Heinlein, Robert A. The Door into Summer.

Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1957.

I first read this one shortly after it was published, when I was in junior high, and it’s still one of my two or three favorites among Heinlein’s novels. This was also his “fastest” novel — written in thirteen days after his wife unintentionally gave him the title, based on a cat/snow incident exactly like that described in the opening of the book.

The plot centers on Dan Davis, a mechanical engineer and inventor of the “bicycle shop” variety, living in 1970, only a decade and a half in Heinlein’s own future, but in a world significantly different from our own. Washington, DC is gone in a cloud of radiation, Denver is the new U.S. capital, and commercially viable robots are well on the way, thanks to Dan’s own ingenuity. But he’s also a lousy businessman, so his partner and his fiancée manage to swindle him out of everything he’s designed and built prototypes of. In despair, after finding he can’t (legally) do anything to the Bad Guys, he decides to submit to the Long Sleep — being frozen into suspended animation and tucked away under a mountain for a few decades. (Becoming what Larry Niven later would call a “corpsicle.”) And when he gets to 2001, he likes it (it’s a much better place than the 2001 we actually got) and settles in to try to catch up on a generation’s worth of engineering. But then he discovers a certain someone else is about to be defrosted, and suddenly he knows how to get even and restart his own future a second time.

It’s a delightfully complicated plot, with time travel, blue-sky gadgeteering of the sort any engineer loves to daydream about, and a very odd, very Heinleinian love story for good measure (and of the sort that will upset the puritans, as this author often did in matters of love and sex). Heinlein takes every opportunity to preach the values of good engineering and the social possibilities of the future, too. For, as he notes, technology has its own inescapable timetable. Leonardo da Vinci wasn’t able to build any of the great ideas he came up with — but “when it’s time to railroad, people will start railroading.” I have always found it amazing (and amusing), though, how an open-minded author of highly speculative science fiction can miss so completely the ways in which the future actually will change. At one point, Dan, while musing about inventing a “typing machine” that can spell correctly, notes that, with the miniaturization now possible in 2001, “it would be easy to pack a hundred thousand sound codes into a cubic foot” — the equivalent of Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. Writing even in 1956, Heinlein badly underestimated the role of solid-state circuits in computerization. There’s an actual lesson in there somewhere. But it’s a terrific romp of a story, nevertheless.

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Published in: on 7 March 2012 at 5:54 am  Leave a Comment  
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