View unanswered posts | View active topics It is currently Thu Jul 31, 2014 7:31 am



Reply to topic  [ 21 posts ]  Go to page 1, 2, 3  Next
"Tunnel in the Sky" a reviewer's musings 
Author Message
User avatar

Joined: Thu Jun 30, 2011 3:12 pm
Posts: 17
Post "Tunnel in the Sky" a reviewer's musings
I don't know when I first read 'Tunnel'. In fact, it seems as if I've been reading Heinlein since birth, he's such a part of my life. Recently I re-read 'Tunnel' and was startled to find how much more I enjoyed it as a 59 year old adult. 'Tunnel' is packed with subtly and insights into human nature.

We're introduced to the main character Rod Walker at school, worried about his upcoming test in a class very important to his future. Best friend, other students, and then the standard Heinlein character: The wise experienced older mentor, present in all Heinlein novels, bit always only briefly. The main character will soon be on his own, and with classic advice. "Man is the only animal that can't be tamed." The next few pages are PACKED with philosophy; sound, practical philosophy that anyone would do well to memorize.

Diversion: I read a trilogy once, and in the last novel at the climax where a character is attempting to establish a dictatorship among Earth's few survivors far in the future, there is a crowd that is 'sensibly' giving in. Then one woman stands up and states, "I'm not a tame human," and makes a break for the door (and succeeds). Brilliant. I can't remember much else about the novels, but that stuck. To be free, once must never be tamed.

Then Rod goes to Emigrant's gap; fascinating and exciting, nevertheless it's an everyday part of Rod's world.

Here come some of Heinlein's gems I've always found mesmorizing; one or two throw-away sentences that nevertheless reverberate deeply. The replica Statue of Liberty, where the original had stood was now Bedloe's Crator. (Hey! Who was Bedloe?) The view through the open gates. The chlorine breathing alien, which is all we hear of aliens. Two pages on Asiatics, their conquest of Australia, the irrigation of the Australian desert while all Aussie survivors were moved to New Zealand, His Serene Majesty of the AustralAsian Republic and a page of Oriental stereotypes. The first mention of Rod's government being 'Terra Corp.'. (Is this a world government or only a large region? We don't know.) A Prince of Terran Corp is present. It's made clear Earth's natural resources are almost exhausted.

Nowhere is birth control mentioned. Those teeming masses yearning to breath free, might just be yearning to breathe. The novel was written in 1955 as what is now called a 'young adult' book and sex is never mentioned.

Rod's attention is caught near the end by a professional settlement Captain. A hint of what's to come.

Background on the development of the Sky Tunnel is finally given in Chapter 4. I've always hoped that Romsbatham, the mathematician and engineer of the Tunnels, finally made friends with the, female, chief programmer. Or that she took him by the hand to everyone's satisfaction.

Note: A woman as Chief Programmer for one of the region's biggest computers was a surprise to me, and no doubt to many readers in 1955.

His parents mean well but don't understand him, are too protective, with problems of their own. They follow a religion that swept out of Persia a century ago. Despite the apparent strong pacifist teachings implied, his older sister is a very tough professional soldier. She mentions a shortage of men on Earth: A recent war perhaps, leaving a situation similar to England's after World War I? His sister is his second, older, wiser, mentor in private after supper.

Rod at last leaves for his Solo Survival test. His wits and training and very few supplies on a planet unknown to him and uninhabited. A few more characters are introduced, one who will be killed immediately on planet. With a powerful weapon and a trained dog he's cocky; hinting at his future, he offers to let Rod try out the gun once they're through the gate.

Rod goes through the Tunnel.

One of the first things he finds is his cocky classmate, dead. This is where I started to realize there's more to this novel. What Heinlein doesn't say is sometimes crucial. Even naive Rod can figure out someone killed Johan. He doesn't, he never, takes it any further. Classes were evidently dropped in one general area, one student at a time then move on. To get to Johan so fast, the killer must have been one of Rod and Johan's classmates. "Hey Jo! Great to see you. Hey, do you suppose I could try out your rifle?" While friendly Jo turns over his weapon and controls his hostile dog, the classmate kills the dog first (faster aggressor), then Johan.

