Tag Archive for pathfinder

Between Planets

Between Planets

The fifth of the Heinlein juveniles, Between Planets was copyrighted by Robert A. Heinlein in 1951 and published that same year by Charles Scribner’s Sons of New York. The book was illustrated by Clifford Geary. I mention this because I believe that in order to fully appreciate the early juveniles; you should see the illustrations as they were done for the original hardback books. These books are all out of print now, but are still available at independent bookstores, most easily online through abebooks. Many are old library editions, but are quite serviceable and will give you the full flavor of what the book was intended to do at the time it was published.

Since a substantial part of the plot depends on mystery and suspense, I will only present an outline. On Heinlein’s time line of future history this book occurs during a period when the solar system is fully settled and exploited. But the extra terrestrial colonies are chafing under the yoke of their Earth-side masters and there is talk of rebellion. This is the first of the juveniles in which Heinlein gives us a clear vision of what warfare would be like in such a time. Don Harvey, the main character, is a student at a boarding school in New Mexico and because the winds of war are rising, is called home by his parents, who are research scientists living on Mars. His repeatedly thwarted attempts to get to Mars are the main plot of the story. During Don’s journey, we are introduced to a host of interesting characters, including a giant saurian Venusian named Sir Isaac Newton, some other lesser but well drawn human characters, the comical “move-overs” shown in one of the illustrations and to Isobel Costello, the first prominent female character in this series of books. All of Heinlein’s subsequent books have significant female characters.

This is tough book. Don is continually faced with hard decisions, decisions for which there is no clear cut answer. There is a little more moral ambiguity in this book than in the earlier ones. Very often, Don is forced to trust his own instincts for what is right, rather than being able to reason out a solution and if there is an important theme here, it is that. Sometimes a certain action is the right thing to do, whether it seems logical or expedient at the time. Early in the story, for example, after first cooperating with police investigators he decides that this wrong. He then chooses to resist and even though he loses the fight, he feels better about it. His conscience knows that it is right to resist evil, especially when it is hard.

My son, who was about 17 at the time he read the book, informed me that I should write a book like this. I agree and if I had Heinlein’s talent for description and characterization, I would. If suspense, high adventure and intrigue are your cup of tea, then read this one!

Colonial Scout (An Excerpt)

Colonial Scout

By Doug Turnbull

 Traveling on Mars is a lot easier than you’d think, if the only thing you knew about it was from what you saw on virtual vids. In those stories, there are always landslides, deadly accidents, dangerous criminals, life-threatening mechanical failures and of course, Martians. In the end, the hero comes through with some amazing and completely unrealistic gimmick at just the last second to save the day. The reality is actually pretty routine stuff, and as long as you’re careful and follow procedures, none of those other things will happen. By the way, if there ever were any Martians, they were probably bacteria.

We were an hour into an estimated three and a half hour rover trip from Lowell Station to a cave located in Levchenko Ridge. I had plotted the course, and the autopilot was taking us on the fifty-five kilometer journey using topographical maps prepared from photos taken by the orbiting satellites. My job was to sit back and make sure the autopilot did everything it should. It always did. This was a Scout outing, and as the Scout with the most seniority on Mars, I was in charge.

“Saiyed forgot his multi-purpose knife,” Rocky said.

“Did not, Rocky — my kid sister must have taken it out of my pack. I remember putting it in last night.”

“You should have checked your stuff before you left home, Sy,” I said, mentally noting that I should have made everybody check their stuff before we left Lowell. “I’ll loan you my spare.” I handed my extra pocket knife back to Rocky, seated in the passenger area of the rover with four younger Scouts. She in turn passed it to Saiyed.

“Sorry, Augie,” Saiyed said. “Thanks for the loaner. I’ll do better next time.”

“Everybody else looks okay, Augie,” Rocky said.

Rocio Kimura was my second-in-command and the second most experienced Scout, after me, in the whole troop. Rocio got her nickname a couple of years Mars (one year Mars equals two Earth years) before when some wise guy made fun of her in exercise class and she punched him in the nose. After that, she was forever Rocky.

