ô The Number of the Beast Í Download by Ï Robert A. Heinlein Fair warning this is going to be a contrarian review The Number of the Beast is roundly recognized to be one of legendary sf author Robert A Heinlein s very worst novels, right down there with I Will Fear No Evil and his final living works, The Cat Who Walks Through Walls and To Sail Beyond the Sunset This particular book was written, in fact, while Heinlein was suffering from a debilitating arterial condition that starved his brain of oxygen and caused him to sleep about 16 hours a day not the sort of conditions under which one would expect an author s best work to emerge And this isn t Heinlein s best work But I liked it I liked it at the time, and it turns out that I still like it a lot even today, though for reasons which are almost entirely unrelated to its inherent worth as fiction and concerned with sentiment, and with Heinlein s neat central conceit.
Upon this rereading, than a decade since Heinlein s passing and after than two decades since the last time I picked it up, I have to admit that its flaws are apparent Even oxygen starved and weary, though, Heinlein remained a storyteller of the first water Some of these characters and situations have stayed with me ever since my first reading of it, back when it was originally released in 1980, and that says something although I suppose it is also telling that the character I remembered most vividly from this book is the flying car, Gay Deceiver about whom anon.
I m not going to try to sell this one to you What I m going after here is to make some sense of my personal reactions to as it is often abbreviated TNotB I will recommend this, though TNotB should be no one s first Robert A Heinlein book no, and possibly not even one s twenty first This is both because of its potentially off putting effect as an introduction to Heinlein s work, and because it s not an introduction Quite the opposite, in fact TNotB is in many ways an endpoint, a tying together of everything Heinlein had written earlier and a close familiarity with that prior art is often assumed.
This review also seethes with received opinion incorporating observations made by many, over decades of pre and posthumous Heinlein criticism I won t pretend to have come up with every one of these notions ab initio, but where they are not original, they are still beliefs that I ve internalized long ago, and come to agree with as both the book and I have aged.
The Number of the Beast starts with Zeb Carter and Deety Burroughs meeting cute at one of Hilda Sharpie Corners parties The tall, brawny polymath and the busty but brilliant professor s daughter exchange high speed banter on the dance floor, conversation fast paced enough to make Aaron Sorkin dialogue seem languid, and which includes both tit jokes and words like genetohematologist Deety s a woman with a mission she intends to persuade Zeb Carter to an interview with her father, the inventor Jacob Burroughs, and is willing to go to any length preferably horizontally to accomplish her assignment.
Both Carter and Burroughs immediately establish their shared obsession with precision and nuance in thought and speech what might uncharitably be called nitpicking if it weren t immediately apparent that these two are destined to be together This is typical of Heinlein s protagonists they make snap judgments about others characters and never subsequently have occasion to question them They may be worried about many things, up to and including the destruction of their personal universes, but they re rarely if ever concerned with second guessing themselves.
Jacob Burroughs Jake has invented a time machine, though he calls it a continua craft, for precision than obfuscation If Jake s time twister can be made to work, it will offer travel in six dimensions three of space, and three of time The number of universes this brings into play is thus very, very large it is, in fact, The Number of the Beast It is with this device that Burroughs p re needs Zeb s help.
Zeb and Deety s dance ends with a marriage proposal, and an explosion There are impossible coincidences and unbelievable assertions what would it really be like to live in a society where homicide kills people than does cancer p.
24 , for example Unless that means they ve entirely cured cancer, in Zeb and Deety s time which is a possibility, though not one supported by the rest of the text.
The beginning precisely sets the tone for the rest of the book if you are already put off by the arch nature and headlong pace of the conversation between Zeb and Deety, the way the events of the story seem relegated to a mere backdrop for the serve and volley of often outrageous opinions delivered in the tones of Revealed Truth, then you will find no relief in the chapters ahead Heinlein s four protagonists Zeb, Deety, Hilda and Jake swap aphorisms, insults, roles and partners, incessantly and almost interchangeably, no matter where or when they are and no matter what else might be going on.
One valid criticism that has been leveled at TNotB and at Heinlein s later work in general is that all of the major characters, and for that matter many of the minor ones, sound alike Their voices are not distinct they all speak in the same forceful, even bombastic way like Heinlein himself , and all give the impression of being omnicompetent even while generating an aw shucks aura about themselves Towards the end, even the players can t tell the players apart without one of the many sentient computers around to keep track This must have been recognized early in the publishing process for TNotB each page of the edition I own is headed by the name of its point of view character, as an often necessary reminder.
