The Star Beast

by Robert A. Heinlein
Reviewed date: 2018 Feb 10
Rating: 3
253 pages
cover art

John Thomas Stuart XI has a pet alien. Lummox is as big as an elephant, has eight legs, an enormous appetite, and can even talk a little. The trouble starts when Lummie gets out of the backyard and goes on a little rampage through town. The legal trouble draws the attention of the Department of Spatial Affairs. Agent Sergei Greenberg arrives to sort out the matter.

What follows is a fantastic little episode where Agent Greenberg dispenses with all the bureaucratic red tape and useless pomp and ceremony, and forces everyone--John Thomas, his girlfriend (and counsel) Betty Sorensen, all the plaintiffs, and even the local judge--to crowd around a conference table and hash everything out together. Greenberg won't put up with any of the usual legal nonsense--this is a case of a Heinleinian hero cutting through society's stupid rules to get to a common-sense solution that is right and just.

As usual with Heinlein's heroes, Agent Greenberg is a little bit insufferable. That's OK, because he slaps down John Thomas--who is a great deal insufferable, in the way that all young Heinlein heroes are. And Greenberg himself gets slapped down later by his boss Mr. Kiku, which is great. Mr. Kiku is the most fully formed hero, because he is older and wiser. If I were more ambitious, I'd write something comparing the three men of the book (John Thomas, Greenberg, and Kiku), because it probably shows the stages of maturity of a Heinlein hero or something. Maybe. I don't know.

It turns out Lummox is actually sentient, and his (or rather, her) race are coming to get her. She's royalty or something, and the Hroshii want her back. There are some rather tricky negotiations between Earth (represented by Mr. Kiku) and the Hroshii delegation (represented by a Rargyllian translator), and with Lummox herself, who refuses to go unless she can take John Thomas with her.

It's not great literature, but it's a good story and if you can put up with Heinlein's insufferable heroes, it's lots of fun. I liked it.

There are only two women in the book. John Thomas's mother is treated very poorly. Johnnie tolerates her, but it's clear that she is small-minded, petty, stupid, and arrogant. She opposes everything Johnnie wants to do, wishes to control his future and his choice of university, and is very much set on getting rid of Lummox. We see only one glimpse of something that might redeem her: Johnnie's father was lost in space, and she is doing all this in a desperate attempt to prevent Johnnie from following in his footsteps. It won't do any good, though. John Thomas Stuart XI is as stubborn all of his ancestors, and of course he'll go off into space.

John Thomas's girlfriend Betty Sorenson is the young Heinleinian woman, so of course she's divorced her parents, is smarter than John Thomas, and goes behind his back to get him what he really deserves because John Thomas is too noble to demand it himself. Still, it's well enough written. I bet Heinlein still had an editor to answer to at this stage in his career.

Various reviewers have made note of Heinlein's racial progressiveness in this book. Agent Sergei Greenberg appears to be of Russian roots, and Mr. Kiku is a black African. Well, personally I don't know. They may indeed be Russian and African, but you couldn't tell from their behavior. They think and act and talk just like middle-class white Americans.

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