Commentary by Joseph T Major on Robert A. Heinlein's TUNNEL IN THE SKY

Opus #120; written November 15 - December 10, 1954; 76,000 words


Just a quick report

I finished boys' book Tunnel in the Sky at 3 A.M. today. Must be cut and retyped; ms. should be in your hands by end of January.

Grumbles from the Grave, letter of December 11, 1954, p. 74

And with this brief note (dated thirteen days before I was born, interestingly enough), Robert A. Heinlein announced to his agent Lurton Blassingame that he had finished his juvenile for the year. The last one had had problems and he still wasn't happy about it all.

The writing per se evidently had not been too time-consuming, as Heinlein had informed Blassingame of his intent to begin writing the novel in a letter dated October 25, 1954: "I am starting a novel as soon as I finish this letter. That is to say, that I start walking up and down and swearing at the cat; I should start the first chapter any time between midnight tonight and two weeks from now." [Grumbles from the Grave, p. 73] So this almost seven weeks comes out to a noteworthy average of 10,000 words a week.

In the interval between completion and publishing, Heinlein had other thoughts. One shows that he was for some reason willing to accept changes from Blassingame. (At least in the field of hunting, where he felt his knowledge was inadequate. The problem was that all too often he unfoundedly felt that his knowledge was adequate.)

Another item shows that he was ready to work on the book he then called A Martian Named Smith. But whatever inspiration he thought he had did not last long; the letter for February 23, 1955 says dolefully "I am sorry to say the novel aborted last week two months and 54,000 words of ms. wasted. Ginny says that it cannot be salvaged and I necessarily use her as a touchstone." [Grumbles from the Grave, p. 225] His feelings at that time about the viability of the book that would become Stranger in a Strange Land (1960, 1991) may not be unconnected to the virtual re-use of a character from it in the book two years down the line, Citizen of the Galaxy (1957). At the rate for writing Tunnel in the Sky those two months work should have produced more than 80,000 words of text. It can be assumed that writing the complex satire of A Martian Named Smith took more effort.

During those seven weeks of writing the book was titled Tunnel in the Sky; for some reason in the next two months it was titled Schoolhouse in the Sky. This title would seem to be more closely related to the setting of the book; why it was changed is an interesting question.


But then Rod Walker (however did that name ever pass editing?) has few questions about his own schooling, even in that schoolhouse in the sky. Far too few, according to some. The first question comes with this notice:


Department of Social Studies

SPECIAL NOTICE to all students Course 410

(elective senior seminar) Advanced Survival,

instr. Dr. Matson, 1712-A MWF

1. There will be no class Friday the 14th.

2.  Twenty-Four Hour Notice is hereby given of final examination in Solo Survival. Students will present themselves for physical check at 0900 Saturday in the dispensary of Templeton Gate and will start passing through the gate at 1000, using three-minute intervals by lot.


(a) ANY planet, ANY climate, ANY terrain;

(b) NO rules, ALL weapons, ANY equipment;

(C) TEAMING is permitted but teams will not be allowed to pass through the gate in company;

(d) TEST DURATION is not less than forty-eight hours, not more than ten days.

4.  Dr. Matson will be available for advice and consultation until 1700 Friday.

5.  Test may be postponed only on recommendation of examining physician, but any student may withdraw from the course without administrative penalty up until 1000 Saturday.

6. Good luck and long life to you all!

(s) B. P. Matson, Sc.D.


J. R. ROERICH, for the Board

Tunnel in the Sky, pp. 7-8

We find (and the students, too, find) this notice posted in the crowded hallway of a high school, a setting familiar to some readers and still not totally unknown. (In five years Heinlein would be asking "Where Are the Heirs of Patrick Henry?" and in another juvenile he would find one; Mr. Bartlett of Time for the Stars (1956), father of a namesake [Mrs. Bartlett had begged to differ].) However, Heinlein seems to have been having college more in mind when he thought of the course. "Social Studies 410 Advanced Survival 10:00 MWF Dr. Matson" sounds like a three-hour credit that's not quite a gut. (Now if that notice were to have been signed "J. C. Moriarty, Sc.D." . . .)

The class is, indeed, not quite a gut, but it can be a gut. That is, it is not an easy course, but it can lead to having the student's internal workings taken out and used for incidental purposes by others, some of whom might even be unintelligent. As Damon Knight puts it:

At first glance, the associated idea of sending high school kids . . . to live or die by their resources on savage planets, seems even more wildly improbable. But in the overcrowded world Heinlein postulates, when Earth's population increase is in full explosion, such callous practicality begins to seem not at all unlikely.

In Search of Wonder, pp. 84-5

This root, hog, or die practicality would seem to be a stimulus of such force as to affect even Bill Lermer of Farmer in the Sky (1950), whose frontier adventures had been lived through without such previous experience (at least he lived through them). To the extent that it wasn't technologically based, the experience gained in such a test might have been useful in facing the problems of colonizing Ganymede. He wouldn't have learned how to repair a heat trap, but he just might have been taught to recognize the symptoms of appendicitis.

Deacon Matson himself is a figure prefiguring Major Dubois of Starship Troopers (1959): "He was a small man and spare, with a leathery face, a patch over one eye, and most of three fingers missing from his left hand. On his chest were minature ribbons, marking service in three famous first expeditions; one carried a tiny diamond cluster that showed him to be the last living member of that group." [p. 10] This living remnant has some typical third-state Heinlein Individual wisdom to pass on when a student (who will be flunked out, by the way) asks if they will run into dangerous animals:

"Eh? You surely will! The most dangerous animal known. . . I'm talking about the real King of the Beasts, the only animal that is always dangerous, even when not hungry. The two-legged brute. Take a look around you!"

The instructor leaned forward. "I've said this nineteen dozen times but you still don't believe it. Man is the one animal that can't be tamed. He goes along for years as peaceful as a cow, when it suits him. Then when it suits him not to be, he makes a leopard look like a tabby cat. Which goes double for the female of the species. Take another look around you. All friends. We've been on group-survival field tests together; we can depend on each other. So? Read about the Donner Party, or the First Venus Expedition. Anyhow, the test area will have several other classes in it, all strangers to you." Doctor Matson fixed his eye on Rod. "I hate to see some of you take this test, I really do. Some of you are city dwellers by nature; I'm afraid I have not managed to get it through your heads that there are no policemen where you are going. Nor will I be around to give you a hand if you make some silly mistake."

Tunnel in the Sky, pp. 11-2

This speech would seem more to be endorsing Alexei Panshin's argument against a thesis of Heinlein's: "Man is a wild animal, the roughest, meanest critter in this neck of the universe. Cross him at your peril," Panshin sums it up [Heinlein in Dimension, p. 90] and lists five presentations of this idea by Heinlein in different forms.

Heinlein's next fictional use of the idea comes in Tunnel in the Sky. In this case, it is presented as the opinion of the instructor of the Advanced Survival course. It is in character for him to hold such an opinion and a good part of Heinlein's book is an attempt to make such a case in action for the opinion. I think the case is not made convincingly within an hour of the start of a survival test scheduled to last from two to ten days, the hero comes on evidence of a murder and theft whose only reason for existence seems to be to provide evidence of man's untrustworthiness but the opinion is clearly not out of place.

Heinlein in Dimension, pp. 90-1

If Heinlein is arguing in this book that "Man is a wild animal," et cetera, this may well be a case of his meaning one thing and saying another. What is presented, first in dialogue, then in action, is a thesis that this animal is as ready to turn on its kind as on any aliens that may be in its way. The only alien seen at all in this book is coming to a diplomatic conference and one where the possibility of conflict is ruled out at that. The line about "there are no policemen where you are going" almost seems to predict such predation. Far from prefiguring the dominating concept of Starship Troopers here, Heinlein is giving substantial support to a different idea altogether. When Alexei Panshin himself had a similar test in his first (and most successful) novel Rite of Passage (1970), it was for adult standing instead of just higher education, and with less backbiting (but the same predators).

