Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Heinlein’s Citizen of the Galaxy: a major unseen influence

Out of all of the works of Robert A. Heinlein, Citizen of the Galaxy is the one I like best. I first discovered it at the age of 12 or so. This story educated, entertained and inspired me; it sank into my subconscious mind and some years later influenced the course I took in life. I still go back to it occasionally, and it is just as enjoyable and moving now as it was when I first read it.

I like the descriptions of life on Jubbulpore, capital of the Nine Worlds. I feel relieved when Thorby, the young hero, escapes from the regimented, restricted, custom-ridden, ship-bound life of the clannish Free Traders, which is my idea of hell. It is an anomaly that he had more freedom in his previous life as a beggar than he did as a high-ranking member of that closed society.

I feel for Thorby when he experiences the cold wind of fear, when he feels some sick twinges because people he cares about have gone away forever and when he feels lost once more.

I envy Thorby his string of benevolent mentors, father figures even. His abilities are recognised, and he is educated and rigorously trained accordingly. Older women are there to help him just when he needs it, and he gets some useful briefings from young people too. He has people to tell him the score, to explain what is happening, to show him how to look at situations objectively and put his life into the context of various societies. 

Doctor Mader, an anthropologist, enlightens him by explaining that while some people just function, using information they have acquired subconsciously, others must learn and apply their knowledge consciously. This to me is a vitally important point that explains a lot about the differences between people.

At a time when the Free Traders have told and shown Thorby nothing, Doctor Mader fills the gap. I see something symbolic in the way she shows him how to transform the bare, featureless cube of his cell into a well-equipped little bunker.

I wish that I could have had such helpful adults and this kind of instruction in my life when I was that age.