SF Academy 03 – The Door Into Summer by Robert Heinlein

Often I plan out which books I’ll read next well in advance, like a Netflix queue, but with a tangle stack of actual objects lined-up to read. This time at the last minute I grabbed this one rather than the Robert Charles Wilson book I’d planned on.

The Door Into Summer was originally released in 1957. Hey, check out this old paperback cover. Remember when books used to look like that? If you’re old like me, you probably do. This was somewhere near the author’s peak, and this novel is one of Heinlein’s best-regarded works.

It’s a story of a clever engineer named Daniel Boone Davis (though he goes by Dan or DB most of the time), and Heinlein certainly gave him the name “Daniel Boone” in reference to the American folk hero & pioneer. DB possesses a good, confident nature and seems mostly unrattled by the screwing-over dealt him by his fiancee and his business partner. He’s unhappy enough about things, though, that he decides to go in for “the long sleep,” a hibernation newly offered in the 1970 in which the novel begins.

I don’t want to reveal the convolutions of the aforementioned screwing-over, or the jumps forward and backward in time between 1970 and 2000 involved in DB’s efforts to set things right. But this is a cracking good tale, old fashioned in some details and yet fresh and futuristic even a half-century after it was written. Many of the other characters are better-drawn than the protagonist, and some of the more interesting parts of the novel are told in summary, such as Dan’s quick recap of all he learned after coming out of the sleep. This is a book packed with ideas, and it’s a great example of why Heinlein was so influential over the science fiction field for such a long period of time.

One aspect of the story that “feels” a bit strange is Dan’s very close relationship with a girl of eleven or so. They start off as buddies, though young Ricky clearly has a crush on Dan. At some point, after a bit of time-shifting to adjust the relative ages, Dan sets his sights on her as a sort of romantic partner. Without spoiling anything, there’s at least one fairly queasy sequence in which Dan fixates on the little girl as a potential future partner while she’s still a little girl. I wonder if this part raised many eyebrows back in the fifties?

Another surprising element is Heinlein’s inclusion of a nudist couple who become Dan’s friends. The manner in which Heinlein portrays the members of this nudist colony is somewhere between affectionate and admiring, and the only really “good” characters in the book, other than Dan and Ricky, are the two nudists who befriend Dan. There’s nothing too racy in the nudist colony part of the book, but it’s surprising that an author as plainly conservative as Heinlein would be so cool about an edgy issue so long ago. Then again, conservative meant something different in those days, and Heinlein might better be called libertarian. And of course I haven’t read Stranger in a Strange Land yet (scandal!) so maybe I’m the last to discover Heinlein was actually a swinging wildman.

I recommend this book highly, and it’s probably one of the top two or three dozen favorite science fiction books I’ve read. Really a lot of fun, and as I mentioned in an earlier post here, it made me grin quite a few times at one turn or another. That quality, fun, is something I value very highly in a story, and this one’s got it.

The Door into Summer, on amazon.com

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