on September 7, 2014
I bought this book at a yard sale, because of Heinlein's reputation, and it sat, unread, in our beach cottage for a few years. A few days ago I finally picked it up. And devoured it in record time. For all his shortcomings, which I will get to, Heinlein knew how to tell a compelling story. You can't put the book down because you want to find out what happens next, and how it will all turn out. But once I found out what happens next, and how it all turns out, I was left with a feeling of having frittered away several unproductive hours of my life.
I am not a science fiction fan but occasionally read the "classic" authors to see if any of them paint a recognizable picture of the world which we now inhabit. Heinlein, ranked among the best of the breed, doesn't even come close. This book was written in the 1950s and is set in the years 1970 and 2000, i.e. Heinlein's future and our past and he got virtually everything wrong. He completely missed the Buckminster Fuller "do more with less" principle which gave birth to the transistor and its relentlessly shrinking progeny. In Heinlein's 21st Century the revolutionary labor saving device his protagonist has invented is based on the cathode ray tube. In his mythical future we've ridden rocket ships to other planets, use robots to do our housework and menial office tasks, wear plastic clothes, read glossy newspapers (whose pages turn by a mere touch) but still have to write a check to get cash from our bank account. The most imaginative change this 1950s genius could conjure up for the year 2000 was that of movies becoming "grabbies." (Heinlein doesn't bother to describe what a grabbie is, he merely notes the name change.)
The biggest miss, the one on which the plot is built, is cryogenics. In Heinlein's imaginary world of 1970 the practice is already almost routine. You can voluntarily go to an insurance company and arrange to have your body put in cold storage ("cold sleep") and reactivated at a more convenient time. Like 30 years in the future. It's sort of a one-way time travel. By 2001 a mad scientist has devised a method of two way time travel. Sound familiar? It's the same old claptrap science fiction writers, and movie-makers, have been peddling since the days of Jules Verne.
Truly imaginative fantasists - like Ray Bradbury & Philip K. Dick - have the ability to think (or, rather, create) out of the box, Their fictional environments might not resemble those with which we are familiar, or ever will be familiar, yet they are depicted so vividly we emotionally inhabit them. These strange worlds aren't factual but they are real. In The Door to Summer, even things we can accept as factual have an air of unreality. Heinlein's characters are cardboard, their dialogue rings hollow, and their actions are predictably melodramatic. The most convincing thing in this book is the protagonist's relationship with his cat, Petronius.
The essential problem, IMHO, is that Heinlein's art is basically cerebral. He doesn't write from his heart and gut but with his head. He delights in long (and to me, boring) depictions of engineering principals and their future application. And even here he goes up a blind alley. None of the revolutionary inventions his protagonist purportedly created in 1970, to make the world a more comfortable place, exists today. Nor are likely to exist in the future. The most imaginative thing about The Door Into Summer is the metaphor embodied in the title, and that is explained in the first few pages of the book. So what we are left with is an absorbing, but basically empty, science fiction potboiler that is past its shelf life.
I initially picked this book because of its time travel aspect but discovered it is rich with other devices. Heinlein wrote it in 1957 but positions the action mostly in 1970, 2000 and 2001. What is very curious is setting the action after a limited nuclear war establishing an interesting backdrop and references to that conflict. The lead character, Daniel Boone Davis, is delightfully caustic and full of fabulous observations about people and life, consider this one, "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.”
In addition to time travel there is the invention of advanced robots and the use of suspended animated long sleeps. The author winds these science fiction favourites together into a story that includes corporate intrigue and a more than creepy romantic angle. The latter is cleverly dealt with through the wonders of time travel. At its heart this is a tale of revenge and indictment of people's greed and envy. The novel's catalyst was an observation made by Heinlein's wife when the family cat refused to leave their house, "he's looking for a door into summer."
on January 12, 2004
When you hang on to a book through three decades, three trans-continental moves and various other tidal forces such as marriage and kids you either a) are very possesive about books (guilty) or b) you have a book worth hanging on to - one of those that is lovingly packed for a move well before the last-minute frenzy to shove everything into boxes and one that makes 'home' out of wherever those boxes are unpacked.
Heinlein wrote simply a ton of excellent science fiction and his place in the pantheon of that genre is so assured as to be fundamental. So when a lot of people, and check the number of reviews on this well-aged book, say it might be one of his best it's worth at a minimum a second look.
In this story you get not just time travel, cryogenic sleep, and robots, you get a quick tour through the meanings of friendship, love, deceit, the sweetness of affection and the bitterness of betrayal and if you don't have a good time along the way then there's really nothing I can think of to recommend for you with any likelihood of better luck. I'm sure there are lots of fine people who despise 'The Door Into Summer', I just don't know any of them.
My original copy has survived three decades in my possession; it's original cost was $1.50. Today's version costs a bit more but it'll have acid-free paper and probably better typeface and binding. The contents still outweigh the cost by a wide margin.
on September 22, 2003
At the time he was writing, Heinlein's books were so much better than all the others because he was so much smarter than most other writers. He thought things through first (which many others did too), but then he added an element that many other sf writers didn't (and some STILL don't): humanity.