Later the next day, Rod is attacked, hit in the head with a rock, and everything taken except evidently his shorts and a knife strapped as if a bandage. This cannot be the same killer. He would have used the rifle. There are two students out there killing (or trying to kill) other students. No one ever puts the evidence together.

By the way, why a rock? Everyone's carrying weapons even if only knives. Why not a knife through Rod's heart? Is this a student whose somehow already lost all his gear and is down to rocks? Or someone obsessively careful of his Earth gear? Or maybe, he or she just prefers a nasty rock.

Where's Sherlock Holmes when you need him?

Jackieville is founded. That's what I call the settlement.

Rod is elected Captain, but Jackie and Jimmy and Rod don't call it an election, and they don't use the title Captain. I have to believe that both outland and Terran Corp law would recognize an emergency election of a leader as legal to create a Captain. Nor do I believe this is never covered in romantic novels and movies everyone reads or sees, or even in their Survival readings. However, it does setup the central events of the book.

In one day, two revolutions are attempted. The first one, a violent event, fails. The second one, political and peaceful, succeeds.

We meet Jock and his 3 male followers without any previous introduction. Everyone who remembers the Rape of the Sabine Women, raise your hands. Jock refuses to work, nor will his tribe. They're there for the food, and (despite Heinlein writing in 1955 for young people) I have to assume for other reasons. If Jackie and Caroline hadn't caught on to the attack on Rod, the men would have succeeded.

Rod banishes them.

However, reading the book now, I cannot believe that if Jock had won he would have just smiled and said everything was fine, only when we don't want to work, we don't. Having knifed Rod and told everyone to start putting down their weapons, would he have stopped? Could he? No.

By nightfall, Rod and any loud supporters would have been in the river, eaten by piranha. Guessing at Jock's ugly sense of justice and need to intimidate the camp, Rod would have been put in s-l-o-w-l-y. Jock would be King. The women would be divided up and the rapes already starting.

No one seems aware of the disaster missed by Caroline and Jackie's alertness.

Then Grant Cowper starts another, political revolution the same day, heavily laced with vitriol disguised as polite pleading to Rod. The old "Have you stopped beating your wife?" There's no answer for the innocent. "You don't want to act as a dictator, do you Rod?"

This revolution Rod loses. Afterward Caroline again shows she understood what was happening at the camp meeting that night; so why didn't she speak up? Well, the plot had to move on to show how disastrous a well-meaning government can be, one that doesn't address the real needs of a community.

In this case, survival.

Again, reading it recently I saw another basic problem. This is a flat river valley between steep cliffs far back from the bank. The river winds about (it's very close to the bottom of the cave), and no mention is made of thick forest in the river.

I think these student settlers have made the classic mistake of many civilizations. They're building on a flood plain. Heinlein even mentions that the cave shows signs of being carved out by water. So wet season floods to the base of the cliffs, and the talus there. Rare catastrophic floods at the level of the cave, near the top of the cliff.

Rod's wall to keep them safe where there's a large gap between cliff and river at the north end, isn't going to do a bit of good against floods. They'll be in piranha up to their waists.

That river bothers me another way too. Heinlein's trying to setup a safe settlement site, east and south, a wall to the north, dangerous river to the west. However, the river really is dangerous. Someday someone scrambling up the talus to the cave is going to slip and fall in, as Rod almost did when carrying Jimmy. Someday a river dinosaur (I call them Loch Ness monsters, or Nessies), which is capable of jumping at least partly out of the river to catch prey, is going to go after a settler; especially if they keep tossing their trash in the river thus training the piranhas and Nessies to hang around.

The cliffs. We've been told about gigantic lions. Once, in the mad animal stampede a bull antelope falls over the ledge. If a lion's hungry, would s/he even hesitate about leaping, scrambling down that cliff into a herd of tender humans?

The conflict between Rod the do-er and Grant the thinker is brilliant. Grant's speech on government should be read aloud in every high school government class, and emailed to every elected representative -- especially in these years when self-interest and right wing political inflexibility is paralyzing our government

Grant is not a bad guy. In fact, he dies a hero. He's just too far along for this settlement group which still doesn't have the basics of survival firmly nailed down.

Rod however, gets to go exploring and as Heinlein always does, we're startled by what he finds. I love the dome builders and the salt sea edged with bones.

