Book Review: The Door into Summer – by Robert A. Heinlein

Here is a classic misleading book cover. Yes, there is a cat central to the plot in this book. There are also several women, one villain, Belle, and one heroine, Ricky. I don’t know who the woman on the cover art is supposed to be.

Heinlein lived from 1907 to 1988 and is widely recognized as the most influential science fiction writer of the 20th century. His classic Stranger in a Strange Land is probably his most famous work, but there are many others, and I have read most of them. His science fiction always focused on character development, and he is one of the few authors who, besides creating engaging and intriguing science fiction plots, also got into the human side of life. His characters kiss, get naked and have sex. There seem to be nudists in many of his plots, and there are some key nudist characters in The Door into Summer.

The story starts in 1970. Dan Davis is a genius engineer involved in robotics. He loves his cat Pete. Dan starts a successful and revolutionary robotics company named Hired Girl. The company specializes in household robots. He is vastly successful. Then he decides to take the Cold Sleep, which is a cryogenic sleep, allowing the person to arrest all body functions and wake up at some time in the future. He decides to sleep until the year 2000.  But before he does, he sets his affairs in order. What he does not realize soon enough is that his fiancée Belle and his buddy Miles are screwing him out of his company. And so the plot runs.

I don’t know how I missed reading this book during my heyday of reading Heinlein in the 1980-ies, but I did. It’s a time travel story, and a great one at that. I enjoyed it for that alone.

But more of a crack-up was the fact that Heinlein wrote The Door into Summer in 1957. So when he made it play initially in 1970, he basically put the story into the near future, assuming some improvements in science and engineering, resulting in Dan being an engineer in robotics. So we see what Heinlein thought the near future would bring by 1970.

But then, he had Dan sleep for 30 years until 2000. For Heinlein, 2000 from the perspective of 1957 was 43 years in the future – utopia for all practical purposes. To have Dan travel into the year 2000 was going into a fantastic future.

This is particularly enjoyable to watch for me from 2011 – a full eleven years after 2000, when 2000 is actually a long time ago already.

You’ll have to read The Door into Summer to find out what Heinlein thought 2000 would be like, but I’ll make a few observations that don’t spoil the story. Here is one segment in chapter IX:

I could have saved time by hiring a cab to jump me to Riverside, but I was handicapped by lack of cash. I was living in West Hollywood; the nearest twenty-four-hour bank was downtown and the Grand Circle of the Ways. So first I rode the Ways downtown and went to the bank for cash. One real improvement I had not appreciated up to then was the universal checkbook system; with a single cybernet as clearinghouse for the whole city and radioactive coding on my checkbook, I got cash laid in my palm as quickly there as I could have gotten it at my home bank across from Hired Girl, Inc.

Obviously, there were no automatic teller machines in 1957, so Heinlein could not predict them. His view of the banking system in 2000 is hilarious. In his 2000, there are still typewriters, but electric ones. He misses cell phones entirely. People still have to walk to pay phones to make calls. There is no Internet or anything like it, except perhaps the cybernet above for banks. There are no personal computers, and there are few computers at all. Research is still being done at the library and by going through archives.

Dan is inventing robots that do housework. But the robots can only understand rudimentary English in 2000, like: Go, No, Yes, Give Me, etc. They cannot understand spoken language, and when they have a problem, they hand a card with a printed error message to the user. No screens. He is also inventing a drafting machine, some mechanical apparatus that does engineering drawings. No Autocad, no screens, no mouse, no computers.

Cars have not changed that much. Clothes have. People wear synthetic material called Sticktite which appears to be some thin material that is stuck to the body. This apparently does not leave much to the imagination in terms of sexuality. But I wonder how the less attractive people deal with it.

There is a Great Los Angeles, a Great Asia Republic, and England is a province of Canada!

Finally, to make the plot work, a physicist has discovered rudimentary time travel, with some pitfalls built-in. But you have to find out for yourself how that works.

Overall, the story was pure Heinlein, the science fiction engaging, but the most fun was to see how one of our great science fiction writers saw the far distant future of 2000, from the vantage point of 1957.

Rating: ***

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