Literature: Citizen of the Galaxy
Citizen of the Galaxy
is a science fiction novel by Robert A. Heinlein
first published as a serial in 1957.
For as long as Thorby can remember, he's been a slave, futilely resisting as he was sold to a succession of masters. Now, in the slave markets of the space port of Jubbulpore (capital of the Nine Worlds), he's bought by the beggar Baslim the Cripple, for the token sum of nine minims. Thorby eventually learns that Baslim is far more than he appears, as the old man teaches him lessons about how to both think and live as a free man, while enlisting his help in spying on the ships arriving at the port.
When Baslim is hunted down and killed as a spy, Thorby is forced to obey the last request of his Pop and escape on one of the ships of the Free Traders, a insular yet Proud Merchant Race
who owe a debt to Baslim that can't be repaid — although adopting Thorby would be a good start.
So Thorby begins a journey that takes him from one end of the galaxy to the other, and his journey that started with him in the depths of slavery catapults him to the highest levels of society. And at every step, he has to struggle with the nature of freedom and how he can find it in his circumstances, even while fulfilling his responsibilities.
This novel provides examples of:
- Actual Pacifist: Thorby's grandparents are convinced that there is never any reason to resort to violence, even in self-defense. Within the context of the novel, they are shown to be naively misguided as to the way things work outside the Solar System.
- All Men Are Perverts: The Executive Officer of Sisu confiscates pornographic images from the bachelor's quarters, saying that such filth doesn't belong on their ship. In a bit of Values Dissonance, the images are implied to be no worse than pinup girls, which would have been risque when the novel was written, but tame by today's standards.
- Mars Needs Women: The raid happens while Sisu is on the planet of Starfish Aliens where they have to trade by silent auction because of no common language. The ship's supercargo decides to put the confiscated smut out with the rest of their trade goods instead of having it incinerated. The response is immediate, and the aliens eventually work out an exchange rate of one carved jewel per individual page.
- Author Catchphrase: Characters saying "So?", meaning in the sense of "Is that so?" in context. Several of Heinlein's other works using the phrase are on the trope page.
- Black Market: The spaceport area of the city of Jubbulpore:
"The inhabitants brag that within a li of the pylon at the spaceport end of the Avenue of Nine anything in the explored universe can be had by a man with cash, from a starship to ten grains of stardust, from the ruin of a reputation to the robes of a senator with the senator inside."
- Chaste Hero: As usual for a Heinlein juvenile-novel hero, Thorby has a gift for missing other characters' romantic overtures, even after still other characters mention it to him. He's still not above feeling pleasantly embarrassed by some engineered romantic moments, and does show symptoms of The Dulcinea Effect when the situation seems to warrant it.
- Cool Old Guy: Baslim the Cripple AKA Colonel Richard Baslim.
- Cunning Linguist: Thorby knows a smattering of several languages when Baslim buys him, and he learns two or three more throughout the course of the novel. It's implied that Baslim knew even more.
- Death by Origin Story: Thorby's parents. Getting them declared legally dead provides the main thrust for the last part of the novel.
- Decided By One Vote: A slightly more realistic, if no less dramatic, version. Thorby's cousin Leda announces at the very last moment that she, and the thousands of shares in stock she holds, is voting for Thorby.
- Deliberate Values Dissonance: Inherent in the nature of the book itself, which is something of a meditation on how the idea of "freedom" can mean different things to different societies.
- Due to the Dead: Krausa makes sure that Baslim is remembered at the Free Trader ceremony.
- Evil Uncle: Weemsby asks Thorby to call him Uncle John even though they're not actually related (he's the stepfather of a cousin of Thorby's, as well as an old family friend). He's also more ambitious than actually evil, but then, Ambition Is Evil.
- Failed a Spot Check: A sergeant of the guard has a conversation with a fortune teller about how he is searching for Thorby, while Thorby is standing mere feet away pretending to be changing the letters on a theater marquee. Though from the nature of the conversation, it's possible the guy knew it was Thorby, and was trying to subtly tell him to run as far and fast as he can.
- Fantastic Racism: Like any clannish society, the Free Traders (or the People, as they call themselves) consider everyone else beneath them. Interestingly, they don't differentiate between humans and aliens: if you're not People, you're nobody. Captain Krausa of Sisu (and possibly other ship captains) is a bit looser about this, probably because he is often in direct contact with outsiders.
- Fish out of Water: Thorby constantly passes from one society to the next and has to learn an entirely new set of social mores each time.
- Handicapped Badass: Baslim the Cripple sees and does a lot for a guy who's missing a leg and an eye. He has prosthetics, but he only uses them when passing himself off as a wealthy citizen.
- Kangaroo Court: Defied. Weemsby and the judge on his payroll attempt to set one up when Thorby seeks to declare his parents legally dead and set himself up as the rightful heir to their estate, but his savvy and equally underhanded lawyer makes sure the case is handled fairly by filling the courtroom with reporters and high-ranking judges.
