Abstract of a rocket launch pad with a person silhouetted in the foregroundShould read “by Spider Robinson from an outline (or most of one) by Robert A Heinlein.” Yes, Heinlein has been dead for a while. What happened was that his literary executor found an outline and some notes for a novel he never got around to writing. Spider was a pretty logical choice to write it, being one of the biggest Heinlein fanboys around and having been frequently compared to the master.

The reason I suggest putting Spider’s name first is that this is very much a Spider Robinson book. No one would mistake it for a lost Heinlein novel. But that’s not to say that Heinlein’s hand isn’t visible. The shape of the plot is more Heinlein than Robinson. In particular, nobody saves the world by getting psychic in this book, so that’s good. The main character mostly feels like one of the characters from Heinlein’s completed juveniles despite the fact that he talks like a Robinson character.

I’m pretty close to the ideal audience for this book. I love Spider like an eccentric uncle, warts and all. I dig, but don’t deify Heinlein. I really like sf with interstellar rocket ships with really big crews (and I’m willing to suspend a whole lot of disbelief to get them, even enough to swallow a ship driven by raw brainpower.) If you don’t like Spider you should probably skip this one even if you adore Heinlein.

I can’t really talk about the plot in a spoiler-free way because there’s a twist in the first chapter. (It’s not a spoiler to say that. The second sentence of the book makes it clear there’s going to be a twist, you just don’t know what it’s going to be.) I can say that the book quickly moves into the story of a young man who chooses to ship out on a near-light-speed journey to colonize a planet in another star system. The trip will take 20 years ship time and the rest of the book takes place on the ship.

I liked it. Some of the Spiderisms are laid on a little thick (Zen, transcendence through music, telepathy (didn’t say there wasn’t any, just said it didn’t save the world), interpersonal relations), but they’re nicely leavened with Heinlein’s emphasis on personal integrity and growth. And to Spider’s credit, I think he did a great job filling in the missing end of the outline (yes, Heinlein’s planned ending was lost).