Robert A. Heinlein
A book review by Mark L. Olson
Starman Jones is one of those old favorites that I like to re-read from time to time. It's a Heinlein juvenile from the early series which were really quite juvenile, but being from RAH at the height of his powers, they're still worth reading.
Max Jones is a poor Ozark farmer on an impoverished and somewhat authoritarian Earth who dreams of going into space like his dead uncle. When his widowed mother remarries a loathed neer-do-well, he seizes the opportunity and heads off to Earthport with his uncle's books and hope.
He falls in with a sharpie who first betrays him and later befriends him. The sharpie also want to go back to space and hatches a plan to get them onboard a starship as crew. (The too-brief portrayal of Max as a crewman is particularly classic Heinlein.)
By good luck, Max -- who is very good at math as well as having a perfect memory -- gets a chance to apprentice as an astrogator and winds up standing a watch when the head astrogator suddenly dies. Things go from bad to worse when the elderly Captain and the paranoid assistant astrogator manage to muff a Jump and lose them in uncharted space.
In the end, Max saves the day when the crazy assistant astrogator destroys the navigation books before dying himself. Max's memory and astrogation skills allow him to take the ship back through a difficult reverse Jump and save everyone. (Now exactly how Max saves the day is ludicrous. Computers are used to navigate the ship, but they're more like giant pocket calculators than anything else and need operators. Furthermore, they can't produce human-readable output, but require translation, so part of the astrogator's tools are books of transformation tables, like binary-decimal conversion tables. Max's perfect memory allows him to navigate once the mad astrogator has destroyed the ship's copies. Well, RAH may have been a great writer, but once again we see that he was a lousy prophet!)
It's a simple story, but in RAH's hands, it's worth a read.
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