Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Heinlein Centenary -- The Door into Summer

George Kelley and I have been talking a little about the special Heinlein Centenary issue of Locus, and we were both inspired to do a little re-reading of Heinlein's work. I went to the closet in my daughter's old room, and sure enough, 'way back on a shelf were all the paperback editions of the Heinlein novels I'd bought her when she got interested in reading as a kid. She loved them as much as I did, obviously, or they wouldn't still be hiding in there.

In the first stack was The Door into Summer. I thought at first that I'd probably read this as a paperback when it hit the stands back in 1959, but that's not right. I was reading F&SF every month back in those days, so I'm sure I read the serial version. I thought it was great. The opening and closing bits about "the door into summer" are still among my favorite paragraphs in all Heinlein's writing. Nobody ever did cats any better.

The book's not about cats, though. It's about Daniel Boone Davis, who gets cheated out of everything he has by his partner and fiance in the year 1970, takes "the long sleep," and wakes up in the year 2000. Davis is an engineer and an inventor, who's making a heap of dough in 1970 from something that very much resembles a Roomba except that it's better. And while he's at it, he's inventing other great stuff as well. But never mind that. When he wakes up in 2000, he has revenge on his mind.

One of the things that struck me when reading the book is that Heinlein would've been very disappointed in the actual year 2000. It didn't have very many of the wonders he anticipated. One thing he got wrong: Davis says, "My Country 'Tis of Thee had never succumbed to police-state nonsense, so there was no bureau certain to have a dossier on each citizen, nor was I in a position to tap such a file even if there had been." Davis's search for certain people would have been a lot easier in the real 2000 (and I won't comment any further, though Heinlein, libertarian down to the soles of his feet, certainly would).

Now about that revenge. Does Davis get it? Absolutely, but not in the way you might anticipate. Stuff set up in the beginning of the book, stuff you might have wondered about, is all played out in the end. To say more would be unfair.

Quibbles? Well, there's one aspect of the book I think current readers will find a little creepy. You'll know what I mean if you read it, and if you don't, well, I was wrong.

One thing that struck me again in reading this was how similar Heinlein seems to me to be to John D. MacDonald. They both love to preach, though JDM is a little less prone to it than RAH. They both know a heck of a lot about nearly everything. They both write the same sappy dialog for people in love. In fact, their styles seem similar to me in ways I can't even explain. I think I once said that if JDM had kept on writing SF, he'd have been RAH. I still think so. They're that much alike, at least in my mind. Maybe that explains why I like their work so much.


Anonymous said...

MacDonald might not've been smarter than Heinlein, but I think he was smarter about people individually, at least, and less likely to disregard actual common sense. But Heinlein is the Hammett/Hemingway figure in sf, I tend to suggest at the drop of the hat, even if Stanley Weinbaum seemed likely to get there first, RAH certainly got there the most in the 1940s (somewhat fewer people tend to agree with me that Robert Bloch, once he found his voice, was doing something similar for horror fiction, but those that don't are wrong--and it's probably no accident that Fritz Leiber was doing similar things to both Bloch and Heinlein, often refining their innovations, even while doing more and better than either in high fantasy...though not quite seeking nor trying for that lean [usually Extremely Competent But] Regular Guy approach that Dash and Papa [belch] were reaching for)(Bloch's guys might've been more hapless than those of the other three, but often all four's characters were as damned as any Gold Medal novels, at least in one way or another, even if they triumph in another).

Is Heinlein already exercising his spanking fetish by the time of DOOR, I wonder, in response to your mildly creeped status (among several other fetishes)...I haven't read it yet. Probably should. Still have DOUBLE STAR ahead of me, too.

I am pretty croggled by the rest of that issue's lineup, of course. (It's apparently the October 1956, issue, rather than 1959):

As NooSFere would have it:
I Don't Mind par Ron Smith
The Monster Show par Charles Beaumont
Anything Box par Zenna Henderson
Try This for Psis par Robert Bloch
Mr. Gunthrie's Cold War par Jay Williams
Tea from Chirop Terra par Winona McClintic
King's Evil par Avram Davidson

A pretty major story in Henderson's career, one of the Big Name Fan Smith's few? pro sales, and perhaps not the first stories we think of from Beaumont nor Davidson nor Bloch...and you don't hear much from McClintic anymore, though she was a steady contributor to F&SF for a while...and Jay Williams was a mildly big deal, but it's typical of my current state that I've forgotten why.