The Donner Party reference is perhaps a trifle misleading, since there is no real proof that anyone in that notorious shortcut had been murdered for the purpose of being eaten. Now if he had chosen to reference the Greely Arctic expedition (1881-4), that might have been a different matter. (John W. Campbell may well have had that in mind in his The Moon is Hell.)

The bull session breaks up but the teacher wants to speak to Rod alone. He has his doubts about Rod: "I think you've been born into the wrong age. . . I think you are a romantic. Now this is a very romantic age, so there is no room in it for romantics; it calls for practical men. . . You are 'way too emotional, too sentimental to be a real survivor type." [p. 15] But it's nothing to pin a specific label on. Now Rod has been having his doubts himself about taking the test, but when faced with this analysis, he becoms contrary:

Rod looked stubborn. Matson sighed. "I could flunk you. Perhaps I should."

"But why, sir?"

"That's the point. I couldn't give a reason. On the record, you're as promising a student as I have ever had." He stood up and put out his hand. "Good luck. And remember when it gets down to fundamentals, do what you have to do and shed no tears."

Tunnel in the Sky, p. 16


Earth is overcrowded (Rod lives on the rim of the Grand Canyon, in a suburb of New York City), but why isn't it in the clutches of the crisis being predicted in and for Farmer in the Sky? The answer has to do with a curiously Babbage-like figure.

Charles Babbage wanted to mass-produce logarithms. In the proper scholastic method, he got a substantial government grant and produced early-Victorian vaporware ("vapourware"? Oh well), drawing up designs for a huge calculating machine, the Difference Engine, and an even larger one, the Analytical Engine (which have been distorted by some of Heinlein's heirs into computers of far greater power than exist even today). Due to exotic psychosexual problems, he had immense troubles dealing with his principal mathematical analyst, the Hon. Ada Augusta Byron, later Ada, Countess of Lovelace and inspirer of a computer language, daughter of the poet George Gordon Byron, Lord Byron. Heinlein seems to have been aware of all of this (except of course the not yet extant computer language ADA) and so:

Dr. Jesse Evelyn Ramsbotham had not been trying to solve the baby problem; he had been trying to build a time machine. He had two reasons: first, because time machines are an impossibility; second, because his hands would sweat and he would stammer whenever in the presence of a nubile female. He was not aware that the first reason was compensation for the second, in fact he was not aware of the second reason it was a subject his conscious mind avoided. . . .

Progress in physics is achieved by denying the obvious and accepting the impossible. Any nineteenth century physicist could have given unassailable reasons why atom bombs were impossible if his reason were not affronted by the question; any twentieth century physicist could explain why time travel was incompatable with the real world of space-time. But Ramsbotham began fiddling with the three greatest Einsteinian equations, the two relativity equations for distance and duration and the mass-conversion equation; each contained the speed of light. "Velocity" is first derivative, the differential of distance with respect to time; he converted those equations into differential equations, then played games with them. He would feed the results into the Rakitiac computer, remote successor to Univac, Eniac, and Maniac. While he was doing these things his hands never sweated nor did he stammer, except when he was forced to deal with the young lady who was chief programmer for the great computer.

Tunnel in the Sky, p. 30

This sexual sublimation leads to a time control field. After some experiments in temporal stasis and acceleration (as the saying goes, "I have time travel down pat, except for 'pause', 'fast forward', and 'rewind'.") Dr. Ramsbotham takes the next step and builds a device large enough to pass through himself. Looking through this portal and seeing a tropical climate, he gets a handgun and sets out to explore a Jurassic Park. The result is not quite as expected: "Ten minutes later he was arrested for waving firearms around in Rio de Janeiro's civic botanical gardens." [p. 31] He did have "pause" and "fast forward", and thought he had "rewind", that is. Instead he had "change tape". "The short cut to the stars had been found." [p. 32]

It was common back then to assume that computing power would be restricted to a few centralized large units. The Univac, produced by Sperry (now a part of Unisys), the first well-known such unit, had much less computing power than nineties-era personal computers like the one this is being composed on, and progress in "personal assistant" computers may yet lead before the end of this decade to hand-held devices that outperform even that. Not to mention the problem of communication with the system, though Dr. Ramsbotham's programmer may not have had it as quite bad as Max Starman Jones (1953), who had had to enter figures in binary.

Sweaty-palmed, Dr. Ramsbotham had opened a stargate to the universe. (One wonders how the intrepid explorers of strange new worlds, the seekers of new life and new civilizations, deal with biohazards ranging from microorganisms to slugs that attach themselves to the human nervous system and take over.) In this way the problem of population pressure that had obsessed Paul du Maurier back in Farmer in the Sky is not so much solved as rendered irrelevant.

Rod takes this achievement in stride, an attitude that should really be expected. "He used the Ramsbotham Gate between Jersey and the Arizona Strip without thinking of its inventor the way his ancestors used elevators without thinking of the name 'Otis.'" [p. 32] All he sees in it is a spectator sport, and after leaving Dr. Matson he stops off at the New Jersey gate portal Emigrants' Gap to gape at the emigrants. (It's on his way home.)

We the readers face a sinister note almost at the beginning, in one of those commonplaces of Rod's life: "He was opposite the replica Statue of Liberty, twin to the one that had stood for a century where now was Bedloe Crater." [p. 17] Some people almost seemed to be expecting nuclear war, though depending on their ideological predilections they understated or overstated its consequences. In Between Planets (1951) Chicago had been subjected to the instantaneous urban renewal program, and other authors had similar ideas. The comment also dates the war in question to the nineteen-eighties. Perhaps even the 1986 given in "The Last Days of the United States" [see Expanded Universe, p. 148], one of Heinlein's "world-saving" essays of the late nineteen-forties. (He grossly underestimated there the costs of nuclear weapons research and overestimated the specifications of ICBMs.)

There is an alien ambassador arriving. (A chlorine-breather, which is one of the reasons that it is stressed that there are no real grounds for conflict.) But Rod is distracted from this sight by a more epic one, a forced resettlement of Chinese. Had Heinlein been given a vision of the conquest of Tibet, the Great Leap Forward, the Cultural Revolution, the family-size policy, and other such historic events in the experience of the People's Republic of China, he likely wouldn't have been surprised. Going by this portrayal of a crowd of various Chinese subjects, Han and otherwise, being pushed from their home in the Australasian Republic, he seems to have considered such a casualness towards human life to be commonplace in that nation.

The inadequate understanding of what was perceived as "human-wave" tactics by the Chinese in the Korean War may have been a significant influence in this attitude. As well, there may have been echoes of that book he had written to an abandoned plot of Campbell's, Sixth Column (1941, 1949; see also Expanded Universe, p. 93 for the background) or its re-examination "Free Men" (1948 (?), 1965; in Expanded Universe pp. 207-236), both of which deal with aspects of that psychology. Heinlein still seems to have considered the Chinese population problem to be almost beyond solution.

(Heinlein may perhaps have been being too attentive to U.S. State Department Policy, though. The Australasian Republic, he says [p. 20] was formed when the Aussies were relocated to New Zealand and China took over the Australian continent, under the terms of the Treaty of Peiping. Only the Kuomintang and the State Department called the Chinese capital that; the occupants called it Peking ["Northern Capital" - the now commonly used Pinyin transliteration is Beijing.].)

But even this human wave palls, and Rod turns to look at a less forced party of settlers. Either because he felt some things wouldn't change or he needed a familiar point of reference (to satisfy the Scribners editorial board?) Heinlein has in this future, still, a Salvation Army doing good in many forms.

Like, for example running a free breakfast booth for emigrants, such as the ones Rod sees here waiting to go forth and multiply. In their Conestoga wagons and settler outfits, their waiting convoy is a picture from American pioneer days (or a re-enactors' festival), with Conestoga wagons piled high with farm goods and domestic livestock, pulled by mules and Clydesdales, and driven by bearded men.

