Review of “Tunnel in the Sky” by Robert Heinlein

In this book, as in so many other works of science fiction, Earth is beset by a Malthusian trap. Luckily, humans have discovered how to teleport themselves to other locations in the universe. This ability allows humans to colonize other planets.

Since the cost of teleportation is high, colonists must be able to survive in unknown and hostile territories. Some students are trained to lead new colonization efforts and the last part of their training requires them to survive for several days on an unknown planet.

The book follows a group of students on this final part of their training. Due to certain circumstances, the students are not rescued after several days and they begin setting up their own colony.

Our hero unites the students and begins the process of establishing a civilization. Almost immediately after the basic needs are being consistently met, someone else stands up, gives a pretty speech and is elected "mayor." (I found this a bit far-fetched, despite the low opinion I have of democracy, but it allowed the story to move along).

Of course, the democratically elected leader turns out to be an idiot (though he is a good politician) and the colony is soon over-run by animals because they followed their leader and failed to listen to our hero. The colony survives and elects our hero mayor and they all live happily until they’re rescued.

The book was sort of like a Lord of the Flies set in space. As far as re-civilizing stories go, Earth Abides is much better, but Tunnel was entertaining. The changes in the government were the interesting bits, but they seemed a bit hurried and consequently unbelievable. The other interesting bits revolve around the way people act outside of civilization, which I always find interesting.

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7 Responses to Review of “Tunnel in the Sky” by Robert Heinlein

  1. Eumaios says:

    Heinlein was pulling one of his annoying peekaboo sex/race tricks in this book (cf. Starship Troopers and Friday). The hero is a Negro, but you don’t get any real evidence of such until the end of the book, where his sister is mentioned as having a physical similarity with Caroline, the Zulu student. Caroline is also the girl that all the other students assumed the hero would pair off with, which I suppose serves as a sort of clue.

    Heinlein probably didn’t intend it, but you can read Rod losing the election as caused by prejudice on the part of the other students. RAH was such a color-blindness-partisan in other cases that he would surely have made a stink about the evil of the other students if that were the case.

    By my reading, Rod is a decent, mostly sensible guy, but he’s a bit of a hothead, and not always very prudent.

    • Eumaios says:

      I forgot the conclusion to my last paragraph: I wouldn’t have voted for Rod, either.

      • Foseti says:

        Heh. I wondered about Rod being black – especially since everyone seemed to think he was going to marry Caroline.

        Frankly, it’s a pretty uninteresting twist. I don’t see how it changes the story at all.

      • Eumaios says:

        It’s a completely stupid development, and sadly something Heinlein appears to have enjoyed doing. It’s even worse in Friday, where the reader gets a definite idea of the first person narrator, only to have the author pull out the rug with a sudden (race and/or sex) revelation.

  2. Chris says:

    This is one of his juvenile novels. He could tell a good story and slip in a few morals. And his hero wasn’t perfect, just a guy doing his best. Not a bad example for a kid.

    This ain’t on the same plane as Starship Troopers or Stranger in a Strange Land.

  3. anon says:

    I read earth abides many many years ago but am amazed how much I can still recall from it. Truly the mark of a great novel.

  4. Tschafer says:

    Heinlein was like Reagan – I didn’t always agree with him, but he had that old “Can-Do” American spirit that I really miss. Even a second rate Heinlein novel is so much better than almost all of what is touted as “Young Adult” literature today. A truely unique individual.

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