Friday, December 10, 2010

Beyond This Horizon, Robert A. Heinlein

I just finished reading Beyond This Horizon for the first time as an adult. I read it as a young teen and now realize that much of it went over my head then. It is Robert A. Heinlein's first successful novel, a rewrite of 'For Us, the Living,' (1938) which was first published posthumously in 2003. I have downloaded that to my Kindle and will begin reading it next.

The theme of this novel is eugenics. Written in the late 1930's and early 40s this was a favored topic on the left before it was discredited by the Nazi experiments revealed after WWII. The treatment of the topic is interesting and exposes considerable insight into Heinlein's thinking on the subject and his politics in general. While definitely a socialist during this period he was very anti-communist, even during the '30s.

As a 'novel of the future' written in the late '30s there are many small 'anachronisms.' Set far into the future there are flying cars which have phones and faxes but there are no personal phones, the protagonist must look for a phone booth. Data is stored on punch cards though handling of data seems more sophisticated than would be possible with that medium.

Something akin to the internet seems to exist and Heinlein's handling of video images is quite good considering how rare they were at the time. The treatment of genetics is also good when you take into account that it was written more than a decade before the discovery of DNA.

The vernacular and social conventions of the 1930's are of course present but as an educated "armed, and polite" society of the distant future I think Heinlein's dialog is way ahead of it's time. His skill as a storyteller is unmatched for any time in my opinion, even in this earliest novel.

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