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Literature / Between Planets

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Between Planets is a 1951 science fiction novel by Robert A. Heinlein.

Don Harvey has spent several years at Boarding School on Earth while his parents were busy with archaeological digs on Mars. However, trouble was brewing between the Federation and the Venus colony so his parents radiogram him to leave for Mars before the school term ended. He does so but gains the interest of the I.B.I. who interrogate him. However, given his youth, he is allowed to head home to Mars. The Venus rebels strike while he is in-transit at the Circum-Terra transfer space station and is diverted to Venus rather than returning to Earth when the rebels destroy it.

This novel provides examples of:

  • Accidental Proposal: Harvey is assisted by a woman who convinces her father to loan him money, despite the fact he has nothing to guarantee it. When he asks her to hold on to a ring for him (he thinks it has important secret information in it) she is startled about being given a ring and he doesn't understand why a woman would consider being given a ring something unusual. When her father finds out that Harvey gave his daughter a ring, he questions it also, but Harvey is still clueless about why it might be considered strange.
  • Affably Evil: Political Officer First Class, I.B.I. Stanley Bankfield was a pleasant and polite man when interviewing Don Harvey on Venus and puts a fatherly arm around his shoulder when sympathizing with his situation. Then he grabs Don's hand and painfully pulls back his little finger but then stops and says he will wait for a medical officer with Truth Serum since overzealous application can reduce the subject to incoherence and willing to admit to anything.
  • Ammunition Backpack: A Federation trooper with a Reynolds one-man gun wears its power pack on his back.
  • Author Catchphrase: Characters say "So?", with context making it clear it's meant in the sense of "Is that so?"
  • Black Market: There is a flourishing one on Venus to, among other things, convert Federation currency to Venus Republic bills. Don Harvey is approached by someone with connections when he arrives on Venus and finds he missed the cut-off conversion date while spending months in Hohmann transfer orbit from Earth. It was a scam as he was offered 20% on the credit when the going rate was 60.
  • Boarding School: The novel begins with Don Harvey attending one for several years on Earth while his parents are busy with archaeological digs on Mars. Aside from academics it is also a dude ranch with each boy being assigned a horse to care for.
  • Chaste Hero: In a letter to the publisher, Heinlein acknowledged that this trope had more to do with not alienating school librarians or his more younger readers than reflecting reality.
  • The Coroner Doth Protest Too Much: A family friend of Harvey is interrogated by the brutal government officers. They tell the protagonist the cause of death was "heart failure". He then realizes that no matter how you die (or are killed), your heart is still going to stop...
  • Cosmic Deadline: In many of his early novels (particularly the "juveniles"), Robert A. Heinlein would wrap up the plot in a page or two, often leaving the story unresolved. This was probably due to word count/length limitations. In Between Planets, after Don's ship reaches Mars and deals with the Federation ships, the plot is wrapped up in a single page, without even showing Don meeting his parents or saying what happens between Don and his girlfriend Isobel Costello.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Little David englobes the three Federation warships en route to Mars with its force field projector and the "battle" (sic) is over.
  • Dead Man Switch: To prevent Little David from being captured by the Federation, it has a bomb attached to a Dead Man Switch, to which Don is assigned as his battle station.
    Capt. Rhodes: ... I'm not worried that you might forget to hang on; what I want to know is this: if it becomes necessary to let go of that switch, can you do it?
  • Double-Meaning Title: A portion of the book takes place on an interplanetary space ship traveling from Earth to Venus, that is "Between Planets". However, Harvey was born in space when his parents were on a previous voyage from Earth to Mars leaving him to consider himself a citizen of the Solar System. With the Earth/Venus conflict, he wanted to remain neutral because he was "Between Planets" and had been on his way back to Mars when the Rebels seized Circum-Terra.
  • Explosions in Space: Done correctly when Circum-Terra Station was destroyed by a nuclear weapon. The blast was described as a second sun, blazing white, and as an expanding, perfectly geometrical sphere. The story also explicitly states that there would not be a mushroom cloud in the vacuum of space.
  • Fantastic Racism: The leaders of the occupation force know the importance of not annoying the Venusians, but no amount of orders or lectures can affect the attitude of the Earth soldiers who unlike the human colonists have not learned to respect 'talking animals'. The dragons pick up on this attitude and don't like it, so they secretly aid La Résistance.
