Monday, 3 March 2014

To Sail Beyond The Sunset by Robert Heinlein

I find reading Heinlein to be such a strange experience. His books are always fun, even this strange "world as fiction" stuff he gets further and further into later in his career. They're enjoyable. I reread them ad nauseam.

But there I'll be, reading along, enjoying myself, and a main character will say something I entirely disagree with, and maybe it's just the main character, or maybe it's the author's opinion, and often it seems unrelated to what's actually going on, so it seems like editorializing.

This is never enough to make me stop enjoying myself - it's not the persistent one-track misogyny that spoiled Cryptonomicon for me. But it makes me skip a beat, just for a second, before picking up the thread again.

But there's so much to like here. Unless you don't like sex in your science fiction. Or if you have a strong reaction to incest between happy, healthy, consenting adults. I'm not saying I'm for this, but I don't have a strong gut reaction to it in this particular context.

Because Maureen likes sex. A lot. Not in an angsty "why won't he love me?" way.

Maureen is the mother of the fabled Lazarus Long, and also, much later, his wife. (See?) Late in her life, she is rescued by the society of the far future, and become an agent of...oh, the name has escaped me...the time police, whatever. But the book is mostly about her life before this, set as a series of flashbacks to her birth before the turn of the 20th century, and how she negotiated life as a woman in the 20th century, had babies, had lots of sex, and, well, I think that's pretty much it.

But, of course, it isn't. There are tons of interesting digressions, as well as the few that I disagreed with. (But with Heinlein, I don't feel like I have to agree with him to like his stuff.)

There are, sure, issues that arise with his female characters at times. I've been working on an argument about what exactly those are, but I think it properly belongs in a review of Friday, so maybe I'll save it for that.

The shorthand is, yes, his female characters tend to all be hypercompetent, hyperintelligent, hypercapable, and hypersexual. And dude, compared to what we get in a lot of other science fiction at the time, I'll take that over "gurgling" housewives any day. (Seriously. Gurgling? The next person who uses that to describe an adult female reaction to pretty much anything will get punched in the bnork.)

So, To Sail Beyond The Sunset is probably not everyone's cup of tea. And I know it's rather unfashionable to like Heinlein these days (or at least, that's the impression I get). But I like him a lot, while not always agreeing, and I like this a lot, but see how other people might not feel the same way.


  1. I have a problem with some aspects of Heinlein's right-wing libertarian views, but not with this portrayal of incest. It had to do with another story in which the father/daughter relationship was completely asymmetrical, and anyone who didn't share his philosophy was worse than scum. Not surprisingly, he never explored the negative, society eroding aspects of his philosophy - what happens to the weak or unlucky. I always thought it odd, or maybe there's a causal link, that he himself was unable to go into active field service because of an illness.

    1. Oh, there are times I have issues with his politics as well, but not so much in this one!

  2. I am glad I found you! I can't seem to find anyone my age/gender who absolutely adores science fiction. Makes me feel weird-like I have to be in the closet! Try reading Isaac Asimov's first attempts at sci-fi. The stories still linger with me after all these years. This is where I got my first true love of the genre. I remember just thinking about some of the stories for days. Thanks to my wonderful dad!

    1. I'm glad you did too! There are far too few of us, sometimes. And yet, more than you would think!

      I've read a fair amount of Asimov - are you thinking about any works in particular?