Review of The Door into Summer (1956)


Robert A. Heinlein (writer).

Read in 2017.

Time travel, forward by means of cold sleep at 4°C—a spin-off of the technology that won the Cold War—and backward by means of higher technology.

An SF novel written in 13 days, it is chiefly a masturbatory fantasy signalling Heinlein’s descent with middle age into chauvinistic, pedophilic and libertarian preoccupations. There are numerous weak points, including gratingly awkward plot conveniences: Davis’s taunting of Twitchell, for instance, and his complete receptiveness while paralyzed. The Cold-War-turned-hot aspect of the story is pleasant but incredible in its optimism, and despite writing in the heyday of transistor development, the author fails almost completely to foresee changes in information technology. The protagonist thus develops household robots reminiscent of The Jetsons (1962) and hires private investigators in the year 2000 to find people who are not hiding. Despite this perfectly understandable failure to follow Vannevar Bush or extrapolate, Heinlein does describe a “Drafting Dan”, something like Ivan Sutherland’s 1963 Sketchpad application, which was also called Robot Draftsman:

I guessed that there must be easily fifty thousand engineers in the U.S. alone bending over drafting boards every day and hating it, because it gets you in your kidneys and ruins your eyes. Not that they didn’t want to design–they did want to–but physically it was much too hard work.

This gismo would let them sit down in a big easy chair and tap keys and have the picture unfold on an easel above the keyboard. Depress three keys simultaneously and have a horizontal line appear just where you want it; depress another key and you fillet it in with a vertical line; depress two keys and then two more in succession and draw a line at an exact slant.

Notably, this description lacks the light pen and Sutherland’s cohesive vision of GUI, and the gismo is invented in a fictional 1970, which is rather late. I like the cheap gold though; that would slightly accelerate hardware development. Maybe that’s why Tsath in “The Mound” (1930) has such advanced machinery.

References here: “Tower of Babylon” (1990).

text fiction