CITIZEN OF THE GALAXY
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
At first glance, Robert Heinlein's juvenile novel Citizen of the Galaxy appears to be a straight forward rags-to-riches coming of age story as Heinlein follows Thorby's rise from slave to free man. However, Heinlein throws a fair amount of his own political philosophy into the story, which is what sets Citizen of the Galaxy above the straight forward stories.
There is a sense that humanity is progressing and improving. Slavery, abolished around most of the world, is seen as an atrocity whose time is passed. However, by opening this futuristic tale at a slave auction, Heinlein is reminding the reader that constant diligence is needed to prevent the baser aspects of humanity from resurfacing. The slave, in this particular case, is Thorby, who is bought by an handicapped beggar, Baslim. Of course, Baslim in not what he at first appears, and he is able to start Thorby on the path to determining who he is and what he wants to do even as Thorby is willing to accept his lack of a past and live for the present.
Heinlein uses Thorby's travels throughout the galaxy as an opportunity to explore different social structures. As Thorby moves from one society to another in an effect to escape his slave past and make his own way in a galaxy which is indifferent at best, hostile at worst, he occupies different positions in successive societies, allowing Heinlein to look at life from the perspective of the haves and the have-nots.
As Thorby's position changes, his understanding of ethics also changes, permitting Heinlein to examine whether morals are relativistic or not. Thorby's guidance, in many cases, is merely his own wits and the advice and example set by the absent Baslim, the first person to take an interest in Thorby as an individual. Heinlein uses Baslim to demonstrate the importance of positive role models in the lives of children. Had Baslim not appeared in Thorby's life, Thorby would have remained a slave, accepting his position.
Citizen of the Galaxy is one of Heinlein's strongest juveniles, partly because it shows the worst the universe has to offer. Thorby needs to fight his way up from the very bottom of society's ladder and discover who he is while he is doing it. The galaxy he lives in offers few sympathetic faces to Thorby as he realizes his destiny.
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