Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Double Star

Robert A. Heinlein
Del Rey, 1956 (my copy is from 1996)
Size: Short (my copy has 243 pages)
Theme: Interaction with alien civilizations
Narrative: First-person
Main character: Lorenzo Smythe
Recommended minimum age: Teenager
Would purchase as a gift to any sci-fi reader: YES

This book follows Lorenzo Smythe, an actor, unwittingly involved in a interstellar plot. He is recruited to stand in for John Joseph Bonforte, former Supreme Minister, and one of the most prominent public figures in the entire solar system, following repeated assassination attempts on Bonforte. He will have to push his talent to the limit, since he is not only trying to pass for someone famous, but is doing it at a crucial moment when Bonforte is supposed to be a key figure in a ceremony that integrates ongoing peace negotiations with the Martians.
The entire story is told from the perspective of Lorenzo, and we are able to understand his feelings, opinions, and motivations. However, that makes all other characters rather shallow. If the book was considerably longer, there might be time to explore the rest of the cast, but nevertheless, this does not hamper the development of the plot. Lorenzo is an interesting character and this story will make him face his own demons and convictions. The Martian culture could have been explored in greater depth, as could the events leading up to the recruitment of Lorenzo by Bonforte’s people.

As one can see from the description, the book incorporates several aspects of espionage stories, which can be an interesting combination, and one that is not used very often. In this particular case, it works well. It is a soft story, and aside from political conspiracies, you will not find elements of great depth on the human psyche or sociological issues, not will you be greatly surprised as the plot develops, aside from an interesting end.

I have found this book a great read, with a fast pace and descriptions sufficiently detailed (while managing to not become boring). I find this type of book appropriate for trips, since I can read straight through the story. Nevertheless, after reading through short stories, I am usually left wishing the book was larger and more aspects could have been addressed. The end leaves everything open, yet is also conclusive enough that you are not upset that there is no sequel.

Spoilers (warning: the following text contains information that may hamper/ruin how much you enjoy the book):
Lorenzo manages to adequately play his role through the important ceremony. It is revealed that Bonforte is actually dead, and Lorenzo is faced with the challenge of permanently replacing him, due to the important influence he could have on galactic politics. The book ends with Lorenzo pondering this decision but clearly inclined to accept.

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