|Alexei Panshin's The Abyss of
Time Enough for Love, Part III
The final Anson MacDonald story, "Waldo" (Astounding, August 1942), uniquely among Heinlein's pre-war stories, is not a story of failure, or a story of success by luck or fiat. It is an honest success.
At the same time, it is not a solution of Heinlein's problem. How can this be?
Here is the story of "Waldo":
A future society powers itself by general wireless broadcast of radiation. This radiation is making everyone sick. Everyone who does not wear a lead-lined overcoat--and only one doctor who realizes the situation does--suffers from fatigue and malaise. No one has energy enough to exercise. More and more children are "bookish." Athletic records are not being extended or even matched.
At the same time, the air cars that draw on the generally broadcast power are failing. The great conglomerate, North American Power-Air, is distressed and worried that the great underground cities that draw on the broadcast power will inexplicably fail next.
They believe that only one man can possibly solve their problem, Waldo Farthingwaite-Jones. Waldo is a sick genius. He suffers from myasthenia gravis. He has no muscular strength at all. Waldo has invented remote-control hands to do his work for him. He has removed himself from the home of his wealthy parents to an isolated space station, which he calls "Freehold" and others call "Wheelchair." There, no strain is put on his muscles. He lives there alone with his pets, communicating with others remotely, touching things on Earth only through his mechanical hands, which are called "waldoes" after him. Waldo fancies himself independent of Earth.
Waldo is in personal contact with only one man, the doctor worried about the rise of general myasthenia in the population. North American Power-Air contacts Waldo through the doctor to solve their problem for them. Waldo at first refuses, but is convinced by the doctor who demonstrates his dependence on society to him. Moreover, the doctor insists that any solution to the failure of the air cars also eliminate the broadcast radiation.
Here we have an unprecedented double problem. Nothing that Waldo knows leads him to believe that they can be solved by a common answer. They do not seem to be problems of the same order. And, in fact, he is unable to solve either by any means with which he is familiar. Eventually he must admit--to himself if no one else--that his resources are insufficient. He, Waldo-as-he-is, can simply not solve what must be solved.
But Waldo hears of someone who seemingly can solve the problem of the failed air cars. This man is an ancient Pennsylvania hex doctor. He has repaired the engine of an air car by making it operate in an unprecedented manner. No one else can repair an air car engine. No one else can tell Waldo how the altered engine works--though one rational man has learned how to duplicate the hex doctor's effect by going mad:
"Hens will crow and cocks will lay. You are here and I am there. Or maybe not. Nothing is certain. Nothing, nothing, NOTHING is certain! Around and around the little ball goes, and where it stops nobody knows. Only I've learned how to do it."
"How to do what?"
"How to make the little ball stop where I want it to."
Waldo needs the aid of the hex doctor, Gramps Schneider, but Schneider will not come to him, will not even speak to him on a tv-phone. If Waldo wants to approach this particular Master, he must go to Earth, which means grave risk to his life and perhaps his sanity. But for a greater good than himself, Waldo goes to visit Gramps Schneider.
He is flown to Earth in a supportive water bed/iron lung and carried in to see Schneider. Waldo is ordinarily a nasty and abusive egotist, but in Schneider's presence he is mild as milk. Schneider settles him down, feeds him coffee and cake, and tells Waldo what he wants to know:
Schneider says that to fix the machines (and to repair Waldo's flabby body), it is necessary to reach into "the Other World" for power.
"One of the ancients said that everything either is or is not. That is less than true, for a thing can both be and not be. With practice one can see it both ways. Sometimes a thing which is for this world is a thing which is not for the Other World. Which is important, since we live in the Other World."
This advice sounds very like the teaching that Carlos Castaneda received from his mentor, the Yaqui sorcerer, don Juan, as reported in a series of recent books. Schneider tells Waldo that the air cars have failed because of the doubt and weakness of their pilots.
"Hugh Donald," Schneider went on, "was tired and fretting. He found one of the bad truths."
"Do you mean," Waldo said slowly, "that McLeod's ship failed because he was worried about it?"
