Citizen of the Galaxy

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Citizen of the Galaxy
First edition cover
AuthorRobert A. Heinlein
IllustratorL.E. Fisher
CountryUnited States
SeriesHeinlein juveniles
GenreScience fiction
Publication date
Media typePrint (hardback & paperback)
Preceded byTime for the Stars 
Followed byHave Space Suit—Will Travel 

Citizen of the Galaxy is a science fiction novel by American writer Robert A. Heinlein, originally serialized in Astounding Science Fiction (September, October, November, December 1957) and published in hardcover in 1957 as one of the Heinlein juveniles by Scribner's. The story is heavily influenced by Rudyard Kipling's Kim.[1]

Plot summary[edit]

Thorby is a young, defiant slave boy recently arrived at the slave auction at planet Jubbul's capital Jubbulpore, where he is purchased by an old beggar, Baslim the Cripple, for a trivial sum and taken to the beggar's surprisingly well-furnished underground home. Thereafter Baslim treats the boy as a son, teaching him not only the trade of begging, but also mathematics, history, and several languages, while sending Thorby on errands all over the city, carefully passing along information and keeping track of the comings and goings of starships. Thorby slowly realizes that his foster father is not a simple beggar but is gathering intelligence, particularly on the slave trade. In addition, Baslim has Thorby memorize a contingency plan and a message to deliver to one of five starship captains in the event of Baslim's arrest or death; when Baslim is captured by the local authorities and commits suicide, Thorby and local innkeeper 'Mother Shaum' convey the message to Captain Krausa of the starship Sisu. Because the 'Free Trader' society to whom Krausa belongs owes a debt to Baslim for the rescue of one of their crews from a slave trader, the captain takes Thorby aboard the Sisu at great risk to himself and his clan.

The Free Trader people of the Sisu are an insular, clannish, matriarchal culture who live their lives in space, traveling from world to world trading. Thorby is adopted by the captain (thereby gaining considerable shipboard social status) and adjusts to the culture of the traders, learning their language and intricate social rules; the advanced education provided by Baslim and the fast reflexes of youth make him an ideal fire controlman, in which position Thorby destroys a pirate craft. His immediate superior, a young woman named Mata, begins to view him as a suitable husband—something forbidden by the Free Traders' customs, and she is transferred to another ship.

The captain's wife, who is the executive officer and head of the clan, wants to use Thorby's connection to Baslim to enhance Sisu's prestige by marrying him off; the captain obeys Baslim's last wish by transferring Thorby off the ship in defiance of his wife. He entrusts the boy to a military cruiser of the Hegemonic Guard of the Terran Hegemony, the dominant military power in the galaxy; the captain, who also acted as one of Baslim's couriers, passes along Baslim's request to its captain to assist Thorby in finding his own people. Thorby discovers that his foster father Baslim was actually a colonel in the Hegemonic Guard who volunteered for the dangerous mission of an undercover operative on Jubbul to fight slavery. In order to implement a background search without having to pay the immense cost, Thorby agrees to enlist in the Hegemonic Guard.

Thorby is ultimately identified as Thor Bradley Rudbek, the long-lost heir of a very powerful family and a substantial shareholder in Rudbek and Associates, a large, sprawling interstellar business including one of the largest starship-manufacturing companies and the entire city of Rudbek (formerly Jackson Hole, Wyoming). In his absence, the business is run by a relative by marriage, "Uncle" John Weemsby, who encourages his stepdaughter Leda to guide Thorby in adjustment to his new situation while secretly scheming to block Thorby's growing interest and interference in the company.

Thorby, investigating his parents' disappearance and his capture and sale by slavers, comes to suspect that his parents were eliminated to prevent the discovery that some portions of Rudbek and Associates were secretly profiting from the slave trade; when Weemsby quashes further investigation, Thorby seeks legal help and launches a proxy fight, which he unexpectedly wins when Leda votes her shares in his favor. He fires Weemsby and assumes full control of the firm; when Thorby realizes that it will take a lifetime to remove Rudbek and Associates from the slave trade, he reluctantly abandons his dream of imitating Baslim as a member of the elite anti-slaver "X" Corps of the Hegemonic Guard. Knowing that "a person can't run out on his responsibilities", he resolves to fight the slave trade as the head of Rudbek and Associates.


Galaxy reviewer Floyd C. Gale praised the novel, saying "Heinlein is invariably logical. And invariably entertaining."[2] In The New York Times, Villiers Gerson received the novel favorably, declaring it "better than 99 per cent of the science-fiction adventures produced every year" despite structural problems and a weak ending."[3]


As in many of Heinlein's books, the principal character grows in wisdom and knowledge, beginning in relative ignorance, learning from experience, receiving the benefits of education, and using that education to resolve subsequent problems in his own life and that of those around him.[4]

External links[edit]


  1. ^ Brian M. Stableford (1 January 2004). Historical Dictionary of Science Fiction Literature. Scarecrow Press. pp. 360–. ISBN 978-0-8108-4938-9. Retrieved 3 July 2013.
  2. ^ Gale, Floyd C. (August 1958). "Galaxy's 5 Star Shelf". Galaxy Science Fiction. p. 126.
  3. ^ "New Books for the Younger Reader", The New York Times Book Review. December 29, 1957
  4. ^ Alan Milner (1997). "Citizen of the Galaxy Review". Heinlein Society. Archived from the original on 2011-07-16. Retrieved 2010-11-26.