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!


Sometime one just needs a good dose of Heinlein to cleanse the literary palate. This book is so full of wrong science and computer technology but it still is a fun read. Perhaps I have a soft spot for it because it was the first Heinlein novel I read. Whatever the reason, reading it was like visiting an old friend I hadn't seen in many, many years.


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.

Kenneth Flusche

How did I miss this one, written 1953.. I started Heinlein in 1963 age ten with "Have space Suit will Travel" and thought I had read them all some like "Moon is a Harsh Mistress" more than 5 times... Any boy from ten to 100 will love this and the Navy Chain is true based on 1973 memories.


None of these editions seem to be the one I read.The hero of this Alger-esque story has an identic memory. Whatever he reads, he remembers. He's told not to rely on this, as what matters to an astrogator (read: astronautical navigator) is knowing how to do (and check) the calculations. They have records, but to use said records without knowing how to check them is to perpetuate errors.Turns out that the eidetic memory is not (quite) irrelevant, after all--but the initial advice was good, as the reason for the need is a low-probability, high-impact event. In the long run, it's better to be able to do the math.There are some charming elements in the book--the talking spider-puppy, the levitating trains, etc. There are also some silly anachronisms (for example, even by the time the book came out, hobo culture had nearly died out). Generally, though, this is just a relatively mundane book--which is kind of an odd thing to say when what you're talking about is space travel, but there you have it.


I really liked this book. A lot of modern sci-fi themes and ideas can be traced back to this book; warp speed, possible parallel universes, etc. Good story and characters, geared toward young readers because it's more or less a coming of age story, but I loved it and I'm nearly 40. Hard to beat.

Doug Turnbull

Starman Jones was copyrighted in 1953 by Robert A. Heinlein and published that same year by Charles Scribner’s Sons of New York. The sixth of the Heinlein Juveniles, it is the last one to be fully illustrated by Clifford Geary.It is also the first of his juveniles to postulate interstellar travel. All of the earlier books confined travel within the solar system. The protagonist, Maximilian Jones, or Max as he is known, comes from unspecified hill country, possibly the Ozarks, where he is living with his widowed stepmother. When she remarries, Max leaves and through a series of misadventures, during which he meets and eventually teams up with a hobo named Sam, Max signs on as an ordinary crewman aboard the starship Asgard. Because he possesses a unique ability and through a series of unlikely events that only Heinlein could make believable, Max lands a job as a ship’s officer serving on the bridge. His adventures aboard the Asgard constitute the main body of the story and I’ll allow the reader to enjoy them.As a novel, Starman Jones works on several levels. First it can be read as a simple adventure story and it works quite well as just that. The book can also be read as a coming of age story: Max starts out a boy and finishes as a man. And it can be read for the deeper human and sometimes political themes underlying the story. For example, the Asgard encounters an alien civilization organized along totalitarian lines. The ruthless brutality and exploitative character of the alien system is, I believe, an allegory for the communist and fascist societies of the 20th century during which Heinlein was writing.This is one of the of the juveniles that fully develops a strong female character. Eldreth Coburn is the well to do daughter of a planetary governor and a passenger aboard the Asgard. During the course of the voyage, Max and Ellie become good friends and there is a hint of romance, at least on her part. A very intelligent and strong willed young woman, she does a skillful job of concealing those traits in the male dominated society set forth in the story. For example, she allows Max to teach her how to play chess. He wins all of their matches until late in the book when he discovers that she is a master chess player and could take him anytime and every time if she chose to do so. When Max and Ellie are captured by hostile natives on a planet misnamed Charity, Ellie proves both courageous and resourceful. Nearly all of Heinlein’s later juveniles as well as his adult books have such strong and likeable female characters. Prescient as he was about future technological innovation, he also foresaw women taking a more equal role in future society.Starman Jones is also the last book to be fully illustrated. As in the previous books, Clifford Geary’s cover art and white on black interior drawings appear deceptively simple. However, the illustrations have a hidden complexity that conveys very subtly the sense that we are visiting a world very different than our own. Geary was a great talent and a fine artist, but I know of only one other book, a children’s book, that he illustrated. About this time, young adult fiction followed the already established pattern of adult fiction: that of not being illustrated. No doubt the intellectual rationale was that by not having suggestive pictures the narrative would better stimulate young imaginations. But I also have no doubt that there was an economic motive: at that time, illustrations significantly increased the cost of producing books. Hence, there were no more pictures. This is a trend I would like to see reversed and I am doing just that with my own stories.This is a great book and while longer than Heinlein’s previous juveniles, it is a page turner and a fast read. The action flows naturally and carries the reader along with it. Although the science is farther afield than that of his earlier books, the space-time anomalies that allow for interstellar travel are analogous to the wormholes that are currently postulated; and those are based on conjectures put forth by Albert Einstein. Written with scientific rigor as well as universal human themes such as love, envy, jealousy and self-sacrifice, this book is all Heinlein all the time.

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.