Waldo comes away from his encounter with Schneider with the power he has asked for, the power to alter the ships to draw on the Other World's energy. But this conflicts with everything he thinks he knows. Eventually, to keep his sanity, he must conclude that the world is as it is because we believe it is so. "The world was flat before geographers decided to think of it otherwise."
And: "Orderly Cosmos, created out of Chaos--by Mind!"
This is a purely mystical conclusion.
Waldo determines that he can make the Other World, whatever it is, behave as he wants by impressing his picture of it on everyone else. He says:
"I think of it as about the size and shape of an ostrich egg, but nevertheless a whole universe, existing side by side with our own, from here to the farthest star."
To its inhabitants, if any, it might seem to be hundreds of millions of light years around; to him it was an ostrich egg, turgid to bursting with power.
And with this concept in mind, Waldo is not only able to solve both his society's problems at a stroke by trading the power of the Other World for the conventional power that is making men weary, sick and doubtful, but he is able as well to heal himself. He makes himself slim and trim, and turns himself into an exquisite professional dancer and masterful brain surgeon.
Here is a problem honestly solved. Waldo confronts a higher one than himself, unselfishly, at the risk of death. He evolves. He solves his society's problems and his own problem. All as it should be. But this solution is not Heinlein's solution.
It is not Heinlein's solution because Waldo starts as something less than the all-around competent man that Heinlein is and at the end is willing to settle for being a dancer and surgeon--societal roles like the one of "science fiction writer"-- that Heinlein has assumed. But Waldo is content and Heinlein is not.
In fact, what we see in "Waldo" is a process that Heinlein himself has already undergone. When Heinlein was a naval officer, he was something like Waldo--aloof, semi-independent of society, a stranger to the variety of society. Like Waldo, Heinlein was carried out of his state of separation on a stretcher, so to speak, when he developed tuberculosis and was retired from the Navy. Like Waldo, Heinlein survived his state of helplessness and approach to death and thereafter expanded himself to assume a variety of societal roles. The air of morbidity that surrounds "Waldo" may be a reflection of Heinlein's own past.
There is confirmation that this is a version of the mid-twenties crisis that Heinlein has successfully passed in the confrontation scene. When Heinlein writes of the evolution he has not made but earnestly desires to make, he evades confrontation. His characters avoid their High Ones, as in "By His Bootstraps" and Methuselah's Children. And Heinlein must doubt the good will of the High Ones, as he does again and again. In writing of this earlier evolution that Heinlein has successfully made, he has no doubt or fear. Gramps Schneider is totally unfearsome. He invites Waldo into his home, pats him on the shoulder, serves him coffee and cake and tells him everything he wants to know.
Everything that Waldo wants to know--and more. And that more is what Heinlein wants to know, but cannot recognize even when he tells it to himself. Waldo is content to draw on the power of the Other World to make himself a human being like other human beings, an above-average dancer and surgeon. But that is only a partial use of the power of the Other World. It is merely all that Waldo feels impelled by necessity to demand.
But he doesn't have to settle for being merely a dancer and surgeon. He could be anything. He could be someone like Gramps Schneider--he could be a Perfect Master, or perhaps even a High One, himself. But neither Waldo nor Heinlein is quite ready for that. Even though Schneider's last words in a letter to Waldo are: "The power of the Other World is his who would claim it--"
And there is further confirmation of the inadequacy for Heinlein of the "solutions" offered by Beyond This Horizon and "Waldo" in the contrast between these stories and those of 1941."Universe"/"Common Sense" looks for the largest symbolic answer to the meaning of life that it can, an answer completely outside the bounds of society and the given world. It forces that answer, but the answer itself is not a compromise. "Elsewhen" and "Lost Legacy" are answers of the same order, given by fiat. "They" and "By His Bootstraps" are stories of what we must take to be outright failure, but there is no compromise in them. They are small tragedies. On the other hand, Beyond This Horizon is a compromise. lt asks the same questions as before--"What is the meaning and purpose of life?"--but it settles for its answer. It offers the dubious proposition that continuing search for the meaning of life, in this incarnation and in the next, if there is one, is enough in itself to give life meaning.
