thinks of these considerations as being any more than academic. Tom is light-years away and won't get back, if at all, until far in the future when Vicky will be an old woman, married to her boyfriend George or someone else of the same sort, and likely a great-grandmother of a telepartner herself. Why, then, is Tom jealous of George?
(This telepartner business brings all sort of intriguing possibilities in the intimacy line to mind, which however in this case Miss Dalgleish would have ruthlessly cut out of the manuscript. Now you see the sort of thing that the blue-nosedness of Walter Bradbury of Doubleday cost us (cf. the two editions of The Puppet Masters); on the other hand, he may have caused to be put off forever the writing and publication of several more works of the class of I Will Fear No Evil.)
The landing parties are sent out and all seems well, positively elysian on Elysia. Or at least all would seem well if this were an ordinary narrative; since it's written as a journal, we have a promising beginning being followed by disastrous consequences, written up after the fact with a diminution of their shock value. And it is shocking.
The standard procedure (as we've seen on Constance) is to establish a camp, let selected volunteers consume the local edibles and be exposed to the local pathogens, and see if they drop dead. If they live, the planet is certified as a Habitable Planet for Man and the LRF is notified to begin organizing colony teams. There are two theories regarding extraplanetary pathogens; one is that they would never have evolved mechanisms to attack alien life, the other is that alien life would never have evolved resistances to them (see H. G. Wells's The War of the Worlds for this latter). Heinlein seems to be equivocating between them here.
The camp has been established inland on one of the many elysian islands of Elysia (the planetary surface being over 90% ocean, the name "Aquaria" had been suggested [p. 142], but prospective settlers just might have found something fishy about that) and, as of the end of the second week, results have been promising. Elysia seems to be an Elysium indeed. Well, not quite.
As the second week of the survey comes to an end, Tom is on the helicopter landing platform seeing the third week's shore party off, somewhat disappointed since he had hoped to be in that shore party. The Captain comes up and engages in some small talk with Tom as they watch the boats heading for the beach. Then:
At each boat, a long wet rope as thick as my waist came up out of the water, passed across it amidships and back into the water on the other side. I yelled "Hey, Captain! Look!"
He turned. The boats rolled sideways and sank they were pulled under. I heard somebody scream and the water was crowded with struggling bodies.
The Captain leaned past me at the rail and looked at the disaster. He said in an ordinary tone, "Can you start that chopper?"
"Uh, I think so, Captain." I was not a helicopter pilot but I knew how it worked.
"Then do it." He leaned far over and yelled, "Get that cargo door closed!" He turned and dived down the hatch. . . .
Time for the Stars, p. 146
In a side trip from his famous treasure expedition on the Great Basses Reef, Arthur C. Clarke recounts (in The Treasure of the Great Reef (1964, 1974)) an incident of similar nature that had happened to the schooner Pearl in the Indian Ocean on May 10, 1874:
Five of the survivors, including her master James Floyd, were picked up by the Strathowen. When he had recovered, Captain Floyd wrote the following report on the sinking of his ship:
The Treasure of the Great Reef, p. 202
The Treasure of the Great Reef, p. 203
Presumably in fact Clarke had researched squid for The Deep Range (1957), so he was more likely to have been reminded of some research by seeing the little squid on the deck of the Via Vida. Still, he was so affected that: "I decided to go down to my cabin, and to secure the porthole, lest any 'monstrous arms like trees' come crawling hopefully aboard during the night." [The Treasure of the Great Reef, p. 205] At that the crew of the Pearl was lucky in that they had time to slash; the boat party from the Elsie wasn't forewarned. And even more "monstrous arms like trees" have been trying to come crawling hopefully aboard the cargo ports of the Elsie, which were closed just in time, per the Captain's order, to foil them.
The returning shore party has its own horrors to endure. The creatures are amphibious; more of them are on land, herding the alien invaders on the shore into the warm welcome of their colleagues underwater. Unfortunately for the Clarkean parallelism, the creatures look like whales, or at least Tom, who has never seen a whale, thinks so. (At least they still have whales on Earth then and so won't have to be enduring their version of Star Trek IV.)
There is still the inland party to consider. Uncle Steve, in charge there, has kept his head and radios back to the Elsie a remarkably calm, cool, and collected status report, all things considered, on the fortunes of the now besieged inland party. An evacuation under fire is called for, and the Captain asks for volunteers. Everyone volunteers, all forty on hand of the remaining crew (the engineering watch was away, at their post) and he picks seven. Either they were expecting a lot of resistance or a lot of wounded; you can also see that the crew has been severely diminished from its post-Plague size of 167 [cf. p. 131 and p. 135] in the past few minutes.
Among the volunteers is "Dusty" Rhodes, unemployed, or underemployed anyhow, these past few months due to his brother's not having bothered to have kids [p. 134]. In a frontier situation he is treated accordingly: "He still did not look more than sixteen and I don't think he had ever shaved; this was probably the first time in his life that he had ever been treated like a man." [p. 151] comments Tom.