Per Gunnar

This is a nice small novel about a young boy running away into galactic adventure land. Some say this book is now feeling outdated but I think it holds up quite well still. I definitely liked it. It wasn’t wow-what-a-great-book or anything like that but I liked it. It is a simple, straightforward, boyish adventure, nothing more, nothing less.I would have liked it even better if they would have stayed in space instead of that little adventure down on the planet where they felt forced to land and I would, of course, have liked that it didn’t skip over the idiot astrogators well deserved demise as quickly as was done.On the whole it was a nice read although a bit quick. It didn’t take me much more than a day to finish it.

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.”

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.


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.

Glenn Schmelzle

** spoiler alert ** Plot Summary:A kid from a lower-class family with a love for space, Max runs away from home with his Uncle's astrogation (star navigation) manuals. He fakes his way aboard a passenger-liner starship. He finagles a job as steward's mate third class, but because of how he got onto the ship, because he's not part of a guild and not a college graduate, he has no hope of becoming a ship officer. With a eidetic memory, he's able to absorb the tables in uncle's books and recall the coordinates the ship for course corrections made at precise times during jumps through hyperspace. The upper-crust command crew sometimes let him on the deck, but they only know him as a congenial boy; they know nothing of his aspirations. Once during an astrogation calculation, he's overheard muttering the exact coordinates, without looking at a manual. He's soon promoted to an apprentice under Assistant Astrogator Simes, a move that's resented by the sinister senior officer. Simes transposes some astrogation figures on a routine transition; Max does the calculations in his head and detects the error. The aging captain doesn't heed his appeals and lays in the wrong coordinates, taking the ship so far off-course, they can't locate any known stars to guide their way back home. The error devastates the captain so badly, he has a nervous breakdown and dies shortly after. With almost zero chance of finding their way back, the crew set down on an uninhabited world (so they think) and release the passengers to colonize it. Unfortunately, they learn that the planet is controlled by centaurs, who capture Max and his girlfriend, but thanks to ingenuity they eventually get back to the ship. Upon his return, Max learns that Simes had hid the astrogation manuals to make himself indispensable and then tried to illegally take command - he was killed in the struggle. Max is the only remaining astrogator, and as his the highest ranking guild beneath captains, he's promoted to captain, and he must get the ship off the planet and try returning to known space by reversing the transition. Thanks to his photographic memory, Max succeeds and gets the ship and its passengers back to known space.Comments:The main flaw with the book is that it's too dated. The most anachronistic part is the ship's computer, which can't add basic numbers. Heinlein has based shipboard technology on 1950s computers, so he grossly under-his predicted the pace of computer progress. We end up story set a hundred years or so in the future that relies solely on mathematicians (Astrogators) adding in their heads. So be ready to suspend disbelief. I think the book is also tied in too tightly with 20th century work ethic or military command-control structure. I don't think folks today would be wowed, like Max is, by his ascent through the hierarchy of a ship's crew.Heinlein was (as usual) good at creating problems that his characters must work their way out of. But I had a problem with the explanation of how they were stranded on the planet, because they could simply reverse the calculations that took them off course. And that's how they ended up getting back. Most of the characters are well done. There's an Artful Dodger character called Sam, a robber with a heart of gold, who helps Max in several places throughout the book. I liked how he made most of the adults reasonable; making good role models for Max. Again, with the exception here: his mother, who is lazy and resents having him and book alludes that she doesn't know who Max's dad is. While Max does well navigating through the adult world, think he's exposed to too many negative aspects of adulthood (wealthy/poor dynamic, elderly women nosing into his affairs). Think this overpowers the science in the book, which (suspending disbelief) is pretty intriguing.

Paul Hancock

The engaging story of Max, a farmer boy who has his sights on space travel, and his shonky friend Sam who shows him how to get what he wants. The blurb on the back of the book pretty much covers 80% of the story line so you don't really feel much of the drama in the story until you pass this mark. The last 20% of the story seemed to be a little out of place but was a rather creative diversion from all the space travel. In the end i was left wanting more, but no necessarily in a bad way.There are a few points that were woefully dated. For example, using logarithm look up tables and programming computers with binary switches, all whilst traveling close to the speed of light.All in all I enjoyed this story despite the above, and would recommend it as an entertaining story.


Enjoyed this today as much as I did when I read it in middle school. Great book for showing kids the importance of science and math, plus hard work and honesty pay off. Granted the main character does break some laws to pursue his dream of becoming a space pilot, however; the laws were unjust in that only the children of current guild members were allowed to learn astronavigation. Eventually, the main character comes clean, and the fair-minded people give him a chance. So the lessons of taking risks, working hard, using your brain, and being a good guy are still prominent in this book. Downsides, this book was written a long time ago so (1) girls are treated as lesser-capable creatures, no where in sight on the space crew; (2) the way they navigate is hilarious -- reading logarithms out of books, translating them into binary, and using switches to enter the binary numbers into the computer -- but instructive on how computers do work.

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