Dan Davis, an inventor, narrates the story. He's a brilliant inventor and has come up with some pretty amazing gadgets, including Hired Girl, a robot who cleans, sweeps, vacuums, mops, and generally works all day long without supervision. Dan's problems begin mounting when he learns he's been betrayed by his partner. And to add insult to injury, Dan's fiancée is in on the betrayal as well. As if betrayal alone isn't enough, the two conspirators have Dan placed into a 30-year suspended animation. Dan wakes up 30 years later and is focused on one thing: revenge.
Now lots of authors could have taken the above premise and come up with an entertaining story. Heinlein did this and much more. He shows us that change (for individuals and for all humanity) is difficult, but not impossible. The future is full of challenges, but no matter how much technology changes, no matter how much language, currency, and trends change, man's basic instincts and attitudes remain constant.
Heinlein also tackles the implications of time travel better than anyone else from this period. (The book first appeared in 1957.) The problem of time travel is well thought out and logical. (Wish you could say that about every time travel story.) If you haven't read Heinlein, or if all you've read is 'Stranger in a Strange Land,' 'Starship Troopers,' or 'The Moon is a Harsh Mistress' (all great books), treat yourself to a fun, intelligent read from one of the true masters.
on September 8, 2003
I rank this among Heinlein's three absolutely magisterial novels (the other two being _Double Star_ and _The Moon is a Harsh Mistress_). Such judgments are notoriously subjective and controversial. But I feel safe in saying that any SF reader will find something to enjoy in this marvelous story.
It's part SF, part fairy tale, and part just plain good storytelling. Engineer/inventor Daniel Boone Davis and his feline companion Petronius the Arbiter are two of Heinlein's best-realized characters; the plot here is well-conceived and evenly, swiftly paced.
In case you haven't read it, I won't spoil it for you. The setup is that Davis has just been rooked by his best friend and his fiancee, and he's out to do something about it. What happens then is the story itself, so I won't tell you; I'll just say that the time-travel aspect is worked out every bit as neatly as in "By His Bootstraps", and the tale is one of Heinlein's most humane ever. I've read it more times than I can count, and there's a bit near the end that _always_ gets me. (You'll know what I mean when you get there.)
Heinlein wrote this at the peak of his talent. If you haven't read it yet, don't miss it.
on February 8, 2003
It was in my library's adult SF section, but its characters speak in the breezy style of his juvenile stories such as "Tunnel in the Sky" and "Starship Troopers". Anyway, it doesn't matter.
This was a good, fun story. But I was surprised that at least one reviewer below says it stands the test of time; I hope the reviewer doesn't mean that Heinlein accurately portrayed the future. Writing in 1946, his forecast for 1970 wasn't very accurate -- much less that for 2001: "grabbies" replacing movies, antigravity devices, and time travel, among other things. But not only is there no internet -- people actually place phone calls by speaking to an operator!
I'm not criticizing Heinlein for missing the mark in predicting a future 55 years ahead; who could do that with any degree of accuracy? I'm just saying that in reading this novel, one is reading about an imaginary second half of the 20th century that is very different from reality. But if you can step into that imaginary history, this is a good, enjoyable read.
on January 21, 2003
Dan the engineer does some inventing that would take a team of researchers years. He invents a household maid robot from commonly available parts. Here we are fifty years later and engineers still haven't figured that one out. Seriously underestimated are the computer sensors, controls and programs that are required for such a machine. I suppose he ought to be given credit for being aware of the possibilities of computer controls in the 1950s when computers were huge vacuum tube devices. Transistors hadn't yet been invented, or at least not well known. He didn't foresee the end of tubes. His computer memory was built of hypothesized on memory tubes. Oh well. Despite his depiction of electronically controlled robots, his far future engineers still used slide rules, forgetting that calculation is one of the easiest things for a computer to do, far easier than controlling a robot or drawing a plan.
His characters were pretty much one dimension. Heinlein never did learn to be very good at characters even years later. The plot is interesting for all the techo geeks. He gets swindled out of his company by an evil woman and deposited in 30-year time suspension "long sleep." She looks him up later though she's now old and he's still young. I got a laugh at the vision of 2001, the year he returns to life. Many things have changed but in ways he didn't imagine. We do have lots of computers, but no robot maids, nor FTL space travel, nor time travel. There never was W.W. III, for example. The business swindles are hard to follow. There is a humorous moment when Dan "drops from the sky" into a nudist resort near Denver.
It's a fun read on an afternoon.
on November 18, 2002
This is a different kind of story. It starts simple enough, a hard working inventor who trusts his business associates implicitly, who has a quirky cat(aren't they all!), and who falls for a legal loophole trap in which his trusted associates take his hard earned company away from him. The science in this novel provides some twists to the story which even took me for surprise at the end. Cat lovers will laugh with understanding at this strong-willed, full-of-personality feline who is the key to understanding the temporal anomoly.
The setting, personalities, conversations are all richly described and told in such great form. While the ideas of 'Hired Girl' and other household robots didn't take off like this, the Jetsons-esque concept is very 50's, but fun to read. The time travel concept is something to think about, as well as the practicality problems associated with beliving the future will hold a better oppourtunity without making an investment to make it better. A book I will read again.