Heinlein s character s attitudes towards male female relationships are also retrograde, lopsided and often annoying despite the great conviction with which everyone in his books utters them Human beings could and have come up with societal plans just about as outr as the ones Heinlein puts forth, but that doesn t make them right This is both a great strength of Heinlein s work and one of his great weaknesses whatever balderdash he puts into his characters mouths, it s always put forth with complete sincerity The best thing to do is treat Heinlein s characters views as purely descriptive, not normative, however great the temptation to do otherwise.
The science in this science fiction book is enthusiastically described in often convincing bafflegab, but it s still sometimes spotty, too, even in areas which were known at the time Heinlein was writing Heinlein seems ignorant of what regression toward the mean means, for example, when it comes to breeding mathematical geniuses or he has faith in genetic tinkering than I do, perhaps And as with most science fiction featuring computers but written before the PC took over the world, TNotB s notions about what those computers might do seem quaint now Gay Deceiver remember her The most memorable character in the book has a whopping 60Mb that s sixty million bytes of storage for buffering broadcast news alerts quite a bit if you re talking about text only, perhaps, but not so much for video or audio files, or even black and white pictures And even with those memory limitations, Gay Deceiver immediately comes across as a person, or at least a personality, who can manage natural speech recognition albeit with a limited input vocabulary , even at the start of the novel when her abilities are limited Her responses are pre programmed, though varied randomly, like the ancient natural language program Eliza than like a person and so that, at least, is not so implausible an extrapolation Gay does communicate almost entirely by voice, though talking , which is at odds with the direction our own computers went in terms of visual display technology and hand operated input devices.
I often wonder what this book would look like in an alternate universe where Heinlein had not been attacked by the Brain Eater the term coined by Usenet stalwart James Nicoll to describe a different author s less literal issues but TNotB is also a canonical example, in this universe anyway The original trade paperback edition I own contains numerous interstitial sketches credited to one Richard M Powers, images which both add to the text, increasing the impression of its breakneck pace, and pad the book s length The images are lovely and often explicit Heinlein s prose frequently features female nudity, and Powers pictures follow the lack of suit Male nudity figures into Heinlein s work as well, though to a lesser extent and in much less detail An alternity s edition which retained the images but featured text written by a fully aware Heinlein might have turned out to be one of his best books, rather than one of his worst.
The neatest thing about the book we have is that, if The Number of the Beast really meant what Heinlein contended at such great length that it might maybe someday we could go find out and that, perhaps, than anything else, is why I still have a soft spot for The Number of the Beast.
There s this terrible thing that happens to some science fiction writers near the end of their careers they want their oeuvre to make sense, with all the books related to each other in some complex structural way I mean, who do they think they are, Balzac or Powell or someone Get a grip, guys You were just SF hacks If you were lucky, you were good SF hacks, and be proud of that Don t try and aim higher, because you ll regret it.
Well, it happened to Asimov, who disastrously attempted to link together the Foundation series, the robot series, and The End of Eternity I quite liked those books, and didn t want to ruin my memories of them, so I just observed the train wreck from a distance I was unfortunately foolish enough to read this embarrassing piece of nonsense from Heinlein, where he creates some kind of transdimensional gizmo that means all his characters can meet up with each other and characters from other books, and, as often as not, end up having sex Oh dear.
Though, if he was going to do it at all, I think he should have gone a bit further I d quite have enjoyed seeing Lummox from The Star Beast get it on with Glinda the Good Possibly in a threesome with the dwarf from Glory Road Now that would have been something.
originally posted at Fantasy Literature.
When I was a kid I loved some of Robert A Heinlein s Juveniles science fiction stories for children and teens Red Planet was one of my favorites and I must have read it at least five times These novels are part of the reason I kept reading science fiction they left such an impression on my young mind.
Despite this nostalgia, I haven t read Heinlein in years When Blackstone Audio recently started releasing some of his later novels on audio, I thought it was time to check out some I d never read The first one I tried was The Number of the Beast, written in 1980 after a seven year hiatus brought on by ill health when Heinlein was in his seventies.