Dusty is responding well to this treatment; the Sneaky Young Weasel of the first phase of the expedition has already shown some sign of growing out of it (indicating that the idea that some such people are only unmentored or otherwise hampered Heinlein Individuals may have some merit) and now he is more fully grown up.
The Captain, meanwhile, has an argument with the reserve captain, who figures himself more expendable on account of lack of seniority. Since the Captain Is Always Right, and in this case the Captain is also older (he had figured older people to be more expendable, except for Uncle Alf, where other factors were involved), he wins, and takes the armed party off on the helicopter for its rescue mission. (A combat evacuation straight out of the Korean Conflict, that war that Heinlein didn't quite understand.)
Which is successful; they pick up the seven survivors of the shore party and fly back to the Lewis and Clark. "All safe! All well!!" to quote the report to Shackleton of the shore party on Elephant Island. Tom waves to Uncle Steve and Dusty, relieved that at least something has been saved out of this debacle. But the Captain should have taken a younger helicopter pilot, as he misses his initial approach and has to go around again. At which point the indigenous beings turn out to have yet another unanticipated ability:
The Captain leaned the craft over and it slipped out of contact. The stream followed it, smashed against the fuselage and again caught a rotor; the heli tilted violently and began to fall.
Time for the Stars, p. 153
No one is left. Only the test pig (Heinlein was aware of the usefulness of Sus sus pigs as, er, guinea pigs, they being similar in many ways to humans in consumption and health details) Percy, which Tom has grown fond of and wishes to save, anticipating yuppies with their pet pigs by thirty years. So Tom hastily begins improvising a lasso:
It wasn't a mouth that got him. I don't think it was a mouth.
Time for the Stars, p. 154
When Heinlein was not trying to force emotion, but genuinely express it, he was unsurprisingly more effective. Not only in conveying the emotion either, since the effort in creating overemotional moving images detracted from the other factors of the story. This is one of the more realistic examples of emotional stress he has done.
The shortage of space following from the constraints of publishing has its own problems. The aliens seem to have whatever abilities and powers necessary to wipe out the crew. It is comparable to a lightning bolt coming out of a cloudless sky and zapping the thus-far successful hero. Due to the limitations of space stemming from the constrained size of the books, there was no room to lay the foundation for this miraculous assortment of powers so needful to the plot, and as a result this assault seems to be entirely random and meaningless. Now you would expect there to be such overwhelming calamities in exploration. Exploring parties on Earth that suffered such disasters generally also weren't in a position to report on them afterwards.
VIII. CAPTAIN QUEEG IN SPACE
"Battle fatigue" would be the best description for the condition of the handful of survivors on the Elsie. Reserve Captain Urqhardt, now filling the position of his late superior (in all the book the late Captain's name is given exactly once; it is "Swenson" [p. 159]) calls a meeting of the staff heads, which almost means the crew. There he informs them that they will be boosting for the next star on their list, Alpha Phoenicis, in the morning.
Since The Captain Is Always Right, the many objections about severe lack of staff, total lack of vehicles (all had been lost to the aliens), and total nervous prostration among the survivors are dismissed. Even Tom's report that there will likely be no telepartners left on Earth by the time they arrive (Mei-Ling's partner has no children, Uncle Alf's partner Sweetie Pie is now seventy, and Vicky will not be in a position to pass the linkage on to her children) is dismissed. The Mission will be carried out.
That evening, Mei-Ling and her husband come down to Tom's cabin and discuss the problems of the mission with him. Tom seems to be the most crucial individual, as he is most likely to retain communication with Earth and without communication the mission is pointless. Tom is subjected to a long unreported argument between the couple over communication, children, and other such matters before they leave.
This so perturbs Tom that he hunts up Harry Gates. Grateful for having been saved by his bottle washer, Harry lays out the pros and cons of the situation, says he can't recommend anything since it would be mutiny, and with the events of the staff conference in mind suggests that Tom have a more private discussion with the Captain where he might be more effective.
He does so the next day, with unanticipated results. The Captain noted those conversations Tom had had last night, and orders Tom arrested for suspicion of incitement to mutiny and suspicion of intent to mutiny.
Locked up in his room, he has time to think. The Captain Is Always Right, so Captain Urqhardt is right about this, even though he is wrong, foolish, and bull-minded. Were a copy of Professor Major Norman Dixon's On the Psychology of Military Incompetence on hand (assuming it even exists in this universe), Tom might know what to expect next. The military profession is paradoxical in that the personality traits most conducive to success in subordinate ranks are highly detrimental to successful command. Dixon specifically pointed out such traits as rigidity, obsession with "order" and "discipline", and a love of "bull". Thus far Captain Urqhardt hasn't had them spit-shining the engine nozzles, but that's about it.
To avoid the ghost of Heinlein rising up out of the watery deep, let me give an illustration from the comparative careers of two Royal Navy officers, one more successful, the other less so:
Roland Huntford, Shackleton, pp. 459-60
Heinlein shows Tom as being aware of the contradictions between the general policy of The Captain Is Always Right and this case where he is not quite so right. Also, under the specific circumstances some sort of discipline and order is necessary for the crew to have any chance of cohering, much less surviving.
