The Star Beast
First edition cover for The Star Beast
|Author||Robert A. Heinlein|
|Media type||Print (hardback & 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 extraterrestrial pet is more than it appears to be. The novel was originally serialised, somewhat abridged, 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.
The novel is set in the future. Earth has had interstellar spaceflight for centuries and has contact with numerous extraterrestrial species, which is handled by a department of the Earth government. John Thomas Stuart XI, the teenage protagonist, lives in a small Rocky Mountain town, Westville, caring for Lummox, an extraterrestrial beast which he inherited from his great-grandfather who brought it home from an interstellar voyage. The pet has learned how to speak, and 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 widowed mother wants him to get rid of it, and brings an action in the local court to have 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 is not easy to conceal such a large creature. Eventually, the court orders Lummox destroyed. In an amusing scene Westville's officials try several methods to kill Lummox but fail, as his alien physiology appears to be virtually invulnerable to ordinary weapons or poisons, and Lummox does not even realize they are attempting to execute him.
Meanwhile, at the Earth government Department of Spacial Affairs, Mr. Kiku, an experienced diplomat, is dealing with the Hroshii, a previously unknown alien race, advanced and powerful, which appear in the solar system and demand the return of their lost child, or they will distroy Earth. 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 finally identified as important royalty of the Hroshii, as well as approximately female (the Hroshii have six sexes). It turns out that the relationship between John Thomas and Lummox is the only thing that saves Earth from destruction. From her viewpoint, during her centuries on Earth the young but extremely long-lived Lummox has been pursuing a hobby: the raising of John Thomases. She makes it clear to the other Hroshii that she intends to continue doing so. This gives Mr. Kiku, the chief negotiator, the leverage he needs to establish diplomatic relations with the aliens, who normally do not hold regular relations with other species. At the insistence of Lummox, the newly married John and Betty accompany her back to the Hroshii homeworld as part 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 triumph of the civil rights movement. The mere existence of non-white characters was a remarkable novelty. In this juvenile, Mr. Kiku, the government official who negotiates with the Hroshii, is African. Heinlein explicitly says his skin is "ebony black" and that Kiku is in a happy arranged marriage. Even more remarkably for its time, Mr. Kiku is outstandingly competent and dominates the plot.
This section needs to be updated.(January 2018)
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.
This section needs to be updated.(January 2018)
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
- The Star Beast, p. 31.
- The Star Beast, p. 249
- Knight, Damon (1967). In Search of Wonder. Chicago: Advent.
- Conklin, Groff (March 1955). "Galaxy's 5 Star Shelf". Galaxy Science Fiction. pp. 95–99.
- "The Reference Library", Astounding Science Fiction, May 1955, p.144
- Heinlein, Robert A. (1954), The Star Beast, Charles Schribner's Sons