Worried that life on Earth isn't going to make it? Ready to leave the rat race behind and head off to a virgin territory where a man can be a man and live off the land in peace? Science fiction grandmaster Robert Heinlein points to the new frontier and invites those of us who've really got the guts to leave our comfortable planet, to become Farmers in the Sky.
Amoung the best of Heinlein's juveniles, this fascinating novel tells the story of young Bill Lermer, whose family chooses to leave an increasingly overcrowded earth for the ostensibly greener pastures of a growing colony on Ganymede, the largest moon of Jupiter. Through Bill's eyes, readers get to see the selection process, the thoughtful preparations, the wearying journey, the chaotic arrival, and finally settlement in a new home on a new world. And then things really get exciting...
This book was originally serialized in "Boy's Life", the Boy Scouts of America magazine, which is why scouting finds its way into each chapter, but Heinlein makes excellent use of the concept, not only in terms of character building (which is an essential feature of this coming-of-age novel), but also as an important part of a practical education. While Bill studies for his merit badges, the reader gets to look over his shoulder and learn everything a greenhorn needs to know to survive on this untamed world, from physics to ecology. Best of all, Heinlein makes his explanations seem so reasonable that one almost wonders why we aren't out there building colonies right this minute.
But despite his gung ho pioneer spirit, Heinlein isn't a Pollyanna - he isn't trying to hide the more unpleasant facts of colonial life. During the selection process and the long voyage out, Bill has ample time to observe the uglier side of human nature. At the new colony, danger is part of everyday life, and there are deaths aplenty before the story is over. The adventure with the survey expedition is a little over the top, but the philosophic discussion about the future of the human race more than makes up for it. And the characters are superb - Hank, the risk-taker, Captain Hattie, the gruff pilot, the unflappable Schultzes, Bill's father, but most of all Bill himself, whose honesty, determination, and naiveté combine to make him one of the most believable (but still lovable) characters in all of Heinlein.
This book has everything a kid could want in a science fiction novel - carefully thought-out science, a thoroughly believable space journey, a revealing look at everyday life in a developing but managed ecology, settling a brave new world, mysterious alien artifacts, and one of the most engaging and personable characters ever to appear in science fiction. Adults should enjoy this book as well, although there's no hint of sex and women get pretty short shrift here. But all scouts (and would-be pioneers) are guaranteed to love it.