Starman Jones

ISBN: 1416505504
ISBN 13: 9781416505501
By: Robert A. Heinlein

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About this book

A classic novel from the mind of the storyteller who captures the imagination of readers from around the world, and across two generations Science Fiction Grand MasterROBERT A. HEINLEINSTARMAN JONESIt was a desperate time, when one's next meal and the comforts of home couldn't be taken for granted. Max Jones, a practical, hard-working young man, found his escape in his beloved astronomy books. When reality comes crashing in and his troubled home life forces him out on the road, Max finds himself adrift in a downtrodden land. Until an unexpected, ultimate adventure — as a stowaway aboard an intergalactic spaceship — carries him away...but to where? And when? And how could he ever get back? With the ship's pilot dead and his charts and tables are destroyed, Max must call upon all of his untested knowledge and skills in order to survive....

Reader's Thoughts


This is the book that got nine-year-old me started on a fifteen-year science fiction binge, until the genre started to get darker and edgier (and duller). I loved the fast-paced story-telling and the wish-fulfilment; farm boy becomes... well, I'm not going to spoil it but it's a great ride. On re-reading the book recently, I winced a bit at some of the attitudes towards women, but that was par for the course in 1953 and the female protagonist was a tough cookie, as were some of the other women. In short, I enjoyed it for what it is, and will doubtless read it again – though perhaps not enough times to make the book fall to pieces as I did all those years ago!


Nutshell: bucolic twerp with plot-significant eidetic memory defrauds his way aboard spaceship, flirts with rich girl, has a big adventure, &c.YA and pulpy, but moves quickly, with characteristic heinleinian asides regarding law, politics, and science. Some nifty geeking out on the science of FTL travel.Some have said that the text lays out a critique of labor unions, which may be the case. But it's not unambiguous, as the setting involves less unions than guilds, a significant distinction. The main guild under examination is the astrogation guild, which purportedly restricts access to the knowledge of astronautical navigation. As one character describes it, though, "there are no 'secrets' to astrogation," which "isn't secret; it is merely difficult" (97). The implication is accordingly not that labor power has joined for the purpose of collective bargaining, but rather that possessers of knowledge have restricted general access to important information. The critique, then, runs less toward the Wagner Act and more to the Copyright and Patent Acts. Recommended for phlegmatic crustaceans, real four-dimensional chess players, and large louts who arouse the eternal maternal.


I read a lot of Heinlein's juveniles when I was younger, but I missed this one and it was on sale from Audible, so it was nice to enjoy one of his earlier works, before he started getting old and wanky. Everything from Friday on was pretty much Heinlein getting his freak on, but his earlier novels are still sci-fi classics for good reason.Starman Jones is your basic boys' adventure story: Max is a kid from Earth who runs away from home when his stepmother marries an abusive bum. He meets an amiable drifter who turns out to be a not-so-good Samaritan, but he meets the man again when they're both trying to find a way off-planet, and the two of them lie their away aboard a spaceship. From there, Max's talent for math and his inherent good nature and sense of decency lead him from one position to another aboard ship, and when the ship gets lost, taking a bad "jump" to an unknown star system, Max of course is the one who saves the day.Obviously, this book was written for teenagers, but it stands up as pretty good adult SF even today, though it is a bit dated (it was written in 1951). The gender roles are pretty old-fashioned, and while Heinlein's FTL drives and beam weapons are standard sci-fi, you may chuckle when Max breaks out his slide rule to perform astrogation. Still, I think it compares favorably to any genre fiction written for kids today, and Heinlein did a much better job than most writers of bridging the gap between YA and adult fiction. I might not start with Starman Jones if you haven't read any of Heinlein's juveniles before -- it's pretty good, but it's not his best -- but if you're already a Heinlein fan, this will definitely be an enjoyable read.

Terry Gates

Sharman JonesSharman JonesOnce again Heinlein crosses boundaries of culture and all each society practices. It's a coming of age with high adventure. Heinlein manages to create characters that are believable even recognizable in each readers life. There is hope and reward for having and using proper virtues. And he does it without resorting to vulgarity and over done sex merely for stimulation. Don't get me wrong I like sex and it is an important part of me and my wife of 34 years. It just ain't always necessary to tell a story.


