I was not likely to go to London without my insurance viz. a book to
read on the train. The book I was reading currently, "To Sail Beyond The
Sunset" was too heavy for my pocket and I didn't want to take a bag just
to carry a book. So I picked up another unread Heinlein novel from my
shelf - "Tunnel in the Sky".
It turned out to be the thriller kind which grips you right from the
start and you keep thinking about it when you are not reading it and you
can't stop reading it as soon as you get time to see how it turns out.
And when it ends you are happy to know the outcome but you are sorry
that it ended.
In that way, finishing a really good book is like breaking up with a
great girlfriend/boyfriend. You still stay friends with them though, and
think about them and when enough time has passed to heal the wounds
(meaning that you have forgotten the story details) you can still get
together and enjoy! I find that writing a book review gives me the
needed "closure" for this breakup! :-)
About this book. The story line is simplicity itself. In future time, a
group of students is sent to an unknown planet for their survival test.
Typical school assignment lasting 2-10 days, the only difference is you
don't have to look at the notice board for your result when you get
back. If you come back alive, you pass!
Only this time something goes wrong and there's no recall. Nobody comes
to say "Hey, test over, come on back!". These students, story focuses on
our hero, a highschool student, Rod Walker, learn to survive. Not all of
them but quite a few. And as Heinlein puts it, "He was not interested in
survival tests, he was interested in survival!"
Heinlein's hero is always a good character, very heroic without being
Superman. He is smart enough to be a hero and silly enough to be human.
If you cut him, he bleeds! When he hurts, he cries!
These students survive the perils long enough to pass the test but then
what? They were not planning to spend a lifetime here. But they will
have to. It is interesting to see how their focus changes from surviving
to living. How the things that seem so small in our lives, seem to
matter most in theirs.
The book is full of very well thought-out characters like survival
course teacher "Deacon" Matson and Rod's elder sister, Captain Helen
Walker. You can feel the warmth towards them that Rod feels.
You can feel the dangers and the conflict of emotions as the hero goes
through each of them. And you also feel the sense of pride when he does
As Heinlein says through Deacon - "The most dangerous animal is the one
that walks on two legs. The one who hunts even when he is not hungry."
This is very well depicted in the book without going the Hollywood drama
One thing that I admire in Heinlein's heroes is that they are very human
and very understandable. They might not always act prudently or even
sensibly but their actions are understandable and you can't deny that
you'd most probably act the same way in their place.
I absolutely loved the ending of this one. Heinlein has a knack for
perfect endings - not too long, not too short. There is no shortage of
twists in the story but it doesn't feel like the author is manipulating
the story, it all fits in naturally.
The journey of Rod walker from boy to a responsible man is fascinating
and intriguing to say the least. We, all of us, are acted upon by
cirumstances and situations every moment of our lives and each moment
changes us. This same sequence of change you can see in Rod as the story
progresses and yet without the monotony of a documentary film. The
psychological content is the strong backbone of the story but then,
that's Heinlein's speciality.
I loved the climax. As usual, the very last scene of the story is the
very best! Very touching!
It's a small book about 200 pages, but the canvas of the story is quite
big and Heinlein has done it justice.