Outside of That

Beyond This Horizon — Robert A. Heinlein

Beyond This Horizon

1948’s Beyond This Horizon1 is a standalone novel by Robert A. Heinlein.

The development of workable methods for genetic selection sparked two genocidal wars. But all that’s in the past. The world has recovered. The Americas are practically a utopia. A long-running program aimed at creating the perfect human is close to completion. The latest iteration is Hamilton Felix. He would be the perfect man save for two flaws:

  • He could have a perfect memory (or so think the program planners2).

  • He refuses to marry and produce the child who would be the perfect human.

Oh, and his pal Monroe-Alpha has committed a spot of treason. We’ll get to that later.



Felix has little idea that the government has taken an interest in him. It’s a surprise when he is summoned to meet with Mordan Claude, a District Moderator for Genetics. Mordan is determined to push the breeding program to an end and is determined to pressure Felix into marriage and reproduction. Felix isn’t interested. He would seem to have it all (perfect health, an assured income) but he finds life a burden (but not to the point that he would end it all). In the end, he agrees to Project Get Felix Laid.

Suddenly the thriller plot attacks! Felix is recruited by a cabal of ambitious second-raters called the Survivors Club. Convinced they are being unjustly excluded from positions of power, they are scheming to overthrow the government. Felix joins just to keep an eye on the plotters; he reports to Mordan, who encourages the spying. The government already knows about the club, but more info couldn’t hurt.

Too bad that Felix’s buddy, recently divorced sad-sack Monroe-Alpha, decides that if Felix thinks the club is a good idea, it’s a good idea to join. Now Felix has three problems to juggle: find Mrs. Right, protect Monroe-Alpha from his own idiocy, and save society from the Survivors Club.

  • Mrs. Right turns to be Longcourt Phyllis. She is a scrappy hottie with a pistol at her hip and a line in snappy patter. The reluctant Lothario falls hard.

  • Monroe-Alpha is sent off on a quest to the middle of nowhere, where he meets his own Mrs. Right. Whom he immediately tries to kill.

  • As far as forestalling the coup and the end of utopia? Well, you cannot have everything….

 ~oOo~

Time for the biannual review of a regrettable novel by Robert A. Heinlein. I revisited this because while it’s not the first Heinlein I encountered, it might be the first one I actually read. Also, someone recently asserted it was Heinlein’s worst book, and I wanted to see if that were true.

This book is not entirely without its strengths. Heinlein punctures back-to-nature illusions. He was born and grew up before mass electrification, so has little nostalgia for kerosene lamps and wash tubs. His scathing depiction of the members of the Survivors Club (all victims of Dunning-Kroeger delusions of superiority) is enjoyable. He presents a future that isn’t a 1942 USA that differs from the real one only because there are much bigger fins on the cars.

OK, praise out of the way, let’s snark.

 ***

The patter is pretty dated. It might have been dated for 1942.

***

This is the Heinlein novel in which he dismisses fluoridation as a dead end:

They were perfectly right and biologically quite wrong, for an advantage is no good to a race unless it can be inherited.

Forget those light-bulbs, chums! Learn to grow luminescent antennae (like angler fish).

 ***

I had completely forgotten the whole Yellow Peril backstory. The Empire of the Great Khans produced armies of bespoke soldiers, a new species dubbed Homo proteus.

Their only weakness lay in military psychology; they did not understand their opponents — but men did not understand them; it worked both ways.

Homo proteus is sadly no longer extant:

No need to dwell on the terror that followed the collapse. Let it suffice that no representative of homo proteus is believed to be alive today. He joined the great dinosaurs and the sabre-toothed cats.

Genocide plots have become less fashionable lately, but only marginally so. Solving problems with mass graves will never go out of fashion in SF. If people don’t want to slaughtered en masse, they probably should not be in an SF novel.

 ***

Modern readers will probably be repelled by Felix’s domineering courtship of Phyllis. They undoubtedly be upset by Monroe-Alpha’s initial attempt to murder Marion, his later sweetie. Because he believes she is genetically inferior3.

Of course, neither Phyllis nor Marion seem to mind being spanked or chased with a loaded ray gun. At least physical assault and homicidal gestures show that the guys have noticed them.

