Tunnel In The Sky, by Robert A. Heinlein

May 19th, 2007 | by Sqotty |

This year is the Centennial of the birth of Robert A. Heinlein. As such, I have been going through a phase of reading and rereading a number of his works, so I thought I would share some of them with you.

Tunnel In The Sky is the story of survival in a wilderness, and learning about humanity at the same time. The central character is Rod Walker, a high school student, who along with a number of other students taking a class in Advanced Survival, are dumped on an uninhabited planet with instructions to survive. Recall would take place somewhere within 20 kilometers and within the next several days. Students could take any equipment and any weapon.

Rod, following the advice of his older sister, who is a captain in the Amazons, a military unit, follows her advice and takes no weapons other than a couple of knives. This pleases his teacher, Deacon Matson, who felt that carrying a gun made a person feel more secure and bold, and consequently less cautious.

The students are dropped individually on the target planet using the advanced gate technology. I think I see where the guys behind the movie and series Stargate got the idea for their technology. Some of the imagery Heinlein paints in the lead up to the story, and establishing his gate technology and immigration is rather interesting. many new colonies are settled by people traveling in and relying on 19th century technology as where they will be going there will not be electricity let alone running water, and they will have to rely on only what they can transport via Conestoga wagons. Heinlein uses this same mechanism for colonization in his novel, Time Enough For Love.

After the students are dropped off, they are permitted to team up into pairs. Rod looks around for his best friend, Jimmy, but does not see him. after a while, he does spot a critter, and keeps low in the grass to keep from being spotted. Latter, he spots a group of scavengers flying over a spot much like vultures, and he heads to higher ground and uses his binoculars to see what they were flying over. He sees the body of another student, Johan Braun, with his dog, both dead. Braun stripped of his gear, including the very powerful energy weapon, Thunderbolt. Braun did not even make it through the first day.

Rod almost fails on the first day when he is ambushed by another student, stripped of everything except his shorts and a knife he had hidden, and left for dead as well. Rod, recovering from being knocked out, manages to learn to survive with nothing more than the one knife until he meets up with another student, and they form up as a team, and also stumble upon Rod’s friend Jimmy.

The plot becomes more interesting as the students figure out that recall time has elapsed without happening and realize that they are marooned on this strange new world, possibly for the rest of their lives.

The story is a look into human nature and man’s ability to adapt and thrive in any environment as the students gather and develop into a functional colony.

Originally published in 1955, it is a highly readable book that will hold your interest to the very end.

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