Starman Jones

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Starman Jones is a 1953 science fiction novel by Robert A. Heinlein about a farm boy who wants to go to the stars. It was first published by Charles Scribner's Sons as part of the Heinlein juveniles series.


Plot summary

Max Jones works the family farm in the Ozark Mountains. With his father dead and his stepmother remarrying a man he detests, Max runs away from home, taking his uncle's astrogation manuals.

Most occupations are tightly controlled by guilds, most with hereditary memberships. One such is the Astrogators Guild. Since his uncle had been a member and had no children, Max hopes that before he died, his uncle had named him his heir. He begins hitchhiking towards Earthport to find out. Along the way, he finds a friendly face in hobo Sam Anderson, who later alludes to being a deserter from the Imperial Marines. Sam feeds Max and offers advice, though he later departs with Max's valuable manuals.

At the guild's headquarters, Max is disappointed to find that he had not been named as an heir, but he is returned his uncle's substantial security deposit for his manuals. Max learns that Sam had tried to claim the deposit for himself.

By chance, he runs into an apologetic Sam. With Max's money, Sam is able to finagle them a one way job/trip aboard a starship using forged papers. Max signs on as a steward's mate third class, and then with his photographic memory, he absorbs the contents of the Stewards' Guild manual. Among his duties is caring for several animals, including passengers' pets—work with which he is comfortable. When passenger Eldreth "Ellie" Coburn visits her pet, an alien, semi-intelligent "spider puppy" that Max has befriended, she learns that he can play three-dimensional chess, and she challenges him to a game. A champion player, she diplomatically lets him win. Meanwhile, Sam manages to rise to the position of master-at-arms.

When, through Ellie's machinations, the ship's officers discover that Max had learned astrogation from his uncle, Max is promoted to the command deck. Under the tutelage of Chief Astrogator Hendrix and Chief Computerman Kelly, he becomes a probationary apprentice chartsman, then a probationary astrogator. In a meeting with Hendrix, Max reluctantly admits to faking his record to get into space. Hendrix defers the matter until their return to Earth. The Asgard then departs for Halcyon, a human colony planet orbiting Nu Pegasi.

When Hendrix dies, the astrogation department is left dangerously shorthanded. The aging captain tries to take his place, but is not up to the task. When Max detects an error in his real-time calculations leading up to a "transition", neither the captain nor Assistant Astrogator Simes believe him, and the ship winds up lost.

They locate a habitable world, and the passengers become colonists. Meanwhile, the crew continues to try to figure out where they are, and if they can get back to the Earth. Unfortunately, it turns out the planet is already inhabited by intelligent centaurs. Max and Ellie are captured, but Ellie's pet is able to guide Sam and a rescue party to them. They escape, though Sam is killed covering their retreat.

Upon his return, Max is informed that the captain has died. Simes tried to illegally take command and was killed by Sam, leaving Max as the only remaining astrogator. To make matters worse, Simes hid or destroyed the astrogation manuals.

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