A HEINLEIN TRIO
So, making progress on my 1950s novel project. I thought I’d save up a few Heinlein novels and throw out the reviews all at once. Three decent books this time around. None are great, all are at least entertaining.
Door Into Summer, The (1957)
Characters: The characters all (for the most part) act and talk and seem like normal people (if you count sociopaths as normal people). The engineer/inventor is hardly Heinlein’s ubermensch, even if he does invent the field of robotics by using paper clips and tinker-toys. Fairly believable, though. The antagonists (sociopathic career criminal female who seduces and uses men and the weak friend seduced by said female) are actually pretty good when on stage, which is only in a couple of scenes. My favorite character was Petronius the cat, who also could have used more stage time. The one big false note is the protagonist falling in love with and promising to marry an eleven year old girl. Still, since the relationship was settled in a non-icky manner, I suppose that it could have really been a case of transcendent true love. 83
Setting: The first part of the story takes place in 1970, shortly after the Six Weeks War, which was enough to make Denver the capital of the US. Oddly, the war has no zero on the characters or the plot. I assume that America won it, but this is never stated. The second part of the story takes place in 2000/2001. Heinlein overplays the change in society, especially in regards to technology. Davis should really have been shunted further into the future, but for plot purposes, couldn’t be. 75
Plot: Guy done bad by his girl and his friend. Basically they stickDavis into suspended animation for thirty years (a medical procedure usually used by those with major ailments which currently aren’t curable) as they steal his very lucrative company (which they then drive into the ground). Davis wakes up, spends too much time adjusting to and wondering about the marvelous world of thirty years in the future (I’ve lived in the same house for thirty years, and am still waiting for my robot servants.). Fortuitiously, he makes friends with the ONE MAN besides the inventor who knows about the top secret time machine which could send him back in time and allow him to work everything out. He browbeats the man into telling him all about it and then tricks the inventor into sending him back. All too convenient. But — Heinlein does know cats. Part of the story is his love letter to the species and most of that is beautiful. The human love affair is more problematical (see above) but it works out as Ricky takes the Cold Sleep when she’s twenty-one, so once she awakens, everything is more age-appropriate. The Door Into Summer is a classic trope. Never heard it expressed exactly in that way, but it is beautifully put. Heinlein gets points for that. This is perhaps the least action-oriented plot of any of Heinlein’s novels. Davis gets stuck with a hypodermic needle, and Pete gets to claw the crap out of the two villains in an epic battle scene, but that’s about it. 78
Style: Clear prose. Some extended exposition cuts down on scenes that could have been dramatized, but, as we know, novels for the most part were much shorter in this time period. 84
Heinlein tics: beloved pet put into peril; nudist camps.
Tunnel in the Sky (1955)
Characters: Heinlein performs the difficult task of writing a novel with no real villain. At times a couple of characters get in the way of our protagonist, Rod Walker, but all the real villainy (murder, etc.) takes place off-stage by unknown characters. The real antagonist is the alien world and natural circumstances (eg, a nova) that disrupt the characters’ lives. Walker himself is one of Heinlein’s more nondescript heroes, more or less a normal (if extremely competent and totally asexual) teenager. He’s surrounded by teenagers cut from the same (if not as detailed cloth). The adults are basically incompetent/annoying. Walker has a well-meaning if incompetent father, an incompetent mother, an uber-competent older sister who is willing to give up everything if she can “hook” a man who will keep her pregnant, and, finally, an older, wise, veteran mentor. 80
Setting: A short stop on your basic Heinlein Earth (annoyingly overcrowded), then off to an utterly alien world by teleportation, where Rod and a bunch of other teens/early twenty-somethings undergo the unsupervised final of their advanced survival course. The alien world is surprisingly bland by Heinlein standards, with only one surprise up its sleeve. 78
Plot: Of course, something goes wrong (the aforementioned nova), the teleportation system is shut down, and for some unspecified reason about two years go by before the kids can be rescued. We get sort of a Lord of the Flies situation, but far less nasty and more logical, as they go about taming the planet. Rod et al achieve a certain amount of success before they’re rescued and everyone hightails it for home. Interesting if not riveting tale of social evolution, soundly spiked with the usual Libertarian Heinlein speechifying, though the preaching doesn’t get in the way of the story this time around. 84
Style: Good, clean, crisp prose. Heinlein remains one of the preachiest writers ever, but this time th preaching takes second place to the story, which is ultimately a quite enjoyable read. 86
Heinlein Tics: Teen protagonist, not excessively extraordinary, but with somewhat nonfunctional family (well meaning but incompetent parents). Older, experienced tough-guy mentor. Overcrowded Earth. Uber-competent female warrior whose main goal in life is to “hook” a man who’ll keep her pregnant (six children wanted). Teen protag is utterly asexual, though other characters have tasteful, off-stage, sanctioned sex (they’re “married” by the settlement’s mayor) that result in babies.
Double Star (1956)
Characters: First person from protagonist’s view. Lawrence Smith (aka: Lorenzo Smythe) is (by his words and actual deeds) a great actor who is called in to impersonate a leading politician during a crisis in which the politician is kidnaped by an un-named gang of bad guys. He’s an interesting character with some interesting insights on the acting game. Everyone else in the book is a political operator of one sort or another, all virtually on his side. Yes, another book without visible antagonists (except for one guy who gets jealous and goes off and spills the beans about the impersonation, but literally nothing ever comes of this because no one believes him). Smith/Smythe is the only character in this short book with more than rudimentary development. 70
Settings: Earth, Mars, and the Moon in a well-explored Solar System, as well as long swathes of time spent hiding out in a space yacht. Heinlein put little effort into setting for this slight book. A few nice details (especially the hives of the nonhuman Martians), but no effort to rigorously develop or describe anything. 48
Plot: Purely about various political machinations, and about 90% talk. Not to say it’s not interesting, but the story is slight and Heinlein wisely keeps it short. No attempt to bring any sort of justice to those who kidnap the Minister. 62
Style: Maybe his talkiest of the early novels, short on actual action, long on chat, but still mostly sprightly. The actual election process which is the last third or so of the book is presented in summary rather than dramatic form. 70
Heinlein tics: Politics
For some reason this book won the Hugo as best novel in 1956, over many novels which were more deserving novels such as Asimov’s THE NAKED SUN (currently my highest rated novel for the year) and even Heinlein’s own TIME FOR THE STARS. Rating: 62
TUNNEL is currently tied for 23rd best on my list for 1950s novels, DOOR is tied for 31st. DOUBLE STAR fails to crack the top 50.
I will briefly note that Heinlein has not been particularly well-served by his cover artists over the years.
So, here’s the giveaway I promised. Anyone can have a go at it, but only those technologically challenged enough to still have a VHS player will benefit from winning. I’m slowing turning my VHS collection into DVDs (which no doubt I’ll finish just when the next technological advance in home movies comes about). So this leaves me with some VHS tapes. I could sell them on eBay, but I’d rather give them away to worthy (ie, someone who reads my blog) fans. Titles are: MOTHRA, RODAN, FORBIDDEN PLANET, KING KONG VS. GODZILLA, PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE, THE DEADLY MANTIS (a favorite), and, IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE. All are US format, so if you’re from Mongolia, forget it (though, if you are reading this from Mongolia, I’d probably shoot you something just on general principals). Chime in with the title you want, and I’ll draw a winner and save the rest for another giveaway, unless I’m feeling generous and we have a lot of entrants, in which case I may give away a couple. You have until next Monday, midnight, Mountain Time.