"Waldo" compromises on both question and answer. lt asks: "How can a misanthropic invalid genius find happiness?" And its answer, dubious and desperate, is: "Tap dance-ballet, brain surgery, fame and friendship are sufficient to give life meaning."
Heinlein knew better than this. That he knew better is plain in the final story he published before he was claimed by World War II, the short novel "The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag" by John Riverside (Unknown Worlds, October 1942).
"Jonathan Hoag" is an incoherent shambles of a story, and not accidentally. Beyond This Horizon and "Waldo" are Heinlein's attempts to be sound and sensible about life and the search for meaning. And they are sound and sensible--but only at the cost of excluding important and essential meaning. "Jonathan Hoag" is the expression of what these sound stories exclude. It is not at all sensible, but it is intensely meaningful. It is a story of terror.
lt has been Heinlein's practice to make his heroes the smartest, swiftest, most gifted and able all-around competent men that he can imagine. He has armed them for their encounters with the unknown with the best weapons that he can give them, and he has allowed them to be contemptuous of ordinary folk who are not smart, swift, gifted and competent and able to work a slipstick. Hamilton Felix, with his ability to rule wild islands instantly, might serve as the exemplar. Their greatest weaknesses have tended to be ignorance and naivete, both correctable.
Uniquely, in "The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag," Heinlein's protagonist, a detective named Edward Randall, is not smart, gifted or even competent. He is a very ordinary man, a small-timer.
Throughout the story, for no reason that bears examination, Randall is threatened, frightened, terrorized, toyed with, lied to, hypnotized and confused. He is dragged into the mysterious world that lurks behind mirrors by cruel, ugly sneering monsters who put him on a large table, sit around it and haze him unmercifully. His only ally is his wife, and she is treated similarly. In fact, their love and fear for each other is exploited without shame or limit.
The world becomes a very uncertain place for Edward Randall. Nothing whatsoever can be counted upon.
He is offered two mutually exclusive "explanations" for the state of the world and the nature of life. The monsters say this:
"In the Beginning," Stoles stated, "there was the Bird." He suddenly covered his face with his hand; all the others gathered around the table did likewise.
The Bird--Randall felt a sudden vision of what those two simple words meant when mouthed by this repulsive fat man; no soft and downy chick, but a bird of prey, strong-winged and rapacious unwinking eyes, whey-colored and staring--purple wattles--but most especially he saw its feet, bird feet, covered with yellow scales, fleshless and taloned and foul from use. Obscene and terrible--
Stoles uncovered his face. "The Bird was alone. Its great wings beat the empty depths of space where there was none to see. But deep within It was the Power and the Power was Life. It looked to the north when there was no north; It looked to the south when there was no south; east and west It looked, and up and down. Then out of the nothingness and out of Its Will It wove the nest.
"The nest was broad and deep and strong. In the nest It laid one hundred eggs. It stayed on the nest and brooded the eggs, thinking Its thoughts, for ten thousand thousand years. When the time was ripe It left the nest and hung it about with lights that the fledglings might see. It watched and waited.
"From each of the hundred eggs a hundred Sons of the Bird were hatched--ten thousand strong. Yet so wide and deep was the nest there was room and to spare for each of them--a kingdom apiece and each was a king--king over the things that creep and crawl and swim and fly and go on all fours, things that had been born from the crevices of the nest, out of the warmth and the waiting.
"Wise and cruel was the Bird, and wise and cruel were the Sons of the Bird. For twice ten thousand thousand years they fought and ruled and the Bird was pleased. Then there were some who decided that they were as wise and strong as the Bird Itself. Out of the stuff of the nest they created creatures like unto themselves and breathed in their nostrils, that they might have sons to serve them and fight for them. But the sons of the Sons were not wise and strong and cruel, but weak and soft and stupid. The Bird was not pleased.
"Down It cast Its Own Sons and let them be chained by the softly stupid-- Stop fidgeting, Mr. Randall! I know this is difficult for your little mind, but for once you really must think about something longer than your nose and wider than your mouth, believe me!
"The stupid and the weak could not hold the Sons of the Bird; therefore, the Bird placed among them, here and there, others more powerful, more cruel, and more shrewd, who by craft and cruelty and deceit could circumvent the attempts of the Sons to break free. Then the Bird sat back, well content, and waited for the game to play itself out.
