No. 3: Farmer in the Sky
My Kindle is not that exciting.
Maybe I should draw a series header image or something?
Next on my leisurely tour of Hugo-winning novels comes the third of the four Retro Hugos--Farmer in the Sky by Robert Heinlein, for 1951. This was my first Heinlein; my spreadsheet informs me that there will be many more (actually something I may comment on later).
Elevator Pitch Summary: A Boy Scout and his family join a colony on a terraformed Ganymede, struggling to survive and build a life as farmers.
What I Like: Homesteading in space. I cut my reading teeth on the likes of the Swiss Family Robinson, so stories of building a homestead in adverse circumstances are definitely something I enjoy. The sections where Heinlein describes how the terraforming works, and what eking out an existence on this space colony is like on a practical level, are easily the most rewarding parts of the book.
The subplot with the neighboring farm family, and the snowstorm, are gripping and enjoyable. Kind of staple for a homesteading story, I guess, but the build and the payoff were quite satisfying. Those were definitely my favorite incidents.
What I Don't Like: The characters are awful. I'm not going to sugar-coat it. Every single one of them is a cardboard cutout with the bare minimum of depth required to propel the narrative. I've joked occasionally about the psychological (lack of) depth in some of Asimov's stories, but this is worse. Bill, especially, is almost a total nonentity despite spending the entire book in his head. This is frustrating because I really love the idea of the novel, but any point in the story where they're not grappling with the problems of space travel or space farming is incredibly dull.
The cave discovery at the end didn't work at all. But at all. It actually wasn't until that point that I even realized that there was nonhuman intelligent life in this universe, which is such a big deal that it should have affected the narrative at any number of points. It just came out of the blue with no buildup and no relevance to the themes in the rest of the story, and I didn't like it. So there you are.
Extra Thoughts: I feel like this is a great concept--homesteading! In space!--but executed really, really poorly. Once you get past that central conceit, there's not much to the novel.
I've heard a lot of great things over the years about Heinlein, so my expectations for this may have been artificially heightened somewhat. I will be interested to see what I make of the make other Heinlein novels in this project.
My Recommendation: I... ehhhn. I'm not positively telling you not to read this, because it was somewhat entertaining, but I wouldn't be in a hurry to get it. Maybe if someone gave you a copy you could read it. It won't hurt you.
Hugo-Worthy?: My tone may have already made this obvious. I'm not sold on the idea that this is the greatest work of science fiction published in 1950. Even though I enjoyed elements of this story, on a technical level it's just straight-up sloppy workmanship.