Rite of Passage

Book cover: Rite of Passage Alexei Panshin’s Rite of Passage — a hidden gem of a young-adult novel that won the Nebula Award for Best Novel in 1968. A thoughtful book that charts the development of Mia, a girl aboard a city-sized Ship that travels between backwater colony worlds, who is about to embark on her Trial — a month spent trying to survive on one of said colony worlds, whose residents barely tolerate Ship citizens. It holds up well against successors in the same genre, i.e., novels about juveniles that aren’t really juveniles, with young female protagonists, such as John Barnes’s Orbital Resonance, Joe Haldeman’s Starbound, or John Scalzi’s Zoe’s Tale. Personally, I think it compares favourably to Ender’s Game.

Panshin is a science fiction critic well-known for his work on Heinlein, including a controversial book-length study of Heinlein’s works, Heinlein in Dimension, which won a Hugo. It’s possible to think of Rite of Passage as following in the tradition of Heinlein’s juveniles — it has resonances with many of the Heinlein juveniles I’ve read, particularly Starman Jones — but, as Panshin recounts in his essay, Rite of Passage and Robert Heinlein, Rite of Passage was a reaction to Heinlein, not a pastiche of him.

I wanted to write a science fiction story that would use everything I’d learned about SF storytelling from Robert Heinlein to present a situation of relative power in which I could imagine Heinlein supporting an abuse of strength taken as a matter of right and privilege, but my character, because of the events of the story, would not.

As it turns out, Panshin was reacting to the shift in Heinlein’s attitude that came between Have Spacesuit — Will Travel and Starship Troopers — that latter book having generated more award-winning responses than any other novel in the field (see also Haldeman’s Forever War). The result is a deeply moral book that explicitly rejects Heinlein’s might-makes-right attitude.

You should also read Jo Walton’s entry on Rite of Passage.

Rite of Passage by Alexei Panshin