Friday, June 3, 2011

Beyond this Horizon by Robert A. Heinlein

Beyond This Horizon
This novel was first written in 1942, though my copy is considerably more recent, published sometime in the 70s, not the cover seen here. It's a story about a near utopia, when centralized economic planning and careful genetic engineering have produced a time of peace and plenty in the region that the U.S. has become. And yet, some are still dissatisified.

The protagonist of this tale is Hamilton Felix, somewhat of a dilettante who designs games of amusement for people to play, rather like the electronic slot machines of Vegas. He doesn't work any harder than he feels like, and spends much of his time attending decadent soirees and dining in elegant restaurants. He's come to wonder what the whole point of it all is, and the humanist viewpoint of this future offers few answers.

Like some other Heinlein stories, "real" citizens go about their business with personal sidearms strapped to their hips, and can call for a duel to be fought with them if they feel their honor has been impugned. The quote  "an armed society is a polite society" appears here, and I wonder if RAH originated it, or if he merely filed off the serial numbers and used it for his own. Those who choose not to go armed, including "control naturals", genetically unmodified humans, wear a brassard to distinguish their status, and must give precedence to armed citizens in all social situations.

The planned economic system he envisions sounds a bit interesting, though it may just be a fantasy Heinlein makes sound good by skillful word play. Some folks chose to survive on the basic living allowance, which still affords them good housing, food, clothing and medical care, as well as recreation. Others may choose to be productive by working for private industry or the government, or even own their own businesses, but the government, which is pretty laissez-faire in most things, keeps things on a steady course by minute adjustments to the money supply and infusions of government spending in areas it deems useful or at times even frivolous, so as to use up "extra" money.

Hamilton Felix, it turns out, is actually the culmination, or "star line" of a breeding program (this theme turns up again later, in a different set of clothing in Methuselah's Children). The genetics board would love for him to procreate with a carefully selected female of their choice, but his ennui and lack of belief in the purpose of life make him reluctant to cooperate. That is, at least, until he actually meets the woman, and they fall helplessly, hopelessly, and madly in love.

There's always a fly in the ointment, and this time it's a group that calls themselves The Survivors Club. They attempt to recruit Hamilton into their conspiracy to replace the powers that be with better ones - themselves. As usual, when it comes to failed political systems, the rascals who want to try it all again are certain that it would work this time, if only they were the ones in charge. Hamilton decides to be a double-agent, instead, reporting their plots back to his friends in the government, and the rebellion sputters and dies in an anticlimactic battle.

The rest of the book just sort of meanders to a flat tire ending. It would appear that (and Heinlein paraphrases this much later in the words of Lazarus Long) the only real purpose in life is to find a woman with whom you can make perfect babies and love so long as you live. There are a ton of fun ideas thrown out for discussion and introspection in this book, including quite a bit about parapsychology, which I think Heinlein always rather believed was a true phenomenon, without any hard evidence. A stronger ending might have made this one a classic, but it's definitely a good read.


redhead said...

I'm gonna have to look out for this title, I loves me some old fashioned Heinlein. thanks for writing up the review! especially for something older and (at least to me) obscure.

Jon said...

Good to "see you" this morning, redhead. I'm working my way through my entire Heinlein collection (and I have everything but a couple of the posthumous ones), writing reviews of them as I go. You can click on the Heinlein link in the Authors section in the right hand column to see them all. Coming up in June, I have Between Planets, Double Star, Have Space Suit, Will Travel, and The Green Hills of Earth already scheduled.