Heinlein had definite ideas about certain re-uses of old technology. "Machinery gets out of order and requires a complex technology to keep it going but good old 'hayburners' keep right on breeding, cropping grass, and pulling loads." [pp. 21-2] It's not surprising, therefore, that Lazarus Long thought as much [see Time Enough for Love (1973) "The Tale of the Adopted Daughter" pp. 271-362, but his mules could talk] and so did Max Jones, unlike Bill Lermer the Farmer in the Sky. But these pioneering users of sustainable technology have a human resource that their ancestors had significantly lacked:

The drivers were still gathered at the booth, drinking coffee and munching doughnuts. Most of the men were growing beards; Rod concluded from the beavers that the party had been training for several months. The captain of the party sported a little goatee, mustaches, and rather long hair, but it seemed to Rod that he could not be many years older than Rod himself. He was a professional, of course, required to hold a degree in Outlands arts hunting, scouting, first aid, group psychology, survival group tactics, and a dozen other things the race has found indispensable when stripped for action.

This captain's mount was a Palomino mare, lovely as a sunrise, and the captain was dressed as a California don of an earlier century possibly as a compliment to his horse. A warning light flashed at the gate's annunicator panel and he swung into saddle, still eating a doughnut, and cantered down the wagons for a final inspection, riding towards Rod. His back was straight, his seat deep and easy, his bearing confident. Carried low on a fancy belt he wore two razor guns, each in a silver-chased holster that matched the ornate silver of his bridle and saddle.

Rod held his breath until the captain passed out of sight under the balcony, then sighed and considered studying to be like him, rather than for one of the more intellectual Outlands professions. He did not know just what he did want to be . . . except that he meant to get off Earth as soon as he possibly could and get out there where things were going on!

Tunnel in the Sky, p. 23

But before he can get off Earth and get out there where things are going on, he has to go home and eat. The settlers set off for their new happy home and Rod sets off for his old happy home. At least these settlers don't have to make their own soil.


The palatial Walker manse is mostly subsurface. The zoning authorities had classified the area as urban forest, and wanted the Walkers to completely bury themselves, even offering to provide a simulated picture window to replace the real thing they had. "But Rod's father was a stubborn man and maintained that with weather, women, and wine there was nothing 'just as good.' His window was still intact." [p. 33] A right proper Heinlein type there.

Except that they are religious. Not just your ordinary religion, either: "The family was evangelical Monist by inheritance, each of Rod's grandfathers having been converted in the second great wave of proselyting that swept out of Persia in the last decade of the previous century, and Rod's father took seriously his duties as family priest." [p. 36] From other references later on, the Monist faith seems to be a deistic faith, featuring generalized acceptance of a deity with no particular defining characteristics or abilities, with strong influences of fire-worship. Now the pre-Muslim religion of Persia was Mazdism, a fire-worshiping religion, so Heinlein may have come by that naturally. There seem to be other problems with that source, though. Islam has never been particularly tolerant of even related pre-existing religions, and the reception accorded to "new" faiths has been far harsher. To take the most prominent example, Baha'i was founded in Persia/Iran, and has also been seriously persecuted there.

It seems most likely that Heinlein wanted to avoid both the dynamics of existing religions, at least for his principal characters, and the strictures of the editors. Thus this inoffensive belief.

Getting home for dinner had taken long enough due to a problem of Greater New York no matter how great: "Having come two thousand miles in a split second he now had ten minutes by slide tube and a fifteen minute walk to get home. He decided to dogtrot and be on time after all. He might have made it if there had not been several thousand other people trying to use the same facilities." [pp. 26-7]

There to bask under the Lamp of Peace with the rest of the family is Rod's sister Helen. Untroubled by bladder infections from having to lie in dirty ditches, Helen is an officer in the Amazons, the womens' infantry corps, back from campaign on Thule. Who were they fighting? This minor item raises many intriguing unanswered questions. And is this combat unit yet another means of population control? As later on Helen confesses, in proper Heinlein language, to a hope of finding a husband, this is an example of Heinlein starting a trend all the ramifications of which he did not foresee.

Dinner is tense. Helen's mild descriptions of combat duty unnerve Mother, while Father is unusually quiet. (She complains that garrison duty is more stressful than combat, which while it has its points is an unusual and weak argument. This may have influenced the plot of Starship Troopers; to quote Panshin's comment on the combative events of the latter: "Starship troopers are not half so glorious sitting on their butts polishing their weapons for the tenth time for lack of anything else to do." [Heinlein in Dimension, p. 97].)

An interesting side point, one that Bill Lermer of Farmer in the Sky might have noticed, is that food is still a trifle short on Earth, for all that the Ramsbotham Gate has opened up uncounted hectares of farmland and pasture land off-planet. The main course at dinner had been "[a] yeast cutlet, molded to look like a chop and stripped with real bacon," [p. 36] showing that the big cattle drive Rod had seen coming the other way from the planet those settlers were going to was just a crumb on the plate. (The bacon makes it pretty clear that they hadn't been eating pseudo-meat for reasons of health.)

After dinner, Helen has a few things to say privately to Rod. There was a reason that Mr. Walker had been so quiet and hadn't been eating much; he has a fatal disease and has only a few weeks more to live. That's where Ramsbotham's other discovery comes in; it is possible to put Mr. Walker in a stasis field for twenty years, during which time, presumably, the cure for his condition will be found.

Since Mrs. Walker prefers not to be a widow for twenty years, but thinks her children can tolerate being orphaned for that length of time, she is going to accompany her husband, leaving Helen to be Rod's guardian. Taking her new role seriously, Helen is passing on some mentoring of her own. She had lost her gun on her survival trip, and attributed her survival to that loss. Having a gun would make Rod feel overconfident, her experience and opinion agree, and in that delusion he would be an easy target. Moreover, the survival test is more like a reconnaissance mission than a combat one, and as an old veteran Captain Helen knows that a scout acts differently. So no guns but Rod can have her knife "Lady Macbeth", the one that saved her life on her final. [It may interest you to know that the real Lady Macbeth, the real-life wife of MacBeth, King of Scots (1040-1057), was named Gruoch. Shakespeare didn't feel the need to communicate that to his viewers, as he didn't bother mentioning that MacBeth was succeeded by Gruoch's son Lulach (1057-1058) who only then was succeeded by Duncan's son Malcolm III Canmore (1058-1093).]

It makes a perfect complement to Rod's knife "Colonel Bowie". "Colonel Bowie" has a blade 21 centimeters long Heinlein was metric ahead of his audience, which would have had to have calculated, most likely on paper, that the blade was 8 inches long. (This steel span is much in the spirit of the original designer and namesake, but perhaps a little too long for a work knife and I rather think that when Helen throws it [p. 46] she would do so as if it were a javelin.) "Lady Macbeth", on the other hand, is short enough to go in a boot top (where Helen carries it) or under a bandage (where Rod hides it).

All which goes to reinforce the conclusion that Heinlein is not presenting here the idea of Starship Troopers. It would seem rather to be expressing the negative side of "Man is a wild animal" the predatory view, but one with the predation directed against other humans (instead of Skinnies, Bugs, and other alien sapients). There will be more arguments, and more forceful ones at that, along this line as the plot thickens.

This concatenation of events puts Rod in a bind. Either he goes off on the exam, in which case he will be unable to see his parents off properly, or he skips the exam and stays home, which would be a serious trial to his nerve "there is a tide in the affairs of men" and it'll never get this high again. The stresses are major ones and either way will mean an unpleasant and grievous choice. At least Rod isn't like contemporary characters, who would be required to break down and exhibit some sort of destructive behavior, self- or otherwise.

And so Captain Walker finds herself on the mommy-track, and puts her baby brother to sleep with a good backrub and hypno instruction. Hypnosis again, something Heinlein seemed to have a great belief in. Or perhaps not, since in this case it didn't quite take and Rod lay awake worrying about his predicament for some time. Finally he had to do the same thing himself and this time it worked.


By now thoroughly rattled, Rod shows up "for physical check at 0900 Saturday in the dispensary of Templeton Gate" [p. 7] as instructed and begins his pre-execution, that is pre-test physical. At the gate of hell there sits a comic porter:

Dr. Matson was sitting at a desk outside the dispensary at Templeton Gate, checking names on his roll. He looked up as Rod arrived. "Why hello, Walker. I thought maybe you had decided to be smart."

