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Literature / The Star Beast

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The Star Beast is a science fiction novel by Robert A. Heinlein first published in 1954. The novel, somewhat abridged, was originally serialised in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction as "Star Lummox" and then published in hardcover as part of Scribner's series of Heinlein juveniles.

John Thomas Stuart XI is a high school senior who discovers that his family's extraterrestrial pet is more than it appears to be. The eponymous Star Beast turns out to actually be a highly intelligent alien whose hobby is raising humans, namely the generations of the hero's family.

This novel provides examples of:

  • Babies Make Everything Better: Lummox loves to raise John Thomases, and adores them in their infancy as to her, they always make for interesting playmates.
  • Badass Bureaucrat: His Excellency the Right Honorable Henry Gladston Kiku, M.A. (Oxon.) Litt. D. honoris causa (Capetown), O.B.E., Permanent Undersecretary for Spatial Affairs. Mr. Kiku can read at over 2,000 words per minute, useful since he needed to go through a dozen memos and other documents per working hour, making the occasional notation and referral to subordinate for action. Most were for information but he needed to be kept informed. During the climactic confrontation with the Hroshii on the tarmac of a spaceship landing field and with the threat that they could destroy the Earth with their one ship, he stood there and cursed mildly when the wind nearly blew his hat off.
  • Benevolent Alien Invasion: Earth demands a treaty with the Hroshian empire if they are to surrender a free-man, John Thomas, to them. Embassies, cultural and scientific missions on both capital planets must be established. The implications of this treaty become apparent in the conclusion, for if her Imperial Highness Lummox gets to keep her John Thomas, every noble and common Hroshii seeking to impress their queen is going to want a human pet.
  • Berserk Button: For Hroshiu expedition commander: Making any derogatory remarks about his status or refuting his authority.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: When the Hroshii expedition commander tries to pick a fight, the normally very gentle Lummox head-butts him hard enough to knock him down. On the one hand, she's bigger than him; on the other, as far as training is concerned, this is the equivalent of a pudgy, pampered kid decking a member of Special Forces.
  • Big Eater: The alien Hroshii can eat almost anything, steel, concrete, you name it. They grow when fed, shrink when starved. The reason why the gigantic Lummox appears so much larger than the other Hroshii is simply because she was overfed on Earth (or bored rather whenever John Thomas isn't around). When reunited with her people they force her to go on diet.
  • Bizarre Alien Biology: Lummox has eight great legs that move in similar succession to a caterpillar. In addition to four pairs of legs she later grows a pair of arms that are extremely dexterous. No one single heart, but a un-centralized circulatory system. A secondary brain back in her rump, which controls motor-functions and a guardian eye when she dozes.
  • Bizarre Alien Locomotion: Lummox normally moved in a 1,4,5,8,2,3,6,7 gait, good for anything from a slow crawl to as fast as a trotting horse. However, if in a hurry, s/he could move in a double-ended gallop moving legs 1 & 2 & 5 & 6 together, alternated with 3 & 4 & 7 & 8.
  • Bizarre Alien Sexes: The Hroshii come in six assorted sexes (though the differences are not readily apparent). All-male, mostly-male/partly-female, slightly-more-male-than-female, slightly-more-female-than-male, mostly-female/partly-male, and all-female. Lummox herself falls into the fifth category.
  • Blind Jump: In the backstory to the novel, the starship Trailblazer made a blind hyperspace jump to other solar systems, and had to make another blind jump to get back to Earth.
  • Bold Explorer: John Thomas' great grandfather. He was a crew member abroad the star-ship The Trail Blazer. On his second voyage of exploration, they discovered not just extraterrestrials, but an entire alien civilization. By some strange fated coincidence, mankind discovered the Hroshii before any other sapient alien species in the entire galaxy.
  • Break Out the Museum Piece: When Mr. Ito finds Lummox eating his cabbages, he grabs a relic of the Fourth World War known as a "tank-killer" that was handed down to him by his grandfather. He fires it at Lummox, which doesn't harm her but does drive her away.
  • Cool Old Guy: Mr. Kiku's philosophy in dealing with bullying elitists is stepping on their toes, until you make them apologize.
  • Dead Guy Junior / King Bob the Nth: Or something. John Thomas Stuart XI isn't royalty, and his father (X) and grandfather (IX) were alive when he was born, but the family has kept up the tradition of naming and pioneering for a long time. His greatgrandfather (VIII) was the explorer who found a dog-sized alien critter and brought it back to Earth as a pet.
