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Thursday, August 16, 2007

#23: The Door Into Summer (1957) by Robert A. Heinlein

“I wish that those precious esthetes who sneer at progress and prattle about the superior beauties of the past could have been with me--dishes that let food get chilled, shirts that had to be laundered, bathroom mirrors that steamed up when you needed them, runny noses, dirt underfoot and dirt in your lungs--I had become used to a better way of living and 1970 was a series of petty frustrations until I got the hang of it again.”

“You can’t do much if you do time travel. As Fort said, you railroad only when it comes time to railroad.”

Robert Heinlein begins The Door Into Summer with a noir setup. Daniel Boone Davis is on a drinking binge, and his only friend is the surprisingly loquacious Petronius the Arbiter, or “Pete,” his pet cat and moral consciousness. Davis has just been swindled out the company he founded, Hired Girl, Inc., by his war buddy and business partner Miles Gentry and Davis’ fiancée, a noir vixen named Belle Darkin. Hired Girl makes robots that do house chores, and Davis was too deep into developing the greatest robotic service device ever, Flexible Frank, to notice that Belle was cozying up to Miles and plotting against Davis with the aid of her “prenuptial gift”--enough shares in Hired Girl to vote with Miles against Davis’ wishes. Next thing you know, Davis is thrown out of the company with nothing more than a few shares. He was too naïve to even patent Flexible Frank, which is the now the property of the company. Davis decides to turn to a get-rich-quick scheme called “Cold Sleep.”

“Cold Sleep” is a commercially available suspended animation procedure. It was first developed in the 60s (the current year is 1970) for mass troop mobilization during America’s successful “Six-Week War” with the Communists. Now folks use it as an investment accelerator. Buy some stocks at age 30, go to sleep for 30 years, wake up at age 30 with an overnight 30-year return on your investment.

However, when Davis awakens in the year 2000, he finds himself penniless instead. But no worries. Davis is a Heinleinian hero after all. Step one, grab boot strings with both hands. Step two, pull. With Miles and Belle long gone from the company, Davis gets hired back on with Hired Girl as a promotional figure--company-father-returns-to-see-the-fruits-of-his-labor type-of-thing. Between photo shoots, he spends his free time catching up on the latest engineering, plotting revenge, and looking for…now did I say that Pete was the only friend Davis had. That isn’t entirely true. See, Davis also had a very close relationship with Miles’ 11-year-old stepdaughter Ricky “Rikki-Tikki-Tavi” Heinicke. But Davis has had trouble over this girl for a long time. She was much like an adult at 11, but of course she was way too young for him. Which is why he allowed himself to fall for Belle in the first place. In 2000, she’d be 41 and perhaps too old for him. But he looks for her anyway. However, it turns out she took the sleep too. My, oh, my, what is a man to do? You’ll just have to find out for yourself.

But that’s only the first half of the story. Things really get cooking when Davis finds out about the very real possibilities of time travel. And before you know it, he’s hooking up with nudist lawyers, smuggling gold, and returning to the scene of a crime he’s already been at. Many people would call that last one a time paradox, but it’s not a problem for Heinlein. He didn’t believe in them. If God created a physical universe that allows for two of the same person to be in the same place at the same time, it’s just nature.

Like most of Heinlein's best known work, The Door Into Summer is widely available new, used, and at libraries.


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