"I'm sorry I'm late, sir. Things happened."

"Don't fret about it. Knew a man once who didn't get shot at sunrise because he overslept the appointment."

"Really? Who was he?"

"Young fellow I used to know. Myself."

"Hunh? You really did, sir? You mean you were"

"Not a word of truth in it. Good stories are rarely true. Get on in there and take your physical, before you get the docs irritated."

Tunnel in the Sky, p. 49

Though about the only thing that irritates the doctor is the large bandage on Rod's leg, hiding a knife. Curiously enough, people have hidden disabilities in order to be able to go on such tests and the doctor is for some odd reason concerned about this. (Similarly, until recently often inductees into the Israeli army would hide disabilities in order to get in. But then, going by things he said in Starship Troopers, Heinlein didn't know much about how things went in Israel.)

Afterwards, Rod has one final encounter with Dr. Matson, who relieves him of the cold-weather gear Rod had forethoughtfully brought against the possibility of an Antarctic-climate planet being chosen as their survival test site failing to have done so would have been cause for flunking, since "ANY climate" means any climate (and bringing vacuum gear would also be cause for dismissal, since it is implicit that human-livable planets are what is intended; students flunked out for both reasons). They discuss his disarmament program and Matson is interested enough to get the name and address of Rod's other mentor. (He had earlier opined that "I think final examination should be bare hands, not even so much as a nail file." [p. 11] so this is in line with his beliefs.)

Other students, lacking the benefit of Captain Walker's recon experience, have different approaches to the matter. For example:

Johann Braun was seated with empty seats on each side of him. The reason for the empty seats crouched at his feet a big, lean heavily-muscled boxer dog with unfriendly eyes. Slung over Braun's shoulder was a General Electric Thunderbolt, a shoulder model with telescopic sights and cone-of-fire control; its power pack Braun wore as a back pack. At his belt were binoculars, knife, first aid kit, and three pouches.

Tunnel in the Sky, pp. 52-3

Contrasting Braun's massive load with his minimal 11 kg (23 pounds, 3 ounces) one of vest-pack canteen, ration kit, and 20 meters of line wrapped around his waist (not to mention the two knives), Rod nevertheless admires the artillery, only to be subtly driven off by the watchdog. ("Thor is a one-man dog," says Braun. [p. 53])

Driven off right into the snare of a classmate (in the role for this book of the "wiseacre without whom no Heinlein story is complete" [In Search of Wonder, Damon Knight, p. 77]) who wants to exercise the permitted policy of teaming up "Bare is brotherless back," the old Norse saying goes but with Jimmy Throxton covering for Rod, things would end up much like Lucky Eddie and Hägar the Hörrible. Rod seems minded to agree, but teams can't pass through the gate together and Jimmy is first called. He notes the others (as potential partners or foes) but soon enough it's Rod's turn, and at the last possible moment he finally gets something approaching a briefing:

SOLO SURVIVAL TEST Recall Instructions

1.  You must pass through the door ahead in the three minutes allowed you before another candidate is started through. An overlapping delay will disqualify you.

2.  Recall will be by standard visual and sound signals. You are warned that the area remains hazardous even after recall is sounded.

3.  The exit gate will not be the entrance gate. Exit may be as much as twenty kilometers in the direction of sunrise.

4.  There is no truce zone outside the gate. Test starts at once. Watch out for stobor. Good luck!


Tunnel in the Sky, p. 53

Rod becomes slightly disoriented, perhaps intentionally so, while passing through a Lunar way station on the way to the test site. (Perhaps those Lunar stations provide some quarantine measures for explorers, too.) He takes all the time available, about twenty seconds, to cogitate on the clues given in the sheet described above, and then gets pushed out, sprawling onto the soil of his test site.

The gate promptly disappears and Rod has some extra items to add to his data base, all which sums up to a conclusion that nothing is for sure here. He sets out to explore this strange new world, and immediately becomes grateful to his sister's reminder that this is a recon mission, not a combat mission; being ungunned forces him to be highly aware of his surroundings.

Rod's recon soon enough, within the first hour of his forty-eight to two hundred forty no less, uncovers yet more proof of the worth of that borrowed wisdom. He first sees flying scavengers; then tracking them to their source he sees their meal, the late Johann Braun and his dead dog. At first Rod notes only that the dog hadn't been so effective a bodyguard after all, but then upon seeing no trace of Braun's GE "Thunderbolt" gun (a gun firing charged plasmas, like a real thunderbolt? Some sort of electric death ray? It's such little commonplaces casually thrown out and never explained more than they would be to an inhabitant of the world of the story that made Heinlein's reputation as a builder of worlds. It's interesting to notice that he also has the good old Edison General Electric Corporation still bringing good things to life, or death in this case) he realizes that the bodies had been looted, which implies that it likely hadn't been an indigenous creature responsible for this unexpected ending.

It was reported that thrill-seekers traveled to the Lebanese civil war of the 1970's to be able to kill someone without legal hazards. The implication that can be drawn from this incident is that some students, for all the effort expended by Matson and his colleagues in inculcating their classes in righteousness, are seeing this test as an opportunity to kill someone without legal hazards. An unparalleled opportunity, which surely will never be coming their way again, to hunt the most dangerous game without even having to bother with setting out fake lights to deceive passing ships. That such an attitude is shown in this book is a deviation from the thesis of Starship Troopers that a veteran and graduate of History and Moral Philosophy is thereby automatically endowed with the moral armament to do right and avoid wrong. Note Deacon Matson's comment in the briefing sheet: "There is no truce zone outside the gate." ["No peace beyond the Line," as they used to say in the piratical era.]

Concerns about being bushwacked by humans retrogress for the moment, though, as Rod has to turn his thoughts to the possibility of being bushwacked by local animals. Pulling himself away from the murder scene, he stalks through the savannah towards the local forest stand. The last few meters of this traverse are done at a run, thanks to a hostile indigenous predator. With somewhat more visual description than usual for the Heinlein style, the creature is described as being like a lion, but apparently larger. The description is still more in terms of function, however, as this star beast functions to get Rod up a tree and keep him there.

In any case, Rod had planned to sleep out of the reach of predators (and above the ordinary visual sweep of potentially hostile fellow test-takers), so this unexpected incentive was only getting him to do what he planned to do, only faster. Then Rod begins to find out how difficult and disorienting alien nights can be, which makes one wonder about those group-survival field tests that Deacon Matson had been grousing about.

In the morning, which had at times seemed a long long way off, Rod reorients himself literally, as the pickup is after all to be "in the direction of sunrise" and then does a post-action analysis of last night. As with Richard Pryor's speculations on the use of fire as a training aid for Olympic runners, so we might consider the local predators as impetuses for the high jump. Seeing the marks of his climbing spurs at head height he exclaims: "I must have hit that trunk like a cat!" [p. 71]

Having established the direction of the gate from this datum, and from that the direction he needs to take to get to the recall area, Rod then gives consideration to getting there. He would stay, but he has no idea how long that night was. (It's curious that he doesn't have a 24-hour watch, you will note.) And so he sets out through the wild wood towards his destination.

Woodscraft is all well and good, but there are signs that perhaps someone else is out there trying to cut a notch on his gun. These fade after a while and Rod goes back to evaluating the world as a potential colony site. He comes to a stream, and knows better than to expect it to be safe to cross, which sets him to thinking about tests for safety: "It was the last thing he thought about for some time." [p. 73]


When Lazarus Long, in this instance alias "Bill Smith", set out to colonize Happy Valley with Dora Mayberry, his latest conquest (you know, these days people just might look askance at a man marrying an adopted daughter) he made long and thorough plans. The more interesting parts of "The Tale of the Adopted Daughter", that section of Time Enough for Love (1973), deal with the composition and loading of the equipment needed by the happy couple to carve a new homestead out of the wild. (The less interesting ones have to do with their romance, which became so nauseatingly cloying that by page 340 I found myself feeling a certain sympathy for the three thugs who came by their happy frontier home offering to rape Dora.)

