Rocket Ship Galileo by Robert Heinlein

The drowsy effects of a winter fire on cats.
The drowsy effects of a winter fire on cats.

Why I Read It: I needed some vintage SF in my reading diet.

Where I got It: The library.

Who I Recommend This To: PG-rated adventure SF fans.

Narrator: Spider Robinson

Publisher: Blackstone Audio (2007)

Length: 5 hours 27 minutes

Author’s Page

The story starts with three friends who like to build rockets and fire them off in the back field. Only a few mishaps have taken place by the time we meet them….just in time for another mishap. As they leave the field, they come across a man who was evidently struck on the head by a falling bit of the latest exploded rocket. Turns out the man is the uncle of one of the boys, so they don’t have to be worried about being sued. He is also a physicist and planning a trip to the moon. Oh, by the way, this book is set shortly after WWII and before man has made it to the moon. OK, back to the kids. Of course all three of the boys are little geniuses in the making with skills in radio, physics, math, welding, rocket fuel, etc. So the four of them start laying plans.

I have read a few of Heinlein’s adult SF (The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress is my favorite of his works so far), but this was my first Heinlein YA. It was cute. Very PG with no cussing, minimal violence, the kids are always respectful to the adults, the one female we see on screen is a mom and in the kitchen. It was probably excellent in the time it was published, imagining a home-grown rocket ship, powered by some 10th grade physics, a little aeronautics, canned foods, spit, and teen boy muscle.

The part I liked best about the book was the spirit of adventure the book captured and held for nearly the entire book. Towards the end, it seems to get muddled with a political message, but I’ll chat about that below in the spoiler section. Still, the boys come up with some at-the-time great solutions to mechanical and technical difficulties, both on Earth before take off and later on the moon. There is also a side mystery that becomes integral at the end that was fun to watch unfold.

I had to keep reminding myself that this story is dated. We had not been to the moon (first landing was 1969) when this was published (1947), over 2 decades before the first moon landing. There’s no freeze-dried space food as we are use to seeing. The washroom-needs of the trip were glazed over (though you can find detailed info about such things in Packing for Mars by Mary Roach – a highly entertaining read). Oh, yes, there was also pipe smoking on the trip to the moon. Of course an open flame, however brief, would be terribly fun in space. Of course, all the space cadets are male and there is only one female who gets any lines – the mother of one of the lads. Still, it had a certain charm.

And then things got really whacky. But telling you about that means ruining the plot.

2014SFExperienceSPOILER ALERT There are Nazis on the moon. Yep. They’ve been there for a few years, have a large moon base, regularly ferry food and personnel from Earth to the moon. They even have families up there. They’re holed-up awaiting the rise of the New Reich. Yeah. Space Nazis. That alone took this book from a quaint, OK space adventure to a comedy that had me thoroughly delighted (Oh, was I suppose to laugh at the idea of space Nazis?). Well, at least until the political speech set it, had tea, and decided to take up house keeping for the rest of the book. END SPOILER

Overall, fun, and definitely a look at SF literature from a historical perspective.

VintageScifiBadgeThe Narration: Spider Robinson was a fun narrator. He did the teen boy voices well.

What I Liked: Spirit of adventure; historical SF literature for its own sake.

What I Disliked: Only 1 female role; story gets lost at the end in a political message; crazy turn towards the end; kids 100% respectful of the adults (lacks reality).

This month I am participating in two SF reading events: Vintage SF Month over at The Little Red Review and The 2014 Science Fiction Experience over at Stainless Steel Droppings. Make sure to head over to these two places for more SF goodness.

What Others Think:

Julian Perez Conquers the Universe

Snake Oil Review

Rabyd Reader

Patrick T. Reardon

3 thoughts on “Rocket Ship Galileo by Robert Heinlein”

  1. This is one of Heinlein’s juveniles that I have yet to read, although I do have a very old non-first-edition of the hardback on my shelf. I’ve enjoyed the Full Cast recordings of some of his other juveniles. Always fun. An interesting one with several female characters is The Rolling Stones. In some moments the gender roles are very dated, but then grandma or mom will do something very proactive and show how Heinlein was straddling that line between stereotypical gender roles and reversing them.

Comments are always appreciated, so don't be shy!