Race Prejudice on Venus (Heinlein)

Book:  Space Cadet by Robert A. Heinlein (1948)

Heinlein tackles the concept of racism in this book.  It’s a pretty gutsy move, but you have to keep in mind that Heinlein must have been a generally ballsy dude to even speculate about things like space travel and future technology.

Considering this is a young adult sci-fi book, you have to hand it to him for trying to steer kids in the right direction when it comes to prejudice and discrimination.

Space Cadet by Robert A. HeinleinThe planet Venus is inhabited by aliens called frog people; humans also live on Venus and have surveyed the surface and concluded that there are valuable metals to be mined.  Humans kidnap the leader of the Venusians, causing warfare that leads to many deaths including most of the human surveying crew.  This leaves only the captain of the crew who then encounters our heroes (space cadets who have been sent to investigate the unrest on Venus) when they are being held by the Venusians.

While all of them are being held they speak candidly about the aliens.  The captain has racist feelings toward the “Venerians” and is enraged by the killing of his crew even though his actions are what caused them.  He calls them “beasts” and “brutes” and “frogs”, while our heroes insist they are “people”.  The captain accuses one of the space cadets of siding with the frog people against a man.

Good thing then that one of the young men lived on Venus before going into the space academy, and he had been able to set the record straight to his friends beforehand.  Some dialogue:

“Matt [the main character] nodded.  ‘I know that they are described as being a gentle, unwarlike race.  I can’t imagine becoming really fond of them, but the spools I studied showed them as friendly.’

‘That’s just race prejudice. A Venerian is easier to like than a man.’

‘Oz, that’s not fair,’ Tex protested. Matt hasn’t got any race prejudice and neither have I.  Take Lieutenant Peters – did it make any difference to us that he’s as black as the ace of spades?’

‘That’s not the same thing – a Venerian is really different.’”

Not exactly how we would speak now, but still on the right track to tell young adults that there is no difference between white people and black people, and to point out how subtle “race prejudice” is.


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