 ***

This is the book that gave us the meme “an armed society is a polite society.” This may have been meant to be read as the sort of thing societies believe about themselves despite the facts. Too bad that it has been read as an endorsement of universal open carry.

 ***

The book isn’t all genocide, brutal courtship, and blazing gun battles. There are also interminable infodumps of length surprising in a book this short. Not to mention the subplot about telepathy and reincarnation.

 ***

The pain is brief. The novel is only 168 pages long. I’ve read worse books by Heinlein, books that go on much, much longer.

1: 1948 is the date for first book publication. It published as a serial in 1942.

2: https://www.theguardian.com/science/brain-flapping/2017/apr/27/the-perfect-memory-does-it-even-exist

3: You may wonder, did Heinlein ever reference miscegenation in his fiction? At least once:


“You would marry a control natural?”
“Why not?” He met the issue bravely, even casually.
Why not? Well, Roman citizens, proud of their patrician Latin blood, could have told him. The white aristocracy of the Old South could have, in their little day, explained to him in detail why not. “Aryan” race-myth apologists could have defined the reasons. Of course, in each case the persons giving the reasons would have had a different “race” in mind when explaining the obscene horror he contemplated committing, but their reasons would have been the same. Even Johnson-Smith Estaire could have explained to him “Why not”-and she would most certainly cut him off her list for stooping to such an alliance. After all, kings and emperors have lost their thrones for lesser miscegenations.

Happily for the social mores of this era it turns out that Marion is not a control natural, a pitiful relic of natural humanity, but something much better. Plus she’s good at adoring Monroe-Alpha for no apparent reason whatsoever.


Comments

  • Robert Carnegie

    I'm not clear if Heinlein here is for or against miscegenation. It would be clearer if one or more of the defenders of racial purity quoted also looked down on each other, especially reciprocally. Of course, the descendants of Imperial Rome are Italians.

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  • Andrew

    It's pretty clear that Heinlein is making fun of the people who advocate racial purity. Johnson-Smith Estaire is not an admirable character - she's a silly socialite. "The Man from the Past" keeps complimenting people by calling them "white" - which the moderns respond with confusion, and though the Man from the Past is upper-class white from 1920 or so, he's so genetically inferior by the time the novel takes place that he has no chance of surviving a duel.

    "This is the book that gave us the meme “an armed society is a polite society. This may have been meant to be read as the sort of thing societies believe about themselves despite the facts."

    That seems to be the case, since when a character considers giving up being armed, no one suggests he's letting down society - they just tell him that he'll be socially disadvantaged if he does. And people in this future who have interesting jobs (the researchers on Pluto) don't bother with wearing guns.

    At least this Heinlein has several named female characters, some of whom have interests and goals of their own. I wish I could say the same for "Double Star."

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  • Evan

    I've read this, but - almost uniquely among Heinlein's novels - I haven't read it twice. Pure muddled nonsense. Looking it up just now, I see that it was written under the "Anson McDonald" pseudonym for serialization in Astounding, which makes me wonder if it was written to John Campbell's specifications, like Sixth Column.

    I wouldn't say it's his worst book; my vote for that goes to Rocket Ship Galileo. But it really didn't deserve the Retro-Hugo.

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  • James Enge

    "Why not? Well, Roman citizens, proud of their patrician Latin blood, could have told him. "

    Unlikely. The Romans changed their marriage laws early in the Roman Republic precisely so that patricians could marry plebeians, and Roman citizenship was spread pretty freely through the Roman world, without much concern about ethnicity. On the other hand, RAH is clearly coming down here against people who believe in racial purity, so maybe we should cut him some slack. (On the other other hand, he did write FARNHAM'S FREEHOLD, so screw that guy.)

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  • Marcus Rowland

    A lot of this story was Heinlein's attempt to critique Brave New World, and I think it succeeds in that respect. I've read it two or three times, and it's not bad as utopian fiction goes. There are MUCH worse examples out there...

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  • Pamela Adams

    I always wonder, when I see Heinlein's characters threaten spankings, whether it was Virginia or him getting spanked.

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  • James Nicoll

    Wasn't he still married to Lynn at this point?

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  • Andrew

    Leslyn, I think, not Lynn (and yes - he didn't meet Ginny until 1944 or so (well after the original publication of BTH)

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