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Literature: Space Cadet

A Young Adult novel by Robert A. Heinlein, published in 1948, following the adventures of Matt Dodson, a young man who joins the prestigious Space Patrol. As you might guess from the title, much of the novel follows his training, including rigorous physical and mental exams just to get in, then more training aboard the Patrol's university cum spaceship in orbit around Earth, and then finally his midshipman's cruise which leads to a crisis with the natives on Venus.


Provides Examples Of:

  • Asteroid Thicket: Averted. Captain Yancey of the Aes Triplex explicitly mentions how thin the belt really is and how unlikely a collision would be. Nevertheless, he set up a radar watch to avoid collisions, if the duty officer saw a rock approaching on a possible collision course, the alarm would be sounded and a thruster fired. Also, the Pathfinder, the overdue ship they were searching for, had been holed by a meteor that, by bad luck, happened to puncture the inner airlock door just as the outer, armored door had opened to admit a spacewalking crewman.
  • The Captain: Captain Yancey of the Aes Triplex during Dodson's training cruise. Starts out as The Neidermeyer to the cadets but mellows to Veteran Instructor as the cruise progresses, giving informal leadership seminars in addition to the more formal studies each cadet is following.
  • The Chains of Commanding: Captain Yancey of the Aes Triplex would have preferred to take the repaired Pathfinder back to Earth himself but no one of higher authority was in communication to relieve him of command of his own ship so he had to turn command of the Pathfinder to his executive officer.
  • Death from Above: One of the tasks of the Space Patrol is to maintain the orbiting nuclear weapons used to maintain peace on Earth.
  • Dude, Where's My Reward? The cadets are rather put out when they don't get any praise for their first successful mission, but then realise they've simply done what's expected of Patrolmen.
  • Explosive Decompression: Happened to the Pathfinder when its inner airlock door was holed by a meteor. Some compartments remained intact with air tight doors but the crew had clustered around the entryway and all died. The one in the spacesuit entering the airlock had his suit punctured by a fragment from the collision and was killed too.
  • Fantastic Racism: Burke shows this; Oscar Jensen who was born on Venus treats the natives with respect. Which is just as well.
  • Farmboy: Matt Dodson is from Iowa and implied to be one. Later on his prentice cruise on the Aes Triplex he is given "farmer" duties on the ship, that is, to take care of the hydroponic plants in the ship's air recycling section.
  • Future Imperfect: The rotunda of Hayworth Hall has the Kilroy Was Here (the first ship to Mars which crash landed on return killing all on board) set up as though it had crash there. Dodson is asked who Kilroy was and after a bit of though he replies he was a WW II admiral. Clear in context that it is Dodson's ignorance rather than faulty history though.
  • The Great Repair: After their rocket sinks into the Venusian mud, the patrolmen discover the Venerians have the Astarte, the first spaceship sent to Venus and considered lost. They fix the Astarte so it can carry them back to the human colonies.
  • Hidden Purpose Test: Dodson has to pass a series of tests to get into the Space Patrol. One of them requires him to stand over a milk bottle and drop beans into the bottle with his eyes closed. Dodson ends up with only one bean in his bottle and sadly turns it in. He notices while standing in line that several people got many beans in their bottles, and after turning his in, he asks the examiner what would keep people from cheating by peeking. The examiner says, "Nothing at all", much to Dodson's disappointment. Then the book says about Dodson: "It did not occur to him that he might not know what was being tested."
    • Dodson's roommate saw through the test, and reasoned that it was a secret test of intelligence (weeding out the people who couldn't resist cheating even though a high test score would be damning). He acknowledges that it wouldn't catch the people who didn't figure it out but were also too honest to cheat, but figured that other tests would catch those people. (In fact, he had it backwards; the school was looking for honesty, and there were other tests to catch the bright cynics.)
  • I'll Pretend I Didn't Hear That: When Tex Jarman gets drunk in public, one of the cadet's instructors (who is sitting nearby) calls over Matt Dodson and warns him, "Go back and tell Jarman to quiet down before I have to come over and ask him what his name is."
  • Jerk Ass: Girard Burke during training, thinking that his influential father is enough to get him into the Patrol, but he Took a Level in Jerkass after he's kicked out and his father gives him command of his own rocketship. He kidnaps the leader of a Venerian tribe to pressure her into giving him mining rights, then hides in the radio room when the outraged Venerians slaughter the rest of his crew.
