Robert Heinlein, author of Stranger in a Strange Land (haven’t read it) and Starship Troopers (at least I’ve seen it), is one of the founding fathers of science fiction. I occasionally read science fiction, and this book was sitting on my table waiting for me to return it, so it’s about time I gave it a try.
Space Cadet was first published in 1948 and it shows, but only just barely. Heinlein’s predictions about the future are a bit optimistic at some times and pessimistic others. He predicts widespread planetary space travel by 2075 (and quite a bit would have long occurred, according to the history described). That doesn’t seem likely today. He seems to have missed out on robots and wasn’t able to get past tape for memory and chemical and nuclear propulsion.
What he does do is pack this book, literally about a space cadet (not the colloquial version of that phrase we have today, but rather, a military cadet, in space) with loads of charming detail on life in space. The quick read is mostly a coming-of-age story, and has some interesting ideas that apply to travelers of any kind, whether they make their way to Venus and Mars, or just Europe and India. The process of traveling opens your experience up to things unimaginable to those who’ve remained home.
When young cadet Dodson returns home for leave, his family gives him detailed descriptions of “the marriage chances of several female relatives.” “Everyone asked him to tell about…what it feels like to go out into space. But somehow, they had not actually seemed very interested.” I’ve had this very same experience. (Actually, I haven’t been in space.) I visit my parents, who seem genuinely excited to hear about what I am doing and where I’ve been, but I barely get a chance to tell them before I am interrupted with observations about the house, or the new restaurant and the big breakfasts they serve there.
I understand that feeling of disconnection Dodson feels. Fortunately, I got over it. It’s not a bad thing. Actually, I want to hear about the house. I don’t go places for the sole purpose of telling my parents or anyone else about the trip. People who haven’t been the same places or done the same things as you have are different, for lack of the same experiences. We are the sum of our experiences, and I want to hear about yours as much as tell you about mine. That way, we’ll have plenty to talk about!