Rereading: FARMER IN THE SKY by Robert A. Heinlein

Cover and illustrations by Clifford Geary

Heinlein’s fourth in his series of science fiction novels for younger readers was published in 1950, it follows Rocket Ship Galileo, Space Cadet and Red Planet. Though the books published by Scribners are not a series, and do not take place in chronological order, there are connections. This one mentions the Space Patrol from the second book, for instance. It also mentions the song “Green Hills of Earth” from the story of that name in Heinlein’s connected stories for adult readers known as his Future History.

The Earth of this story is struggling with overpopulation causing many to go hungry. Bill enjoys rare visits to wilderness areas with the Boy Scouts. He lives with his widowed father George and finds creative ways to get enough calories for them, but their life is stifled and claustrophobic. George has an escape plan: a colonist ship is soon leaving for Jupiter’s moon Ganymede where colonists will be given land and an opportunity to farm it. Ganymede is in the process of being terraformed to allow that. George plans to leave Bill behind to attend college, but Bill will have none of it, and is determined to go too. To make himself more eligible, George meets and marries another potential colonist, Molly, who has a daughter Peggy, younger than Bill. The boy is hurt by this move, seeing it as a betrayal of their deceased mother and wife, but in the end, all four are allowed to join the colonists. On board and underway, Bill connects with other Boy Scouts and makes new friends while learning a lot about the ship and the project. He’s almost killed when a small meteorite pierces his bunk room, but Bill manages to save himself and his bunk mates with quick thinking.

When the colonists arrive on Ganymede, they find a very different situation than they expect. The colony is struggling to get started, and the last thing they want is more colonists. They were hoping for a ship full of farming machinery and other needed resources, but do their best to make room for everyone. As Bill and the others learn the realities of their situation, Peggy turns out to be unable to adjust to the low pressure, and George and Molly talk about returning to Earth. Bill is determined to claim his homestead and begin farming it, and with much hard work he’s finally able to get started, but many challenges stand in his way.

Like all of this series, a great read, full of interesting characters, situations and science (even if some of it is now inaccurate). This was originally serialized in Boy’s Life magazine, so Scouting is a theme throughout. Recommended.

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