Hugh grew up knowing the Ship is all of creation. Trash and bodies are fed to the converter, and the Creator keeps the air warm and lights on. The ancient writings speak of the Ship’s journey to “Far Centaurus”, but as a Scientist Hugh understands this is only an allegory for the way to spiritual perfection. When Hugh is kidnapped and forced to join the ranks of the muties (mutated humans that live on the upper decks of the Ship), he is exposed to a theory that shakes his most basic beliefs and assumptions about the Ship and his people’s divine religion.
The plot devices used to explain their situations are quite clever. Heinlein puts together an enjoyable set of interpretations of classical physics and creates justifiable resistance to Hugh’s new knowledge about their universe. The characters’ beliefs are distinct enough from our own for them to feel truly lost.
Orphans of the Sky is one of the earliest examples of post-apocalyptic dystopias in the 1930s, 40s, and 50s, alongside 1984, Farenheit 451, Brave New World, Lord of the Flies, and Minority Report. Even though Heinlien’s story doesn’t live up to the classics, I’m surprised how well Orphans of the Sky works since it’s set in space with an entirely new set of societal norms. The message remains the same – question authority, seek freedom through knowledge, and gather your buddies for the revolution.
The writing is direct and clear, if somewhat rough. The conclusion is disappointing — it feels mundane after the universe-expanding realizations and action-packed uprising. But my biggest beef is the lack and eventual portrayal of women, who are paraded out for the climax but have to be shielded from the truth because of their delicate natures. It’s completely misogynistic but probably not on purpose; Heinlein realized he needed their wombs post-uprising.
Recommended for fans of classic scifi and the post-apocalyptic dystopia genre, which resonate particularly well with young adults on their own personal journey of self-discovery.
“An apostate scientist, a kidnapped scientist, a dull peasant, a two-headed monster, an apple-brained moron — five knives, counting Joe-Jim as one; five brains, counting Joe-Jim as two and Bobo as none — five brains and five knives to overthrow an entire culture.”