A Review of The Rakehells of Heaven

The Rakehells of HeavenThe Rakehells of Heaven by John Boyd

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I struggled with how many stars to give this book. On one hand, I thoroughly enjoyed it and thought it was pretty original. On the other, it’s not particularly well written, it’s dated, and full of stereotypes. In it, two space cadets find a world similar to Earth with aliens similar to people, albeit mostly naked. The ship’s commander, Adams, is a born again Bible thumping evangelist, while the other, O’Hara, is an Irish drunken lout who’s hornier than anyone in the universe. Within minutes, O’Hara has sampled the local flavor, much to Adams’ disgust.

This world is not broken up into countries, but into universities where everyone studies. The two spacemen find out they can teach noncredit courses, so they get started on Earth’s art, drama, history, literature, ecology, emotions, legal systems, military, etc. And so they start these people down a slippery slope, for these people take things literally. Soon there is violence and then a police force. Then a guard of “centurions.” Meanwhile, O’Hara is screwing every female alien on the planet and Adams falls in love with one and gets married. Both are committing big time Navy regulation no nos, so they’d likely be prosecuted with at least a court martial if found out. Soon, there is a murder, the first on this world in over 5,000 years.

O’Hara is the drama teacher here and puts on plays with his students. He takes many liberties with Shakespeare and the Bible. Adams doesn’t appreciate it. There’s a lot of tension. Meanwhile, Adam’s wife becomes pregnant and has a daughter, who looks like O’Hara. Adams explodes! I won’t give away the climax of the book, but the book is framed in such a way that it begins with the arrival of their starship with only Adams on board. While he is being debriefed, this tale emerges. At the end of the story, he simply walks off. What, no court martial? No firing squad? WTF? He violated about 100 regulations and he’s simply going to get off? That doesn’t make any sense to me, so I’m knocking it down a star just for that. Otherwise, it’s an entertaining story — with lots of sex — although, not particularly well written. The dialogue isn’t really believable. Can’t say I recommend it for a general audience, but a sci fi fan might like it.

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4 thoughts on “A Review of The Rakehells of Heaven

  1. I got the impression that this is definitely a satire — Boyd’s other work often falls into that camp. Is it not? (I don’t get the impression from your review).


    1. Satire! That’s excellent. I don’t know how I overlooked that. That makes perfect sense. I’m actually not familiar with this author; this was his first book I read. Maybe I’ll pick up more. Suggestions?


      1. I think that explains a lot of the over-the-top elements. What do you think he’s satirizing?

        The most well-known novel of his is The Last Starship from Earth. Some even claim it’s a lost masterpiece… I thought it was solid. Despite the rather straight-laced delivery I also think it was something of a pastiche (can’t give away the ending but you’ll understand if you read it).


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