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The Door Into Summer
Robert A. Heinlein
Victor Gollancz SF Collectors' Edition, 192 pages

The Door Into Summer
Robert A. Heinlein
Robert Anson Heinlein was born in 1907 in Butler, Missouri, moving shortly thereafter to Kansas City, Missouri. He grew up there and spent summers in Butler. He graduated from Central High School in Kansas City in 1924 and attended a year of college at Kansas City Community College. Heinlein entered the Naval Academy in 1925 and was commissioned in 1929, serving on a variety of ships. He studied advanced engineering and mathematics at UCLA as well as architecture. In April 1939, he wrote "Life-Line" in 4 days and sent it to John W. Campbell at Astounding Science Fiction. In late 1948, he married Virginia Doris Gerstenfeld, who remained his assistant and close companion until his death in 1988 due to a combination of emphysema and related health problems that had plagued him during the last years of his life.

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A review by Rich Horton

Yet another SF classic novel has been reissued by Victor Gollancz in a nice large-sized paperback edition, with a bright yellow foldover cover. This is The Door Into Summer, a Robert A. Heinlein novel from 1957 (serialized in 1956), the very height of his glorious "middle period," when he was still writing compact novels, and when he was also writing his juveniles. This novel was published almost in parallel with his first Hugo winner, Double Star, and, in my opinion, those two novels might be his best. (Double Star was serialized in Astounding between February and April 1956, while The Door Into Summer was in Fantasy and Science Fiction between October and December 1956. That year also saw publication of his fine juvenile, Time for the Stars.)

The Door Into Summer is one of Heinlein's sunniest novels, and one of his most straightforwardly enjoyable. At the same time, it's a little slight next to Double Star, or indeed next to some of his novels which I don't think are as successful, but which are certainly more ambitious: Starship Troopers, Stranger in a Strange Land, and my other favourite among his novels, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. And by slight I don't mean just length (it's much of a length with Double Star, though much shorter than any of the later adult novels): thematically it's just not terribly challenging. But to say that is to risk denigrating the book unfairly. What it does, it does almost perfectly, and it ends up being quite moving as well. I've been watching the Olympics, so perhaps this analogy is in order: it's like a low-degree of difficulty dive executed with perfection -- and such a thing is better than a high degree of difficulty dive ending in a bellyflop (I Will Fear No Evil, anyone?).

The book opens in 1970, a few years after the Six Weeks War, a nuclear war (yes, this book was written in the 50s). Dan Davis is a successful inventor. His main product is an automated "cleaning lady" called Hired Girl. He's got a booming new company, run from a business standpoint by his good friend Miles Gentry, and the company secretary, the beautiful Belle Darkin, is engaged to marry him. He is owned by a nice cat called Petronius Arbiter, and he has another great friend in Miles' 11-year-old stepdaughter Frederica (Ricky). He has just finished designing an even better machine: an all-purpose automaton called Flexible Frank. Could life be any better?

Naturally, it all crashes on him. Miles and Belle betray him, marrying each other, forcing him out of the company, stealing his patents, even chasing away his cat. Then they stuff him into a cold sleep establishment, arranging for him to wake up in the year 2000, too late to take any action. Dan wakes in the year 2000, and several chapters are taken in giving us a view of the year 2000, while Dan relearns engineering, and tracks down the traces of Miles and Belle, and then looks for Ricky. What he finds is very surprising indeed, and he is driven to a desperate attempt to set his future right.

It seems very appropriate to reread this book in 2000, given that the bulk of the book is set right now. As with any book of that time, the predictions are mostly oddly off. But they are still interesting, and Heinlein was a sharp man, so his predictions often make a lot of sense, and every once in a while he even hits. This book features something a whole lot like Automatic Teller Machines, complete with interbank transfers, for instance. And one of Dan's inventions, Drafting Dan, reminded me somewhat of Computer-Aided-Design programs, though at the same time Heinlein almost completely missed the ubiquity of computers, especially personal computers. And of course we didn't have a nuclear war in the 60s (although we had a good scare in the fall of 62) that caused the U.S. capital to move to Denver, and we don't have the beginnings of planetary colonies, and we don't have anything like "cold sleep."

Of course, nobody in their right mind reads 50s SF, or any SF, for accurate predictions. The light the predictions throw on the way people thought about the future in the 50s is interesting. And the sum total of the changes Heinlein shows is a better world, which is Heinlein's real theme. To quote:

"the world steadily grows better because the human mind, applying itself to environment, makes it better.... Most of these long-haired belittlers can't drive a nail or use a slide rule, I'd like to... ship them back to the twelfth century -- then let them enjoy it."
For Dan Davis, the Door into Summer is the door to the future. (And that title image, "the Door into Summer," is one of Heinlein's happier literary creations.) This bright, sweet, optimistic novel is pure fun to read.

Copyright © 2000 Rich Horton

Rich Horton is an eclectic reader in and out of the SF and fantasy genres. He's been reading SF since before the Golden Age (that is, since before he was 13). Born in Naperville, IL, he lives and works (as a Software Engineer for the proverbial Major Aerospace Company) in St. Louis area and is a regular contributor to Tangent. Stop by his website at

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