"The game is being played."
If this were not enough, the other explanation is this:
"Once there was a race, quite unlike the human race--quite. I have no way of describing to you what they looked like or how they lived, but they had one characteristic you can understand: they were creative. The creating and enjoying of works of art was their occupation and their reason for being. I say 'art' advisedly, for art is undefined, undefinable, and without limits. I can use the word without fear of misusing it, for it has no exact meaning. There are as many meanings as there are artists. But remember that these artists are not human and their art is not human.
"Think of one of this race, in your terms--young. He creates a work of art, under the eye and the guidance of his teacher. He has talent, this one, and his creation has many curious and amusing features. The teacher encourages him to go on with it and prepare it for the judging... The Sons of the Bird were the dominant feature of the world, at first ....
"The teacher did not approve of the Sons of the Bird and suggested certain improvements in the creation. But the Artist was hasty or careless; instead of removing them entirely he merely--painted over them, made them appear to be some of the new creations with which He peopled His world.
"All of which might not have mattered if the work had not been selected for judging. Inevitably the critics noticed them; they were--bad art, and they disfigured the final work. There was some doubt in their minds as to whether or not the creation was worth preserving. That is why I am here."
It must be evident that this is not Heinlein's usual sort of thing. Not sensible. In no sense reassuring. But intensely meaningful, especially for this particular man, this writer, at this time.
For Edward Randall, of course, it is hellish. He is offered two mutually exclusive explanations of the world. Neither allows that life has much point for ordinary human beings. Either we live in the Bird's nest and are the creation of the Sons of the Bird, or we are the creations of a beginning Artist and the only points in our favor are that we eat and copulate--amusing idiosyncrasies. And either way, our future is uncertain. The Sons of the Bird, if they are right, are on the point of bursting their bonds and doing all sorts of filthy and hideous things to us. And if Jonathan Hoag is right, the art critics may judge us wanting and wipe us out at any moment.
A great future!
All Edward Randall can do is retire from Chicago, the not altogether inappropriate setting of this story, to a place in the country and wait for The End, whichever and whatever. He and his wife eliminate mirrors from their house, and every night when they go to sleep they handcuff their wrists together and hope they won't be parted.
And, on this note, Robert Heinlein turned to the business of World War II.
7. The Man Who Survived
Robert Heinlein survived the war, but only at great personal cost. Like Robert Monroe, the most anxious of the students in "Elsewhen" to explore the possibilities of eternity, he had been turned into a gnomish engineer and put to work developing airplanes to defend his attacked nation--a remarkable instance of prescience.
Another cost--for this work must be reckoned a cost--was Heinlein's marriage. In 1942 it had been reported by a magazine editor that Heinlein's alter ego, Lyle Monroe, and his wife believed themselves to have an almost telepathic rapport. But during World War ll, the bonds--or the handcuffs--that united them were broken, and after the war they were soon divorced.
Heinlein had been expecting his crisis to be settled by World War II, one way or another. This is clear in the stories from 1941 and 1942, particularly in their increasing desperation as the war approached. And, as his 1941 Guest of Honor speech had made clear, he had not really expected to be a writer after his crisis:
I don't suppose I'll be writing very much longer. Things shaping up the way they are, I'll probably have other things that I'll have to do ... and I may not come back to it ...
The greatest cost to Heinlein of World War ll may simply have been that his expected evolution never occurred. His preparation was for nothing. He did not come away from World War II with something better to be than a science fiction writer.
What a missing stair!
After the war. he was slow to return to writing. And when he did return, at last, in 1947, it was not with stories of search in Astounding, but with simple (even simplistic) Future History stories of the near future in The Saturday Evening Post. And it was with a series of juvenile novels published by Scribners at the rate of one a year from 1947 through 1958. And it was with the script of the movie Destination Moon in 1950. The post-war Heinlein had largely abandoned his search, and with it he abandoned the almost magical quality that had so clearly separated him from all other science fiction writers before the war. The post-war Heinlein wrote, in large part, to make money. And he was, at best, in the years of the Scribners juveniles, chief among equals among science fiction writers rather than without peer.
