Space Cadet – Robert A Heinlein (1948)
FROM MARS TO VENUS – TO DANGER-FILLED ADVENTURES DEEP IN OUTER SPACE
Only the best and brightest – the strongest and the most courageous – ever managed to become Space Cadets. They were the elite guard of the solar system, accepting missions others feared, taking risks no others dared, and upholding the peace of the star system for the benefit of all.
But before Matt could earn his rightful place in the ranks, his mettle would be tested in the most severe and extraordinary ways- ways that would change him forever but would still not prepare him for the alien treacheries that awaited him on strange worlds far beyond his own.
Blurb from the 1990 Del Rey paperback edition
A minor yet appealing work from Heinlein which reads a little like a tamer version of ‘Starship Troopers’ in that a teenager enrols in ‘The Patrol’, makes friends and works his way through the trials of his cadetship.
It’s an unashamed wish-fulfilment fantasy aimed at a specific demographic but is nonetheless notable for the odd seductiveness of Heinlein’s style. Other critics have pointed out that even though readers may violently disagree with Heinlein’s rather right-wing (and naïve) view of human nature, he creates a very cosy atmosphere in which to express it.
Matt Dobson is our hero, a young man of ‘the right stuff’ who applies to become a cadet in The Patrol and makes friends with not only ‘Tex’ Jarman, a Texan, but also Oscar and Pierre who hail from Venus & Ganymede.
Following initial testing and training, and the elimination of weak links, the successful candidates are posted to the Randolph school ship where physical training is augmented by forced education under hypnosis.
The Patrol is an interplanetary peace-keeping force which – one presumes – rather in the manner of Gort’s robots from ‘The Day The Earth Stood Still’ – keeps the peace between worlds and nations by threatening to nuke the aggressor. The Earth is, for instance, surrounded by a ring of nuclear bombs, stretching between the poles, capable of striking any point on the planet’s surface.
Heinlein doesn’t go out of his way to explore the morality of this issue, other than a brief discussion between Matt and his father on the topic which is hastily curtailed for fear of sending Matt’s mother into hysterics. Matt’s mother, being a woman, is naturally hysterical and doesn’t know what keeps the moon up in the sky. Similarly, Matt’s ex-girlfriend apparently has trouble distinguishing between stars and planets.
This is probably why there are no women in Heinlein’s Patrol. Later, the Cadets are stranded on Venus and taken in by the froglike Venusians. The assumption, which is implicit within the text and not otherwise discussed, is that humans have a right to land on Venus, exploit its mineral wealth and set up a colonisation process. The Venusians – a peace-loving and philosophical race – are expected to be diplomatically talked around to the idea.
This correlates to a certain extent with the views expressed in ‘Starship Troopers’ to the effect that all species, whether intelligent or not, will compete for territory and resources. Although a diplomatic solution is proposed here, the idea of leaving Venus and its mineral wealth to the Venusians is never even considered as an option.
Despite the fact that Heinlein goes out of his way to make the point that ‘Venusians are people’ through Oscar’s discussions with other cadets, he fails to take this to its logical conclusion of the Venusians being responsible for the decisions on who should or should not, visit their world.