Red Planet (novel)

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Red Planet is a 1949 science fiction novel by Robert A. Heinlein about students at boarding school on the planet Mars. It represents the first appearance of Heinlein's idealized Martian elder race (see also Stranger in a Strange Land). The version published in 1949 featured a number of changes forced on Heinlein by Scribner's, since it was published as part of the Heinlein juveniles. After Heinlein's death, the book was reissued by Del Rey Books as the author originally intended.

Contents

Plot summary

On Mars, Jim Marlowe and Frank Sutton travel to the Lowell Academy boarding school for the start of the academic year. Jim takes along his native, volleyball-sized pet, Willis the Bouncer, who is about as intelligent as a human child and has a photographic memory for sounds, which he can also reproduce perfectly. At a rest stop, Willis wanders off and encounters one of the adult sentient Martians. The three-legged alien takes the two boys and Willis to join a ritual called "growing together" with a group of its fellows. They also share water, making Jim and Frank "water friends" with the Martian, who is named Gekko.

At school, Jim gets into trouble with the authoritarian headmaster, Mr. Howe, who confiscates Willis, claiming that it is against the new rules to have pets. When Jim and Frank sneak into Howe's office and rescue Willis, the bouncer repeats two overheard conversations between Howe and Beecher, the unscrupulous colonial administrator of Mars, detailing Beecher's plans for Willis and the colony. When Beecher learns Howe has a bouncer, he is ecstatic, since the London Zoo is willing to pay a hefty price for a specimen. Worse, Beecher is secretly planning to prevent the annual migration of the colonists (necessary to avoid 12 months of life threatening winter weather) in order to save money. The boys run away from school to warn their parents and the colony.

The boys set out to skate the thousands of miles to their homes on the frozen Martian canals. During the trip, Frank gets sick. On the third night, they are forced to take shelter inside a giant Martian cabbage plant (nearly suffocating when it folds up at night). The next day, they meet some native Martians, who accept Jim because of his relationship to Willis and water-friendship with Gekko. The Martians treat Frank's illness and send the two boys home by a swift "subway".

Once warned, Jim's father quickly organizes the migration, hoping to catch Beecher off guard. The colonists take over the boarding school, and they turn it into a temporary shelter. Howe locks himself in his office, while Beecher sets up automatic, photosensor-controlled weapons outside to stop the malcontents (as he calls them) from leaving. After two colonists are killed trying to surrender, and the power to the building is cut, the colonists decide they have no choice but to fight back. Jim and Frank show Jim's father how they can escape through the school's unguarded garbage hatch. The colonists organise a raiding party, with the boys taking part, capture Beecher's office and proclaim the colony's independence from the Earth.

Several Martians enter the school area, and one of them shows up in the door leading to Howe's office, hiding him from sight. When the Martian turns away, Howe is nowhere to be found. The Martians then go to Beecher's building, and when they leave, he has also vanished. The Martians had been content to allow humans to share their planet, but Beecher's threat to Willis has made them reconsider. They present the colonists with an ultimatum: leave the planet or else. Dr. MacRae negotiates with the Martians, and is able to persuade them to let the colonists stay, mainly because of Jim's strong friendship with Willis.

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