The Door into Summer

The Door into Summer  
First Edition of The Door into Summer
First Edition cover
Author(s) Robert A. Heinlein
Country United States
Language English
Genre(s) Science fiction novel
Publisher Doubleday
Publication date 1957
Media type Print (Hardcover & Paperback)
ISBN 0330025163
OCLC Number 16365175

The Door into Summer is a science fiction novel by Robert A. Heinlein, originally serialized in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction (October, November, December 1956, with covers and interior illustrations by Frank Kelly Freas) and published in hardcover in 1957. It is a fast-paced hard science fiction novel, with a key fantastic element, and romantic elements. In three separate Locus Magazine readers polls from 1975 to 1998, it was judged the 36th, the 29th, or the 43rd all-time best science-fiction novel.[1]

The title was triggered by a remark that Heinlein's wife had made[2]: in the novel, the protagonist's cat refuses to leave their house through any of its numerous doors when he sees snow on the ground: he is looking for The Door into Summer. Heinlein wrote the complete novel in only 13 days. No rewrite was needed, only some light editing that Heinlein did himself.

Contents

Plot summary

The novel opens in 1970 with Daniel Boone Davis, an engineer and inventor, well into a long drinking binge. He has lost his company, Hired Girl, Inc., to his partner Miles Gentry and the company bookkeeper, Belle Darkin. She had been Dan's fiancée, deceiving him into giving her enough voting stock to allow her and Miles to seize control. Dan's only friend in the world is his cat, "Petronius the Arbiter", or "Pete", whom he carries around in a bag, allowing him out from time to time for a sip of ginger ale.

Hired Girl, Inc. manufactures robot vacuum cleaners, but Dan had been developing a new line of all-purpose household robots, Flexible Frank, when Miles announces his intention to sell the company (and Frank) to a large corporation in which Miles would become a vice-president. Wishing to stay independent, Dan opposes the takeover, but is outvoted and then fired as Chief Engineer. Left with a large financial settlement, and his remaining Hired Girl stock, he elects to take "cold sleep" (suspended animation) with his beloved pet cat "Pete", hoping to wake up thirty years later to a brighter future. The examining doctor at the cold sleep facility immediately sees that Dan has been drinking. He gives Dan an injection to start the process of sobering him up, and warns him to show up sober or not at all 24 hours later for the actual procedure.

After becoming sober, Dan decides instead to mount a counter-attack. First he mails his Hired Girl stock certificate to the one person he trusts, Miles' stepdaughter Frederica "Ricky" Gentry. Dan confronts Miles and finds Belle in Miles' home. Belle injects him with an illegal "zombie" drug, reducing him to somnolent compliance. Belle and Miles discover Dan's plans to go into cold sleep. Belle alters Dan's commitment documents to have him placed in a repository run by her cronies—a subsidiary of Mannix, the company that was trying to buy Hired Girl, Inc.

Dan wakes up in the year 2000, with no money to his name, and no idea how to find the people he once knew. What little money Belle let him keep went with the collapse of Mannix in 1987. He has lost Pete the cat, who fled Miles' house after Dan was drugged, and has no idea how to find a now middle-aged Ricky.

Dan begins rebuilding his life. He persuades Geary Manufacturing, which now owns Hired Girl, to take him on as a figurehead. He discovers that Miles died in 1972, while Belle is a shrill and gin-sodden wreck. All she recalls is that Ricky went to live with her grandmother about the time Dan went into cold sleep. Her scheme with Miles collapsed, as Flexible Frank disappeared the same night she shanghaied Dan.

Flexible Frank is everywhere in the future, acting as hospital orderly, bellhop, and a thousand other menial jobs once filled by people. It is called Eager Beaver, made by a company called "Aladdin Auto-engineering," but Dan knows someone has taken his prototype and developed it. He is even more baffled to find that the patent is credited to a "D. B. Davis."

His buddy Chuck at Geary lets slip that he once saw time travel working, in a lab in Colorado. At that point Dan finds that Ricky has been awakened from cold sleep and left Los Angeles for Brawley, California. Dan tracks her to Yuma, Arizona, where she was apparently married. When Dan looks at the marriage register, he finds that she married "Daniel Boone Davis". He immediately empties his bank account and heads for Colorado.

In Boulder, he befriends Dr. Twitchell, a once-brilliant scientist reduced to drinking away his frustrations. Eventually, just as Chuck had told him, Twitchell admits to having created a time machine of sorts. With the machine powered up, Dan goads Twitchell into throwing the switch and finds himself falling. Dan has gone back to 1970, some months before his confrontation with Miles and Belle. Dan is befriended by John and Jenny Sutton and persuades them to help him in his mission.

Working rapidly, Dan creates Drafting Dan, which he then uses to design Protean Pete, the first version of Eager Beaver. Leaving John and Jenny to set up a new corporation to be called "Aladdin Auto-engineering," he returns to Los Angeles, and stakes out Miles' house on the fateful night. Watching himself arrive, he lets events unfold until Pete the cat emerges, then takes his own car and uses it to remove Flexible Frank and all his engineering drawings from Miles's garage.

Destroying the drawings and scattering machine parts across the landscape, he heads out to meet Ricky at her Girl Scout summer camp. Ricky is remarkably mature for her age, and asks Dan if he is doing this so they can get married. Dan tells her she is correct.

He sells his car for quick cash, enough to get him to his cold sleep appointment. With Pete in his arms, he sleeps for the second time.