Heinlein's anachronistic elements are often recognized when dealing with technical issues. Other aspects are less obvious. I've lived in the Ozarks area (the boundaries between mountain ranges are necessarily nebulous). I was once lost in a state park. I made my way out by following excessively bright lights to a prison. That was some years ago, but things have gotten worse everywhere. There are no longer any places that get dark at night. (Possibly with the exception of Arizona, where the astronomers have a fairly effective lobby). Researchers on nocturnal animals worry that the excess light will contribute to the dangers to species often already critically endangered. But just try to FIND any research on the impact of excess light on circadian rhythms (and on photosynthesis, as well). And if you DO find any, please tell me about them.Heinlein's dystopian vision of a society controlled by hereditary Guilds seems to have been cut from whole cloth. I don't know of ANY source that even proposed such a thing. Other aspects of the galactic civilization are essentially not developed at all. The ship's navigational problems are used as a pretext to avoid examining the society--but there's not much discussion of it when the ship is on its normal course, either.One interesting note--Max's eidetic memory is quite rightly dismissed as a parlor trick. It turns out to be a useful trick with the loss of reference sources--but it has no greater utility than that. I disagree, however, with the notion that such parlor tricks are necessarily combined with autism. Heinlein even goes so far as to use the derisory term 'idiot savant', which is no longer used precisely because it's so dismissive and offensive. It's essentially a double whammy. People dismiss those who can't communicate well what they know (it's not really possible to determine what they DO know, because of the communications difficulties). Then when a few do find ways to communicate really quite remarkable abilties, they're doubly stigmatized.Many people with otherwise quite ordinary talents have these 'stupid human tricks' special skills. Too often, however, because they fear such stigmatization (and/or exploitation), they suppress or marginalize their skills. In the book, Max is abashed when he realizes that what he can do is considered extraordinary, and he quite rightly fears that he will be ghettoized on account of it. His luck at finding people who can see past the stigma to the whole person beyond doesn't mitigate the fact that the society as a whole can't get past the 'freak show' mentality.

Tiffany Robbins

This was a great book of star exploration as seen from a mid twentieth century writer. He’s very specific about the ships cockpit along with long hand math calculations and analog print outs. I appreciated it purely for its vintage sci-fi feel, though the story was grand as well.I found Jones to be a very typical Heinlein hero – abused boy running off to make a better life for himself. Of course, he finds a girl in his explorations and for some odd reason she’s into him. He’s into her too, but only incidentally. His true love is to be an astrogator though it is impossible for him to become one until the whole universe is turned upside down.I loved the alien life found on the unknown planet. His explanation of them and the planet I felt was some of Heinlein’s best work as a writer that I’ve read so far.I must say, “Well done, Mr. Heinlein. Well done.”


From ISawLightningFall.comReputations accrete in funny ways, and often we end up with a mental picture of a person or his work that's less than accurate. Take Robert A. Heinlein for example, the so-called dean of science fiction writers. Though Heinlein's career spanned nearly half a century, most folks today know him for the militaristic Starship Troopers, whose characters blasted not only intergalactic arachnids but Marxism as well. But theme-heavy SF doesn't compose the entirety of his oeuvre. Indeed, most everyone except his devotees seems to have forgotten that Heinlein began his career by writing juvenile fiction, a good example of which is his farmer-turned-spaceman adventure Starman Jones.Ever since he was a child, Max Jones has yearned to go into space. His uncle, a space navigator (or astrogator, as they're called), used to regale him with stories of interstellar travel and let him peruse his manuals, thick compendiums stuffed with calculations used to guide spaceships through charted territories. But he had little hope of getting into the astrogator guild. After his father died, Max ended up working the family farm day in and day out, which left little time for anything but dreaming. Then one day Max's mother showed up with an unwelcome surprise -- a new husband, one Biff Montgomery, a man whose sole achievement lay in avoiding honest work like the plague. Now Max has to discover if he can break into a guild or, barring that, an actual ship. Apprentice or stowaway, either option sounds fine to Max. With Biff in the picture, it's off-world or bust.There's plenty in Starman Jones that hasn't aged well. I had to suppress a smile when reading about Max cooking up biscuits and ham at his farm on one page and then calculating inverse cubes on his slide rule the next. Anachronisms abound, as one could rightly expect from a book coming out of the golden age of science fiction. But if you look past the outdated stuff, you'll find a novel with surprisingly strong bones. Heinlein's characterizations are quite deft, from a mysterious interloper who may or may not have a checkered military past to a headstrong ambassador's daughter with more gumption and savvy than is immediately apparent. And the action picks up nicely once Max makes it into the void. (Honestly, with the word "starman" in the title, was there ever any doubt?) Jones may be a little creaky in the joints, but it still gets along pretty well in the end.

