Robert A. Heinlein’s 1957 The Door into Summer is a standalone SF novel. I am glad that it had no sequels and no prequels, as I am sure I would have grown to hate them as well. Why? Read on.
It’s 1970 and Dan Davis has survived World War Three. He and his business partner have started a cutting-edge cybernetics company. The business is stolen from him by his conniving fiancée (Belle) and his equally traitorous partner (Miles). Who could have predicted that blindly signing business documents could turn out so badly?
The evil pair aren’t satisfied with bilking Dan out of his company. They want him gone; he might make trouble. Murder, they feel, is too risky. But drugging him and putting him into suspended animation … that’s different.
Dan goes to sleep in the futuristic year 1970. He wakes in the even more futuristic year 2000.
Dan is all alone in 2000; the perfidious pair didn’t even bother to have Dan’s beloved cat Pete put into hibernation with him. He has no idea what happened to Ricky, Miles’ young stepdaughter (of whom Dan is very fond). Nothing for it but to build a new life in this unfamiliar world of tomorrow.
Dan does his best to find out what happened to Miles and Belle. Miles came to a suitably wretched end, possibly murdered by Belle. Belle is old and fat and a drunk and also does not seem to have any of Miles’ money. This doesn’t make Dan’s life in 2000 any better, but he takes some satisfaction in knowing that crime didn’t pay.
By an astounding coincidence, he finds out that backwards time travel is possible. He also discovers that Ricky had herself frozen in 1980, when she was twenty-one, leaving instructions that she is to be thawed in 2000. The instructions also reveal … SPOILER.
Dan convinces the inventor of the time machine to send him back in time. There are things he must do! At stake are his fortune, his cat and his adorable eleven-year-old wife-to-be!
Any guesses as to which character is depicted on the cover?
This is an evergreen novel in the sense that it somehow manages to be even more problematic every time I reread it. It took me years to wonder if Belle was intended as a take-that against Heinlein’s ex-wife Leslyn. Happily, that and the the “Dan is outraged that his fiancée dares to use as voting stock the voting stock he gave her” angle is eclipsed by the the fact that “middle aged man grooming a tween” bit is a lot more eye-brow raising.
The entire child-wife subplot is not improved by the fact that Ricky’s adult dialogue gives one the impression that she is a bit slow. Yes, Dan waits until she’s legal, but his efforts to convince to marry him begin when she still has her baby teeth. It’s all pretty creepy, made more so by the fact a lot of Heinlein’s acolytes have emulated Heinlein’s pervy enthusiasm for minors.
Measured praise: RAH gets the future wrong but does so entertainingly. Some of his robot and gadget ideas are interesting. A few even have real-world analogs. As long as Dan isn’t trying to pretend he has social skills, he’s amusing as a viewpoint character.
But there aren’t enough good bits to make up for the creepy stuff, at least for me. It doesn’t win the prize for “Heinlein’s worst novel” only because I find Farnham’s Freehold and I Will Fear No Evil even worse.