My Orphans of the Sky Review:
Sometimes it’s nice to take a break from reading politics and history. Recently, as you would know from my reviews of books such as Lost Victories and The Federalist Papers, I have been reading lots of books about political philosophy and history. I decided to take a mental break and mix it up by reading Orphans of the Sky by Robert Heinlein, and as I’m sure you’ll see by this Orphans of the Sky review, wow was it a terrific book.
Summary of Orphans of the Sky:
Heinlein was a renowned science fiction writer. His books, especially those about space travel, are wonderful stories that entertain and show human nature. Orphans of the Sky is no different. In it, Heinlein weaves an exciting narrative while still showing how human nature might affect a long journey through space.
The Story of Orphans of the Sky:
The storyline of Orphans of the Sky mainly takes place aboard a deep-space travel vessel commissioned in the year 2119 to explore space and colonize Proxima Centauri. However, a few generations after departing Earth, there was a mutiny on board the vessel that threw off its journey and caused general chaos aboard The Ship.
That chaos created a generation that didn’t understand they were on a journey and that The Ship was just that, a spaceship. Instead, they understood The Ship to be their entire universe, didn’t know there was any space outside The Ship, and viewed the Jordan Foundation and Jordan himself not like we view Jeff Bezos and Blue Origin or Elon Musk and SpaceX, but rather as we view God and the world as his creation. That view means that there is a significant religious theme throughout the book, as anything that goes against the orthodoxy is viewed not as an opposing opinion of the truth, but rather as a heresy, punishable by death.
Enter the protagonist, Hugh. I won’t spoil the book, but Hugh’s journey to discover and then spread the truth takes up much of the storyline. His story is very exciting and at many of the heart-pounding moments throughout the novel, I couldn’t put the book down. I was too desperate to find out if Hugh would succeed and what twists he would encounter.
As you probably guessed from what I’ve written so far in this Orphans of the Sky review, I absolutely loved Orphans of the Sky and thought that was an excellent, fun to read book. In that respect, it was far, far better than most works of science fiction that I have read.
Heinlein’s writing style and obvious intelligence make it both exciting and insightful. The action elements of it make it impossible to put down. Its philosophical components and historical allusions make it a great way to understand human nature.
Orphans of the Sky and Medieval Europe:
One of those historical allusions I found most interesting was how similar conditions on The Ship are to late medieval Europe. Religion is strictly enforced and “heresy” is punishable by death. The society is strictly hierarchical and mainly farming based. Men dominate society and are disturbingly misogynistic. Outsiders, called “muties” are hated and attacked. Scientific discoveries are distrusted and often considered heresy, as I discussed in my summary of Orphans of the Sky; because they view their ship as the universe and Jordan as their creator, anything that opposes that view is considered evil and heretical.
The parallels are interesting and show how even in technologically advanced times, humanity could revert to a theocratic state of being.
Orphans of the Sky and Private Space Travel:
Another aspect of Orphans of the Sky that I found interesting was how the novel is premised around the idea of private space travel. Back when Heinlein wrote the novel in 1963, government-funded space travel was still new and almost in the realm of science fiction; the events of Carrying the Fire could hardly have been imagined, even though they happened a few short years later. Private space travel, such as what has been proposed by Elon Musk, wasn’t anywhere near a realistic concept. That would require decades of innovation and is only now becoming a reality.
So in that regard, Heinlein was far ahead of his time. In modern times, with modern views on space travel and exploration, however, the concept is far less far-fetched. Because the concept of a privately funded space voyage is much more in the realm of possibility nowadays, I think Orphans of the Sky is even more interesting of a book than when Heinlein originally wrote it.
Nowadays, what is in the book could actually happen in our lifetimes. While the story might not play out in the same manner, hopefully we would preserve some knowledge of reality and not view a spaceship as the universe, the basic concept is quite real. That makes the lessons of Orphans of the Sky all the more important. If we do engage in private space travel, we need to do it correctly.
The Lessons Taught by Orphans of the Sky:
If you read the novel, these lessons should be quite easy to see. Through adept use of themes and story details, Heinlein is easily able to show what lessons the reader should draw from his book. But, two of the lessons taught in Orphans of the Sky are still worth discussing.
The First Lesson:
The first lesson is the idea that humanity could revert to a lower state of civilization despite being highly advanced.
For the past few hundred years, humanity has been on a steady march of technological progress. In most areas, each generation has been more advanced than the first. However, that has not always been the case. Just think of the Dark Ages; after the fall of the Roman Empire, it took a thousand years for Europe to recover.
Orphans of the Sky shows that that could happen again. Humanity shouldn’t get too complacent with the idea that successor generations will continue to innovate and learn, there is always the potential that there could be some great calamity, such as the mutiny in Orphans of the Sky, that causes a reversion to less advanced times.
Because of that potential eventuality, we should always strive to teach younger generations the importance of learning and innovating. Through doing so, we can ensure that each generation is better off than their predecessors.
The Second Lesson:
The second lesson of Orphans of the Sky that I think is worth discussing in this Orphans of the Sky review is the idea that we should challenge the general consensus and try to teach others the truth.
That lesson ties into the first lesson and the historical parallel in the novel with the late Middle Ages. Where would humanity be if great thinkers like Galileo and Martin Luther hadn’t dared to challenge the Catholic orthodoxy? Probably we would be far less advanced than we are today. We certainly wouldn’t be readying ourselves to explore the stars through privately-funded ventures.
Challenging orthodoxy can be hard. Hugh’s character in Orphans of the Sky shows the potential costs involved. Yet he continues to pursue truth. Why? Because doing so is the only way to progress. If Hugh didn’t open his eyes to the world outside The Ship and learn what it all meant, then the crew could have eventually completely perished. Similarly, had the great thinkers of the Renaissance not stood up to the religious leaders, then perhaps the Western world would still be stagnated.
Not misunderstand me, I am a Christian and believe Christianity is the only way to eternal life. But, when it comes to science, science should be dominated by scientists. Not clerics. And to discover the truth, it is necessary to challenge and look into everything.
Orphans of the Sky is an absolutely wonderful book. I hope that this Orphans of the Sky review did a good job of communicating that. Throughout the novel Heinlein blends the sense of wonder that usually accompanies good science fiction with philosophy and heart-pounding action scenes to create a complex but undeniably enjoyable book. I highly recommend you order and read a copy, you won’t be disappointed. Enjoy reading it, it is an excellent work of science fiction!
By: Gen Z Conservative