The twelve juvenile books for Scribners were effectively forecast in the 1941 speech in Denver. These books do not involve themselves in the search for the meaning of life. Instead, they concentrate on the problems of growing up and holding onto one's sanity in the face of trouble.
The means of holding onto one's sanity, Heinlein had said, is to learn to distinguish between facts and non-facts. ln these books, Heinlein presents fact after fact from a secure position of omniscience.
In the 1941 speech, Heinlein had said:
So far as astronomy is concerned, I've never seen anything that surpassed, for a popular notion of the broad outlines of the kind of physical world that we live in, than John Campbell's series that appeared in Astounding. When did they start?--Julie Unger can tell us, I think [from floor: "1936”]--ran on for 15, 16 issues, something of the sort, his articles on the solar system. I've always been sorry that Campbell didn't go on from there and cover stellar astronomy, galactic astronomy, and some of the other side fields. But even at that, anybody that's read through that series by Campbell on the solar system will never again have a flat-world attitude--which most people do have.
In his Scribners juveniles, Heinlein concentrated on solar, stellar and galactic astronomy, gradually expanding his scope from the moon in the first book to other galaxies in the last. He gave a generation a useful education, doing fictively and rather better, what Campbell had once done in factual articles. Anybody who has read them will never again have a flat-world attitude.
But the chief lesson of these books is survival. As one of them, Farmer in the Sky, has it:
I was thinking about the Schultzes and how good it was to find them alive, as we trudged over to our place. l told Dad that it was a miracle.
He shook his head. "Not a miracle. They are survivor types."
"What type is a survivor type?" I asked.
He took a long time to answer that one. Finally he said, "Survivors survive. l guess that is the only way to tell the survivor type for certain."
l said, "We're survivor types, too, in that case."
"Could be," he admitted. "At least we've come through this one."
The last of the Scribners juveniles is the most successful. It is as solid and sturdy a story as Heinlein has ever written. Have Space Suit--Will Travel (1958) begins in a backyard in the near future with a boy who does not know how to be a man. It proceeds to the moon, to Pluto, to a planet of the star Vega, and to a place somewhere in the Lesser Magellanic Cloud, one of our companion galaxies. In that unknown place, the hero is judged as a representative of the human race. If he is found wanting, the human race will be destroyed. But he defends the human race unselfishly, thinking not of himself at all. He concludes:
"Mr. Moderator--if the verdict is against us--can you hold off your hangmen long enough to let us go home? We know that you can send us home in only a few minutes."
The voice did not answer quickly. "Why do you wish this'? As I have explained, you are not personally on trial. It has been arranged to let you live."
"We know. We'd rather be home, that's all--with our people." Again a tiny hesitation. "It shall be done."
But the verdict is not against us. The hero is sent home to Earth with great gifts--the information that will allow us to damp out nuclear reactions at a distance, anti-gravity, time travel, new approaches to matter conversion. More than enough to keep us occupied.
What is most interesting, and indicative that it is subjective growth experiences that are being symbolized, is that all of the hero's adventures have taken place in no time at all. Effectively, he has never been away. But in that no time at all, his problems and society's problems have both been solved. The book concludes with the hero demonstrating his new manhood in action. He is no longer a boy.
Heinlein did not simply abandon his search. He made an attempt after the war to pick it up again in the novel Stranger in a Strange Land, which is closely related to the central scene in Beyond This Horizon.
Heinlein has said that his purpose in writing Stranger
... was to examine every major axiom of Western culture ... throw doubt on it--and, if possible--to make the antithesis of each axiom appear a possible and perhaps desirable thing--rather than unthinkable.
That is clearly an attempt to step outside the bounds and limitations of inherited assumption--just as in the stories before the war. In Stranger, the key perception is: "Thou art God." And that is truly a key perception, as we have seen.
