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Literature / Farmer in the Sky

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Farmer In The Sky is a juvenile science fiction novel by Robert A. Heinlein first published in 1950.

William "Bill" Lermer and his family emigrate from Earth to Ganymede, one of Jupiter's moons, which has been terraformed into an environment capable of supporting humans but still needs a lot of work to properly support them. In best Heinlein tradition, it's something close to a long essay on how to colonize new worlds disguised as a novel, with a Slice of Life plot and characters with lots of pioneer spirit.The novel was awarded a Retro Hugo Award in 2001.

This novel provides examples of:

  • Author Catchphrase: Characters say "So?", with context making it clear it's meant in the sense of "Is that so?"
  • Chaste Hero: Bill doesn't understand why Gretchen would get upset when she comes over to help him with setting up the interior of his home and he suggests having Sergei's sister also help because there is a lot of work to do. His only thought is "Women are funny". When he is injured and she visits him in the hospital, "...[she] could hardly talk, which isn't like her."
  • Class Trip: The protagonist casually mentions they've just been on a class trip to Antarctica, to help establish the wonderful world of the future.
  • Colony Ship: Like its historical namesake the spaceship Mayflower is taking a group of families to a new world, where they seek to make new homes and new lives for themselves.
  • Determined Homesteader: The Lermer family are Determined Homesteaders In SPACE.
  • Famous, Famous, Fictional: "...the first California settlers starved, nobody knows what happened to the Roanoke Colony, and the first two expeditions to Venus died to the last man".
  • Farmboy: As above, Bill Lermer and his family emigrate from Greater Los Angeles on an overcrowded Earth to Ganymede to become a Determined Homesteader farmer.
  • Marriage of Convenience: Subverted. When Bill's father brings home a woman and explains that she's going to be Bill's stepmother, Bill assumes they're only doing it because the company funding the colonization prefers married couples. He is suprised and not a little upset when his father explains that he's marrying her because he loves her.
  • Nuclear Torch Rocket: The colony ship uses a fusion torch.
  • Perilous Power Source: Bill's father explains why they have an engineer along in space, when the engine is a radioactive torch that can't be shut off in flight.
    "There are certain adjustments which could conceivably have to be made in extreme emergency. In which case it would be Mr. Ortega's proud privilege to climb into a space suit, go outside and back aft, and make them."
    "You mean—"
    "I mean that the assistant chief engineer would succeed to the position of chief a few minutes later. Chief engineers are very carefully chosen, Bill, and not just for their technical knowledge."
  • Scout-Out: Averted. The Boy Scouts are mentioned by name with ranks, organization, and merit badges all intact. The story was featured in a condensed form in the Scouting magazine Boy's Life as Satellite Scout.
  • Secret Test of Character: While Bill is applying to be a colonist, he is called in at one point to the testing facility. He has to sit in a waiting room for a long time, and after a while realizes that two employees in the room with him are looking at his file and laughing about something. Bill gets up and demands to see what they're looking at, and eventually leaves in a huff. He's sure he just blew his chances to be a colonist, and is very suprised to get accepted. The novel never confirms this, but it's fairly obvious the whole thing was a test to see Bill's reaction, to see if he had pioneer spirit, or what Heinlein liked to call "rugged individualism."
  • Space Pirates: Bill meets the captain of the shuttle up from Earth, who mentions having been "captured by pirates". Bill doesn't challenge him, but thinks he's spinning a yarn. But when Bill tells his father about the encounter,
    "Maybe you are too young to remember it. [Captain DeLongPre] let himself be sealed into one of the robot freighters used to jump thorium ore from the lunar mines—and busted up a ring of hijackers, a gang the newscasters called the 'Ore Pirates.'"
    I didn't say anything.
  • Terraform: The story is about a terraforming effort...on Ganymede. This is based upon something called the "heat trap", a sort of energy field which prevents heat from escaping from Ganymede at the normal rate so as to keep the place warm. It gets wrecked by an earthquake, causing temperatures to immediately plunge: in the several days it takes to fix it, it gets down to seventy below and two-thirds of the colony's population dies from the earthquake, the cold, or both.
    • Something like this has actually been proposed using super greenhouse gases, although the amount of water ice on Ganymede means that melting it would result in a moon-wide ocean hundreds of miles deep.