This story starts when professor Zebadiah John Carter meets Deety short for Dejah Thoris Burroughs and her father, mathematician Jacob Burroughs, at a party hosted by a socialite named Hilda Corners Within minutes, Zebadiah and Deety are engaged and Jacob s car is bombed by unknown attackers Zebadiah, Deety, Jacob, and Hilda flee in Zeb s flying car, Jacob and Hilda decide to get married, and they all hide out in a cabin where Jacob has been working on a device that can access parallel universes Soon the couples are visiting places such as Oz, Lilliput, and Barsoom fans of Edgar Rice Burroughs will already have noticed that Zeb and Deety s names come from the BARSOOM novels There are lots of SFF in jokes and Heinlein self referentially brings in some of his characters from his previous books he s assuming you ve read them and even he and his wife are mentioned.
The audio production of The Number of the Beast was excellent It was read by a cast of top tier narrators Bernadette Dunne, Emily Durante, Malcom Hillgartner, Sean Runnette, Paul Michael Garcia, and Tom Weiner They were exceptional Unfortunately, the story was wretchedly awful and I was not able to finish it It started off bad from the very first scene and persevered in its badness until I started skimming and finally gave up Life s too short Most of the problem was the characters and their non stop obnoxious dialogue and interactions We hear from all four points of view and every one of them is odious The first one we hear from is Zebadiah as he s dancing with Deety who he s just met at Hilda s party He s looking down her dress and wishing she d shut up Then he asks her about her cleavage Is that cantilevering natural, or is there an invisible bra, you being in fact the sole support of two dependents Fortunately for Zeb, Deety is just as infatuated with her teats as he is and is happy to discuss all of their perfections often , and all of her other perfections often , with us every time it s her turn to talk To be fair, I must admit that she s quick to alert us of her imperfections in great detail, too, such as the body odor which requires her to soak in a hot soapy tub twice daily Thank you, Deety Despite his annoyance with Deety s chatter, once they are much better acquainted i.
e.
, three minutes later , the two are engaged and off they go to get married, with Jacob and Hilda in tow When they arrive at the cabin, after Jacob s car is bombed, things get even worse Now Jacob and Hilda are hitched, too, and the four of them are running around scantily clad Each in turn regales us with his or her sleazy interior monologues Deety s teats are frequently the subject and the four of them together engage in constant banter that s supposed to be clever, witty, and provocative but is usually just vulgar, sexist, and boring When Deety takes off her bikini top in front of her father, and then says that she wouldn t have refused him if he d made advances toward her when she was younger, I knew I d suffered long enough I stuck it out a bit longer just because I was in the car and had nothing else to listen to and I hoped The Number of the Beast might redeem itself but, looking back, I would have profited from listening to my squeaky fanbelt.
How sad it is to hate a novel written by an author you loved in your youth I used to think of Robert A Heinlein as one of my heroes, but now I find out he was a self indulgent perverted narcissist with a breast fetish and an obsession with incest To protect my memories, and to give Heinlein the benefit of the doubt, I d like to assume that the dismal quality of Number of the Beast was caused by Heinlein s poor health I don t know I just feel really disappointed.
A complete stinker of a novel It meanders, it wanders, it stutters, it changes direction, it digresses Heinlein rides all of his hobby horses The original premise is okay, though not up to Heinlein at his best a machine which can translate our explorers into other times and alternate universes They discover that all the fictional worlds that they have explored in literature can be accessed through this device and have a visit in Oz with Glinda as a result Time traveling aliens seem to feel threatened by their ability to travel in this way and seek to eliminate them the reasons that the aliens feel this way is never explored or explained Unfortunately, although the book starts out strong with bombs and the protagonists being chased by murderous aliens, it wanders off track early and never gets back on point Heinlein waves a tatter of this plot every now and then during the ensuing 511 pages which kept me plodding on in hopes of some kind of resolution I wonder if he was trying to pad the manuscript to 666 pages, in keeping with the title There is so much pointless conversation Blah, blah, blah, look how smart I am, blah, blah, blah, look how sexually sophisticated I am, blah, blah, blah.
