The Door Into Summer

Door into summerWhile it’s hard to pick a favorite book among Robert Heinlein’s works, The Door Into Summer is most definitely right there near the top.

It’s sort of a Count of Monte Cristo meets H.G. Wells’s The Sleeper Awakes, if I had to come up with a capsule description of it.

Daniel Boone Davis, the narrator/protagonist of The Door Into Summer, is the inventor of several revolutionary labor saving devices (we would call them robots) in the year 1970. (The book was written in 1956, so 1970 is well into the “future”.) While he’s a brilliant engineer, he has no business sense, so his partners end up forcing him out of the company. This is doubly upsetting because one of those partners is his best friend and the other is his fiancé. The rest of the novel involves him trying to right the wrongs done to him.

Two of the other main characters are worth mentioning. There’s the 11 year old step-daughter of his partner; her name is Frederica or Little Ricky (remember Heinlein wrote this in 1956). And then there’s Petronius the Arbiter or Pete, Dan’s cat; Pete might be the most fully developed character in the book.

I’m not going to say anything more about the plot, and should you decide to read it, I strongly suggest you don’t read any blurbs or capsule descriptions of it, as they tend to give away too many plot points. I first read this book during my teenage years, and I had absolutely no idea of where it was headed, and I think that’s the best way to encounter it. Let Heinlein reveal the twists as they occur.

Damon Knight, in his book about science fiction In Search of Wonder, listed all the problems with Heinlein’s plotting in this novel and then concluded: “I loved it.” Alexei Panshin, in his book about Heinlein’s fiction Heinlein in Dimension, concluded simply: “A good story.” 

I must have read this book at least three times during the 60s and 70s (that’s 1960s and 1970s, thank you), but I’m sure that the last time was sometime in the 1970s. So when I re-read it a few days ago, it was like coming back to an old friend. It still holds up well as a story, although some of the attitudes are decidedly from the 1950s.

I just want to add a word or two about the technology.

The main extrapolation that Heinlein uses to propel his story is suspended animation. For an exorbitant fee, you can have yourself put to sleep and your body kept at just above the freezing level for an indefinite or predetermined period of time. So if you’re suffering from an incurable illness, you might want to become a Sleeper until such time as medical science can cure said illness.

But because the novel is set in the “future” from the time it was written in 1956, Heinlein populates his novel with lots of other speculative technologies that are either incidental or irrelevant to the plot. For example, in the year 1970 he has self-driving cars! It’s only a throwaway line and the self-driving cars are never mentioned again:

“Los Angeles traffic was too fast and too slashingly murderous for me to be really happy under automatic control; I wanted to redesign their whole installation—it was not a really modern “fail safe.” 

But in the year 2000 he describes some things that I’d really like to have: Sticktite—a replacement for zippers that really works. Oh, and they’ve cured the common cold!

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