Citizen of the Galaxy

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Citizen of the Galaxy is a science fiction novel by American writer Robert A. Heinlein, originally serialized in Astounding Science Fiction (September, October, November, December 1957) and published in hardcover in 1957 as one of the Heinlein juveniles by Scribner's. The story is heavily influenced by Rudyard Kipling's Kim.

Plot summary[edit | hide | hide all]

Thorby is a young, defiant slave boy recently arrived on the planet Jubbul's capital Jubbulpore, where he is purchased by an old beggar, Baslim the Cripple, for a trivial sum and taken to the beggar's surprisingly well-furnished underground home. Thereafter Baslim treats the boy as a son, teaching him not only the trade of begging, but also mathematics, history, and several languages, and sends Thorby on errands all over the city, carefully passing along information and keeping track of the comings and goings of starships, so that Thorby realizes that his foster-father is gathering intelligence, particularly on the slave trade. In addition, Baslim has Thorby memorize a contingency plan and a message to deliver to one of five starship captains in the event of Baslim's arrest or death. When Baslim is captured and beheaded by the local authorities, Thorby and local innkeeper 'Mother Shaum' convey the message to Captain Krausa of the starship Sisu. Because the 'Free Trader' society to whom Krausa belongs owe a debt to Baslim for his release of one of their crews from a slave-trader, the captain takes Thorby aboard the Sisu at great risk to himself and his clan.

Thorby is adopted by the captain (thereby gaining considerable shipboard social status) and adjusts to the insular, clannish, matriarchal culture of the traders. The advanced education provided by Baslim and the fast reflexes of youth make him an ideal fire controlman, in which position Thorby destroys a pirate craft. His immediate superior, a young woman named Mata, begins to view him as a suitable husband; but the customs of the Free Traders forbid this, and to avoid trouble she is transferred to another ship.

Thorby is again transferred when the captain (against the wishes of his wife, the executive officer and head of the clan, who wants to use Thorby's connection to Baslim to enhance Sisu's prestige) obeys Baslim's last wish, entrusting the boy to a military cruiser and asking its captain to assist Thorby in finding his true place in society. In order to implement a background search without having to pay the immense cost, Thorby is enlisted in the military service of the Terran Hegemony, the dominant military power in the galaxy.

Thorby is ultimately identified as Thor Bradley Rudbek, the long-lost heir of a very powerful family and a substantial shareholder in Rudbek and Associates, a large, sprawling interstellar business including one of the largest starship-manufacturing companies and the entire city of Rudbek (formerly Jackson Hole, Wyoming). In his absence, the business is run by a relative by marriage, "Uncle" John Weemsby, who encourages his stepdaughter Leda to guide Thorby in adjustment to his new situation while secretly scheming to block Thorby's growing interest and interference in the company.

Thorby, investigating his parents' disappearance and his capture and sale by slavers, comes to suspect that his parents were eliminated to prevent the discovery that some portions of Rudbek and Associates were secretly profiting from the slave trade. When Weemsby quashes further investigation, Thorby seeks legal help and launches a proxy fight, which he unexpectedly wins when Leda votes her shares in his favor. He fires Weemsby and assumes full control of the firm. When Thorby realizes that it will take a lifetime to remove Rudbek and Associates from the slave trade, he reluctantly abandons his dream imitating Baslim as a member of the elite anti-slaver "X" Corps of the Hegemonic Guard. Knowing that "a person can't run out on his responsibilities", he resolves to fight the slave trade as the head of Rudbek and Associates.

Themes[edit | hide]

As in many of Heinlein's books, the principal character is portrayed over time, beginning in relative ignorance, learning from experience, receiving the benefits of education, and using that education to resolve subsequent problems in his own life and that of those around him.

Tropes used in Citizen of the Galaxy include:

  • Chaste Hero: Leda makes an enemy of her stepfather to help Thorby, as well as being there for him all the time. For some reason he is mystified why she is so willing to help him. And then there's this scene earlier in the book, after the hero meets a new girl on his ship:

"Oh, just talking with Loeen. I was introducing her to n-space… and darned if she didn't catch on fast."
Fritz looked judicial. "Yes, she's bright... Want to know how bright?"
"So bright that she taught in El Nido's school. Her specialty was math. Multi-dimensional geometry, in fact."