Rod Walker would likely have considered that loading table and development plan interesting, if only in an academic way, given that he had planned to go off-planet where such things were of use. While not planning to stay on his latest new planet for the rest of his life, he did make as careful plans regarding useful equipment and load distribution. However, like W. W. Smith, he too had to deal with fellow-travelers with violence on their minds. Not "face fellow-travelers, etc. etc.", as the free spirit who knew that there was no law beyond the Gate and so could do as he pleased had conked Rod from behind, before proceeding to rob him of his carefully planned and well-distributed survival outfit.

Not entirely, though:

His first feeling of sick dismay was replaced by anger. Losing food and gear was no more than to be expected, since he had been such a fool as to forget his rear while he looked at the stream but taking the watch his father had given him, that was stealing; he would make somebody pay for that!

His anger made him feel better. It was not until then that he noticed that the bandage on his left shin was undisturbed.

He felt it. Sure enough! Whoever it was who had hijacked him had not considered a bandage worth stealing. Rod unwrapped it and cradled Lady Macbeth in his hand.

Somebody was going to be sorry.

Tunnel in the Sky, p. 74

And so, taking his sister's advice a little more closely to hand than he had thought he would be doing, and following Dr. Matson's preferences more rigorously than he had planned to, Rod sets forth into a wilderness red with tooth and claw. At least he was mentally prepared; Shackleton considered this far more important, and more desirable than having emergency supplies for every conceivable disaster.

(It seems necessary in such works to have preparedness turn out to have been a burden. In Julian May's Pliocene Exile series, organized gangs systematically loot newly arrived time-travelers of their survival kits, while in Lucifer's Hammer the legendary blue van of supplies is destroyed by a drunken robber with a firebomb. In real life such cases are rarer and total unpreparedness seems to be the norm. Perhaps it's the necessities of plotting. And besides, Rod's father really should have given him a 24-hour watch.)

For the next chapter we segue to a leaner, meaner Rod literally engaged in some more hunting. The last few days have been strenuous, a true test of his survival skills, as he has been scarred and sickened by the diverse flora and fauna of this planet. (Yes, "flora", as Rod has encountered poisonous and purgative plants.) However, it seems he'll be rather lacking in opportunities to employ these hard-won skills, as the fevered coma which was subsequent on his being slightly mauled by a hostile inhabitant seems to have encompassed the period for the sounding of the recall. Which makes his losing his sole implement, "Lady Macbeth", to a meat animal that refused to drop dead right away, even more of a disaster.

Tracking the kill to its final end, he finds he has been anticipated. The first person he has seen alive since he began the search is busy taking Rod's dinner. And just as careless, too, since a convenient tree overshadows the thoughtless scavenger. Just the right place for a battle-scarred survivalist to get the drop on someone:

The hunter below him laid the knife aside and bent to turn the carcass. Rod dropped.

He felt body armor which had been concealed by his victim's shirt. Instantly he transferred his attention to the bare neck, pushing the thorn firmly against vertebrae. "Hold still or you've had it!"

The body under him suddenly quit struggling.

"That's better," Rod said approvingly. "Cry pax?"

Tunnel in the Sky, p. 74

Yielding to superior force, the victim does so. Rod does a quick pat-down, finding another knife, which he appropriates, and that inconveniently hot cuirass (no Kevlar in this universe). Having disarmed his foe (boy, aren't we hostile now?) he starts asking questions.

Jack Daudet, the not entirely careful scavenger (shouldn't that knife in the buck's shoulder have indicated that someone else was in the vicinity?) is properly impressed by Rod's having been a student of the famous Deacon Matson (Heinlein tried to pull this off again in Starship Troopers by referring to "that Nielsen" but failed) and even offers to share a little salt. Finishing their meal (raw, since I guess there were no human-communicable diseases in the local fauna), Rod takes into account that they had been looking over each others' shoulders and proposes that they team up. After some hesitation, which we will see is even more justified than it first seems, Jack accepts.

Jack has more than just salt to contribute to this partnership; rather than spend the night in a tree again, Rod will get to sleep in Jack's cave. Moreover, Jack has information to share. Rod hadn't missed the recall while in a coma, there hadn't been any recall. This gives Rod an idea, and he presents an elaborate argument about how "ANY planet, ANY climate, ANY terrain" [p. 8] will be alien if the test-taker doesn't know it, and so in an economy move, the test-givers have Gated them back to Earth and all they have to do is walk out to a nearby Gate and go home to receive their certification. No such luck; Jack wasn't zonked out on the clear nights and the stars are definitely not Earth's. Which Rod gets to see for himself soon enough.

So it's a long-term haul. Except next morning, when Rod sees Jack using a familiar implement:

The knife Jack was using was "Colonel Bowie".

The realization was accompanied by action; Rod's hand darted out and caught Jack's wrist in an anger-hard grip. "You stole my knife!"

Jack did not move. "Rod . . . have you gone crazy?"

Tunnel in the Sky, p. 94

No, he just assumed things. Rod assumes a lot in this partnership. Jack had found a late former test-taker carrying a Thunderbolt gun, which was useless, and some other things which were of use, but not to the dear departed at the present time or before his final mistake. This is followed by a typical Heinlein diatribe against logic. Jack would be very much in agreement with Oscar Gordon, who in Glory Road (1963) chucked logic because he had encountered something new; add to this the harangues against philosophy spread from "Lost Legacy" (1941) to Expanded Universe (1980) and you have the all too typical American attitude of anti-intellectualism. Often the most doctrinal and dogmatic are the ones who are loudest in proclaiming themselves freethinking pragmatists, unfettered by doctrine and philosophy. (And presumably Oscar did not chuck logic when it came to designing equipment, either.)

They are in it for the long haul, so watch-and-watch won't cut it. Jack figures that they ought to recruit some extra partners and Rod generally agrees, with the demurral that it ought to be men only, since women will bring in sexual tensions (as best as Miss Dalgleish will let Heinlein say this). Jack even has someone in mind, or nearby anyhow, and they set out to find him. The description had happened to fit Rod's classmate and most-likely-to-be-partner Jimmy Throxton and so it was. It's been a hard time since Jimmy had jumped first through the gate; whatever happened left him just about out of it. Rod and Jack get him back to the cave and set about bringing him back to life. This recovery gives Jimmy the opportunity to make some observations, which leads him to a typical Heinlein wiseacre line:

"What," Jim said slowly, "did you say about Jack?"

"Huh? I said they don't come any better. He and I team up like bacon and eggs. A number-one kid, that boy."

Jimmy Throxton looked at him. "Rod . . . were you born that stupid? Or did you have to study?"


"Jack is a girl."

Tunnel in the Sky, p. 104

Panshin has, not without reason, highlighted this as an extreme example of sexual naïveté on the characters' part [Heinlein in Dimension, p. 149]. There are however other factors to be considered; Heinlein had been, he felt, extremely let down by the Scribners' management in the recent controversy over content. Neither did he care much for the editorial standards for morality and behavior:

[These] watchful guardians of youthful morals do not want live characters, they want plaster saints who never do anything naughty and who are always respectful toward all the shibboleths and taboos of our present-day, Heaven-ordained tribal customs.

I could write such books, of course but the kids would not read them.

Grumbles from the Grave, letter of October 8, 1954, p. 71

And here we have a character who adheres to those "Heaven-ordained tribal customs" to well-nigh absurd excess. In light of the additional information provided by the publication of this letter, one is strongly tempted to ascribe Rod's "naïveté" to auctorial tweaking of editorial sensibilities. Much of that commentary in Heinlein in Dimension on sexual roles will have to be reconsidered in light of the restorations of the original texts; The Puppet Masters (1951) in particular [see Heinlein in Dimension, pp. 148-9]. Taking into consideration, though, the similar obtuseness exhibited by Bill Lermer in Farmer in the Sky (1950) this could be only a general indifference.