The Rolling Stones

The Rolling Stones

The Rolling Stones was copyrighted in 1952 by Robert A. Heinlein and published by Charles Scribner’s Sons of New York in that same year. Like several of the Heinlein juveniles, this book is beautifully illustrated by Clifford Geary. The Rolling Stones novel is a departure from the earlier juveniles in that the main characters are the entire Stone family. Instead of a single teenaged male character, this story is populated by Roger Stone, a retired engineer and current writer of Science Fiction teleplays; his mother, Hazel Meade Stone; Edith Stone, MD, Roger’s wife and the mother of their four children. These children include Meade, their teenage daughter, Lowell, also known as Buster, a pre-school aged son, and Castor and Pollux, their young teen twins who are geniuses but otherwise normal young fellows.

The plot of the story is fairly straightforward: The Stone family purchases a used spaceship, which they christen The Rolling Stone, and proceed to take a tour of the solar system. Starting on their home world of Luna, the Rolling Stone proceeds on a two year journey to Mars and then on to the asteroid belt. The twins, who are the entrepreneurial members of the family, use this opportunity to attempt to turn a profit by carrying trade goods in the hold of the family ship. Their venture into interplanetary trade is the source of considerable family conflict and humor as they run afoul of the Martian tariff laws, and acquire a Martian Flat cat, which rapidly reproduces itself until its offspring threaten to devour all of their ship’s stores. I have long suspected that the famous Star Trek episode, “The Trouble with Tribbles,” was borrowed from this novel.

The characters of the Stone family are well drawn and likeable. Hazel Stone is a hero on Luna’s battle for independence and is the unofficial matriarch of the family, while Roger, a former mayor of Luna City, believes that he is the head of the family. The four children are all talented, strong and willful. As a practicing physician and mother, Edith is a quiet but steadying influence on a family of volatile personalities.

As always, Heinlein makes sure that the science of the story is right. The orbits and trajectories they follow on their journeys to Mars from the moon and on to the asteroids are all accurate and quite feasible, given the conditions set forth in the story. The nuclear propulsion system described in the book, while not within our capabilities today, is certainly not of a design inconceivable in the future. The need for a balanced internal ecology, with oxygen generating and food producing plants aboard the spacecraft, was ahead of its time. The systems as postulated in the story are still not fully realized even in our only long duration, extra-terrestrial vehicle of today: the International Space Station.

If family fun is your style, this book is a gem. The action is swift, non-stop and the dialog is witty and very funny. While the Stones are eccentric, they are refreshingly free of pathology. The values of education, of honesty, of courage and of family loyalty are all stressed in this story. I whole heartily recommend it both for young readers and for family reading.


Pathfinder hung in space about a mile behind and below the Mission Assembly Habitat. From the vantage point of the MAH, the ship appeared small and was a shining, roughly cylindrical shape, the details of a complex array of tanks and machinery that occupied the rear half of the structure just barely discernable from this distance. In reality, Pathfinder was over two hundred feet in length and twenty five feet in diameter. Fuel tanks, machinery, and the combustion chambers of its engine occupied the rear half of the craft, while the cylinder containing the crew quarters and the stack of five Orion II landing craft occupied the front half. The blue expanse of the central Pacific shone brightly in the background. Suddenly the view of the Hawaiian Islands at the rear of Pathfinder blurred as the gasses from its engines exhausted, and the ship began to move, quickly appearing to catch up and pass the space station. Cameras on board the MAH captured the event, tracking the ship’s progress. Pathfinder disappeared within a minute.

“Well, they’re on their way, Helen.” Bill looked at the wall mounted LED screen in his Houston office while he spoke to Helen on his phone. The screen was empty now except for the image of a small section of Earth in the lower left corner and a portion of a solar panel that intruded in the camera’s field of view.

“They took off like a bat outta Hell,” Helen said, excitement in her voice. “Their burn will last for another three minutes.”
“Then it’s eight and a half months to Mars. Are you sad, Helen?” Bill asked.

“A little, but happy, too: happy to be a part of it.”

“That’s how I am looking at it, too. Hector and the others are doing this for us, all eight billion of us, really. God’s speed, Hector!”

“You don’t believe in God, Bill,” she chided.

“I know, dear, but Hector does,” he responded quietly.