Eventually, they are rescued, just as Rod is firmly recognized as Captain and the settlement is starting to build beyond mere survival.

Abruptly, from being a man and the alpha man, he's a boy again.

Even he can't hold on to the maturity he had at the settlement. "I can't STAND it!" he cries to his mentor, just as a kid would.

Nevertheless, he does. He gets through, and in our last glimpse of him he's riding through a Tunnel, the professional Captain of a new settlement.

Diversion: I was so angry when I read the second novel in the Colossus trilogy, that I completely rewrote it. Now I'm so happy with Tunnel in the Sky that I'm writing my own version. (I'm a retired librarian and yes, I know about copyright.)



Hope you enjoyed this. I did.


Sat Feb 18, 2012 7:37 am
Profile
NitroForum Oldster

Joined: Sun Apr 13, 2008 7:05 am
Posts: 233
Post Re: "Tunnel in the Sky" a reviewer's musings
thanks for sharing some keen observations ! am hoping they provoke folk out of their winter malaise :)


Sat Feb 18, 2012 8:47 am
Profile

Joined: Tue Jul 21, 2009 7:32 pm
Posts: 13
Post Re: "Tunnel in the Sky" a reviewer's musings
A nice summary of one of my favorite Heinlein's. I will make two quick points.

1) "right wing political infletxibility is paralyzing our government" seems out of place here. FWIW, RAH often seemed to be rather in favor of paralized or at least minimalized government.

2) I'd like to thank you for writing several thousand words about Rod Walker without once mentioning his race.


Sat Feb 18, 2012 6:12 pm
Profile
NitroForum Oldster

Joined: Sun Apr 13, 2008 7:05 am
Posts: 233
Post Re: "Tunnel in the Sky" a reviewer's musings
'twas irrelevant to RAH in this and many other stories and in "In This I Believe"- his belief wasn't in race but in humanity


Sat Feb 18, 2012 7:53 pm
Profile
Heinlein Nexus
User avatar

Joined: Thu Apr 10, 2008 8:10 am
Posts: 2094
Location: Pacific NorthWest
Post Re: "Tunnel in the Sky" a reviewer's musings
"Bedloe's Crater" is a classic Heinlein device to seduce you into the fictional universe; he writes as though you know what he's talking about, and gives you just enough context to get it. This does make me wonder how much back story he created for these books. I mean, did he just go, "Okay, we're in a post-nuclear age here, need to show it - I know, a crater where Liberty Island used to be," or did he have unpublished detail on when it happened, where it happened, and who Bedloe was? (Yes, of course I know about the Future History timeline.)


Sat Feb 18, 2012 7:58 pm
Profile WWW

Joined: Mon Feb 28, 2011 9:53 am
Posts: 555
Post Re: "Tunnel in the Sky" a reviewer's musings
PeterScott wrote:
"Bedloe's Crater" is a classic Heinlein device to seduce you into the fictional universe; he writes as though you know what he's talking about, and gives you just enough context to get it. This does make me wonder how much back story he created for these books. I mean, did he just go, "Okay, we're in a post-nuclear age here, need to show it - I know, a crater where Liberty Island used to be," or did he have unpublished detail on when it happened, where it happened, and who Bedloe was? (Yes, of course I know about the Future History timeline.)


I just think he was very good at making up the telling detail on the spot; brevity is the soul of poetry, yadda yadda. You'll notice he uses this device in Stranger as well, through newspaper headlines (in The Man Who Sold the Moon, as well. Gee, I loved that story!)

I don't think Cowper was the idealist he's made out to be; he was a student of government and recognized what sort of government this fledgling society had to have. And his death was the thing that finally brought everyone together and created the society around Cowpertown.

This is going to be a terrific thread!


Sun Feb 19, 2012 4:47 pm
Profile
User avatar

Joined: Mon May 02, 2011 2:10 pm
Posts: 401
Location: Juneau, AK
Post Re: "Tunnel in the Sky" a reviewer's musings
"Tunnel" was the very first Heinlein I read, that would be right on 40 years ago. A sixth-grade friend sung its praises and I bit...funny, I remember that he was also a fan of Andre Norton, and 40 years later I still haven't gotten around to reading any of her work. Must remedy that.

