Review: “The Door Into Summer” by Robert A. Heinlein

Title: The Door Into Summer
Author: Robert A. Heinlein
Rating: ****
Publisher/Copyright: Doubleday, 1957

Heinlein’s The Door Into Summer will always hold a special place in my memory. It was one of the first real SF books I ever read, along with Ender’s Game and a couple others that were much less memorable. For a number of reasons, I recently decided to give a reread and refresh my memory–was it as awesome as I remember, or was I just in love with my first look at the genre? I’m pleased to announce that it is at least almost as awesome as I remember it being. I’m also incredibly thankful that my first Heinlein was this one, mostly lacking in his trademark creepy sexuality. I say mostly, and will explain that below, but at least my younger self didn’t pick up on the creepiness. Ah, for a more innocent age….anyway, moving on.

Daniel Boone Davis had it all, at least until he was double-crossed. He and his partner had a small engineering company, beholden to know man and free to tinker to his heart’s content. He built the stuff, and Miles sold it. Belle was just the secretary, until she became Dan’s fiancee. His next project was going to revolutionize everything–an automaton that could be taught to do nearly anything. Then it all came crashing down. Miles and Belle double-crossed him, forcing him out of the company and stealing the prototype for Flexible Frank. When Dan put up a fight, he found himself drugged and placed into cryosleep, awakening penniless thirty years later in the year 2000. Tough breaks, but he’d survive. What is driving him nuts is how many of his ideas he never got around to actually building seem to be everywhere….with patents registered to D.B. Davis….

Like I said, I really enjoyed this both times I read it. In some ways it’s incredibly dated, and I’m pretty sure the limited nuclear war that supposedly happened in the sixties would still have wiped out humanity, but it’s the rare time-travel novel (for what is a thirty-year sleep but a one-way time-travel) that manages to explore two separate futures–the 1970 that was still far in the future for Heinlein writing in 1957, and the still further 2000. Some of the inventions Davis comes up with are positively prescient, including a self-directing little robot vacuum. That’s right, Heinlein created the Roomba way back in 1957. Unlike most of Heinlein’s stuff I’ve read, there wasn’t a lot of waxing philosophical or preaching this time around, just a fun story.

Now, about that creepy sexuality I mentioned. I’ll get to that, but to explain it–and why I think it’s less creepy in practice than it sounds at first glance–I’ll have to disregard my hatred of spoilers. Read on at your own peril! So, the central romance here, as things unfold, is between Dan Davis and the young Frederica “Ricky” Heinicke. In 1970, Dan is in his thirties while Ricky is eleven. So yeah, there’s that. And I agree, this whole thing does earn a raised eyebrow, but I would argue that it is not quite as objectionable as it first seems. The attraction between the two is nothing sexual–Ricky has a schoolgirl’s crush on Dan, and has been coolly informing him that they will one day be married since she was six. While he always assumed this was a private joke between the two of them, once he awakens in the year 2000 he realizes that she’s literally the only friend he has ever had that never screwed him over and starts looking for her as time and resources allow. By this time she would be older than him, subjectively, and he gets a bit obsessed with finding her. When he does, she’s taken a cryosleep herself and is now twenty-one to his thirty-odd. So…still a bit creepy, but no pedophilia here.

CONTENT: Brief language. I think the word “bitch” is used once or twice, possibly several milder profanities, but this was written in the age where the pulps wouldn’t allow that kind of thing. There’s even an occasion of something having the adjective “censorable” applied to it. Mild violence, including the attempted murder of a cat. Some creepy sexual themes, as described above, but not a whole lot of outright innuendo.

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