Sunday, December 26, 2010

Tunnel in the Sky

Robert A Heinlein
Del Rey, 1955 (my copy is from 1991)
Size: Short (my copy has 214 pages)
Theme: Space travel
Narrative: third-person
Main character: Rod Walker
Recommended minimum age: Teenager
Would purchase as a gift to any sci-fi reader: LIKELY


Tunnel in the sky is a sci-fi adventure about a young man, Rod Walker, enrolled in an academic course on Advanced Survival, anticipating a possible future exploring new worlds. To truly offer a wild training environment, training takes advantage of current technology’s ability to travel astral distances almost instantly, and actually drop students in a planet far away. However, unexpected problems arise and the group of trainees is left there indefinitely, with no way to contact Earth, or even to warn of their current situation.
The story is centered on Rod Walker, who has to fight in order to survive his first days, but eventually gathers followers, and eventually is able to help build a functional new society in this world. The reader is left in anticipation throughout the story about whether they will be rescued, and if yes, in what state will they be in… Forced to survive in a harsh environment, they have to make decisions that test their own moral and ethical grounds.

The plot is a fast paced adventure that happens to take place in another planet, but could easily take place in a remote African or South America jungle. Those expecting grand sci-fi paraphernalia, futuristic weaponry, or complex theories, will not find it here. However, I have found this to be a great read for a short story. I also felt there was room to explore further both the main character as well as and some others. As in many other books I have read, many characters are barely explored and thus look shallow.

The end is interesting enough, tying loose threads (essentially explaining the reasons behind the initial accident), but I was at this point enjoying the book so much I really would not have minded another hundred pages. It is the type of book I very much enjoy during a long flight, since I can read it in one shot and then put it away without complaining about how short the story was.

Spoilers (warning: the following text contains information that may hamper/ruin how much you enjoy the book):
A rescue party eventually manages to link back to this stranded group, and they go back, even with the prospect of having to go back to school (noting that time passed differently during their stay in this planet and back home). The one who feels less like going back is Rod Walker, who had become Mayor of their community/town, but who also eventually choses to return. The book ends by describing the difficulties in Rod’s reunion with his family and then the action shifts some years forward, to a group of prospects about to travel through space to colonize a new world, being led by Captain Walker, now a young man.

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