But again, in Stranger as in Beyond This Horizon, the perception is qualified. "Thou art God"--except for those people who aren't, and there seem to be quite a few of them. These empty counters may be treated roughly or worse than roughly--like Edward Randall--without those who are God taking second thought. In other words, Heinlein's search again founders on the rocky shoal of ego. And this is confirmed by the silly destiny of Heinlein's chief character, Valentine Michael Smith. When he dies--"discorporates"-- Smith goes somewhere to Heaven where he is the chief and favored son of the Boss. He is equipped with wings and a halo--hardly a rejection of the axioms of Western culture--and put in charge of us and the pointless play that is our lives. No ultimate meaning here, but only exaltation of ego.
But what is most interesting about Stranger in a Strange Land is that Heinlein could not finish the book in the late Forties when he began it. He had to set it aside--incorporating material from its background in his third juvenile novel, Red Planet (1949)--and only eventually was able to finish it for publication in 1961.
ln the late Forties and through the Fifties, Heinlein wrote only six significant adult stories. His primary energies were invested in the juvenile novels. But those few adult stories, three short novels and three novels, are worth a brief look for their bearing on his search;
In "Jerry ls a Man" (Thrilling Wonder Stories, October 1947), Heinlein admitted a selectively bred anthropoid slave--a "neo-chimpanzee" worker with cataracts, splay feet, a limited ability to reason and speak, and a love for music--to the ranks of humanity, chiefly on the basis of his small musical talents. But Heinlein, as we have seen, was unable to sustain this admission of general worthiness in Stranger in a Strange Land.
"Gulf" (November-December 1949) was Heinlein's only story in Astounding between 1942 and 1956. It was written as a favor to fit a given title. "Gulf" might have been about anything, but Heinlein chose to make it about the gap between normal men and superior men: "homo novis, who must displace homo sapiens--is displacing him--because he is better able to survive than is homo sap."
Heinlein's hero is granted to be homo novis, New Man, a superman among supermen, and is given training to develop his abilities. This training for personal evolution occupies the largest part of the story. Then the hero and his chief tutor are sent out on a dangerous mission and are successful, but immediately killed. Heinlein tries to portray these deaths as a glorious sacrifice:
The letters on the metal marker read: TO THE MEMORY OF MR. AND MRS. JOSEPH GREENE WHO, NEAR THIS SPOT, DIED FOR ALL THEIR FELLOW MEN.
But we may ask--fellow men of which kind? In fact, the conclusion of the story is evidence that Greene is not a superman, that his training was a waste. He does not survive--as a New Man would. He does not evolve.
"Year of the Jackpot" (Galaxy, March 1952) presents us as the helpless victims of various cycles, driven by the dictates of cycles into mad behavior of one sort or another. At the end of the story, we are caught in the crunch of one last super-cycle. The sun, it seems, is about to go nova. Humanity does not evolve in the face of this crisis, and the conclusion of the story is: "THE END."
These are the short novels. Here are the novels:
The Puppet Masters (1951) is about a young man, a secret agent, whose remote manipulative boss is his father. Earth is invaded by demonic aliens, slugs that attach themselves to humans and direct them against their will. In the climactic confrontation, slugs and father are allied--no, united. The hero faces the issue squarely, evolves, and survives. So does the father, no longer demonic. At the end of the story, however, the protagonist is setting out on a twelve-year journey (without his father) to track down the slugs and exterminate them:
I feel exhilarated. Puppet masters--the free men are coming to kill you! Death and Destruction!
This is the same transition as that presented in Heinlein's first novel, "If This Goes On--", much more effectively stated. But it is no final solution. What is particularly interesting about this story is that the attractive horror that the slugs bring to humanity, for which the hero means to exterminate them, is loss of ego, submersion in a group mind.
Double Star (1956) is about a man in an impasse. It begins with him drowning his sorrows in a bar. The man is an actor without prospects. He is hired to impersonate a politician who has been kidnapped by his enemies, and when the politician dies from the mistreatment he has received, the actor assumes his place permanently.
This story says that evolution is possible, but only a very temporal evolution and only by usurping someone else's place. Even to the end of the story, the actor is still only acting.
What makes the impersonation necessary in the first place is that the politician is scheduled to be adopted by Martians (whom the actor fears and loathes) and the Martians would not understand if no one showed up for the ceremony--to the point that human beings would be killed for the slight, "maybe every human on Mars."
