Teenager Bill Lermer travels to Ganymede with his father, and his new step-mother and step-sister. Readers get a Bill's-eye view of a future resource-depleted Earth; life on board an interplanetary colony ship; dirt-level terraforming of Ganymede; and the challenges of adolescence. The latter include adjusting to his blended family, conflicts with others his age, and finding the right distance to maintain from girls.
This novel originally appeared as a serial in Boy's Life magazine. There is a strong Boy Scout influence in the story which blends well with the frontier setting and skills needed to survive in it. This is classic Robert Heinlein science fiction from the 1950s. The science is dated, but charmingly so. The adventure of space colonization nicely parallels the main character's coming of age.
One disappointed observation--the story could have gone on longer or easily supported a sequel. It's odd that a prolific writer like Heinlein did not follow up with one. Perhaps some detail of the licensing arrangement with Boy's Life explains this.
on September 16, 2011
Among the pantheon of great sci-fi writers, Heinlein stands tall. This novel, written in 1950 and given a Hugo award in 1951, is as old as I am. It is a simple story of a young man immigrating to the `planet' of Ganymede, one of the larger moons of Jupiter. It is told in the first person through the eyes of the main character, Bill Lermer.
Lermer winds up on Ganymede with his widowed father, his stepmother and stepsister, and a few friends. Things on earth are tight and under strict rations, so colonists are being sent regularly to this new frontier. Heinlein does a credible job of describing the preparations and trip, the homesteading on the moon, the problems, and the feelings of Billy. It did enter my mind a few times: if things are rationed so severely on Earth (including basic food stuffs) how can they still afford to fly to the Jupiter moons? Colonies are already located on the moon, Mars and Venus etc, and contemplated on other moons. But I suppose Heinlein simply wants to tell the tale of migration to a new space frontier, and that he does.
This is the infancy of the golden age of sci-fi, after all. The trip there and the settling in of the Lermer family are fine. I did wish that I had more information about the preliminary preparation of the moon Ganymede, such as how the climates were controlled and what exactly were the functions of the mass converters. In a way, this little novel, easy and enjoyable to read, is a vision of the future settling of our solar system. Given the time it was written, it comes across pretty good.
on October 24, 2002
Worried that life on Earth isn't going to make it? Ready to leave the rat race behind and head off to a virgin territory where a man can be a man and live off the land in peace? Science fiction grandmaster Robert Heinlein points to the new frontier and invites those of us who've really got the guts to leave our comfortable planet, to become Farmers in the Sky.
Amoung the best of Heinlein's juveniles, this fascinating novel tells the story of young Bill Lermer, whose family chooses to leave an increasingly overcrowded earth for the ostensibly greener pastures of a growing colony on Ganymede, the largest moon of Jupiter. Through Bill's eyes, readers get to see the selection process, the thoughtful preparations, the wearying journey, the chaotic arrival, and finally settlement in a new home on a new world. And then things really get exciting...
This book was originally serialized in "Boy's Life", the Boy Scouts of America magazine, which is why scouting finds its way into each chapter, but Heinlein makes excellent use of the concept, not only in terms of character building (which is an essential feature of this coming-of-age novel), but also as an important part of a practical education. While Bill studies for his merit badges, the reader gets to look over his shoulder and learn everything a greenhorn needs to know to survive on this untamed world, from physics to ecology. Best of all, Heinlein makes his explanations seem so reasonable that one almost wonders why we aren't out there building colonies right this minute.
But despite his gung ho pioneer spirit, Heinlein isn't a Pollyanna - he isn't trying to hide the more unpleasant facts of colonial life. During the selection process and the long voyage out, Bill has ample time to observe the uglier side of human nature. At the new colony, danger is part of everyday life, and there are deaths aplenty before the story is over. The adventure with the survey expedition is a little over the top, but the philosophic discussion about the future of the human race more than makes up for it. And the characters are superb - Hank, the risk-taker, Captain Hattie, the gruff pilot, the unflappable Schultzes, Bill's father, but most of all Bill himself, whose honesty, determination, and naiveté combine to make him one of the most believable (but still lovable) characters in all of Heinlein.