Great summary/review VeraLenora. Obviously I loved the book and went on to read evrything by RAH I could get my hands on; but I was very curious and somewhat dissatisfied at the time that that the loop never gets closed on Johan's killing and Rod's being assaulted. I had read all of Sherlock Holmes at 10 and was used to everything being tied up neatly!

The other thing I really remember is how cool and strange it seemed that high schoolers would actually be sent where they could die, rather than being coddled by Mommy until age 18. Heinlein was a revelation on how big and different the world is, rather than just whatever milieu we are living in at the moment.

_________________
"There comes a time in the life of every human when he or she must decide to risk 'his life, his fortune, and his sacred honor' on an outcome dubious. Those who fail the challenge are merely overgrown children, can never be anything else."


Fri Feb 24, 2012 10:51 am
Profile
User avatar

Joined: Tue Apr 20, 2010 8:51 pm
Posts: 181
Location: Alabama, USA
Post Re: "Tunnel in the Sky" a reviewer's musings
RobertPearson wrote:
"Tunnel" was the very first Heinlein I read, that would be right on 40 years ago. A sixth-grade friend sung its praises and I bit...funny, I remember that he was also a fan of Andre Norton, and 40 years later I still haven't gotten around to reading any of her work. Must remedy that.


You will probably enjoy some of Andre Norton's work, though she certainly was not as consistently good as Heinlein was. I started reading Norton shortly after I discovered science fiction (with Have Space Suit, Will Travel). Some of her stories, I can reread now and still enjoy but others not so much. I never did care for her fantasy. Her books are mostly straight up adventure stores with little of the philosophical depth that is found in Heinlein's work, even his juveniles. Later in her life she had "collaborators" that wrote books set in her more popular series. Most of those I have found to be unsatisfactory.

As for Tunnel in the Sky, it's one of my very favorites, too. I repeat my recommendation of the Full Cast Audio production, if you like audiobooks. They really did a first class job with an outstanding novel.

_________________
Dan Thompson


Fri Feb 24, 2012 11:51 am
Profile WWW

Joined: Mon Feb 28, 2011 9:53 am
Posts: 555
Post Re: "Tunnel in the Sky" a reviewer's musings
Blackhawk wrote:
RobertPearson wrote:
I repeat my recommendation of the Full Cast Audio production, if you like audiobooks. They really did a first class job with an outstanding novel.


Hmm, will have to give that some consideration.


Fri Feb 24, 2012 9:10 pm
Profile
User avatar

Joined: Thu Jun 30, 2011 3:12 pm
Posts: 17
Post Re: "Tunnel in the Sky" a reviewer's musings
Steve Richards wrote:
A nice summary of one of my favorite Heinlein's. I will make two quick points.

1) "right wing political infletxibility is paralyzing our government" seems out of place here. FWIW, RAH often seemed to be rather in favor of paralized or at least minimalized government.

2) I'd like to thank you for writing several thousand words about Rod Walker without once mentioning his race.



Wasn't Rod white? My book is worn out and I've had to order a new copy. I'll have to reread it.

I remember being shocked when Johnny Rico turned out to be Filipino in "Starship Troopers." Huh? There are other types of people in the world? Forgive me, I think I was 9 years old at the time. Still, even then a wide grasp of humanity was one reason I always loved Heinlein. Not just Filipinos, but women of all races.

Oh yes, and I'm a retired librarian. I'd always rather wanted to be a librarian, and when I read Heinlein's essay on the 'Crisis of the Librarian' written in the '50's, my mind was made up. Librarians aren't just important, they're crucial to any civilization. Now that's a career I could sink my teeth into.


Thu Mar 01, 2012 1:25 pm
Profile
Display posts from previous:  Sort by  
Reply to topic   [ 21 posts ]  Go to page 1, 2, 3  Next

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 0 guests


You cannot post new topics in this forum
You cannot reply to topics in this forum
You cannot edit your posts in this forum
You cannot delete your posts in this forum
You cannot post attachments in this forum

Search for:
Jump to:  
cron
Powered by phpBB © 2000, 2002, 2005, 2007 phpBB Group.
Designed by STSoftware for PTF