Coming of age in the Galaxy

Coming of age in the Galaxy June 7, 2024

Image: Amazon

In the middle of the 20th century, an ongoing concern of science fiction writers (and others too, of course) was the question of how to raise a generation of people as tough and clever and successful as the Greatest Generation had been without the pesky formative influences of a Great Depression and a World War 2. Robert Heinlein’s young adult books explore this from various perspectives, and his excellent little book Citizen of the Galaxy is a solid example of this.

Citizen of the Galaxy is the story of Thorby’s journey from a child slave to one of the most powerful people in the galaxy. Along the way we get a snapshot of several layers of society: the slaves (obviously), the merchant class, the the military, and the super wealthy. We also get a mini-overview of a theory of social development, that I won’t go into here but which is interesting overall. He specifically argues that slavery is a great evil (reasonably enough–it certainly is at least that) but also that every society will have a stage where slavery exists out on the frontiers of society. As society matures and develops it sets aside slavery, though it inevitably moves to where the other frontiers and new societies are developing. It is then the established and mature society’s job to fight against slavery and continue to resist its regrowth, even as the mature society has ongoing complicity in slavery where it exists (just where do all those slave ships get built anyway?).

This is pretty heavy for a young adult book, and Heinlein deals with it gently enough (the roughest aspects of slavery happened before the action of the book kicked off), even if his social commentary is a bit heavy-handed at times. Overall, this is a solid Heinlein contribution and worth your time. As a Christian of course it’s even more interesting–just what is the relationship between freedom and society? How should we think about that for ourselves and for others? What are our ethical obligations to the lives of others in far distant places, especially if those lives are directly affected by our actions? These are questions that Heinlein’s fast-paced narrative raises, and this book is a great place to begin reflection.

Dr. Coyle Neal is co-host of the City of Man Podcast an Amazon Associate (which is linked in this blog), and an Associate Professor of Political Science at Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, MO

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