Jeff Yoak

I enjoyed reading this several times on my own, but really enjoyed reading it (in small bits) with the kids in 2013. It is the second Heinlein novel I went through with them, after The Star Beast and they loved them both. Come to think of it, it has been over the time that we've been reading this that Lily first declared her intention to become an astronaut when she grows up (with the proviso that it might be too hard, and if it is, she's going to become a "smoothie girl.") Somehow that combination underlines all the benefits one might hope for in introducing one's children to Heinlein. :-)

Carena Wood beimler

This novel is written towards boys who have not yet been twitterpated. And it's written well. As I am not the target demographic, being female and I've most definitely been twitterpated, this book doesn't follow along the natural paths I expect it to. However, it is still an amazing book.

Sbulf Jones è una favola. Il pubblico a cui è rivolto è piuttosto un pubblico adolescenziale. La storia è semplice e senza troppe pretese. Max Jones è appunto un adolescente che scappa di casa per fuggire dalla matrigna e dal patrigno cattivi, dopo che anche il padre è passato a miglior vita. C'è un po' di tutto nel libro. C'è un'astronave che solca lo spazio districandosi nello spazio-tempo, c'è una mezza storia d'amore, c'è il cattivo di turno e poi ci sono gli alieni (cosa che si intuisce dalla copertina). Già, gli alieni. Gli alieni qui descritti sono un po' troppo simili a quelli letti in un altro libro di Heinlein, "I figli di Matusalemme". Non fisicamente, intendiamoci, ma ricorre una certa caratteristica che è presente anche nel libro che ho citato, e cioè quella che l'autore definisce "schiavitù simbiotica". Evidentemente Heinlein aveva il pallino fisso. Tutto sommato è un libro che si fa apprezzare. Se lo avessi letto qualche anno fa gli avrei dato sicuramente una valutazione migliore.


A great book by Robert Heinlein but much of the same recipe. That I read in his last book. The man never gets the girl and life continues for the main character. Still the mans writing is like no other. Guy must of had a IQ of 160

Gerald Heath

It was a desperate time, when one's next meal and the comforts of home couldn't be taken for granted. Max Jones, a practical, hard-working young man, found his escape in his beloved astronomy books. When reality comes crashing in and his troubled home life forces him out on the road, Max finds himself adrift in a downtrodden land. Until an unexpected, ultimate adventure � as a stowaway aboard an intergalactic spaceship � carries him away...but to where? And when? And how could he ever get back?This was one of the few Heinlein novels I didn't read when I was younger, and it was a real pleasure. It is the classic, young-adult, science fiction, that Heinlein did so well in Tunnel in the Sky, and The Door into Summer. Innocent, full of real values, and yet well-crafted and interesting. I highly recommend all of Heinlein's pre-1965 work for people who enjoy young adult science fiction. His work still holds up today. After the mid 60's his writing became sexual, and much more adult oriented.

Jon Cantrell

Dated in ways but thoroughly enjoyable. Improbable story about a talented farm boy beating the odds. Sure things happen in convenient coincidences, if not it'd be a dull story. Entertaining and compelling but not earth shattering.


So I just read this book, and now on Goodreads see that I read it in 1988; this is probably the 3rd or 4th time I've read it. It's a good story, good quality sf for 1953. It's funny how Heinlein made the future seem so real in his books, but he's always got one leg stuck directly in the past (or perhaps half his body). In this future of starships, the main character still grows up isolated on a farm (which is one reason I identified with the thing when I read it when I was in the 7th or 8th grade). Too, he totally missed the computer revolution of course. And the language tricks he used to get around FTL travel were very noticeable. Still, it's a brisk, engaging read.

Michael Pryor

Gloriously old-fashioned 'juvenile' SF. Yes, the technology outlook is laughable (using books of tables to navigate a starship by) but the heart of the book is a young man's growing up through hardship and challenges. I read this first when I was a teenager, and it was one of the books that made me a committed SF fan. Sense of wonder? Check. Strong narrative? Check. Careful backgrounding of future scenario? Check. Great stuff.

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