That earlier incident at Tau Ceti has come back to haunt them. The Lewis and Clark is being pulled apart by the conflict between bull and chaos. It doesn't help that the author is so weighting the scales on both sides that the situation is to all intents and purposes inherently irresolvable. He followed up a situation of genuine emotion with one of forced emotions, albeit of a different sort.
Heinlein admits there is a genuine crisis and conflict of principle involved. His predilictions don't quite live up to the needs of the situation which in any case is a quite critical one. There is no clear answer and while the author lays out the details fairly he has a certain bias. This does though force the reader to question his own values and positions. Heady stuff for a juvenile novel.
And then having set up the situation, Heinlein defers it. The Captain has reconsidered and drops the charges. He doesn't even have to apologize, in his view, and doesn't. Since Tom pointed out that a prisoner under arrest has no duties, and so he couldn't, or more appropriately wouldn't, send messages to Earth, there may have been some practical matter involved. That is, being back on duty Tom finds himself sending code groups to Earth, much to the inconvenience of Vicky who is up way late.
(When she mentions problems with her schedule Tom offers to "Say the word and I'll tell Captain Bligh he can't have you." [p. 172] It's a pity that the public fund of archetypes is so constrained. William Bligh, R.N. was a first-rate ship handler, if somewhat lacking in the man-management area. Now his colleague Captain Hugh Pigot of HMS Hermione made Bligh look like a concerned, caring, nineties sort of captain see Dudley Pope's The Black Ship (1963) for the grisly story of possibly the worst mutiny in naval history.)
If you thought the indigenous beings of Beta Ceti were coming out of left field, the resolution to this problem is even more unanticipated:
"'F. X. Urqhardt, commanding Lewis and Clark.'"
Time for the Stars, p. 174
But there is another factor involved; the rendezvous could only apply if that ship Serendipity could travel faster than light. At first glance it seems that here is another contrivance not arising out of the progression of the plot. Damon Knight, for example, found the ending rather abrupt, as if the story had not so much been concluded as run out of space [In Search of Wonder, p. 85].
Not entirely; Heinlein did put in discussion of a scientific theory of "irrelevance" stemming from the original apparent zero time-lapse of telepathic communication. This crops up near the beginning, in that platitudinous recruitment speech, and from time to time throughout. Still, its being realized in hardware when it did seems in this story a little forced. One wonders what it was like on the other ships.
This gets Heinlein a chance to stick in his favorite theory of the universe:
I felt my head begin to ache. "They don't? Then what is that we seem to be having breakfast in?"
"Just a mathematical abstraction, dear. Nothing more."
Time for the Stars, p. 175
And in a month's time the F.S. Serendipity shows up, ready to prepare the Lewis and Clark to go home. And it does, leaving the crew with their own problems. Knight quite aptly compared the situation to A. E. van Vogt's "Far Centaurus", where explorers taking a 500-year trip to Alpha Centauri find that technology has outperformed them, and they arrive at a long-inhabited planet to find themselves amusing antiquarian relics. Heinlein's characters don't quite have the resources to undertake the time-traveling solution van Vogt's did,
Tom has his own sort of time travel to deal with, namely the reunion with his brother Pat. Old age has taken its toll on Pat, who is wheelchair bound. His mind is still sharp, and to him the conflict of so many years ago still needs to be resolved, though it was going in his favor. Tom has to grow up, take on his adult responsibilities, and continue the business of Bartlett Brothers, Inc. After all, he is Pat's faithful dog. Tom has a different perspective.
Their confrontation shows Heinlein's perspective of individual rights and self-responsibility to perfection:
Time for the Stars, p. 186
Panshin refers to curious quasi-pedophilic plot trends, where adult men would marry women they had known as girls, which is certainly a prediction of the "Tale of the Adopted Daughter" section in Time Enough for Love (1973). Along with the contemporaneous The Door Into Summer, this was one of his examples. Tom had somehow felt closer to Vicky than to her mother or grandmother, being so close as to be annoyed by her mentioning a boyfriend. At the time it certainly seemed like it wouldn't matter, but the irrelevant drive has made it different. One wouldn't expect too much but Vicky has a bad case of teenageitis:
She did not kiss me; she simply came straight to me as if we had been alone, took my hands, and looked up at me.
"Uncle Tom. Tom."
("Freckle Face . . .")
I don't know how long we played statues. Presently she said, "After we are married, there will be none of this light-years-apart stuff . . . Understand me? I go where you go. To Babcock Bay, if that's what you want. But I go."
("Huh? When did you decide to marry me?")
"You seem to forget that I have been reading your mind since I was a baby and a lot more thoroughly than you think I have! I'm still doing it."
. . .Our "courtship" had lasted all of twenty seconds. Without letting go my hands Vicky spoke aloud. "Tom and I are going downtown and get married. We'd like you to come along."
So we did.
Time for the Stars, p. 187