Review: Double Star by Robert Heinlein

I am more or less ambivalent towards Double Star, the 1956 Hugo winning novel by Robert Heinlein. This is a book that demonstrates the range of science fiction as a genre because this is really a novel about politics not science fiction. There is little or nothing in this story that requires the science fiction elements of this story though there are certainly advantages to it being science fiction. Moreover the characters are a bit one dimensional and there is a distinct lack of direct conflict, but Robert Heinlein is a great writer and this is still an interesting book.

The plot itself is effectively the same as the movie Dave. In this version a political leader has been kidnapped and they hire an actor to pretend to be him. The drama of the entire story is about the man trying to pretend to be this very important political leader while avoiding being caught. The real drama though is a man who at the beginning of the books I frivolous and racist (against aliens) becoming a better person. And this character change is done very well.

As the story progresses though there are a few things that make me a bit uncomfortable. The major one is that the protagonist of the story is effectively committing fraud. At the beginning that is reasonable as he is simply a stand in while they locate the real man but as the story advances he is pushing that boundary more and more. All the decisions seem reasonable but at the same time they are not how you would want things to happen in general.

What I enjoyed the most about this book were the elements that were science fiction at the time and are not anymore. The idea of a actor becoming effectively president is one of the major ones. Understanding the value of how to use a camera and giving speeches without ever seeing people. Also interesting were the computers, called robot brains, which calculated the results of the election. This made it feel like a more modern political story.

The truth is that in many ways this book is short on real action. This isn't even a matter of needing traditional space marine action but having things in general happen. A lot of the scenes are people talking about a speech that he just gave or how he prepares to talk to people he doesn’t know.

This is a reasonably good book but there are far better Robert Heinlein books that explore similar ideas with far more interesting plots and characters so try one of the other more famous of the Heinlein novels.