Brother to Dragons Essay - Critical Essays

Charles Sheffield


As a writer of hard science fiction, Charles Sheffield often has been compared to Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, and Robert A. Heinlein. Brother to Dragons certainly is hard science fiction, featuring believable science, especially biology, and believable technology, especially Tandymen, the robotic toxic waste handlers that figure prominently in Salk’s escape from Xanadu.

Brother to Dragons is a near-future extrapolation. The two trends it extrapolates are a worsening worldwide economy and an increasing distrust of science. The result is a cautionary tale about what can go wrong if these two trends continue.

Most of Sheffield’s other science fiction is more similar to Asimov’s and Clarke’s than to Heinlein’s, so Brother to Dragons is something of a departure from Sheffield’s norm. Its concerns are not cosmic but global. Its protagonist is not a mature man but an adolescent boy. Its setting is not centuries away but in the near future.

Brother to Dragons is Sheffield’s homage to Heinlein, who died in 1988, four years before this novel was published. The Heinlein work it most closely resembles is Citizen of the Galaxy (1957), also a novel for juvenile readers that features an orphaned, young, male protagonist, seemingly vulnerable, who has hidden resources that surface when he is challenged to survive during a series of picaresque adventures. Heinlein’s Thor...

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