There have been many science fiction novels written about time travel, but The Door Into Summer is my pick for the greatest among them. It comes remarkably close to conveying the very theory of the subject in layman's terms. I'm not saying Heinlein's arguments are correct, but they darn near make sense. The experiment with the two coins and with the two guinea pigs (just one, actually) is fascinating, and Heinlein's introduction of several paradoxes in the protagonist's actual temporal dislocation lends his science even more believability. Time travel doesn't even enter into the pages of the first half of the novel (not directly, at least), but the whole story is totally engrossing from the very start. Dan is an engineer and a darn good one. His inventions have been designed with the view of easing the housework of women everywhere: Hired Girl cleans floor; Window Willie washes windows, and Flexible Frank, his newest creation, will be able to do just about anything around the house, from changing a diaper to washing dishes. Life seemed to be treating Dan pretty well. Then his fiancé and business partner swindle him out of their business, and he decides to take the Long Sleep (cryogenic suspended animation) for thirty years so that he can come back to chastise an ex-fiancé who will be thirty years older than he will be. Of course, he won't do it without his best friend Pete, his feisty, ginger ale-loving tomcat and true friend. He sends his remaining shares in the company he created to his partner's young daughter Ricky, his only other friend in the world, trying to make sure that those don't fall into the wrong hands as well. His only mistake is in confronting his traitorous friends one last time. He gets the Long Sleep all right, but he wakes up in 2000 without any money and without Pete. He starts trying to find Ricky and start a new life, but he eventually, prompted by subtle clues to things that will have taken place, works up a plan to journey back in time and change things-of course, he won't really be changing things because they have actually already happened. It's so much easier to time travel when you know everything you will have done before doing it.
I love this novel. It's brilliant the way he works in clues to Dan's future past, and Heinlein's discussion of time travel is enough to make anyone a fanatic about the subject. When I think about time travel, I continue to think of this novel and its simple experimental analogies of coins and guinea pigs. It's mind-boggling yet completely comprehensible. I also love animals, and good old Pete is one of the most memorable feline characters in the universe of fiction. Finally, the concept of the title is well-nigh epiphanous (if I may coin a word). Dan explains how Pete would make him open every door in his house whenever it snowed, convinced that behind one of those doors it will be summer time. Dan describes all of his adventures as his own search for the Door Into Summer. The only possible explanation I can formulate as to why this novel did not win the Hugo for best science fiction novel of 1957 is the fact that Heinlein won the award the previous year for Double Star and could not comfortably be given the award two years in a row. The Door Into Summer is much better than Double Star; in fact, it is much better than all but a handful of science fiction novels ever published.
on February 18, 2002
At least until the group of books he wrote very late in his career, Heinlein tackled the theme of time travel very rarely, but when he did, most notably in "By His Bootstraps" and "...All You Zombies", the results were exemplary. With this book, Heinlein not only deals with time travel in a logically consistent manner, he manages to foresee CAD (computer aided drafting), the equivalent of Velcro for clothing, cryogenics applied as a method people might use to freeze themselves hoping for later medical advances to cure their ills, and the proliferation of robotics down to the household level. This last prediction hasn't come true yet, but it's at least on the horizon. In all, a remarkable set of technological predictions. But these are just side points to an excellent story of love and betrayal, told in first person from the viewpoint of one Daniel Boone Davis, inventor, engineer, and totally naive in the ways of women.
It's this last trait that leads to all the troubles Davis faces, as he falls head-over-heels for the secretary he and his partner hire to help run their new business of making and marketing his Hired Girl robot. Naturally, the 'secretary' is a sharpie out to take the company for all she can get, and she and Davis' partner eventually manage to screw Davis royally, leaving him bitter and willing to take the 'Cold Sleep' treatment for 30 years to get away from the mess. Before going to sleep, however, he decides to talk to his partner one last time. The ensuing scene, with his partner and secretary being attacked by his cat Pete while he is drugged into immobility, is one of the most amusing and endearing 'fights' in all of SF. The 'fight', however valiant, is lost, and Davis ends up taking the cold sleep, to awake in the year 2000.
His impressions and problems for the that year, and how he eventually finds a way to travel back to the year 1970 in order to straighten out the problems with his former partner and secretary, form the balance of this fine adventure. Through all of this, Heinlein, most unusually for him, paints an extremely optimistic viewpoint, both for scientific advances and for human nature. Lacking in the heavy philosophy that so often characterizes his later works, it never the less has something important to say about the human condition, best exemplified by this quote: "I had taken a partner once before -- but, 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. There wasn't any way to be safe; just being alive was deadly dangerous...fatal. In the end."
A fun, fast read, and the characterization of Davis is excellent, a person you get to know and admire for all his block-headed stubbornness. The ending will probably bring tears to your eyes -- hopefully, yes, one of the doors of your house will be a Door into Summer, if you just keep trying doors.
This book probably missed out on a Hugo due to an accident of timing, as the 1957 World Science Fiction Convention was held in London and decided not to give out any Hugos for fiction. Perhaps it will be awarded a 'Retro' Hugo in 2007 - it deserves it.