On to Heinlein, one of the Big Guys. I read Have Spacesuit Must Travel and his other children’s stories in middle school, and I loved them. I didn’t like the war stories, and just found Stranger in a Stranger Land painfully dumb, but I did like parts of The Cat Who Walks Through Walls. Although I often think of Heinlein as science fiction’s Hemingway with his simple prose, over-macho characterizations, badly-drawn women, and fixation on war, I have to say this. Parts of those stories have stuck with me all those years. They have staying-power. In Have Spacesuit, I always remember that the boy’s father had prepared for his education, but let the boy figure out a way to pave his own way. In Glory Road, I remember the guy who lost his memory and kept writing down his story and hiding it in a tin can so he could find it again. In The Cat, I
remember that near the end, he reveals the protagonist is black, and of course, TNSTAAFL (There’s No Such Thing as A Free Lunch).
Picking a Heinlein was difficult. Many are loved by his fans and come highly recommended. We had three
in our library, in one volume entitled A Heinlein Trio, so I went with the lovely title The Door into Summer.
I’m glad. It was good to read it and a good day to read it (Halloween), about his cat Petronius the Arbiter, and how much we love our pets. But a book can’t start nicer than this book did; the first two pages of this story are absolutely perfect. All of the dialogue is pitch-perfect, too. The book was short, only 160 pages, and about the inherent loops of time travel. It for the most part worked. Parts of it delighted me.
It’s not a perfect story, though. The object of the protagonist’s affection is kind of creepy when you think about it. The middle drags in spots. Heinlein writes with his thoughts black on his sleeve (which might not be
as cherished to all of us as they are to him), and without adjectives (this can make reading easy, but I think it also makes it a little dry in places).
The cat Pete is named for a man who was either (historians are not sure) a free-speaking orator or Roman satirist who lived 27-66 AD and wrote the play Satyricon, which became a Fellini movie. I’ll add that to the
reading list, along the other two stories included in this book, Puppet Masters and Doublestar. I would also like to read his classic, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.
Concerning Heinlein’s Competent Man? Yes, he is here. There might be more to him than the caricature I have drawn in my head. Another reviewer said the Competent Man is based on a Nietzche construct. According to Wikipedia, in Thus Spake Zarathustra, Friedrich Nietzche describes the Übermensch. By “will to
power,” The Superior Man destroys old ideals and moral codes, and then creatively overcomes nihilism and re-evaluates old ideals or create new ones. Nietzche described Christianity as a nihilistic religion, because it removed meaning from this earthly life, and focused instead on a supposed afterlife. He also saw nihilism as a natural result of the destruction of the Christian conscience (God is Dead), a God-centered way of thinking, and insisted that it was something to be overcome, by returning meaning to the earth. Placing belief or faith in anything transcendental is nihilistic, and would lead to the failure of man to become homo superior. In short, Nietzche stated that everyone should take absolute responsibility for their own actions: that is the upside of the Competent Man.
A mouth-watering, jealousy opening introduction is a wonderful thing. Dialogue is character, so it is imperative to make sure your dialogue works. Find gorgeous ideas and build stories around them, and the ideas will sit in the readers’ minds, even if the writing and story doesn’t. These are great lessons.