In 2001, he awakes to a note from a much older John Sutton, along with a substantial amount of money. He greets Ricky, now a twenty-something beauty, when she awakes. They leave for Brawley to retrieve her possessions from storage, and then are married in Yuma. Setting himself up as an independent inventor, he uses Ricky's Hired Girl stock to make changes at Geary, settling back to watch the healthy competition with Aladdin.

Major themes

Some of Heinlein's most famous stories, such as "—All You Zombies—" and "By His Bootstraps", feature time-travel in which the protagonist re-creates himself using a time-travel paradox. This novel follows a similar theme, although the "paradox" is not central to the story. The idea recurs in the novel Farnham's Freehold which hurls its protagonists into the future and then returns them to their own time where they alter their destiny.

Technically the novel is also post-apocalyptic, in that it takes place after a nuclear armed conflict in which the USA was the clear victor thanks to technologies which include the "cold sleep", which was used to maintain a large standing army that could be revived quickly and put into the field. The "zombie drug" used was a by-product of interrogation techniques. In the future time "zombie recruiters" are apparently active, suggesting that the drug is widely used to recruit a form of slave labor.

The early Heinlein biographer and critic Alexei Panshin, in his 1968 biography Heinlein in Dimension, took note of a controversial theme: "The romantic situation in this story is a very interesting, very odd one: it is nothing less than a mutual sexual interest between an engineer of thirty and a girl of twelve ('adorable' is Heinlein's word for her), that culminates in marriage after some hop-scotching around in time to adjust their ages a bit."[3] The novel "worried and bothered" John W. Campbell, who said "Bob can write a better story, with one hand tied behind him, than most people in the field can do with both hands. But Jesus, I wish that son of a gun would take that other hand out of his pocket."[4]

Characters

Daniel Boone Davis is a typical Heinlein hero, reflecting much of the author's own character. An engineer and inventor, he is a fierce individualist. The only friends he has in the world are his cat Pete and young Ricky, wise beyond her years.

Miles Gentry is Dan's former Army buddy and business partner, handling the financial and legal side.

Belle S. Darkin presents herself to Miles and Dan when they most need help with the company. She is apparently a brilliant secretary, book-keeper and office manager who is willing to work for a pittance. In reality she is an accomplished fraud artist with an extensive criminal record, several aliases, and a number of previous marriages which were never dissolved. She seduces first Dan, then Miles.

Frederica Virginia "Ricky" Heinicke is physically an 11-year-old girl but emotionally almost adult. Like all Heinlein's heroines from this period, she is an intelligent red-head, and clearly modeled on Virginia Heinlein, even having a version of her name and her childhood nickname, Rikki-Tikki-Tavi.

Petronius the Arbiter or Pete, Dan's cat. Highly vocal with a wide range of expressive sounds, he acts as a sounding board for Dan's ruminations and fulminations. He goes everywhere with Dan, carried around in an overnight bag, emerging when Dan orders him a ginger-ale in a bar, or buys him food at drive-in restaurants.

Chuck Freudenberg is Dan's "beer buddy" and best friend at Geary Manufacturing.

Dr. Hubert Twitchell is a brilliant physicist at the University of Colorado at Boulder, who invents time-travel while studying antigravity, only to see his work declared top secret by an armchair colonel looking for promotion to General, robbing Twitchell of a Nobel Prize.

Literary significance and criticism

Science-fiction writer and critic James Blish, writing in 1957, shortly after publication, criticized the lack of characterization of its hero Dan Davis, saying, "It is surely an odd novel that is at its best when the author is openly editorializing...." — in this case about the "parity system of farm price supports, which in 2000 is applied to automobiles."[5]

"Every other important subject of science fiction which Heinlein has examined at length has come out remade, vitalized and made the author's own property. It didn't happen here, for the first time in Heinlein's long and distinguished career — and not because Heinlein didn't have something to say, but because he failed to embody it in a real protagonist. Evidently, Heinlein as his own hero is about played out." [6]

The critic Alexei Panshin, writing in 1968, said that "as a whole, the story is thoroughly melodramatic but very good fun. ... It was as though Heinlein the engineer said, 'If I had the parts available, what little gadgets would I most enjoy building?' and then went ahead and built them fictionally. A good story." [7]

The title of the novel was used for a song on The Monkees' fourth album Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd.

Sources

  • More Issues at Hand, by James Blish, writing as William Atheling, Jr., Advent:Publishers, Inc., Chicago, 1970
  • Heinlein in Dimension, by Alexei Panshin, Advent:Publishers, Inc., Chicago, 1968

References

  1. ^ Bibliography: The Door into Summer
  2. ^ "Well the fastest was-I'll have to explain. When we were living in Colorado there was snowfall. Our cat-I'm a cat man-wanted to get out of the house so I opened a door for him but he wouldn't leave. Just kept on crying. He'd seen snow before and I couldn't understand it. I kept opening other doors for him and he still wouldn't leave. Then Ginny said, 'Oh, he's looking for a door into summer.' I threw up my hands, told her not to say another word, and wrote the novel The Door Into Summer' in 13 days." Heinlein interview with Alfred Bester; pg 487 Redemolished ISBN 0-7434-0725-4
  3. ^ Alexei Panshin, Heinlein in Dimension, page 149-150.
  4. ^ John W. Campbell. "Letter to Isaac Asimov, May 11th 1956". In Gorsch, Robert. Campbell on Heinlein: Selections from The John W. Campbell Letters. The Heinlein Society. http://www.heinleinsociety.org/rah/history/campbellonheinlein.html. 
  5. ^ James Blish, The Issues at Hand, pages 54-56.
  6. ^ James Blish, The Issues at Hand, page 56.
  7. ^ Alexei Panshin, Heinlein in Dimension, page 78.

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