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Book review. A Door Into Summer, Robert A. Heinlein

Are you a cat person? If yes, you’re definitely in for a treat. Pete is an amazingly written cat character if there ever was one. Yes, cat lovers will surely appreciate this one. Cat owners will understand that cats like Pete are as rare as true love and only come once in a life time, if we’re lucky, hence they will understand what makes Pete so special to Dan, his owner. However, even if you happen to hate cats, I’m sure you’ll appreciate the ingenious way Pete is described. That’s just plain good writing. 

“I have spent too much of my life opening doors for cats—I once calculated that, since the dawn of civilization, nine hundred and seventy-eight man-centuries have been used up that way. I could show you figures.” ― Robert A. HeinleinThe Door Into Summer

I’m making it sound like this is a novel about cat. Well, it’s not but it sorts of is. The cat I’m talking about is an important character, not in any futuristic genetically altered pet sense of the world, he just happens to be a side kick of our protagonist. Who might that be? Our protagonist is Dan Davis, an engineer, a well written characters, one could say a typical Heinlein hero. You know, a very intelligent badass guy who is on to take on the world and won’t let anything stops him. He is charming yet bold, brave but thoughtful, no fool but willing to take calculated risks.

“That was smart, that was engineering: never reinvent something that you can buy down the street.” ― Robert A. HeinleinThe Door into Summer

Nevertheless, this isn’t exactly how he starts out! When the novel opens, he is not up to much. The novel opens with our guy drinking himself to death on account of his best friend and his ex-finance tricking him out of his invention (and hard earned future glory as well as financial security). So, he is a bit depressed. The only person he cares for in this world is Ricky, who happens to be a ten-year-old daughter of his late friend. He respects her and we suppose he imagines she might be a good companion someday because he decided to freeze himself so that they can be together in ten years’ time.

“I am not sentimental about kids. Little monsters, most of them, who don’t civilize until they are grown and sometimes not then.” ― Robert A. HeinleinThe Door Into Summer

Some people find this part to be quite disturbing, but it isn’t like he wants to be with her when she’s a kid, he is romantically interested in the women she will be once she grows up. There is no knowing who that will be, you might say and yes that would be a valid point but it doesn’t seem to bother our protagonist. If Pete likes her, the girl must be ok and will stay that way (maybe Dan believes in cat’s intuition). I would say there is nothing fishy in the relationship between Dan and Ricky, but I can see why some might consider it to be a bit weird. Why the need to freeze himself up in the first place? He could have waited for her to grow up, but that sounds creepy doesn’t it? To watch someone growing up and then to marry them? Way creepier than just freezing yourself up and meeting them in the future? Actually yes.

It is interesting that he wants this relationship to happen when they’re about the same age. Does that indicate that he actually thinks there is something wrong in relationships in which there exists a significant age difference? Or more likely he needs the freezing up part to make the story more interesting? I mean this is a SF novel and we’re all waiting for the story to become well more SF. Furthermore, you know Dan is not motivated just by the desire to be with the future grown up Ricky. There isn’t much talk about Ricky if you think about it, this isn’t Lolita. There is not much talk about his feelings at that point and that’s not going to change drastically. Don’t expect him to get all emotional, it is not going to happen. This avoidance of emotional talk (or perhaps even thoughts) may be due to the fact that Dan makes that freezing himself up decision after a long period of drinking. It may be that his true feelings for Ricky only develop later on. At any rate, she isn’t the sole motivation.

“I was not in bad health (aside from a cumulative hangover), I was still on the right side of thirty by a few days, and I was far from being broke. No police were looking for me, nor any husbands, nor any process servers; there was nothing wrong that a slight case of amnesia would not have cured.But there was winter in my heart and I was looking for the door to summer. If I sound like a man with an acute case of self-pity, you are correct. There must have been well over two billion people on this planet in worse shape than I was. Nevertheless, I was looking for the Door into Summer.” ― Robert A. HeinleinThe Door Into Summer

Dan wants revenge. He wants to rub it into the face of his ex. He wants to be young when she is old. Perhaps most importantly, he wants to live in the future. He is an engineer you know. He is wondering what the world will look like in a number of years. Speaking of which, it is fascinating to observe how correct or how wrong Heinlein’s predictions were. There is certainly a lot of talk about the future in this one. Moreover, there is the actual ‘future’ experienced by a man from another time epoch and you can trust in one of the greats of SF to make that part good. 
It does get more interesting because things don’t go as planned, I mean the freezing up and all. When he wakes up in the future, he starts seeing things he is sure he had himself invented. As he said, every engineer has his own signature and it is this signature he is seeing everywhere that is driving him crazy.

“You can die anyplace. They’ve never managed to regulate that.” ― Robert A. HeinleinThe Door into Summer

Enters time travel. You know a book about just being frozen wasn’t going to cut it. He needs to travel back in time. There needs to be more action. Not surprisingly, that is what we get. More action and adventure. No complains here. You know I’m not even sure if women play an important part in this novel. Perhaps not really. We have one typical femme-fatale and one angelic girl, but the relationships with them are never explored into great detail. As far as relationships are concerned, this is more about the love between a man and his cat then about love between a man and a woman. Just for a record, I don’t have a problem with that. Not everything has to be all romantic and stuff.

“damnation, no matter how many times you get your fingers burned, you have to trust people. Otherwise you are a hermit in a cave, sleeping with one eye open.” ― Robert A. HeinleinThe Door into Summer

There is certainly a way to read the story between Dan and Ricky that makes it all sweet and romantic, but I think Ricky is there mostly for the plot. This is a one-man show or more precisely one man and his cat show! Romance isn’t a fundamental part of it, but it doesn’t feel out of place either. As I said, the relationship between Dan and Ricky can be read in a very sweet light (or in a slightly creepy one) …or it can be just ignored, if that isn’t your thing. 

“There’s a divinity that shapes our ends, rough-hew them how we will.” Free will and predestination in one sentence and both true.” ― Robert A. HeinleinThe Door into Summer

The Door into Summer is a very good SF novel that is mostly about adventure, time travel, engineering, future predictions, action, being badass and all those things we love about Heinlein. It is interesting enough to keep us intellectually stimulated and there is a touch of emotion that is just enough. I really enjoyed reading it. I have a copy at home, so I’ll probably reread it again eventually (emphasis on again because I already reread it). I recommend this to engineers, Heinlein’s fans, cat’s lovers, readers of SF as well as those interested in time travel stories. This is a fabulously written SF novel, pretty short but filled with such lovely things! The protagonist is and awfully charming and smart guy and it is great fun reading about his adventures. If you want to read a novel with a guy that makes it against all odds, this is the novel for you.

Final words? The Door Into Summer is a highly enjoyable read. It is not Heinlein’s best, but it is a very good novel. It found it to be incredibly uplifting and fun. In addition, this novel managed to accomplish what many great works of literature have tried but failed and that is describe perfectly an infinitely complex creature called....the cat.

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