Presumably Jimmy had has the chance to observe Jack, or to give her her full name Jacqueline Marie Daudet, at a time when she thought he was comatose or somewhat so, and she accordingly believed that she could be revelatory. And fortunately for Rod "Girls are pure poison" [p. 99] Walker, she was of the opinion that "[Did] it ever occur to you that maybe boys are pure poison, too?" [pp. 105-6] In any case she seems willing to overlook his bad points in favor of the good ones. They do work together well.

After several days in which the bold manhunters fail to find anyone else in the vicinity, the cave-bound Jimmy has a suggestion:

"Send up a smoke signal. . . . The superior woodsman you want is just the laddy you will never find by hunting for him. He may find you, as you go tramping noisily through the brush, kicking rocks and stepping on twigs and scaring the birds. He may shadow you to see what you are up to. But you won't find him."

Tunnel in the Sky, p. 109

Perhaps there are such people out there but the majority of the students are wandering around looking for someone else but not trusting anyone else. When a signal is made, that serves as a sign that there is someone else out there trying to do something, and people begin to flock in. The first refugees are some more of Rod and Jimmy's classmates (and Jackie has can finally let her hair down it must have been cut short, which given the circumstances was likely a good idea to begin with with another woman; it seems to have been quite a relief) but members of those other classes follow. And indeed there must have been quite a number of wandering souls out there, each hoping that someone else would finally realize that the test had run a little over time and decide to make camp until if and when. These incomers soon far overwhelm the capacity of Jackie's cave and adjoining beach, and there are enough dangerous animals around to make sleeping under the stars hazardous to one's health.

At first the grouping is more a case of spontaneous order; Rod is the only one doing anything, and the others accept that. But then the defects of spontaneous order show themselves. One would expect cliques to be formed among classmates; moreover, in the hierarchy of youth it is hardly to be borne that mere high-school kiddies should give orders to college men. These come together explosively with the McGowan brothers and their classmates from the Outlands Arts College of Teller University (from our temporal heights of knowledge we can wonder if there is also a Sakharov University; one wonders what the response would have been if someone had asked Heinlein after his 1961 Seacon speech on the solidarity of the Soviet system (see Requiem editerd by Yoji Kondo (1992), pp. 168-197 for this) if the chief designer of their H-Bomb might not be so dedicated to it).

Perhaps naïvely believing that students from an institute of higher education dedicated to educating students in the skills needed for pioneering other planets would have more developed skills and morality, Rod asks the McGowan clique to join in and finds that they do join in:

Jock McGowan sucked his teeth, dug at a crevice with his tongue. His hands were still locked back of his head. "What you don't understand, sonny boy, is that nobody gives the McGowans orders. Nobody. Right, Bruce?"

"Right, Jock."

"Right, Chad? Dick?"

The other two grunted approval. McGowan continued to stare up at the sky. "So," he said softly. "I go where I want to go and stay as long as I like. The question is not whether we are going to join up with you but what ones I am going to let team with us. But not you, sonny boy; you are still wet behind the ears."

Tunnel in the Sky, p. 121

The picture Heinlein seems to have here is of an educational sysstem broken down to the point where it is unable to make judgments. For a test of those already motivated to be expansion-minded, and allegedly selected for moral acumen, there seem to be a fair number of outright sociopaths who have slipped in. Well, Deacon Matson had been having his problems with the administration.

Or maybe not, since sociopaths are convincing, and the only thing the McGowan gang seems to be able to convince anyone is that they are violent so-and-sos. Which demonstration is most physical, as Rod finds himself jumped and held down at knifepoint by Bruce, while Jock and the guys hold the rest of the spectators at gunpoint. This rebellion of free spirits not wishing to be caged has a short duration, though, as Jackie and Rod's classmate Caroline Mshiyeni stop the McGowans dead in their tracks with, it turns out, an unloaded gun and a target dart. The psychosomatic fear and symptoms Jock shows when shot with what he thinks is a poisoned dart is a wonder to behold; one of Heinlein's astute psychological insights.

(Caroline is a true calf of the Great Elephant, a Zulu that is. (The Great Elephant is Shaka, founder of the Zulu nation though what Heinlein said about Shaka's murder in "The Third Millenium Opens" (1956) [see Expanded Universe, p. 382] is quite wrong; Shaka was not killed by his bodyguard but by two of his half-brothers.) This can be considered a tribute to Heinlein's independence from cultural constraints, in keeping with for example the diverse diversity of telepaths in Time for the Stars (1956) except by those who would maintain that he was creating a phallologocentric oppressor construct inauthentically forcing indigenous persons into whitemale Eurocentric false consciousness. That trip in Tramp Royale (1992) left some impressions; the South African part seems to have had some hidden hopes.)

This incident does make it clear that some sort of more formal organization is in order, though. The anarchist admirers of Heinlein have showed their ability to ignore this section of this book. That night, the assembled survivors hold a town meeting. Grant Cowper, another one of those Teller U. students, makes a speech about civics straight out of a 1938 California State Assembly campaign:

"Friends," he said, "brothers and sisters, we are gathered here tonight not to elect a survival-team captain, but to found a nation."

He paused to let the idea sink in. "You know the situation we are in. We fervently hope to be rescued, none more so than I. I will even go so far as to say that I think we will be rescued . . . eventually. But we have no way of knowing, we have no data on which to base an intelligent guess, as to when we will be rescued. . . . . What is the prime knowledge acquired by our race? That without which the rest is useless? What flame must we guard like vestal virgins? . . . . The greatest invention of mankind is government."

Tunnel in the Sky, pp. 128-30

And this good guy so on in the same vein for quite a while. Small wonder that about halfway through Caroline said "Talks pretty, doesn't he? Maybe I'll marry him." [p. 129] This is followed by a junior Pompous Male Blowhard, Arthur "Waxie" Nielsen, who spouts off about founding a scientific community based on sound eugenic principles. Fortunately, before he gets too far into proposing something Beyond This Horizon (1942, 1948), he is interrupted by literal mud-slinging. (I suppose Waxie must have had something on the ball as he had managed to survive without any equipment whatsoever.) Both Rod and Grant are nominated for leader given the size of the community they decide that "Mayor" is the proper title and then for gender balance Grant nominates Caroline, and for rationality balance Waxie nominates himself. Cowper wins in a landslide with twenty-two votes out of twenty-eight cast. (As best can be told there were thirty people in the colony (there were 25 after the McGowan clique of four arrived [p. 118], followed by nine more [p. 119] and then the four of them were thrown out) at that time, so two must have abstained. There were people on watch.)

Grant Cowper is indeed a good person. I believe we've seen his type around, especially recently:

I guess good people are just naturally attracted to government. You remember them from high school the Senior Class President, the Sophomore Class Secretary, the Chairgirl of the Junior Prom Decorations and Refreshments Committee. They weren't like some kids I could name, keeping the car out till all hours looking for crossing guards to run over. The kids in school government were good kids. Teachers liked them. Parents liked them. Why, you could take one of those kids pry his suckerlike mouth off the career counselor's behind and, heck, make him president of the United States. And we did.

P. J. O'Rourke, "Why the Republican Party Does Not, Like, Totally Suck"

Or mayor of the community. Which annoys Jimmy's suspicions, and he invites Rod to a secret meeting with Jackie, Caroline, and Rod's classmates Bob Baxter and Carmen Garcia. The topic is the interesting distribution of authority Mayor Cowper has made.

Presumably Mayor Cowper is less set on "bull", discipline, and order than was Captain Urqhardt of the Lewis and Clark, who in Time for the Stars came down quite harshly on subordinates meeting in order to discuss the problems of their group. Whereas the Secret Six go about their lives unmolested. Heinlein seems to be making a distinction here between a political community and a command.

Nevertheless, at first Caroline is particularly concerned, noting that Grant's inner circle is composed of his classmates from Teller U. (They should talk.) While apparently floundering around, Cowper has managed to leave real control in the hands of his people while relegating Rod's clique to the fringes. They would leave right now, except for one little matter Bob and Carmen are going to get married and they would like to have some sort of general recognition. (But that was obvious from the first time we met them, back on Earth on Page 12.)