  • Fauns and Satyrs: Gregarians, affectionately refferred to as "moveovers," because they tend towards cuddling up to anyone within arm's reach, prompting humans to absently mutter "move over, will ya?," forgetting that they're just bipedal animals
  • The Federation: The Federation began as a benign World Government with a monopoly on nuclear weapons to ensure world peace but became an oppressive tyranny.
  • Greasy Spoon: The Two Worlds Dining Room that Don ends up working at is a Chinese version of one since the owner/short order cook is Chinese although referred to as a diner.
  • Great Offscreen War: Don Harvey's shuttle rocket lands near "the great field, still slightly radioactive, where Old Chicago used to be." It is not known if this is a result of the Wet Firecracker War (referenced in several of Heinlein's works) or some other incident.
  • Instant Waking Skills: While Don is sleeping in a hammock, another soldier taps sharply on the rope holding the hammock. Don wakes up instantly, with a knife in his hand, ready to fight.
  • Language Equals Thought: Don is trying to decide who he can trust with a very important secret.
    Mr. Costello: See here—I've studied comparative semantics—the whistling talk [of the dragons] does not even contain a symbol for the concept of falsehood. And what a person does not have symbols for he can't think about! Ask him, Mr. Harvey! Ask him in his own speech. If he answers at all, you can believe him.
  • Lie Detector: Don Harvey is subjected to questioning by Venus Republic soldiers while hooked up to a lie detector after first waiving his rights about self-incrimination. He is cleared since he hadn't done anything wrong.
  • Lizard Folk: The intelligent life on Venus is Draco Veneris Wilsonii and they are commonly referred to as "dragons" but are a six legged multi-ton saurians with manipulator tentacles from their necks rather than arms and hands. They also have a dozen eyes on eyestalks and speak in musical whistles.
  • Hidden in Plain Sight: Played with; when Don receives the ring which is just a cheap trinket, he assumes the real message is written in Invisible Writing on the wrapping paper. Unfortunately the ISI assume the same and confiscate it. Turns out the message is in the ring after all.
  • Imported Alien Phlebotinum: The First Empire technology is reversed engineered from archaeological information and used to outfit and arm the Little David. It allows for 20 g continuous flight along with artificial gravity to prevent the crew from being squashed and impregnable force field spheres. Earth technology that The Federation has consists of rocket ships that do a burn and then coast at zero g and nuclear bombs whose blast the force field can contain.
  • New Neo City: Early chapters are set in New Chicago, Old Chicago having been nuked in a previous (non-world-ending) nuclear war some generations ago. Also, the capital of the Venus Republic is New London being named after the Earthside city.
  • Nick Naming The Enemy: Venus Nationalists are called "fog-eaters" by Federation troops due to the heavy mists common on Venus and the Federation troops are called "greenies" due to their mottled green fatigues. Among themselves, the Venus guerrillas called themselves "duckfoots".
  • Obnoxious Entitled Housewife: Don meets a middle-aged woman who is terrified into a racist (species-ist?) rant at the mere sight of his venusian dragon friend, Sir Issac Newton, complete with emasculating her husband to get her way and demands to speak to the manager (well, captain, since they're on a public space shuttle).
  • Planetary Romance: The solar system and especially the depiction of a humid, heavily jungled and swampy Venus is in this tradition.
  • Precursors: The First Empire which originated on the Fifth Planet which became the asteroid belt and whose ruins could be found on Mars and Venus and beneath the oceans of Earth. Don's parents were doing archaeological work in ruins on Mars while Don was at Boarding School on Earth.
  • Product Placement: Arguably for realism. When Don Harvey arrives on Venus, he goes to the local I.T. & T. offices to radiogram his parent on Mars and tell them what happened to him.
  • Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: The Venusian freedom fighters after Earth retaliates destroying the Venus High Guard spaceships, landing troops and seizing the settlements and Venus Republic politicians and high ranking officers of the military. Low ranking troops were released to return to civilian life but many formed the nucleus of guerrilla bands that, while not much for spit and polish, became effective fighting forces.
  • Rest-and-Resupply Stop: Circum-Terra Station (in orbit around Earth) is described as having many functions, from meteorology to astronomy to serving as the place where the government stockpiles nuclear weapons to keep Earth's population in line. But the space station's main function is as a transfer point for freight and passengers from short-ranged surface-to-orbit shuttlecraft to interplanetary liners, and for that purpose it has refueling facilities, repair yards, and even a large hotel with artificial gravity.
