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Tunnel in the Sky

From Academic Kids

Tunnel in the Sky is a science fiction book written by Robert Heinlein and published in 1955. A training mission has gone wrong, stranding a group of students on an uninhabited planet for several years.

Plot Summary

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A Malthusian catastrophe has been averted only by the invention of teleportation, called the "Ramsbotham jump," which is used to send Earth's excess population to other solar systems. However, the capital and energy costs of operating the devices mean that extrasolar colonies are isolated until they can build up a sufficient trade surplus to pay for two-way communication.

Rod Walker is an urbanite teenager with dreams of becoming a professional colonist. When his "solo survival" test goes wrong and he and a group of students are stranded on an unoccupied planet, he becomes the seed for the establishment of a community. Heinlein tracks the political development of this village of educated Westerners deprived of the rudiments of technological civilisation, followed by its abrupt dissolution when contact with Earth is reestablished. When the Earth technicians break through after several years of separation, the culture shock experienced by the colonists becomes a metaphor for the pain and uncertainty of becoming an adult. Rod Walker, developed by necessity from an immature teenager into the hard-headed leader of a sovereign state, is suddenly returned to the status of a half-educated boy.

As in Lord of the Flies, which had been published a year earlier, isolation reveals the true natures of the students as individuals, but it also demonstrates some of the constants of human existence as a social animal. Some of the students fall victim to their own foolishness, and others turn out to be thugs. The numerous political crises of the fledgling colony illustrate the need for legitimacy in a government appropriate for the society it administers. The book's rejection of unearned authority meshes with the libertarian character of Heinlein's early works. In both its romanticisation of the pioneer and its glorification of Homo sapiens as the toughest player in the Darwinian game, it presages themes developed further in books like Time Enough For Love and Starship Troopers.


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