The Star Beast
First edition cover for The Star Beast
|Author||Robert A. Heinlein|
|Genre||Science fiction novel|
|Media type||Print (Hardcover & Paperback)|
|Preceded by||Starman Jones|
|Followed by||Tunnel in the Sky|
The Star Beast is a 1954 science fiction novel by Robert A. Heinlein about a high school senior who discovers that his late father's extraterrestrial pet is more than it appears to be. The novel, somewhat abridged, was originally serialised in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction (May, June, July 1954) as "Star Lummox" and then published in hardcover as part of Scribner's series of Heinlein juveniles.
An ancestor of John Thomas Stuart XI brought the alien, long-lived Lummox home from an interstellar voyage. The articulate, sentient pet he inherited has gradually grown from the size of a collie pup to a ridable behemoth—especially after consuming a used car. The childlike Lummox is perceived to be a neighborhood nuisance and, upon leaving the Stuart property one day, causes substantial property damage across the city of Westville. John's mother wants him to get rid of it, and a court orders it destroyed.
Desperate to save his pet, John Thomas considers selling Lummox to a zoo. He rapidly changes his mind and runs away from home, riding into the nearby wilderness on Lummox's back. His girlfriend Betty Sorenson joins him and suggests bringing the beast back into town and hiding it in a neighbor's greenhouse. However, it isn't easy to conceal such a large creature. Eventually, the court tries to have Lummox destroyed, but is unable to do so, much to Lummox's amusement.
Meanwhile, representatives of an advanced, powerful and previously unknown alien race appear and demand the return of their lost child...or else. A friendly alien diplomat of a third species intimates that the threat is not an empty one. Initially, no one associates Lummox with the newcomers, in part due to the size difference (Lummox was overfed). Lummox is identified as royalty, complicating the already-tense negotiations. It is discovered that, from her viewpoint, the young Lummox has been pursuing her only hobby and principal interest: the raising of John Thomases. She makes it clear that she intends to continue doing so. This gives the chief human negotiator the leverage he needs to avert the destruction of Earth. At the request of Lummox, the recently married John and Betty accompany her back to her people as members of the human diplomatic mission.
Heinlein grew up in the era of racial segregation in the United States. This book was very much ahead of its time both in its explicit rejection of racism and in its inclusion of non-white protagonists. It was published in 1954 before the beginning of the US civil rights movement. The mere existence of non-white characters was a remarkable novelty. In this juvenile the de facto ruler of Earth is a Mr. Kiku who is from Africa. Heinlein explicitly states his skin is "ebony black", and that Kiku is in an arranged marriage that is happy.
The noted science fiction author and critic Damon Knight wrote:
This is a novel that won't go bad on you. Many of science fiction's triumphs, even from as little as ten years ago, are unreadable today; they were shoddily put together, not meant for re-use. But Heinlein is durable. I've read this story twice, so far – once in the Fantasy and Science Fiction serialized version, once in hard covers – and expect to read it again, sooner or later, for pleasure. I don't know any higher praise.
All paperback editions and the Science Fiction Book Club hard cover edition omit page 148 of Chapter VIII, "The Sensible Thing to Do", which was in the Scribner's edition and the magazine serialization. In this chapter, John Thomas rereads the entries in his great-grandfather's diary of how Lummox was found. Of significance on the omitted page is that:
The diary skipped a couple of days; the Trail Blazer had made an emergency raise-ship and Assistant Powerman J. T. Stuart had been too busy to write. John Thomas knew why ... the negotiations opened so hopefully with the dominant race had failed ... no one knew why.
The rest of the page summarizes John Thomas' grandfather's family history, discussing the first John Thomas Stuart, who had retired as a sea captain. The history, as reprinted in the paperback and Science Fiction Book Club editions, then resumes with John Thomas Stuart, Junior.
- Pearson, Wendy. "Race relations" in, The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Fantasy: Themes, Works, and Wonders, Volume 2 Gary Westfahl, ed.; Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2005; pp. 648–650
- Heinlein, Robert A. (1954). The Star Beast. Charles Schribner's Sons. p. 31.
- Knight, Damon (1967). In Search of Wonder. Chicago: Advent.
- "Galaxy's 5 Star Shelf", Galaxy Science Fiction, March 1955, p.99
- "The Reference Library", Astounding Science Fiction, May 1955, p.144