The discovery of this book brightened my day. I was fighting the endless fight against other people's hoarding and trying to make some space in the storage area in our office. Going through boxes of files that haven't been touched in a decade, equipment bought, used once or never and then lost (but "keep that, we may need it"), over-ordered print jobs with obsolete content when I found two boxes that looked even too old for our office. They were full of books! Most were old textbooks, but I also found a couple of science fiction and fantasy paperbacks, including this one. The rest will go to the local thrift store, to be released back out into the wild and maybe read once again. This one, as well as two others, went to my on deck shelf.
The only other Heinlein I've read is Stranger in a Strange Land and I found it quite dated. He was prolific and I suspected that his earlier work might have been a bit more prosaic (read, better) and less philosophical. Tunnel in the Sky was written in 1955 and the storyline sounded much more like an enjoyable sci-fi adventure rather than an opportunity to wank about gender relations. It takes place in a future, resource-strapped earth where space-jumping gates offer an opportunity for struggling earthlings to migrate to remote planets.
The hero, Rod Walker, is a student in a school that trains students to survive in new planets. For the final exam, they are sent to an unknown land and must survive for 48 hours. This time, though, something goes wrong and the gate doesn't open again. The bulk of the story is about Rod surviving, meeting up with other surviving students, eventually building a community and then facing the internal challenges that a burgeoning community must face. This last part dipped a tad into some basic (and a bit trying to me) social theory and reminded me a lot of Earth Abides. Thankfully, the narrative moves forward briskly, moving the story forward and coming to a satisfying conclusion.
A pretty enjoyable adventure with some cool ideas.