This book has everything a kid could want in a science fiction novel - carefully thought-out science, a thoroughly believable space journey, a revealing look at everyday life in a developing but managed ecology, settling a brave new world, mysterious alien artifacts, and one of the most engaging and personable characters ever to appear in science fiction. Adults should enjoy this book as well, although there's no hint of sex and women get pretty short shrift here. But all scouts (and would-be pioneers) are guaranteed to love it.
on June 6, 2002
Though not famous - and infamous - for such controversial adult science fiction masterpieces as Starship Troopers, Stranger In A Strange Land, and Time Enough for Love, Robert A. Heinlein initially reached fame as a writer of "juvies" - science fiction novels with young adults as its target audience. This is one of the first of such books. Consequently, it is not as polished and immaculate as later works, but it is enjoyable, and shows the distinct writing style that would come to characterize his later and better works. This is the work of a writer that showed promise - and is still very readable and quite enjoyable today, 50 years on. The plot of the book involves a subject that was one of Heinlein's chief literary concerns: the population problem of planet Earth. It is the future, Earth is overcrowded, and food is given out on rations. One family decides they've had enough and move to Ganymede. Now, this is a very basic and, indeed, extremely straight-forward plot for a science fiction book - particularly a Heinlein one. Still, as always with Heinlein, it is not the plot, or even the point (though his books always invariably contain a definite and usually obvious moral) that keeps you reading the book: it's the sheer enjoyability of his writing style. Though his prose is neither as polished or as refined and witty as later works would be - you can tell that this was an early novel from Heinlein - but his ultra smooth and intelligent dialogue is ever-present here as always, and is a joy to read. This is not his best "juvie" - it has some strange points: odd plot twists; an odd relationship between the father and son that I was never quite able to make out - but it is good Heinlein. All of his books are in the end worth reading - purely for the delectability of the dialogue (much like Oscar Wilde in that respect), if for nothing else. This shouldn't be one of your first Heinlein reads; however, if you've dipped your toe quite far into the waters of the man's magnificent oeuvre, then you certainly can't go wrong by furthering your experiences with this delightful and enjoyable novel.
on July 22, 2001
How does this man turn what has to be one of the sillier titles I've ever seen (and probably wouldn't even sell at all today) and an almost absurdly basic concept and turn it into one of his most entertaining books? It must have been depressing try to match him in the fifties, he pulls off everything there here effortlessly, working comfortably within his own style without coming across as formulaic. Here we've got yet another vision of a future earth, where there's too many people and food is scarce . . . people are going to a colony on one of the moons orbiting Jupiter and Bill and his father decide that it's the place for them. Heinlein captures the pioneering spirit and drive brilliantly, subjecting his characters to all sorts of hardships, to the point where you can very easily relate to them even though they're somewhere way out in space and Jupiter keeps hanging in the sky (some of the most beautiful scenes in the novel have to do with that image, I wonder if it really looks like that) . . . even better, whenever one of the characters notes how hard it is to survive there, someone else always points out that most of the early colonies on earth were wiped out to a man. Bill remains a fairly consistent character in the Heinlein mode, always willing to learn, resourceful in the right moments, rarely giving up, he has his own appeal but it's not limited to just him, his father (if you can get past he and his father calling each other by their first names) is cut from the same mold, his friend Hank remains the biggest surprise, and while some of the characters are needlessly whiny only to contrast how hard working the rest of the cast is, those are only minor complaints. The book flies, he manages to make the farmer life but interesting and exciting and if you concentrate on the sights that Heinlein is weaving, it's darn good. It gets a little strange toward the end when he starts pulling out plot twists from nowhere (he kills off someone in a way that you'll find yourself working very hard to care) but the ride is swift and totally fun, the way a good old SF novel should be. If you dismiss this because you think, "Oh it's for kids" or "Oh, it's fifty years old" then you have no idea what you're missing. And you'd be making a terrible mistake.
on December 19, 2000
A short hop into the future, on an Earth almost as real as the corner store, teenager Bill Lermer lives with his widower father in the Diego Borough of the sprawling City of Southern California. His is a fast new world in which grammar school geography classes take field trips to Antarctica and study their regular lessons from versatile "studying machines."
