The Star Beast

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The Star Beast is a 1954 science fiction novel by Robert A. Heinlein about a high school senior who discovers that his late father's extraterrestrial pet is more than it appears to be. The novel, somewhat abridged, was originally serialised in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction (May, June, July 1954) as "Star Lummox" and then published in hardcover as part of Scribner's series of Heinlein juveniles.

Plot summary[edit | hide | hide all]

An ancestor of John Thomas Stuart XI brought the alien, long-lived Lummox home from an interstellar voyage. The articulate, sentient pet he inherited has gradually grown from the size of a collie pup to a ridable behemoth — especially after consuming a used car. The childlike Lummox is perceived to be a neighborhood nuisance and, upon leaving the Stuart property one day, causes substantial property damage across the city of Westville. John's mother wants him to get rid of it, and a court orders it destroyed.

Desperate to save his pet, John Thomas considers selling Lummox to a zoo. He rapidly changes his mind and runs away from home, riding into the nearby wilderness on Lummox's back. His girlfriend Betty Sorenson joins him.

Meanwhile, representatives of an advanced, powerful and previously unknown alien race appear and demand the return of their lost child ... or else.

Race[edit | hide]

Heinlein grew up in the era of racial segregation in the United States. This book was very much ahead of its time both in its explicit rejection of racism and in its inclusion of non-white protagonists. It was published in 1954, before the beginning of the US civil rights movement - the mere existence of non-white characters was a remarkable novelty. In this juvenile the de facto ruler of Earth is a Mr. Kiku who is from Africa. Heinlein explicitly states his skin is "ebony black", and that Kiku is in an arranged marriage that is happy.

Tropes used in The Star Beast include:
  • A Boy and His X: Pretty much the driving force behind the plot.
  • Break Out the Museum Piece: When one of John Thomas' neighbors finds Lummox eating his cabbages, he grabs a relic of the Fourth World War known as a "tank-killer" that was handed down to him by his grandfather. He fires it it at Lummox, which doesn't harm him but does drive him away.
  • Cool Pet: Lummox. Or, from Lummox's perspective, John Thomas.
  • Get It Over With: John Thomas uses this exact phrase near the end of the story.
  • Lie Detector: A "truth meter" is used on witnesses during a court trial. When the subject lies, a needle swings into the red zone, a ruby light flashes, and a warning buzzer goes off.
    • Interestingly enough, a witness tells all sorts of lies and the device keeps going off. At one time, she tells an obvious falsehood and it doesn't go off. The judge concludes that she really believes what she is saying ... even though it is patently false. This is a limitation of even perfect (i.e. fictional) lie detectors.