The Martians accept the substitution without apparently noticing it, and in the guise of the politician, the actor is adopted--and thereafter is able to "evolve" into the politician who loves and cares for all humanity:
No, I do not regret it, even though I was happier then--at least I slept better. But there is solemn satisfaction in doing the best you can for eight billion people.
Perhaps their lives have no cosmic significance, but they have feelings. They can hurt.
But this "evolution" is a shuck. Heinlein is unable to visualize the central confrontation with the unknown. He draws a veil over the crucial Martian adoption ceremony. Moreover, true evolution, particularly one that permits you to watch over the feelings of eight billion people, is not achieved by usurping what another has earned.
The Door Into Summer (1956) is yet again about the search for the door that Heinlein cannot find, the door from which he averts his gaze. Like Double Star, The Door Into Summer begins with a man in an impasse, drowning his sorrows in a bar. This man, an inventor, does not like his own time, which is 1970. In search of something better, he skips ahead to the end of the century--past the time of trouble and insanity that Heinlein foresaw in 1941.
Things aren't perfect when he gets there, so the man slips back in time to 1970 via a time machine to make a few necessary adjustments. He picks up his cat, Pete, whom he had left behind, and he arranges with a little girl he knows to come and look for him when she has grown up. Then back he goes to the end of the century via cold sleep, where all is just as he would like it to be:
... I don't worry about philosophy any more than Pete does. Whatever the truth about this world, I like it. I've found my Door Into Summer and I would not time-travel again for fear of getting off at the wrong station. Maybe my son will, but if he does I will urge him to go forward, not back. "Back" is for emergencies; the future is better than the past. Despite the crapehangers, romanticists, and anti-intellectuals, the world steadily grows better because the human mind, applying itself to environment, makes it better. With hands ... with tools ... with horse sense and science and engineering.
Most of these long-haired belittlers can't drive a nail nor use a slide rule. I'd like to invite them into Dr. Twitchell's cage and ship them back to the twelfth century--then let them enjoy it. But I am not mad at anybody and I like now.
So Heinlein says, but this is whistling in the dark. We know that he does worry about philosophy. We know that he does wonder about the truth of the world. And we know from what the character says that there are indeed people he is mad at--if no others, at least crapehangers, romanticists, anti-intellectuals, and long-haired belittlers who can't drive a nail or use a slide rule. We may very well doubt that he will be any more content with the future that he has found than Bob Wilson of "By His Bootstraps" was.
One last story closes this period of Heinlein's avoidance of his problem. It is the book version of Methuselah's Children. The first three books of the Future History--The Man Who Sold the Moon, The Green Hills of Earth, and Revolt in 2100--were published in 1950, 1951, and 1953. Methuselah's Children languished from 1941, when it was serialized in Astounding, until 1958, when it was finally published as a book.
When at last it did appear, however, quite significantly, it was with a new conclusion. The original had Lazarus Long speculating about a chili parlor in Dallas that he had known seventy-five years before. This conclusion is avoidance of the implications of mankind's odd lurch into the unknown world. Lazarus Long wants to forget that he was ever gone. It was a mistake that he wishes to write off.
This Lazarus Long has much in common with the Robert Heinlein of the post-war period.
But in 1958, avoidance no longer seemed a viable answer to Heinlein. In republishing Methuselah's Children, Heinlein puts the Dallas chili house aside. Instead, he ends on a philosophical note with a conversation between Lazarus Long and a friend. Long says:
"Someday, about a thousand years from now, I intend to march straight into the temple of Kreel, look him in the eye, and say, 'Howdy, bub--what do you know that I don't know?' "
"It might not be healthy."
"We'll have a showdown, anyway. I've never been satisfied with the outcome there. There ought not to be anything in the whole universe that man can't poke his nose into--that's the way we're built and I assume that there's some reason for it."
"Maybe there aren't any reasons."
"Yes, maybe it's just one colossal big joke, with no point to it." Lazarus stood up and stretched and scratched his ribs. "But I can tell you this, Andy, whatever the answers are, here's one monkey that's going to keep on climbing, and looking around him to see what he can see, as long as the tree holds out."
An interesting alteration.
Background courtesy of Eos Development