Double Star: All the right elements

Double Star by Robert A. HeinleinDouble Star by Robert A. HeinleinDouble Star by Robert A. Heinlein

Most of Robert A. Heinlein’s adult novels have interesting ideas or premises but many lack likeable characters and/or fun quickly-moving plots. Fortunately Double Star has all the right elements and is entertaining from start to finish. It’s one of Heinlein’s best novels, I think, and I must not be alone in that opinion since it won the Hugo Award in 1956 and was nominated for Locus’ All-Time Best Science Fiction Novels. Double Star is a character-based novel that explores some important political issues without getting preachy.

Lorenzo Smythe, who styles himself “The Great Lorenzo,” is a down-and-out actor who has a lot more self-esteem than he has job offers. In fact, he’s a pompous ass and nobody wants to hire him. Just after he’s spent his last penny, he’s offered an acting job that pays a lot more money than he’s ever been offered before. He will be playing the double of a famous politician on Mars. Lorenzo fancies himself an artist, so even though he disagrees with the man’s politics, he gives the role everything he’s got. All he really cares about is giving a great show.

Lorenzo studies diligently for his new role as the popular, hard-working and ethical politician and it changes his life. Not only is this fun to watch, but the story made me think about the mutability of personality and how someone might become a better person simply by acquiring the habit of acting like a better person. It also made me think about how we often misunderstand and malign people whose politics or religion we don’t agree with. If we really got to know them and to understand what they believe and why, we might find ourselves understanding and admiring them despite our differences in opinion. Another theme in Double Star is the sense of self and what it means to lose that sense. I don’t want to say too much so as not to ruin the plot, but I found myself thinking about this — struggling with it, actually — long after I finished the book.

Heinlein loves to talk politics and this story is the perfect set-up for him to explore moral issues such as pacifism, racism and, of course, taxes. Most of the plot involves political campaigning and I was amused by how differently this is done today compared to 1955 when Double Star was published. If this story was updated for 2013, the political campaigning process is what would require the most editing!

I listened to audiobook version narrated by Lloyd James and produced by Blackstone Audio. James did a great job with Lorenzo. If you’re an audiobook reader, I recommend this version.

Double Star — (1955) Publisher: One minute, down and out actor Lorenzo Smythe was — as usual — in a bar, drinking away his troubles as he watched his career go down the tubes. Then a space pilot bought him a drink, and the next thing Smythe knew, he was shanghaied to Mars. Suddenly he found himself agreeing to the most difficult role of his career: impersonating an important politician who had been kidnapped. Peace with the Martians was at stake — failure to pull off the act could result in interplanetary war. And Smythe’s own life was on the line — for if he wasn’t assassinated, there was always the possibility that he might be trapped in his new role forever!

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KAT HOOPER is a professor at the University of North Florida where she teaches neuroscience, psychology, and research methods courses. She occasionally gets paid to review scientific textbooks, but reviewing speculative fiction is much more fun. Kat lives with her husband and their children in Jacksonville Florida.

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2 comments

  1. sandy ferber /

    I remember really liking this one, too, Kat. Thanks for reminding me of why….

  2. This was always one of my favorites, among many well-liked Heinleins.

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