Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Number of the Beast - Robert A. Heinlein

1980; 511 pages. Genre : Sci-Fi. New Author? : No. Overall Rating : 3½*/10.

The Universe consists of Time and Space. Space has three dimensions, so why shouldn't Time have three also? That's what Dr. Jacob Burroughs postulates, and in testing it, he discovers Time- and Dimension-Travel, and builds a device to do just that. He, his daughter, and their respective spouses set off to explore limitless other worlds and times. And hopefully avoid the "Black Hats" who keep trying to blow them up.

What's To Like...
There's plenty of Chrono- and Dimension-Hopping.  There are also visits to fictional places such as Oz and Lilliput.  Maybe this is where Jasper Fforde got his idea for the Thursday Next series.

There's lots of sex - straight, gay, group, free-love, incest; you name it.  The only one Heinlein doesn't seem comfortable with was male gay sex.  There's also a lot of nudity.  NBD in a book, but if this ever gets made into a movie, they won't have to spend much of wardrobes.

For us geeks, there is a lot of math and physics, but it won't overwhelm non-geeks.  The two main women are strong characters; Heinlein would've supported ERA.

Alas, there is also a lot wrong with this book.  There is way too much dialogue, extended stretches of slow spots, only sporadic action, and an obsession with computer program commands.  The title is misleading, and our four heroes are just way too advanced over everyone they meet.  The storyline wanders, sputters, stalls, and finally sinks into senility.

Kewlest New Word...
An acronym, actually.  TANSTAAFL.  Which means "there ain't no such thing as a free lunch".  Really.  Hey, there's even a Wikipedia entry on it.

    "Gosh, what big words you know.  Mister.  I mean 'Doctor.'"
    "'Mister is correct.  On this campus it is swank to assume that everyone holds a doctorate.  Even I have one.  Ph.D.  Do you know what that stands for?"
    "Doesn't everybody?  I have a Ph.D., too.  'Piled Higher and Deeper.'"  (pg. 12)

    She was dressed, if  "dressed" is the word.  "Wheeeewhoo!"
    "Like it?"
    "I can't wait to get into mine.  It is the most indecent outfit I've ever seen, with no other purpose than to excite lewd, libidinous, lascivious, licentious, lecherous, lustful longings in the loins of Lotharios."
    "Isn't that the purpose of clothing?"  (pg. 456)

"'Time is out of joint, O curséd sprite, that I was ever picked to set it right.'"  (pg. 358)
The Number of the Beast was written late in Heinlein's life; right after he had recovered from some serious health problems.  It has the "feel" of an author waxing wistful over his career and wanting to give account of it.

He starts by showing you his childhood influences - Edgar Rice Burroughs' Barzoom series, Oz, Wonderland, Lilliput, and a couple other fictional settings that I was unacquainted with.  Then he gives a gracious nod to all sorts of other writers that he admires, with only a slight self-deprecating mention of himself.

Finally he incorporates all the major characters from his biggest novels into the last third of the story.  Lazarus Long is here, and you can grok him to your heart's content.

So this is primarily Robert A. Heinlein writing for Robert A. Heinlein.  Heinlein Trekkie-types (I'd call them 'heinies' but that's pejorative; so maybe 'heinlies' will do) who have memorized all his works will enjoy this nostalgic stroll.  For everyone else though, TNOTB is a skipper.  3½ Stars, but lots more if you're a Heinlie.

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