Starman Jones is one of the lesser known of Heinlein’s work. Coming in at a mere 200 pages, it tells the story of a stowaway on board a starship who has always dreamed of being a navigator. When he is caught and his obvious talent spotted, he becomes part of the crew and soon finds himself on command deck when his family tie is revealed.
Sometime later the chief ‘Astrogater’ dies and the ship is seemingly lost in uncharted space. The Captain cannot cope. They land upon the nearest habitable world but it is already occupied by centaurs. When a fight amongst the crew ensues, Max ends up the only Astrogater and he is soon taken hostage along with his friends Sam and Ellie. Max must escape his incarceration and lead the crew off of the planet.
Overall this is a pretty unremarkable novelette and there has been some suggestion that it was a sort of autobiography for Heinlein whose early life is reflected in Max.
There is also a moral tale here. Max is a very noble character who stands up against many of the injustices he can see within the crew. I wasn’t surprised to learn later that this is aimed at children simply because it lacks a lot of subtext of his previous works and the strong sense of doing what is right.
Most adults will have grown out of this sort of thing, or might prefer ethical statements as a subtext, but as a short novel it won’t waste too much of your time.