Variable Star is a novel based off of notes by Robert A. Heinlein and written by Spider Robinson. I generally have a strongly negative reaction to books written after the death of a writer, but this is one of the cases where I had a more or less positive reaction. Spider Robinson and Heinlein are a good fit for each other style-wise so this felt more like collaboration within a shared universe instead of *awkwardly written fan fiction the writer is being paid for. (This would be my general opinion of all of Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson’s Dune books.)
Our Hero is a young man named Joel Johnston. He is a dead broke would-be composer who discovers that his girlfriend has been posing as an ordinary girl. Who she actually is, is the scion of one of the richest families in the world. Joel is not able to handle what he has learned, and really doesn’t want the life her family appears to be setting up for him, so he runs away, aided by Jinny’s seven year old cousin.
Of course, running back to his apartment is not nearly faraway enough–so he ends up joining a colony ship. Being very young, inexperienced, and possibly unhinged as a result of various things that have happened to him, he has a lot of growing up to do. The growing up process in this case is a lot of psychotherapy and meditation, instead of the more Heinleinian “work hard, get your block knocked off a couple times and make money.”
Spider does some interesting things with Heinlein’s future history timeline, infusing it with contemporary touches such as references to “Google” and “The Simpsons.” He makes Nehemiah Scudder’s dictatorship something so universally reviled that “Prophet” is a dirty word and most religious iconography the equivalent of the Nazi swastika. (This is also what happens in the Heinlein Future History time line, but Robinson makes the revulsion more immediate by incorporating references to Scudder into the colloquial language. There are a few cases where I think Robinson stretched it too far, but overall, it worked.)
We do have a few of the usual Heinlein Women in the form of Jinny, who seems quite content to be a “breeder” for her family, and Evelyn who is the usual “really smart little girl who is going to Marry the Protagonist When She’s Legal.” (Some people might have a slight squick for this kind of thing, but I am a little jaded since so many writers do this. Someday, I just want to see this where the genders are reversed and it is a boy declaring that he’ll marry an older woman when he’s legal.)
This was a good book, and very entertaining–an interesting fusion of Robinson and Heinlein.