But while Bill can pilot a helicopter and follow the news from the developing offworld colonies, his world is not perfect: he seldom gets enough to eat. He and his father must limit their diets according to a strict caloric ration book, and although a new yeast plant has just begun production in Montana, the caloric ration has been reduced yet another time. Rather than tighten their belts, the Lermers decide to emigrate to Ganymede, where terraforming is underway and good food abounds. Written in 1950, Farmer in the Sky is one of Heinlein's first boys' books, and also one of the most muscular and optimistic. It deals with nothing less than the future of mankind; what, after all, must humans do to survive, civilization intact, when Earth becomes too crowded, famished and bellicose? Emigration to other colonized worlds is one solution, and that is what Heinlein illustrates so well in Farmer. He presents his readers with a Ganymede already partially modified to support life from Earth, and makes it all seem plausible--even commonplace (at least within the bounds of late 1940's scientific theory). A reader can see Jupiter hanging up there in the greenish sky, and hear the tremendous din of rock-crushing machinery. Against this vivid backdrop, a variety of characters win or lose as they try to wrest a living from Ganymede's newly created soil. Red-bearded Papa Schultz and his large family are seasoned colonists and adept at surviving the caprices of nature. Mr. Saunders, on the other hand, is shiftless and soon goes back to Earth. Perhaps one of the most memorable characters in the book is Hank, who at first seems like candidate for reform school but later proves to be just the right sort of rascal who makes a good pioneer.
Memorable, too, are the young scientists and engineers of the book, courageous and intent on opening up new frontiers for humankind. In light of that (and many other examples in other books) it is no wonder at all that a goodly number of today's scientists and engineers cite Robert Heinlein and his books for young adults as one of their first inspirations. ~~Beth Ager Wegrokit.com
on July 16, 2000
While "Farmer in the Sky" isn't Heinlein at his absolute best, it is an exciting read for two groups: one, anybody who's ever been a Boy Scout, since that's essentially the main drive of the novel of a Boy Scout who goes to another world; and two, anybody who ever wanted to be a pioneeering farmer. The novel's emotions are driven by those two projects, and without a feeling for them, the novel isn't really going to work all that well. The plot that surrounds those two interests is minimal, as Bill goes from Earth to Ganymede, and suffers only two real problems, one minor, and one major (I won't give them away here; they're worth reading). But the novel is an early look at what settling another world would be like, even while it's heavily informed by historical examples of what happens to early colonies. Heinlein wasn't in his best environment when writing this one; he was in Hollywood, trying to prevent the suits from making his realistic look at the first moon shot, "Destination Moon," into a musical. I kid you not: they wanted the first astronauts to find dancing girls on the moon. So I don't really blame Heinlein for "Farmer in the Sky" not being his best; it's a wonder that it's as good as it is. Go start with "Star Beast" or "Tunnel in the Sky" of "Have Spacesuit, Will Travel." Then come back to this one and you'll enjoy it much more: even Heinlein on his worst days is better than almost anybody else.
on October 23, 2002
This book is about a boy and his father who get to head out to the frontier of one of Jupiter's moons to be farmers. Lured by stories of no rationing, land of thier own they take off with bright hopes of a good comfortable living as farmers. After a trip on a crowded spaceship and some unexpected excitement to break up the boredom of the long trip they arrive in the promised land.
As the old saying goes "If it sounds too good to be true...."
Father and son settle into local life. The brochures were right about one thing....they have plenty of food, no rationing, and they get to have some land. But, it's not what was expected. Hard work and the help of some good neighbors help them settle in and set up thier farm, but life is still fraught with dangers.
Not as good as some of Heinlein's other books, but it's still a good book, fun to read, and gives food for thought.
on April 6, 1998
This novel was written with a "juvenile" audience in mind but I (as a 30-year-old) still found it enjoyable, even though I enjoy sophisticated fiction. The story is one of a family that emigrates from California to Ganymede, one of Jupiter's moons, as one of the early waves of settlers there. This is hardly the most sophisticated story out there, and there are occasional dated references (in at least two stories, including this, Heinlein figured slide rules would still be in use!) but Heinlein made at least one interesting prediction - that Jupiter had narrow rings (this was not known until the 1980s). An enjoyable read for sci-fi fans.
on November 26, 2000
Actually, I was pretty surprised by this one -- I'm not much of a fan of Heinlein, but his characters are compelling enough to drag me through this very episodic book.
Despite the fact that everybody talks pretty much the same way that they do in other Heinlein books, and some characters obviously exist to make philosophical points, or to die conveniently, the main protagonist has enough depth to shift his point of view convincingly (except for some wild swings at the end), and not be the perfect Boy Scout. This book shows its age, but its still clearly thought out with many interesting ideas.