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Why Heinlein may have thought 2x4's justified 
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Heinlein Biographer

Joined: Thu Apr 10, 2008 1:33 pm
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Post Why Heinlein may have thought 2x4's justified
I recently acquired a lot of Science Fiction Reviews dating from 1980 and the early 1980's. That was the leading fanzine of the time, and it consisted mostly of short book reviews, so it turns out to be a good sampling of general opinion of what was going on in the field then.

The first issue, dated February 1980, contained an advance review by a copyeditor? for the British firm that was bringing out The Number of the Beast -- several weeks in advance of the American issue because Fawcett-Columnbine couldn't get their act together.

Now, understand, I don't actually like TNOTB, and in fact I despise the character of Hilde "Sharpie" Corners, which makes it difficult for me to enjoy the remainder of the WAM series, but this review, which is fairly typical of one brand of SF fan, was so tin-eared and uncomprehending that it made me realize: THIS is what Heinlein thought he had to work with in terms of a readership within science fiction, and small wonder, then, that he took to using intellectual 2x4's so that even the intellectually dead could not avoid the evolution he was marking out.

And on the other hand, this review pretty clearly shows that the writer's problem is a matter of reading -- that he didn't actually "engage" with the book. ANY book is going to come off as pointless if you don't engage with it.

At any rate, here's the concluding "comment" section of the review:

Science Fiction Review IX:1 (34). early (pre-publication) Review by English copyeditor of The Number of the Beast. Pp. 10-12: “Come in Please, Number 666: Your Time is Up: A Review of Robert Heinlein’s The Number of the Beast” by Peter Pinto. More than half the review is plot summary, which he characterizes as thin and unconvincing. He irritatingly and adolescenty avoids capitalization throughout, making it odd to read. Quoting his “comment” concluding section:
Comment:
Although I found noting original or exciting in the plot (such as it is), it does offer enormous scope for adventure and the development of characters’ personalities as they survive and interact. Unfortunately, none of the endless opportunities [editor’s? interpolation: [is/are]] taken: all five “major characters” [[Zebediah, Deety, Hilda [sic], Jacob, and Gay Deceiver -- Zeb’s car]] are reflections of the same person. Presumably Heinlein, since they all spout forth the ideas set out in previous books -- sometimes in the identical phraseology -- indistinguishably from one another and equally unbelievably.
In fact, the final celebration is advertised as “the first centennial convention of the intrauniversal society for Eschatological Pantheistic multiple-ego Solipsism.” Could all six hundred and eighty-six pages have been intended
as one long, drawn-out joke?
Towards the end of the book Lazarus Long, his twin sisters, his household computer and Maureen Smith are added to the list of major talking parts -- but they, too, are interchangeable with one another and the first group.
Opportunities for development of this one character are bound to be limied: all conflicts being between reflections of itself reduces them down -- once the necessities for life are sufficient to provide for all -- to failures in
communication. The sole possibility for the role of antagonist -- the mysterious alien -- is abandoned as soon as created . . . possibly because of the enotmous [sic] effort that would be demanded of Heinlein by re-inventing manichaeism [sic], or catharism, or simply because Heinlein can no longer put himself in another person’s shoes. His utterly unbelievable treatment of Deety and Hilda as women -- people -- is just one facet of this latter problem.
The resultant overall effect is amazingly similar to John Brunner’s realization of catalepsy from the inside (the “cataleptic” groupings of Brunner’s excellent novel The Whole Man, a.k.a. Telepathist): a closed fantasy world in
which nothing harms, happens to, or intrudes in any way on, the central character and his “real” reflections, cardboard cut-out spear carriers walk on stage to die, or to walk off again.
But even allowing for Heinlein’s apparent convictions that we are all “the other end of the the same earthworm” (or, possibly, that only he exists -- and everyone else is either him in disguise or not a real person),
remarkably little happens in The Number of the Beast. There are only to “real” conflicts in the six hundred odd pages -- one of which is evaded by Lazarus Long’s fooling everyone into believing he’s given in when he has not -- and both of which arise from the failure of the “characters” to realize they are identical. The first conflict arises from the inability of the four individualists who flee Earth in “Gay Deceiver” to shake down into a tight crewsurvival/combat unit. All are sure they know better than the others -- and sometimes one is on top, sometimes another. The other conflict occurs, or
fails to occur, when the sky yacht Dora and Gay Deceiver meet and their captains fail to agree who has precedence.
That’s nothing like enough to write some two hundred thousand words around. And since all the ideas have had interesting stories written around them,The Number of the Beast is an object lesson to those who proclaim “SF is about ideas, to hell with characterization and style.”
I hope you’ll take notice of this review. As I said, I don’t expect to put people off reading a new Heinlein -- but the only way people in the trade will ever change their ideas of SF, and which authors to stock, is when the old
known names cease to sell. There are plenty of excellent new novels, new authors[,] and new points of view coming into print -- and a couple of massive “bombs” from t he author the trade recognizes is the only thing that will get the new titles distributed.
Borrow your copy from the library -- you probably won’t bother to finish it.
Why “the number of the beast”? Oh -- for no very good reason Heinlein has decided that the number of possible continua is six to the power six, all to the power six again, (66)6. And Revelations reveals 666 to be the number of the beast.
As I said at the very beginning of this piece --“: Come in please, number 666: your time is up”
You’re boring us.
Boxed: Geis Note: The above review was possible because, as editorial
consultant to Hamlyn Books, Peter Pinto was able to read a ms. copy of
the new Heinlein novel. This review first appeared in Feetnotes #4,
Peter’s fascinating personal journal. His addredd: 42 Breakspears Road,
London SE4, England.


Sun Jun 27, 2010 8:29 am
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