Curmudgeon Reviews: The Star Beast

Written by Sanford Begley

Sanford Begley
The First Reader

Yes, I know The Star Beast is one of Robert Heinlein’s juveniles. According to my Kindle copy it is number 8. Just because it was written as a juvenile doesn’t mean an adult can’t enjoy it. I hadn’t reread this one since my teens. It is one of his lesser known works, undeservedly so. For some reason I enjoyed it as a teen but it didn’t resonate. It made a much stronger impression on me this time.

We bought it in an odd way. We were discussing a book My Heinlein Girl is working on and it occurred to me that The Star Beast would be a great one for “flavor”.  She bought it and I stumbled upon it when looking at my to be read pile on the Kindle. Since I hadn’t read it in so many years I thought ”Why not?”  Turns out it probably isn’t all that good for flavoring the current work. What really surprised me was how much I enjoyed it.

I had honestly forgotten the majority of the book. If asked I would have said it was all about John Thomas Stuart and his alien “pet” going to her homeworld. Okay, I would have vaguely remembered Johnny and his girlfriend and the story was about them going there. I was wrong.

Instead it is a story of a professional bureaucrat handling delicate negotiations with a dangerous  alien race. Oh Johnny and Betty are there and prominent alright, just not the only focus. This was written from Heinlein’s view that career government service people were mostly honest men, only the politicians were crooked.

There is derring-do with Johnny and Betty trying to outwit those who are scared by the alien. And in this case I mean alien as in strange, not the fact that the “pet”, Lummox, was from another planet. that is the least of the story though. In side bits Heinlein deals with racism, small mindedness, political stupidity, and how to deal with a race that has 6 sexes.

I won’t spoiler the story, I will sketch a few of the major characters. Johnny is a teen with a domineering mother and a wish to please adults. Betty, his girlfriend and an emancipated minor, is a typical Heinlein girl, smart and somewhat more worldly than Johnny.  Mr. Kiku, the African Deputy Secretary for Space is a true professional and excellent diplomat, easily handling his nominal appointed superior and the negotiations with a deadly alien race. The Secretary himself is actually a minor character, mostly someone to show as a corrupt politician.
All in all I recommend reading this book. Especially if you read it years ago, your POV has changed and it is a better book as an adult.  This is even more true if you are one of those convinced that Heinlein was a misogynist, racist and everything else that might stick. It will open your eyes to the fact that he was fighting for human rights long before today’s activists.



3 responses to “Curmudgeon Reviews: The Star Beast”

  1. I agree completely. I recently reread it myself. All I remembered from childhood was Johnny and his underestimated pet. Great story!

  2. RealityObserver Avatar

    What I remember getting out of it, mainly, was “Don’t abandon your friends. Ever.”

    Mr. Kiku resonated with me, but not quite so much. Although the “message” sank in – yes, there are honest, intelligent people out there – even in the diplomatic services. And the only check boxes that matter are those for personal integrity.

  3. The thing I remember after years have gone by from reading it – was the courtroom scene where a witness was testifying with a REAL lie detector. She was buzzed time after time for lying, but when questioned on a point at the end said something like – “Well of course. I’m a truthful person.” and the lie detector didn’t trigger on that, because she believed it about herself in the face of massive evidence to the contrary. As a young person it hit me because it summed up the human capacity to believe the impossible nicely.