The Scribner’s juvenile series took a giant leap in a new direction with Citizen of the Galaxy. Though the protagonist is a boy who comes of age in the novel, the point of view is much more adult (it was the only one of the juveniles to be serialized in Astounding Science Fiction), and the locale, for the first time in the series, is outside the earth’s solar system. The world in which Thorby, the main character, grows up is much darker than any previously seen in Heinlein’s fiction. The reader first sees Thorby in the dirty, decadent, savage streets of the spaceport Jubbulpore; he had been kidnapped and sold into slavery. When the story opens, he is on the auction block again, so thin and scarred that no one but a dirty beggar offers to buy him.
The beggar, Baslim the Cripple, is one of Heinlein’s most fascinating characters. Though a beggar, he and the hole in which he lives have unexpected resources. He turns out to be a secret agent of the Exotic Corps, an interplanetary police force combating slavery. He begins to train Thorby in his trade, without telling the boy about the “X-Corps.” Baslim is killed by powerful enemies before Thorby can learn his secret.
Following Baslim’s orders, given to him under hypnosis before Baslim’s death, Thorby seeks out Captain Krausa of the spaceship Sisu. Krausa adopts him into “The Free Traders,” a race of space gypsies who travel the galaxy, buying and selling. Thorby adapts to this strange new culture with the help of an anthropologist traveling with the ship, who explains the ways of these people who spend their entire lives in a city-sized ship, the Sisu. Just when Thorby gets accustomed to the nomadic life, however, he discovers where he came from before he was kidnapped, and he is returned “home”—to Earth. Further, he discovers that he is “Rudbek of Rudbek,” heir to a vast fortune and head of an international conglomerate that makes him the most powerful individual on Earth. Ironically, his company is behind the very slave trade that victimized him.
This is not a rags-to-riches cliché, and the story is not over. Wealth isolates Thorby, and powerful men who know more about the treachery of international trade attempt to keep him from finding out too much about his own company—about shady operations such as the slave trade, for example. Thorby fights back, with the help of a young...
(The entire section is 991 words.)