Which, when acknowledged before the community (by the way, they are Friends, whose marriage ceremonies are by mutual acknowledgement before the congregation), winds up the talk of leaving. Besides, if they had gone off Rod would have missed the fun of the nightly town meetings. All-nighter bull sessions are fun, but suddenly one turns deadly serious over a quarrel another colonist has with Cowper. Which looked like Rod's chance only he declined it.

This may have been why the next day Cowper offered to make Rod his right-hand man. And he keeps on trying, until Rod finally accepts. An interesting point here: Cowper says "I'm going to make one girl boss cook and one man boss hunter." [p. 158] Rod responds by putting all the women and the men, even the department heads, and even the Mayor, on the night watch list. There seem to have been more people coming in; Cowper also said in this conversation that "We've got fifty people here" [p. 157]. Add to this his later comment that "we haven't accounted for thirty-seven people, aside from known dead", [p. 158] (the McGowan four would of course not fall into either of these groups) and Jackie's earlier estimate that the total was "about a hundred people," [p. 99], and the casualty rate seems to have been less than would be suggested by the text.

In an odd point-of-view shift, Heinlein then summarizes about four months in a diary. At least he had prepared the reader by establishing that Caroline had been named Historian, so using her diary to describe the next four months is not unexpected. This enables the reader to take in such things as Jimmy and Jackie's marriage and the return of the McGowan brothers' cronies. (It is still later on established that Jock is dead [p. 219].)

Perhaps as another example of Heinlein's rubbing in the matter of Rod's "naïveté", he has expressly denied any interest in marriage; with Jackie already, and now Caroline. Instead, he is going out to look for a better place for a settlement; their current camp is hardly defensible. Back when people were coming in he had sent out parties up and down river [p. 118] but the day's limit hadn't turned up anything useful. Now that matters are a little more settled he can do some serious exploring. This exploration is interesting in itself.

Rod and former boss hunter Roy Kilroy set off downriver for a two-week search. The river valley spreads out, with a series of caves in the walls near the end. The river itself runs into a large salt lake. There's no fun at the beach, which is lined with tons and tons of bones a mystery later explained, incidentally. Nothing further to do here, Rod and Roy turn back and investigate the caves. Which turn out to have a surprise or two of their own:

. . Rod stared around. Filling the dept of the gallery, not seen from below, was terrace on terrace of cliff dwellings.

They were not inhabited, nor had they ever been by men. Openings which must have been doors were no higher than a man's knee, not wide enough for shoulders. But it was clear that they were dwellings, not merely formations carved by water. There were series of rooms arranged in half a dozen low stories from floor to ceiling of the gallery. The material was a concrete of dried mud, an adobe, used with wood.

Tunnel in the Sky, p. 176

Unfortunately for the reader's interest, though fortunately for the previous plot line, there's no opportunity to investigate this further. While trying to do so, Roy falls and breaks a leg, which makes a long recuperation necessary. (The reader, having read Caroline's diary entries noting their absence, now knows the reason.) This incident would seem to be Heinlein's "seasoning of mysticism" for this book. It's just one of those plot bits which could fill a whole book itself.

Perhaps it was that long time for recuperation that made such a difference. Rod finds that everyone is really enthusiastic about what they've done with the place. Having made a capital investment in this known location, the community is not in favor of moving. Rod has seen his proposed new site and is disappointed that those who haven't seen aren't as enthusiastic as he is. And so he gives in. (He guesses the vote would go "fifty against him, less than half that for him," [p. 187] which implies that more than just Chad and Dick [p. 169] and the five women he and Roy had found [p. 172] had come in.) Incidentally, among the others taking advantage of the new possibility of marriage were Jimmy and Jackie. (Could they have been doing something else in the cave there?)

And so Rod settles down to be an ordinary member of the community.


Caroline's diary entries and Rod's post-return activities indicate a shift to a steady state in the community. Among those projects that had been completed while Roy was knitting a legbone in the caves were a wall to keep out unfriendly animals and a flume bringing in drinking water. Moreover, Mayor Cowper ordered an inventory, which Caroline thoughtfully listed for the reader [p. 170]. It's rather interesting to note that there were five different books on hand, only one of them secular The Oxford Book of English Verse, Centennial Edition (the remainder were the Bible the text says "Testament", which may imply a lack of vision on the author's part as there is one Jew in the colony the Book of Mormon, the Koran, and the Peace of the Flame, presumably the Monist scripture). There are also twelve extra knives but only fifty-three guns total, which seems to imply that either Helen's opinion was more widely spread or people discarded dead weight. Interestingly, Carmen seems to have been able to carry things on her person, since she discarded her bag [p. 55] but had some useful equipment no one else had. I guess in this new era of women's rights they were training uDibi girls (the apprentice soldiers in the Zulu army were the uDibi boys, sub-teenagers who carried baggage and performed other duties, some of them ritual).

The mayor also thought of collecting intellectual property, which is in some ways a little more fragile. How Hugh Farnham, who had had fewer (and less capable) people in his group but more resources for them to employ, responded in like circumstances in Farnham's Freehold (1964) is an interesting parallelism.

What happens next is pretty devastating, though nothing like what happened to Farnham's hole in the wall. For all the intellectual power sent through the Gate, no one seems to have tried spelling "stobor" backward to get "robots". Instead, they have tried applying the name to various local fauna, without much of a consensus. (That also implies that all four classes got the same warning sheet.) On the other hand, there is a consensus that one of the smaller predators, the "dopy joe", isn't much of a threat. Well . . .

Roy had been attacked by one during the expedition downriver [p. 175] and now someone else has had that privilege. By the next day there are swarms of animals in the vicinity having been bitten by that bug, so to speak. Worse yet, there is this new obstacle in their path and sometimes it only inspires them to prodigies of athleticism.

The colonists spend the day stabbing the dopy joes with improvised spears, and Caroline never says a thing about how the iKlwa, (Shaka's assegai) came to be, either, though it was the equivalent of strapping a Bowie knife to a pole the way Rod does. Partway through the day Jimmy deduces that "dopy joe" isn't the right name for the beast; these are the "stobor" they had been warned about [p. 55].

By nightfall the situation is pretty desperate. The wood is running low and fire is the only sure barrier to this migration. (Presumably that's where all the bones at the salt lake came from.) Cowper orders all the women into the cave for their protection. This is a bit inconvenient for Carmen, whose contractions are now nineteen minutes apart. Tells you how long they've been there. (And Jackie is a little less farther along.)

As the night wears on so does the struggle, on the colonists. Bob Baxter has missed his Lamaze classes and is pushed out of the way, serving as a front-line medic instead. For a first birth, Carmen's delivery is quick and Caroline comes running up to report that it's a girl. She then takes Bob's place and sets about earning her headring (the Zulu symbol of adulthood, awarded after evidence of reliable performance in battle).

They are going to quit defending the plain and pack into Jackie's cave. (Someone says that there are "thirty-odd women" interestingly enough, before this Heinlein has been saying "girls", now he says "women" to go in the cave [p. 194], which when combined with Jackie's estimate that the hundred or so test-takers were one-third women [p. 99] implies something about Heinlein's views about women's survivability.) Cowper thins out the rear guard, even imposing his will on Caroline.

Finally, he alone is setting the last fires when he is set on by some dopy joes. Rod won't leave any wounded but becomes wounded himself trying to rescue Cowper, and passes out.

After the storm comes peace. A wounded Rod comes to in the now less-crowded cave, to learn that the pain and turmoil of the migration are at an end. So too are the pains and turmoils of life for Grant Cowper, who died after a double going on triple amputation and was hastily buried with the local pirahnaoids. Five other people are seriously wounded and about a dozen are able to get around. Incidentally, the new member of the colony is named Hope Roberta Baxter interesting symbolism there.

