This Hugo Award-winning novel is one of Robert Heinlein’s best. It is shorter and less strident than some of his later works. The book blends good storytelling, an interesting futuristic setting, and political and social ideas in a balanced whole.
The Humanity Party’s platform of human domination over nonhumans is an easily understood metaphor for any hate group of any time or place. The Expansionist Party is the moral stand-in for all, throughout history, who have argued for the equality of all people.
The book was written in the 1950’s, when women’s roles were more sharply defined and limited and when the Civil Rights movement was only emerging. Some language that might have seemed innocuous when written may grate on the ears of later readers. For example, Bonforte’s chief clerk, Jimmy Washington, the only member of the inner circle who has almost no role in the story, is described as “a spare, elderly mulatto.” Russell, who has a master’s degree and is a member of the Grand Assembly, is sometimes referred to as “hon” or “honey chile” by Broadbent and Smythe. When she gets angry at Smythe, Broadbent tells her, “Stow it, Penny, or I’ll spank your round fanny.” Such dated references are rare, and they pale beside the strong central message of equality and individual dignity that is at the center of the book. Smythe explains the key to the Expansionist policy: “freedom and equal rights must run with the Imperial banner. . . . The human race must never again make the mistakes that the white subrace had made in Africa and Asia.” It was a timely message in 1956, but it is also a timeless message presented well.