  • Schizo Tech:
    • New London on Venus has a mix of technologies due to the cost of shipping high tech manufactured goods from Earth. The hot water in The Two Worlds Greasy Spoon is heated by a wood burning boiler despite virtually costless electricity from the nuclear power plant due to the expensive equipment needed to handle the power. The streets are muddy and unpaved but lighted by atomic power, travel is by foot or gondolas within the city but there are rocket-powered sky shuttles between settlements.
    • Heinlein plays with the trope in the introduction, where the protagonist is in a Western setting, then gets startled by a telephone ringing out in the middle of nowhere. Unfortunately the idea of a mobile phone isn't as futuristic as it once was.
  • Secret Police: The I.B.I. (not stated but probably Interplanetary Bureau of Investigation) is the Federation's secret police. Their agents are Don Harvey's main antagonist.
  • Space Base: Earth's repressive police-state government has a space station called Circum-Terra that's loaded with nuclear weapons.
  • The Triple: Don isn't allowed to join the guerillas unless he has useful skills. He says he's a good shot with a handgun, can speak the Venusian dragon language... and knows how to wash lots of dishes. His officer says the last is indeed a useful skill for a soldier.
  • Took a Level in Badass: Harvey starts as a naive and sheltered teen but becomes a tough Venusian freedom fighter who is implied to have killed Federation soldier(s).
  • Truth Serums: I.B.I. Agent Stanley Bankfield likes truth serums. As he explains to Don Harvey, physical coercion can lead to the subject saying and confessing to anything if applied too zealously. The unnamed agent back on Earth who questioned Harvey in New Chicago disagreed, feeling proper application of pain would make him quite talkative while serums force him to wade through all sorts of irrelevant babble.
  • Venus Is Wet: Venus is a humid, swampy jungle planet.
  • Wake Up Fighting: To demonstrate how Don has changed with his time with the Venusian guerrillas, the company runner in his group wakes Don up with a sharp tap on the support rope of his hammock. Don wakes instantly with a knife in his hands.
  • The War of Earthly Aggression: Venus feels oppressed by Earth due to unfair trade restrictions, tariffs and other taxes so rebels and forms a Republic. It's The American Revolution IN SPACE.
  • Weapons of Their Trade: When the Federation invades Venus in an attempt to re-conquer it, a cook named Charlie prepares to resist them by sharpening the cleaver he uses in his work and practicing throwing it. When a squad of Federation soldiers tries to burn down his restaurant, he throws the cleaver and kills the soldier commanding the squad.
  • We Will Spend Credits in the Future: The Federation uses credits as currency good anywhere in the Solar System. When Venus rebels, it uses Federation credits over stamped with Venus Republic for money.
  • What Measure Is A Nonhuman: There are two Venusian species presented this way: The (apparently) nonsapient, deeply-affectionate and playful gregarians, and the intelligent, highly-traditional dragons. We meet an Obnoxious Entitled Housewife who's immediately terrified into a racist rant at the mere sight of a dragon, who for his part mostly shrugs it off (and is revealed to not only be The Good King, but a theoretical physicist to boot). At a fancy club, Don is served Baked Baby Gregarian. He's as disgusted by the idea of eating them as he would be at the idea of eating a human baby. During the War, greenies are as casually racist towards dragons as any pith-helmeted fop on safari from the 1800's, and are noted to eat gregarians when they think they can get away with it.
  • Work Off the Debt: Don Harvey is approached by a black marketer to exchange his currency and taken to dinner at a greasy spoon. When he refuses to deal, he is stiffed for dinner and has to wash dishes to pay the bill.
  • Your Terrorists Are Our Freedom Fighters: Earth regards the Venusian armed forces as little more than outlaws and pirates.
  • Zeerust
    • The protagonist (who is staying on a dude ranch in New Mexico) takes a call from the cell phone mounted in his horse's saddle! Also, there are transcontinental and intercontinental ballistic passenger rockets rather than jets. Don Harvey travels from Albuquerque to New Chicago in 20 minutes on one. On the other hand, Don Harvey's luggage is "fluoroscoped" (that is X-rayed) before his flight to New Chicago and his name is on a watch list causing him to be pulled aside before his flight to Circum-Terra enroute to Mars. In the Afterword of the 2008 re-issue, Travis S. Taylor Ph.D waxes enthusiastically about how Heinlein described stealth technology via faceting in 1951, decades before the development of the F-117A.
    • Eerily enough, while being X-rayed, Don half-jokingly mentions this is to prevent him from storing a bomb in his underwear. Cut to 60 years later and a failed attempt at underwear bombing on a plane results in a major international incident [1].