  • Deface of the Moon: The Hroshii threaten to burn an incandescent mark a thousand miles long on the face of the Moon to show they "'aint foolin'" when there were delays in recovering Lummox for them.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: Johnnie and his female friend Betty escape into the mountains with Lummox. Betty comments on how pretty it is up there and that they should come back when this is all settled and they can enjoy it.
    Johnnie: "And get me talked about all over town? No thanks!"
    Betty: "You and your nice-nice reputation!"
    Johnnie: "Somebody's got to care about these things. When girls stopped boys had to start."
  • Earth-Shattering Kaboom: What the Hroshii threaten to do, and will do, if their queen is not returned alive and unharmed. When Lummox is delivered but orders her beloved pet be returned to her, the Hroshii once more demand mankind release the boy, or else. The humans call their bluff since threatening to destroy the planet will obviously not guarantee John Thomas' safety. Nevertheless, the aliens have already considered causing considerable damage to the Moon, as a mere demonstration of force. And they don't care that the Moon is currently inhabited with multiple lunar bases.
  • Eloquent in My Native Tongue: The Hroshii instinctively know their own language almost from the shell. They find other languages bothersome and time-consuming to acquire, so never bother learning to use them well. Lummox has been practicing for over a hundred years, yet speaks English as well as a four-year-old child. But in her own language she is dangerously fluent and with a masterful grasp of rhetoric.
  • Emancipated Child: Betty Sorenson, one of the main characters, divorced her parents for an unspecified reason. The court system takes "a dim view of the arbitrary use of parental authority", such as coercion in the choice of career. Mr. Kiku warns Mrs. Stuart that her son (who was still a minor) could divorce her if she tried to prevent him from going to another star system.
  • Fantastic Racism: People are becoming xenophobic to their native planet being overrun by aliens (or 'beasts' as they prefer to call) of varying origin. The Hroshii themselves are just as bad, being completely indifferent to all other lifeforms.
  • The Federation: Seemed to have started as a United Nations Is a Superpower with various Earth nations as members, then grew with the (human) Martian Commonwealth and the Venus Republic and other human colonies. It also has some "xenic" cultures associated with it. The head of the organization is called the Secretary General but seems to be elected by delegates much like the British Parliamentary system complete with a threatened "no confidence" vote within the story.
  • Fluffy the Terrible: The eponymous star beast is called Lummox. Admittedly, 'he' wasn't too impressive ... until after that time he ate a Buick....
  • Foreign-Language Tirade: The Hroshiu expedition commander:
  • Gentle Giant: Despite the incredible collateral damage Lummox causes, she always makes sure she never steps on anyone.
  • Get It Over With: Johnny's alien pet Lummox has been sentenced to death. Johnny helps Lummox escape, but they're hunted down and trapped. One of the pursuers approaches them.
    Johnnie found that tears were streaming down his face and that he could not stop them. "Go ahead!" he cried, his voice misbehaving. "Get it over with! He never meant any harm! So kill him quickly . . don't play cat-and-mouse with him." He broke down and sobbed, covering his face with his hands. [snip]
    The officer looked distressed. "What are you talking about, son? We aren't here to hurt him. We have orders to bring him in without a scratch on him - even if we lost men in the process. Craziest orders I ever had to carry out."
  • Helicopter Pack: Both John Thomas Stuart and Betty Sorenson use one of these (called a "flight harness" in the book). The cover of the 1954 edition.
  • Helicopter Parents: John's mother, Mrs. Stuart, is determined to override his choice of careers, insisting that he study law rather than go into space in the footsteps of his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather. She also bullies John into signing away Lummox to a museum, and is in the habit of reading any papers she might happen to find when tidying up his bedroom on the theory that "there should be no secrets between parents and children".
  • Hidden Weapons: At the negotiating conference over having John Thomas accompany Lummox back to her home planet one of the conference members noitices the Hroshiu have brought equipment that he realizes are cannons into the room and have soldiers aiming them. He is worried enough to point it out to Mr. Kiku, who is unsurprised.
    Kiku: It is understandable given they are in a place where they are not sure of the intentions of the other side and might have to escape from hostile conditions. Just pretend it's their recording equipment. This is actually a good sign.
    Man: It's a good sign they're training guns on us?
    Kiku: Yes. It means they're taking us seriously. One does not bring artillery to deal with mice.
  • Human Pet: The Thomas family thinks Lummox is their pet. She disagrees, seeing the successive generations of John Thomases as her pets. Some humans think at the end of the book that having a human pet is going to become rather popular among the Hroshii soon, thanks to Lummox setting the trend (she's royalty).