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Tuesday, January 24, 2023

The Number of the BeastThe Number of the Beast by Robert A. Heinlein
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is one of the quirkiest, perfectly complicated, sexually liberated, libertarian multi-multi-universe romps in SF literature.

Few have dared to come even close to this kitchen sink of a novel, but that may be because this later-career novel of Heinlein is a great example of a writer at the height of his career deciding to say, "Ah, fuck it, I'm gonna go wild and give not only a homage to all the SF greats, my own contemporaries, and also, of course, to my own brilliance."

What we have is a novel extremely preoccupied with being horny, sexually liberated, and every woman is absolutely brilliant and stunning and almost always naked around their horny, sexually liberated, naked husbands.

Oh, and we also explore six to the sixth to the sixth universes, both real and imaginary, and break right through to Heinlein's own expanded universe of greatest-hits characters.

In other words, this book is MUCH better read after almost every single one of Heinlein's last third bibliography. Well after Time Enough For Love, Stranger in a Strange Land, To Sail Beyond the Sunset, The Cat Who Walks Through Walls, maybe even Friday. Read AFTER. Otherwise it might be truly nuts. Or, scratch that, it is already nuts. But it IS also fun and quixotic and So Very Later Heinlein.

There's still his devotion to popularizing real science. But he is really known for going on about genetics, programming, quantum physics, firearms, personal autonomy, libertarianism, cheating fools, life-extension, loving the idea of massively extended families, and clones.

And all the while, the wild adventure after new adventure makes this feel like something out of an old serial while being perfectly sexy and willing to throw out all the normal publishing rules. You know, like adding too much. :) The Dean Of SF, one of the great three SF authors from the early days, was by now wearing a crown and no one could touch him.

It's funny, really. This book would NEVER have been published today. On the one hand, it's a perfectly great example of do-or-die libertarianism and grab the world by the balls. On the other hand, there are other parts that are frankly cringeworthy (let's just mention the twins in passing, shall we, or Maureen,) that makes us modern folks wonder if the Dean was a little skeevy. Of course, his focus was all on genetics, so we can forgive him on all that... right? Ah, but he certainly had all the right Right-Wing feel.

Don't get me wrong. I can still enjoy the vast majority without endorsing or even approving of the other bits. I even feel guilty, a little, that I'm not nearly as LIBERATED, lol.

So, warts and all, I still think this was one of those truly fascinating works of the imagination. I was a little creeped-out both times I read it, but if I'm going to be fair, a good 95% of the time had me in awe.

Don't start here. Heinlein has a huge catalogue of perfectly uncomplicated SF that's both charming and fun and full of good science. But if you've gone through his vast catalogue and want JUST A LITTLE MORE LAZARUS LONG, then by all means, grab this book and enjoy. :)

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