This was a really quick read. I listened to the audiobook, and got through the whole thing in less than 24 hours. Like a lot of Heinlein’s youth books, it’s pretty straightforward, but has quite a bit of depth.
I always find it interesting to read Heinlein’s books because his science can be horrifically outdated. In this book, one of the most egregious errors was how Mars is described as being too harsh for humans, but Venus has been colonized. I understand that very little was known of either planet’s surface at the time Heinlein wrote the book, but I see it a lot in his novels. The nice thing is, it doesn’t matter. Heinlein’s strength isn’t in his accuracy, it’s in his characters.
Don Harvey, the protagonist of the book, is a kid caught in a unique situation as two worlds go to war. He’s one of the very few individuals who can claim citizenship to each planet. What I liked most about him is that his decisions make sense throughout the book. He’s just a kid, he doesn’t know who to trust, and so when faced with difficult decisions, he does the best he can with the knowledge he has. He sometimes makes mistakes, but the mistakes make sense in the context of the situation. He grows in experience and it changes his perception of the world.
The main story is simple, but there are a lot of interesting ideas in the background. Some characters, like Old Charlie, Johnny Ling, Jack Moreau, and Stanley Bankfield are only in the story for a short period of time, but they add a lot of complexity to the world. Some are good people who encourage Don, while others show that the world is more sinister than it may appear on the surface.
This book could have easily been twice as long and stayed just as engaging, but I’m glad that Heinlein left it as tight as it was. It wasn’t my favorite of his YA books, but it definitely got me thinking more than most books in the genre.