Robert Heinlein created a very plausible and difficult future in his 1964 sci-fi classic Orphans of the Sky. The Proxima Centauri Expedition, sponsored by the Jordan Foundation, was the first attempt to spread mankind
throughout the solar system. Sadly, the passing of generations and internal wars accelerate loss of knowledge beyond Earth scientists’ wildest conjecture. Eventually the descendants of the expedition lose their ability to understand, let alone repair, their ship, and this leads to leaking radiation that causes mutations in newborn babies. Some of these ‘muties’ are allowed to live, and they form another society in the forbidden layers of the ship. Their original mission fades into distant memory; they no longer have a concept of getting off the ship
- it is all they have known, all their parents have known.
Alan Mahoney, Hugh Hayland and Mort Tyler are rambunctious
young men adventurous enough to go to new levels on the ship, even the forbidden ones
(the reader will immediately notice that the women are considered less than 2nd-class and
that curse words aren't what we are used to, which the author explains later in the story). Anyone with curiosity and intelligence is either slated for training as a “scientist” or annihilated
as a threat to society.
On this cylinder-shaped ship approximately five miles long and two thousand feet thick, two groups of
intelligent young men chance upon one another. Against all odds, they end up working together to try
to bring the ship back to its original mission – and the survival of the species. Joe-Jim, the two-headed leader of the strongest band of ‘Muties’, and his trusty friend Bobo,
an incredibly strong dwarf, bond with Alan as friends – and this friendship binds them together to the very end.
While the tale is well-strung and filled with adventure, the ending is a little too tidy, a little too rushed. Otherwise I truly enjoyed reviewing book.
This edition of Orphans of the Sky
from Stealth Press is published in hardcover with a glossy slipcover designed by Jeff King and Mark Radle based
upon an illustration by Joe Felzman featuring some predictable space scenes of a ship that
may be a pod that was discussed in the story, since it does not represent the shape of the mother ship. Robert Heinlein hardly needs an introduction to the world – his work
permeates film, science fiction, fiction and interstellar exploration as well – a crater, which may have ice within its vicinity, was recently named after the author.
As suggested by this book's cover, it is indeed interesting to speculate that the Heinlein Crater could one day be the start of a Martian colony expedition.