This is one of the original "lost generation ship" stories, a novella stitched together from two of Heinlein's earlier short stories. Considering it was originally written in the 40s, Orphans of the Sky still holds up reasonably well as pure science fiction, with little to betray its golden age origins other than the fact that all the tropes are so well worn by now.
The "crew" of the Ship has never known anything but the Ship, a massive multideck vessel which to them is literally the entire universe. They have no conception of movement, or there being anything "outside" the Ship. They have long since lost their understanding of the ship's technology and origins, even as they do the rote things necessary to keep its systems running. "Scientists" are now basically bards reciting holy writ passed down without understanding. And in the upper decks of the Ship dwell "muties," mutants who are descended (supposedly) from mutineers.
The story is about a young man on track to become a scientist who is captured by a band of muties led by a particularly intelligent two-headed leader named Jim-Bob. Jim-Bob, with a library of his own which he actually understands better than the so-called crew does, shows Hugh the stars and the true nature of the Ship. When Hugh goes back to tell his fellow crewmembers the truth, it goes over about as well as you'd expect. What follows is a more than one mutiny and betrayal, as Hugh tries to make everyone understand that the Ship is not only moving, but that it's about to arrive at its destination.
Okay, Heinlein's rocket science, as usual, holds up much better than his biology, and there aren't even any Heinleinian women here, just "wives" who are little more than chattel and don't have a single line of dialog. This was not one of his more progressive stories, but while there aren't a lot of politics in it either, it still packs a fair amount of flinty and contrarian human nature, treated honestly and realistically, even when the humans in question are two-headed mutants. People react stupidly, some adhere to their religious faith in the face of contrary evidence, others doubt, others scheme, some are opportunists and some are idealists. Heinlein's strength, besides his imagination, was always in presenting very human characters with human foibles rather than archetypes. Well, aside from the women.
This is clearly one of his early works, and while not one of the better ones, it's also far from the worst. It's a quick classic adventure that has left its fingerprints on every story of lost generation ships that followed.
This could easily be a full length novel instead a lot of the story feels clipped to fit in a shorter timespan.
The end is very abrupt and left me unfulfilled.
Ranks in my top 10%
The difference of opinions that occurred after viewing the universe outside of the spaceship was very dramatic and tells much about how easily people can choose not to accept clear evidence when it contradicts their tradition-based religion/beliefs.
A good narrator, like Eric Summerer, brings as much to a book as the cast of a play would bring to their script.
I often felt a strong urge to listen to more, simply to learn what happened next.
An interesting novel about the challenges of very long voyages to the stars. Assuming we can't work around the limitations of the speed of light and that we survive long enough as a civilization to reach the stars, the difficulties presented in this novel (and more) may be formidable. I can't personally imagine how a few people could survive in a long trip to Mars and back!
I've never read "Stranger in a strange land" but after this book, I'm almost afraid to. This book was one of the worst SF books I've ever read. The characters are mostly idiot-morons, and the dialogue is elementary school level at best. I kept waiting for something interesting to happen, but it's all blunt violence and interminable, comatose drivel. Bleh!
All of them
One thing to note: I'm not a fan of military SF, and while this is not even in that class, I understand that Heinlein wrote in that genre. I like A.C. Clarke, Azimov, Bradbury, Alastair Reynolds, Poul Anderson, Vernor Vinge, Roger Zelany, to name a few.
Sys Admin, World Traveler, Outdoors man, Geek
I really like Heinlein so I know some of his books are shorter or longer I am just always disappointed when the short ones are over. If you like his books that are adventures in space then you should like this one. He doesn't really go into all of the sex and religion like he does in some of his books so if you don't like that part of his other books this one should be a pretty safe bet.
Your typical Heinlein space story so it was pretty enjoyable.
I thought the character Joe-Jim was pretty interesting.
I really enjoyed this audio version of one of my favorite Robert Heinlein books. It is one that I will listen to over and over again. I enjoyed the story and the narration, and I recommend it to all.
The premise of this book is interesting, but I had a lot of difficulty through the story. The narrator was fine, but the writing was stilted and slow-moving. Character development was very low, and the plot took too long to build. One needs to have a great deal of patience to read Heinlein, but I don't think I'm that person. My literary attention span is quite long and I'm not looking for pulp adventure stories, but I'd prefer an Asimov book over this one any day.
Sometimes the appropriate response to reality is to go insane.
This wasn’t my favorite Heinlein book, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t love the premise behind this one. I don’t read enough stories about generational ships. I found everything about this fascinating from the ship-based religion which is much like Christianity fused with various other religions. There were moments when you just wanted to smack the characters and tell them to take a chance. They’re so resistant to what Hugh tries to get them to see, but that can be said of real life as well. So, while I wasn’t over the moon about this story, I did really love the ideas it played with.
It is truly amazing to me that a story written over 40 years ago still holds up so well. Heinlein covers so much in this story; politics, religion, greed, patriarchy, etc and wraps it up in a tidy space ship package. Great stuff.
This story had some unique ideas that I was very fond of, how ever, the story that the ideas were in I found weak.