by Robert A. Heinlein
Review by Colleen Cahill
Orb Books Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 0765314517
Date: 31 October, 2006 List Price $12.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Not all classics of science fiction age well: what was high tech and daring fifty years ago today seems dated or even worse, a failed guess at the future. Others stand the test of time better and Robert Heinlein's Space Cadet can be counted in that number. With few exceptions, this story of young men with hopes of joining the Solar Patrol, the defenders of Earth's solar system, still holds the excitement of space and all its wonders.
Matt Dodson is among an army of young men who dream of entering the glamorous life of an Interplanetary patrolman, traveling to far off planets and performing deeds of daring-do. First, however, he must make it past a battery of tests, ones designed to weed out the unfit and find those with the skills the Patrol requires. Along the way, he makes some fast friends, including a boisterous Texan and two young men who grew up on Venus and Jupiter's moon, Ganymede. The Patrol tests for various things, such as agility, intelligence and the ability to deal with zero gravity, along with a few tests that are not so clear, such as one to see how many beans a person can drop in a small jar with their eyes closed. With each test, there are fewer and fewer candidates moving forward.
After several days, the tests are complete: Matt and his friends all make the grade. Training now begins in the school ship P.R.S. James Randolph which is in orbit above the Earth. Matt finds the school has a surprisingly broad range of subjects: he expected calculus and astronavigation, but never thought he would get lessons in extraterrestrial languages, solar system history or be grilled on the finer points of etiquette. A patrolman is more than someone who travels through space having adventures, he is also an ambassador, a peace keeper and scientist.
When it comes to predicting the future, Heinlein was not a perfect prophet: it is a bit jarring to read about moon bases in 1997 or a manned flight to Venus in 1971. The intelligent races on Mars and Venus also date the work, as does the dialog between Matt and his friends, which is not at all like today's lingo. Still, Heinlein was not all wrong: there are cell phones and television satellites in wide use and the Patrol is a multi-ethnic body, with not only Americans, but members from everywhere, including Asia, India and Muslim countries. Some might comment on the lack of women in the Patrol and human women do seem to just be decorations in this book, but the native Venusians have a matriarchy and these females prove to be geniuses when it comes to the chemical sciences. For all its possible drawbacks, Space Cadet is still a good page-turning read, with solid characters who face interesting problems.
Like many of classics, this book shows its age a bit, but it is still a compelling story that is well worth the time spent. It is a good vehicle to introduce a young adult to science fiction and can still be enjoyed by an adult fan. Whether you are rereading an old favorite or like me, learning why this is a classic, you cannot go wrong with Space Cadet.
Well, that's a Ed Emsh cover from The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, but I can't remember which Heinlein serial it illustrates. Maybe "Have Spacesuit, Will Travel".