And who is Mayor now? Rod. The new Mayor demands an immediate town meeting where he will harangue the electorate. The caves would seem to be a better place, more defensible anyhow which given recent events would appear to be a serious consideration. But the new Mayor, still suffering the effects of his wounds, now has a different spin on those events:

Rod slapped the ground. "You don't understand! If you want to move, move . . . but get somebody else to lead you. Roy can do it. Or Cliff, or Bill. But if you leave it to me, no dirty little beasts, all teeth and no brains, are going to drive us out. We're men . . . and men don't have to be driven out, not by the likes of those. Grant paid for this land and I say stay here and keep it for him!"

Tunnel in the Sky, p. 205


Damon Knight did not hold Tunnel in the Sky in as high an esteem as he did some of Heinlein's other juvenile novels (he was also discussing Time for the Stars in the passage below, thus the plurals):

Now, in their looseness of structure these are both fairly typical Heinlein novels; what gives them coherence is not so much any development of character or action, as the general scheme of the author's thought against which they are laid. In the classical sense, Tunnel in the Sky has no form at all it starts off in an arbitrary direction, goes on cheerfully until the author has written enough words to fill a book, and then stops.

In Search of Wonder, p. 85

Since in the discussion of The Rolling Stones (1952) Knight had confessed to "missing the point" and offered to eat his words, he was capable of a misjudgement. While this discussion makes some valid points about Tunnel in the Sky, including the nature of its ending, there are also some misjudgments.

A year and a quarter later, Rod is thinking about his own judgments and misjudgements. We know that it's later because playing at Rod's feet are "Miss Hope Roberta Baxter, sixteen months, and Master Grant Roderick Thornton, thirteen months," [p. 207] presumably others besides Carmen and Jackie have had children, too.

This would seem to qualify as an type example of the problematic plot structure noted by Panshin [see Heinlein in Dimension, p. 154]. But there is only so much space, and given the printer's and publisher's limitations this is an even more valid comment. Living as we do in this era of 600-page volumes of seven-book trilogies, it is hard to imagine the constraints forced by the 70,000-word limit of the fifties that stemmed from how large a paperback could be in those days. The writer had to be selective.

Now Heinlein certainly could discuss in detail the mechanics of building such a settlement and he did so in Farnham's Freehold and Time Enough for Love. (For example, the matter of preserving knowledge that is not immediately useful but which would be so in the future - and unlike the characters in a similar situation in Jerry Pournelle's Janissaries (1982) they do not have a hand calculator with which to generate logarithims.) And if he had done so here people would be complaining about his having repeated himself.

Things are repeating themselves here which is that structure that Knight seemed not to have noticed. Mayor the Honorable Roderick L. Walker is consulting with his Chief of Government, Miss Caroline Beatrice Mshiyeni, regarding two inhabitants of Cowpertown:

"Carol, I've been thinking."

"Warm day. Don't strain any delicate parts."

"About Bruce and Theo. I'll talk to them. . . The only real punishment is one we never use and I hope we never have to. Kicking people out, I mean. The McGowans do as they please because they don't think we would. But I would love to give them the old heave-ho . . .

Tunnel in the Sky, pp. 207-8

Jock McGowan's brother Bruce has crawled back into town, all penitent and chidden, and has even married (they might have made two others miserable). But nothing much has changed; he is still as insolent and self-centered as ever. When Rod confronts Bruce with this Bruce responds by asserting that the personal is political: "Runt, you aren't worth a hoot without stooges . . . or a couple of girls to do your fighting." [p. 220] The perhaps unwise response to this questioning of Rod's selfhood is a fight without stooges or even Caroline and Jackie. The initial result is the same as last time with Jock, but the final result is also the same. When Rod recovers from having been knocked cold he finds that Bruce is not much better off, having been beaten up by the others. Seeing the disapproval of the community, Bruce staggers off to his appointed task. Far from being crushed this time, in this parallelism of an earlier event, Rod finds himself raised in the esteem of others, and can thereby tolerate this challenge.

Others have changed for the better. Bruce will be pumping away at the bellows under the direction of Arthur Nielsen, whose blowing hard now is at hematite. Waxie has turned his scientific bent from eugenics to metallurgy, trying to make steel and being disgusted over only getting wrought iron. It's a difficult process and after one spectacular failure "Nielsen gave a bitter description of the furnace's origin, habits, and destination" [p. 210] in words Miss Dalgleish obviously wouldn't let him use. And other technological and social adaptations are in hand to make their lost life acceptable.

But all good things must come to an end, and when on stobor-hunt that afternoon they do so. One of the other hunters abruptly disappears, then reappears with someone else:

With heart pounding Rod began to run. He turned and found himself facing into an open gate . . . and down a long closed corridor.

Tunnel in the Sky, p. 226

Or as Knight says, "In the next to last chapter, emissaries from Earth turn up to end the adventures and take the participants home." [In Search of Wonder, p. 85] Can they stand the strain?


That new star (i.e., "nova") Jackie had noted [p. 91] seems to have been the problem, scrambling the state of the universe that made navigation through the Ramsbotham Gates possible. But more problems crop up right away. First off, an officious official starts treating the colonists like a band of shipwrecked children. This is followed by a growing realization that most of the colonists want to go home. Finally, in a crushing blow to Rod's self-esteem, and a magnificent prediction based on Heinlein's Hollywood experience making Destination Moon, a team of drama-show makers shows up and proceeds to sensationalize the story.

Finally, the next day when all is at bottom, familiar faces turn up; Deacon Matson and Helen. Finally with someone who understands, Rod proudly shows off all the features of Cowpertown, and as well as teaching, learns. There were no "stobor"; Matson had no idea what the animal life was like. But Cowpertown will be a monument in the planet's history. And Matson proceeds to give Rod more wisdom and mentoring, as a good brother-in-law should. Helen finally got the husband she wanted [p. 38] and Matson found the wife he had missed [p. 52] in each other. Moreover, the happy couple are going to pioneer a prime new planet, and a good lieutenant who is kin is handy. But Rod still wants to stay until he learns his father is out of stasis.

Their first family dinner is stressful. Mr. Walker hasn't been, so to speak, during the change and it doesn't enter his mental picture. Moreover, a family friend has crashed a dinner supposedly even excluding in-laws and has some scandalous misinformation to pass on, thanks to dramatists. Finally Rod finds the pressure too much to bear and flees to his room, where brother-in-law Matson has some more mentoring: "I told you it would be rough. Well, son, sweat it out, sweat it out." "I can't stand it!" "Yes, you can." [p. 251]

Back at the beginning of the story Rod stopped off to look at a party of pioneers going off to a new planet, and to admire their captain. The scene segues from his bedroom to another party of pioneers, with a proud couple and their child admiring its captain:

[He] was grinning and drinking coffee and sharing a doughnut with a boy child. He was dressed in fringed buckskin, in imitation of a very old style; he wore a Bill Cody beard and rather long hair. His mount was a little pinto, standing patiently by with reins hanging. There was a boot scabbard holding a hunting rifle on the nigh side of the saddle, but the captain carried no guns on his person; instead he wore two knives, one on each side.

Tunnel in the Sky, p. 252

So he did sweat it out after all. This is a typical Heinlein plot structure (as in Starman Jomes and Have Space Suit - Will Travel (1958) where the protagonist is in similar circumstances at the beginning and end of the book, but has himself changed drastically). Jackie and Jimmy and boy child Grant Throxton are seeing team captain Rod off (Grant won't kiss Rod good-bye since, as Jimmy says, he's "Just like his father. . . Kisses women only." [p. 252]). They've done well; Jimmy is now about to be admitted to the bar and made a partner in the law firm (fast tracker!).

Helen had given Rod "Lady Macbeth" and presumably the desirable habit of a survival trip, or a reconnaissance, has persisted in situations not necessarily analogous. Dr. Matson had confidently predicted that Rod and his friends would gain may equivalency credits, and one would think that for Rod's particular career that would be particularly the case. Again the gate is ready, and when the signal is given, like his predecessor "Captain Walker headed out on his long road." [p. 253]