Rereading: THE STAR BEAST by Robert A. Heinlein

Cover art by Clifford Geary

As has often been the case, I reread a Heinlein book on my way to the San Diego Con last week. I didn’t bring my hardcover copy (which does not have the dust jacket pictured above, sadly), I read an ebook version.

“Star Beast” is the eighth of the author’s juveniles series, science fiction novels written for young readers, most published by Scribners in the 1950s. This one came out in 1954. It takes place in a future Earth which has had spaceflight for a few centuries, and had contact with a number of non-terrestrial species and civilizations. The protagonist, teenager John Thomas Stuart XI, lives in the small Rocky Mountains town of Westville. The one unusual thing about his life is his pet, Lummox, a creature brought back from an early space expedition by his great-grandfather. At the time, Lummox was about the size of a dog, but he has continued to grow, and developed the ability to speak English in the manner of a child. Lummox is now the size of a small bus, and quartered in a large barn in John Thomas’ back yard, which he’s been forbidden to leave. The creature is obedient, but boredom eventually causes him to find a way to sneak out, and soon he’s caused a great deal of damage to property all over Westville.

John Thomas’ widowed mother does not like Lummox, and sees this as a way to get the animal destroyed. At first John Thomas and his girlfriend try to protect Lummox, but attempts by the town’s police chief to kill the beast (unsuccessful) lead them to engineer an escape into the mountains where they hope to hide out.

Meanwhile, Mr. Kiku, a career diplomat with Earth’s Department of Spacial Affairs, is having trouble negotiating with a new, powerful alien species, whose ship has arrived in Earth orbit. Their negotiator demands the return of a lost child they are sure is on Earth, though no creature similar to the Hroshi has ever been seen there. As you might imagine, these two stories soon intertwine in a very entertaining way.

I hadn’t read this fine book in a long time, and one thing that surprised me was how talky it is. I expect that of Heinlein’s later works, but this one is about two-thirds dialogue. Despite that, the story moves along well, and all the characters and ideas are clever and appealing. This is one of the funniest and most charming of Heinlein’s works. Highly recommended.

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