Tunnel in the Sky
With the earth having become critically overpopulated, humanity has begun to save itself by colonizing other worlds via mass emigrations. Travel to these other worlds, and instantaneously to anywhere on earth, is made possible by the technology of the
On earth this technology allows you to walk anywhere on the globe, however, its use in interstellar travel is extremely expensive. This means that once colonized the planet is cut off from earth until it can produce enough trade to make a reconnection economically viable.
To become eligible as a colonist special training is required beginning in high-school. The protagonist of Tunnel in the Sky is Rod Walker, a high-school student who's greatest ambition is to become such a professional colonist. As a student in the Advanced Survival class, the first step in his Outlander education, his final exam is at hand.
Standing outside the classroom Rod is shocked and alarmed as he reads the exam rules and realizes how little actual direction they provide. All Rod learns is that the exam requires him to stay alive on an unknown planet for from two to ten days equipped only with what he can carry. He is allowed to team up with one other student if desired, but he is told nothing of the planet or what he might find there. Thinking a teammate would be beneficial, Rod teams up with his friend Jimmy. But unlike the other students, Rod, on his sister's advice, chooses to equip himself only with knives and basic survival gear, rather than hi-tech gadgets and weapons.
The next day Rod and Jimmy make the jump, but when Rod exits the gate Jimmy can not be found. Rod begins exploring the planet but is soon ambushed and hit over the head. When he resumes consciousness all his clothing and all his possessions, except for a single knife hidden under a bandage, have been stolen.
Rod manages to survive for some days while losing track of time. Eventually he meets up with another student named Jack, a girl, whom Rod at first mistakes for a boy. When Jack lets him know they have been there more than 10 days Rod realizes there is something wrong and that they are stranded. Rod and Jack decide to team up.
Soon they find Jimmy half dead in a tree and nurse him back to health. In order to try and attract other students they build a signal fire. Over time they locate more of their classmates and eventually more than 75 have established a community with Rod as the unelected but acknowledged leader. Rod however doesn't like the job and allows another, older student, Grant Cowper to be elected leader. Grant is ineffective, and proves corrupt. Against Rod's advice, Grant fails to adequately protect the perimeter of the compound. Soon enough the camp is stampeded by a herd of indigenous creatures previously thought to be harmless, and now engaged in a mass migration. Following the tragedy Rod is reinstalled as leader.
Under Rod the settlement prospers and the students profess to being happy in their new home. Eventually however a team from earth arrives to “rescue” the students and all but Rod are eager to return. Eventually however with his dream of becoming a professional colonist before him Rod agrees to return to earth and his life as a student.
Best part of story, including ending:
Typical for a Heinlein story the basic premise is used to explore larger issues. In this case basic human behavior under great stress, politics and social structure, and issues of personal maturity and growth.
Best scene in story:
Not exactly a single scene but I like the way, following the exit of corrupt governance, the little society begins to flourish co-operatively. This seems to directly contradict the notions concerning human nature exemplified by the contemporarily released Lord of the Flies.
Opinion about the main character:
What I like most about Rod Walker is his inclination for cooperation over naked self preservation.
Very "Lord of the Flies", a little young, but still good. My favorite Heinlein book.
This report prepared by Sarah Jones
This was a story with a GREAT premise: a high school class which ended not with an exam but with a survival course. Students were teleported to an alien planet and had to survive there for a few weeks. The students didn't know where the planet was, or what conditions they would face, or how to cope in advance. The point is that they'd have to adapt on the spot to survive. It was interesting watching the main character, Rod Walker, pick his equipment and plan his strategies.
His first few days in that environment, hiding in trees, in fear of wild, possibly maneating animals, was exciting to read. And then things went wrong when the survival course didn't end on time (for technical reasons, Earth lost contact with the planet). As the students realized they were stuck there, possibly for good, they had to band together against the elements and form a community just to do such basic things as provide food and shelter. Rod had to cope with natural disasters, dissention in the ranks, and other problems to keep the students together. While Rod's character, like most in the early Heinlein period, is pretty stiff and two dimensional, his struggle for survival is definitely an interesting read.
This report prepared by Steve