Really, you prefer Heinlein's cats to Leiber's? The latter may well be too anthropomorphic, never more than in THE WANDERER or in the Lankhmar novel (where literally so, perhaps also a bit creepishly).

Good rereading, Bill!

Unknown said...

Great comment, Todd. Thanks. I have no more to say on the (possibly) creepy part. As for the cats, I must say that Pete, in this book has plenty of anthropomorphic moments. But as a cat, he's great. So are Leiber's cats, and I'd hate to have to choose between them.

Ed Gorman said...

Door into Summer and Double Star are my favorite Heinleins. Interesting notion, that JDM and Heinlein shared a number of traits as writers if not human beings. I'd say the big difference is that JDM knew much more about the real world--up and down the social ladder--than did RH and that that knowledge gave much of his fiction more depth. God I love those old sf magazine covers.

Anonymous said...

You are too kind, at least considering the typos...who's half asleep?

The third installment, btw, is a real arse-kicker of an issue, no two ways about it (and would be for the Knight and Sturgeon alone):

Stranger Station par Damon Knight
First Lesson par Mildred Clingerman
The Door Into Summer (3/3) par Robert A. Heinlein
Gandolphus par Anthony Boucher
The Red Wagon par Jane Roberts
The Apotheosis of Ki par Miriam Allen deFord
And Now the News... par Theodore Sturgeon

TM, startled to just now hear that Simpson's IF I DID IT is going to be published in the US after all, to benefit a victim's survivors...

Unknown said...

Ed, I agree: Those covers are great.

And so, Todd, are the contents. I was spoiled by reading those magazines. I expected every story to be great.

But only in certain magazines. Not in, say, Amazing, which I loved because it was cheesy.

Anonymous said...

Paul Fairman's AMAZING in the mid 1950s...and then Cele Goldsmith had to go and spoil it all a few years later by running stories by Leiber and Le Guin and Cordwainer Smith rather than whatever Lesser/Marlowe and Silverberg and Ellison and Garrett felt like turning in that month. Not that Goldsmith wouldn't also run a Manly Banister for some reason (it was in inventory?), or let Sam Moskowitz drop a moldy fig of a "classic" into the mix (perhaps as a money-saver, much as with the Ultimate issues of the '60s).

Unknown said...

For a while there, both Amazing and Fantastic were "monster of the month" mags, with great covers of bikini babes being menaced by giant crabs and such. But those two mags never became Super Science Fiction with a "Special Monster Issue!" SSF had three of those.

Anonymous said...

But there was DREAM WORLD, the shortlived offshoot magazine of Fairman FANTASTIC special issues, "Tales of Incredible Powers"...which mostly amounted to the power to be an invisible male geek voyeur in women's locker rooms and such. Later cultural product such as ANIMAL HOUSE, PORKY'S and HOLLOW MAN seemed to do at least a bit better financially in their P.G. Wodehouse reprints in their mix, after all. (Still amuses me that then-Assistant Ed. Goldsmith pulled Kate Wilhelm's first story out of the slush pile, for CG's little corner of good quality in the Fairman-era magazines, and it was the only better-than-readable story in one of those Incredible Powers FANTASTIC issues.)

Unknown said...

I have copies of both (I think there were two) issues of Dream World. I didn't see it back in the day, and I've never read any of the stories. However, the covers pretty much make it clear that they're about exactly what you said they were about.

Ed Gorman said...

Bill & Todd--

A) The word "croggled," Todd? My God it's 1958 again!

B) The giant crab covers were masterpieces of cheese.

C) I've always been suspectible to hype and nobody was better at it that Ray Palmer and Bill Hamling and the other sons of Palmer. I can still remember how eager I was to get Dream World. I was only moderately disappointed. It never occurred to me at the time that here are all these astounding powers and all they're used for is rampant Peeking Tomism. Don't tell ME those Ziff-Davis writers didn't have Big Thoughts.

Unknown said...

Big Thoughts is right. Just look at those covers!

Anonymous said...

Courtesy Phil Stephensen-Payne's site:

Unknown said...

Okay, so there were three issues. I'll have to dig around and see if I have them all or only two of them.