September 22, 2002

Beyond This Horizon, by Robert A. Heinlein

I was scrounging around the local Borders for books to take with me on my trip, and found a couple of old Heinlein titles I'd never previously read. I picked up this one when I got through security at the airport, and finished it about two hours later, just before it was time to board the airplane to Seattle.

I enjoyed it, but, bluntly, this isn't Heinlein's best work. The plot meanders here and there; the real climax of the book occurs about two-thirds of the way through, and the material after that just goes on to the end of the book without any real action.

On top of that, the book's dated, and not in a good way. The book's about a future utopia in which economics and gene selection are solved problems. There are lengthy lectures about Mendelian genetics, mostly stuff I learned in elementary school, which were probably interesting to science-fiction fans in 1942 but which I found merely tedious. Then there's the unintentionally funny scene in which a mathematician balances the national economy perfectly (something which probably isn't even possible) using a mechanical computer made up of rods and cams.

But even Jove nods, and this was one of Heinlein's earliest novels; and it nicely filled the two hours I sat in the terminal at Burbank airport.

There was one interesting plot device: nearly everyone in this Utopia (well, all the men anyway--it was 1942) carries a sidearm. As Heinlein puts it, an armed society is a polite society. When you know that being rude can get you challenged to a duel and possibly killed, you're unlikely to be rude. I bring this up because one of my friends keeps making the same point over lunch, if not as stylishly. (He knows who he is....)

Posted by Will Duquette at September 22, 2002 10:48 PM