  • Karma Houdini: Girard Burke, apart from getting beaten up by one of the protagonists later on.
  • Lady Land: When translating Oscar Jensen refers to his colleagues as female as there are no intelligent males among the Venerians.
  • Mildly Military: While the Space Patrol has a military-inspired rank structure, it isn't intended to fight wars, but rather to prevent them.
  • No One Gets Left Behind: The mission of the Aes Triplex along with several other Patrol Ships was to search for the missing Pathfinder in the asteroid belt. They find it with all hands dead but the cadets reflect that the Patrol would have brought them back alive if they hadn't killed by a meteor puncture of the ship. Later, after the cadets and their superior officer are marooned on Venus, Jensen comments that the Patrol will eventually find them but they need to work towards their own rescue since that would be expected of them.
  • Officer and a Gentleman: To the point that the Space Patrol consists solely of officers, nineteen years before Star Trek: The Original Series.
  • One Riot, One Ranger: Burke is annoyed when the Space Patrol doesn't send a warship to put down the 'native uprising'.
  • Orbital Bombardment: Dodson serves a tour onboard a Patrol Ship whose prime mission is to coordinate such a bombardment via orbiting nuclear bombs. To keep the crew busy, they (including Dodson) perform routine maintenance on such bomb satellites.
  • The Paragon: John Ezra Dahlquist is one of "The Four" who are held up to be this and whose names are called at every roll call. His single handed thwarting of the "Revolt of the Colonels" at the cost to his own life early in the Patrol's history is cited as the ideal for Patrolmen. He is also literally Hero of Another Story since his Heroic Sacrifice is depicted in the short story "The Long Watch" published the next year by Heinlein.
  • Patron Saint: The patronage of St. Barbara is mentioned while persuading Matt that a certain accident was real and not a Secret Test to scare them off.
  • Planetary Romance: The solar system and especially the depiction of a humid, heavily jungle and swampy Venus is in this tradition.
  • Science Marches On: The basics of orbital mechanics are sound, but Venus is depicted in its typical swamp habitat stereotype and the Asteroid Belt is described as a destroyed planet (which is a minor plot point later).
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Money!: Burke tries to bribe Matt and his friends on Venus. They're not impressed.
  • Shattered World: The asteroid belt is was formed by a planet shattering. The Pathfinder discovered evidence that the planet had been inhabited by an intelligent species which had destroyed their home in an nuclear war. This information was recovered by the Aes Triplex when they found the wrecked Pathfinder.
  • Space Cadet: Still one of the better examples.
  • Space Cadet Academy: The PRS James Randolph, a space ship that serves as the space academy.
    • Also Hayworth Hall, the Patrol's facilities at their main Earth base at Santa Barbara Field for final selection testing of Candidates and for final polish of Cadets before Commissioning.
  • Space Marine: Matt briefly considers switching over to them when his training hits a rough spot, but his counselor talks him out of it.
  • Space Police: What the Space Patrol's mandate essentially makes them, although exploring the solar system and investigating its mysteries is a highly-ranked secondary goal.
  • Space Station: The PRS James Randolph shares an orbit with space station Terra Station and is kept ten miles astern. The cadets are granted occasional leave and take a scooter over for R&R.
  • Superweapon Surprise: The supposedly primitive Venerians have a superior knowledge of chemistry, to the extent that one of the characters says in astonishment "They can do ANYTHING!" (they've just synthesized liquid oxygen for their rocket — and this from a species that doesn't use space travel)
    • Venerians can't play the harmonica; 'I know, I let one try.'
  • Training from Hell: Mostly averted, aside from a scene during the initial induction when Matt is tested to see how he handles differing gravities. He finds that cadets actually set their own study pace, guided by their peer counselors.
  • Who Watches the Watchmen?: This is the motto of the Naval Academy.
  • You Are in Command Now: The cadets have to handle the situation on Venus when their commanding officer is put in a coma.
  • Zeerust: As can be expected there's lots. Surprisingly averted early in the first chapter, as it opens with Matt talking with his dad on what a modern reader will recognize as a cellphone (though he does end the call quickly, because he's in a crowd!), even shipping it back home when he goes into orbit, since there of course would be no relay towers to pick up its signal.

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