- Kissing Cousins: "Uncle" John tries to foist Leda on Thorby, and she isn't completely against the idea. Thorby is Squicked out at first, until he goes over their lineage in his head and realizes that, at least by Free Trader standards, she's not taboo. He still remains against the idea though, because he intends to stay a Chaste Hero.
- Know-Nothing Know-It-All: Decibel, the corporal Thorby serves under when he first joins the Hegemony military. He claims that Free Traders are cowards who run from raiders. When Thorby corrects him, and states that he himself blew up a raider when he was a Free Trader, Decibel takes him down to one of the ship's gunners to put him in his place. He is shocked when the man not only confirms Thorby's story, but thanks Decibel for making him aware of such a valuable asset as Thorby's gunnery experience.
- Made a Slave: The story begins with Thorby being sold to Baslim. According to his backstory, Thorby had been sold several times before then. Shortly after buying him, Baslim suspects that Thorby wasn't born a slave, but had been captured by slavers. Turns out he was right.
- Mutant: Humans have mutated in several different directions since spreading out among the stars. When Baslim first buys Thorby, he thinks the boy is between 10-12 years old, but is unsure since some mutants look like normal humans, but age at different rates. When Baslim is able to determine that Thorby is non-mutated, this causes Baslim to conclude that Thorby is probably from the Terran Hegemony, and possibly even Earth.
- Neuro-Vault: Before he's killed by the Sargon's forces, Baslim takes the time to hypnotize Thorby to memorize his final report, along with a series of messages to the captains of several Free Trader ships (like the Sisu), in their unique languages, asking them to take Thorby offworld.
- Noodle Incident:
- The exact reasons behind the debt the People owe Baslim. It's hinted at one point that Baslim discovered that one of the Free Traders was engaged in slave trading, or had been themselves enslaved, and put an end to it, but nothing definite is ever said.
- We also never find out the exact details of how Thorby himself became a slave and how his parents died in the same incident, although the book drops tantalizing hints that it might have been set up by profiteers within his parents' company who were benefiting from the slave trade themselves.
- No Such Agency: X-Corps - the elite branch of the military that Baslim belonged to.
- Photographic Memory: Baslim teaches Thorby this skill through a process he calls "Renshawing," after Samuel Renshaw. This process comes up in a few other Heinlein novels.
- Rags to Riches: Thorby goes back and forth, but goes from being a penniless beggar to a member of the well-off Free Trader ship Sisu, and finally becomes heir to one of the largest MegaCorps in human space.
- Rags to Royalty: See above.
- Ridiculous Future Inflation: Thorby at one point is given a "megabuck", which is a combination of this and We Will Spend Credits in the Future. The main Terran denomination is the credit (one credit will buy about five loaves of bread, according to Thorby); 100 dollars is 1 credit, 1,000 credits is 1 supercredit, and 1,000 supercredits is 1 megabuck. In other words, a megabuck is a million credits, or 100 million dollars — which is still considered a lot of money, but not nearly as much as 100 million would be today.
- Screw the Rules, I Have Money! / Screw the Rules, I Have Connections!: Weemsby is used to being able to throw money at his problems, and to use the massive influence of his company if that doesn't work. Unfortunately for him, Thorby has money to burn, too.
- Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right: Captain Krausa defies the orders of his wife to make sure that Thorby is put on a Hegemony vessel, like Baslim asked him to do.
- Selective Obliviousness: Most citizens of the Terran Hegemony are shocked and horrified when Thorby tells them he used to be a slave, and disbelieve him. His grandparents especially refuse to believe that slavery exists in the Nine Worlds. And when Thorby argues the point with them, they inform him that they know more about the situation than Thorby does, even though he lived through it, and was unambiguously a slave.
- Slave Liberation: In the Back Story, Colonel Baslim stormed a raider's compound and freed the crew of a Free Trader starship who had been captured to be made into slaves.
- Starfish Aliens: While a member of Sisu, Thorby encounters two alien races. The descriptions of the races make it clear they're not remotely humanoid. Their cultures and philosophies are also very alien, to the point that Sisu doesn't even interact directly with one race.
- Technology Marches On: Just a single example — computerized aiming systems widespread in that universe are apparently unable to plot and predict the target's behavior, and are only good for generating a firing solution here and now, requiring the presence of a skilled operator who can subconsciously "feel" the target. This largely corresponds to how the naval radar-guided gunnery worked during WWIInote , and was already obsolete by the time the novel was published: in 1958 SAGE, the first computerized air defense system capable of automatically plotting and tracking the targets across the whole US, was starting to get online. Heinlein really didn't get computers at all.
- Used Future
- What Would X Do?: A Colonel mentions that whenever he's faced with a difficult situation, he always asks himself what his former commander Col. Baslim would do.
- Wretched Hive: Jubbulpore, Capitol of the Nine Worlds. Or at least, the area by the spaceport where Thorby spends most of his time.