As I mentioned in my recent review of The Number of the Beast, I used to be a fan of Robert A. Heinlein’s “Juveniles” when I was a kid. I give Heinlein much of the credit for turning me into a speculative fiction lover at a young age, so I was really disappointed that The Number of the Beast was so dreadful. To cleanse my palate, and to restore my trust in a man who was such an influence on me, I decided to read Farmer in the Sky, a Heinlein Juvenile which has recently been produced in audio format by Brilliance Audio.
Farmer in the Sky took me back to my childhood — when I loved to think about riding in spaceships while most girls were thinking about riding horses. In this story, Earth is overcrowded and food is rationed, so 16 year old Bill and his father George decide to emigrate to Ganymede, one of Jupiter’s moons. There’s a new colony on Ganymede and they’re struggling to survive as Earth, to ease its population tensions, keeps sending spaceship-loads of new settlers. Terraforming Jupiter’s moons is a difficult and dangerous enterprise, but Bill is determined to succeed by making his own farm productive. The skills he learned in Boy Scouts prove to be helpful for this and other tasks he undertakes to help his new colony.
You can’t get much more exciting than taking a spaceship to Ganymede to build a new colony, so youngsters looking for speculative adventure will surely enjoy Farmer in the Sky. But I think the book is also appealing to kids who enjoy frontier stories such as Little House on the Prairie. In addition to homesteading skills, they’ll learn a bit of science, too.
Though Bill is having a life-changing experience, he’s still easy to relate to. He’s a normal kid with normal kid desires and problems — he’s concerned about his Boy Scout uniform and badges, he’s mourning the death of his mother and upset about his father’s new relationship, he doesn’t like girls, and he has to deal with bullies and a few stupid adults. During the course of the story, Bill experiences both triumph and tragedy, and the reader feels them, too.
Brilliance Audio’s version was read by Nick Podehl who does a great job reading stories with young men as protagonists (e.g., Patrick Rothfuss’s KINGKILLER CHRONICLE). When I see Nick Podehl’s name on the cover, I know it’s going to be a great audio production.
A shorter version of Farmer in the Sky was originally serialized in Boy’s Life magazine in the fall of 1950 under the title “Satellite Scout,” so that gives you a good sense of its target audience. However, I recommend Farmer in the Sky for both teens and adults who love a good wholesome SF adventure. Farmer in the Sky was published as a novel in 1953 and won the Retro Hugo award.