- A Standalone Novel
- First Published in 1956
- Reprinted under the Gollancz SF Masterworks banner
- A Political Thriller
- 208 pages
When a stranger in a bar offers him a job, down-on-his-luck actor Lorenzo expects to make a little money. But when that job turns out to involve impersonating the most famous politician in the solar system, Lorenzo can’t help but wonder if this will be the last job he ever takes . . .
When I pick up a book, the last thing I want to be thinking about is the politics of the author. Whatever their beliefs are, it’s none of my business. I’m just here to enjoy the book. With some authors, this is easier than others. Most of the time, I know very little about the author beyond what is written in their ‘about the author’ section. In the case of Robert A. Heinlein, it’s difficult to be in the SF community and not here about his politics. Stranger in a Strange Land is full of free love and sexual abandon. Starship Troopers glorifies a fascist regime. Double Star is all about the power of democracy. Any one of these paints a different picture of the man who wrote them, and all of them have been used as attempts to identify the ‘real’ political opinion of Heinlein. Just read Ken McLeod’s introduction to this very book and you’ll see what I mean. Personally, I think this variety shows one of two things. maybe both. The first option is that people are too complicated to boil down to a political position, and that you can pick and choose which parts of their character to celebrate. The second is, and hear me out on this, maybe authors can write stories about things they personally don’t agree with. In either case, the politics of an author and the politics of a book are two different beasts, and should be treated as such.
My personal experience with Heinlein is very limited. I’ve previously read his ‘Big Three’ – the three novels that won him the Hugo Award for Best Novel, a feat not replicated until N.K. Jemisin. I very much enjoyed Starship Troopers, though not as much as the film, and The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress had some great ideas. Stranger In A Strange Land, however, was bad enough to put me off Heinlein for some time. Reading the extended version, which essentially has first draft material stuffed back in, probably didn’t help in this regard. With varying quality so far, I didn’t expect too much from Double Star. It’s short, so I gave him another chance. What I got was one of my favourite SF Masterworks novels so far.
For a political thriller, the plot is refreshingly simple. Lorenzo must pretend to be a high-ranking politician (who has been kidnapped) and avoid identification while running a high-profile publicity event. He has to fool not only humans, but Martians. The action of the book is not so much assassination attempts, but everyday incidents that could expose Lorenzo. In an early example, a young girl asks for his autograph, but how can he fake the signature of a man he’s never met? Each incident is wrapped up fairly quickly, but there are enough to keep the book skipping along. And they get more and more serious as the book goes on.
The other interesting component to this book is Lorenzo’s method acting. Insisting on maintaining character at all times, Lorenzo soon finds himself reacting as the role would, rather than how is best. Watching a professional actor dissolve into a role is a joy on television, and it’s oddly gripping to read in prose. Lorenzo has an air of the con-artist about him, man archetype I will always have time for, and Heinlein imbues him with plenty of wit and wiles. With a low page count, there’s not a whole lot of depth to the surrounding cast, but Lorenzo’s narration pulls it off.
It may not be his most famous work, but Double Star is the best Heinlein novel I’ve yet come across. It’s also the reason I’m going to buy more.
If you enjoyed this book, you might also like:
Moonrise, by Ben Bova
The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, by Robert A. Heinlein
Starship Troopers, by Robert A. Heinlein