In the end, one learns about Heinlein s quirks and prejudices that about the aliens We can surmise several things he deeply resented any kind of authority and the paying of taxes he felt that society s rules were arbitrary they are and should be optional some of them, sure and he seems to have been a boob man, preferring the T in TA I assume that he was a naturist in his private life and I would guess that he and his wife had an open relationship, which likely meant that he got to do what he wanted sexually and she didn t get to complain about it In the end, the book becomes very meta before meta was a thing Heinlein takes the opportunity to feature characters from other writers work e.
g the Gray Lensman of E.
E Smith, Glinda Oz and to weave in characters from his other works Lazarus Long, Jubal Harshaw, et al , even inserting himself and other writers like Isaac Asimov and Arthur Clarke At this point, the book becomes just a masturbatory exercise and loses any pretense of moving the plot forward.
Heinlein seems to have been in love with his character Lazarus Long I think he poured an awful lot of himself and I mean awful as in icky into that particular character, who of course appears again in Number What can you say about a character who creates female clones of himself so he can basically fuck himself I m sure that Heinlein thought he was being very feminist, portraying female characters with intelligence and sexual agency Sure they are smart and horny, but they are still very much appendages to the men in the story They are Heinlein s fantasy women, what he would have liked to be surrounded by women who want to do housework and cooking while plotting how to get their men into bed and get pregnant He certainly has a fixation on fertility all these very fictional women ardently desire fertility when they get rejuvenated I personally would choose sexual function with no chance of pregnancy much sexier in my world I assume that Heinlein at this point had become so popular that publishers knew that they would make profit even from this dreck He must also have reached the stage where he could resist necessary editing He did his reputation no favours with this book or Time Enough for Love, another pointless, masturbatory and loooooong tome read his earlier work skip these two pieces of merde.
This book is to science fiction literature as Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back is to cinema a big, fat, sloppy, self indulgent love letter to everything its creator holds dear The first time I read it I hated it, but a few years later I got into an argument about it with someone at a party and decided to give it another try just so I could feel good about being right Um, it s yeah, it s kind of great The of the references you get, the better it is, so just re read it every few years until you like it.



This morning I was perusing book reviews at Goodreads that, for the most part, lambaste Robert A Heinlein s 1980 novel The Number of the Beast, which I haven t read in years and years This poor treatment of this particular novel surprised me somewhat, as I remembered TNotB to have been a rather extraordinary read As I looked over the harsh reviews posted that bash Heinlein s other books, I realized that the old man is not holding up too well with the times I can t really disagree with many objections being voiced to the old misogynist, homophobic, militaristic, terminally libertarian, long winded sci fi hack Although over the years I ve enjoyed certain Heinlein works well enough, I admit he never really was one of my favorites.
And yet What these reviews suggested to me, and what a quick re read of the first two chapters of TNotB confirmed yet again, I must add is that the readers of 2012 remain as conditioned by their preconceived notions of what a novel is supposed to be as ever, and when an author dares to transcend that delimiting borderline and attempt a genuinely original i.
e.
, novel piece of craftwork call it art, which is after all what every novel aspires, or really ought to aspire, to be then that author artist is apt to be completely misunderstood and rejected by the public, including by his erstwhile, faithless, and insufficiently imaginative fans, who are simply and unwittingly trapped by a tangled network of expectations that prevents their recognition of the infinite artistic possibilities that the meme of the novel offers up.
The problem, I would say, is not with TNotB but with the readers, who are naturally frustrated when they encounter a novel that doesn t perform as the action adventure wrap it all up in a nutshell that the publishing industry has inculcated in their experience as the only way to tell a story TNotB is brilliant not for being a reader s book but for being an author s book In this sense it bears a certain distant kinship to works like, let s say, Moby Dick, or Ulysses, or Gravity s Rainbow To enjoy such novels, a reader must exert a certain amount of personal energy, digging deep enough into his own dark and forbidding, monster inhabited labyrinthine corporate mangled mind to re discover and then desperately grab onto and tenaciously against all odds and at all costs cling to the long interred imaginative capacity of childhood to discard all filters of expectation about what a novel should be and simply go with what this one is Here s your choice People who hate this novel do so because it is not like other novels People who love this novel do so because it is not like other novels.
Eventually any novelist worth consideration as at least a potential creative force struggling to introduce something new i.
e.
, novel into the literary world must conclude that he will no longer pander to the artistic straightjacket imposed by the marketing forces which have striven for centuries to carve deep channels of expectation into the hyper eroded landscapes of the Pavlovian minds of the reading masses he must refuse to comply any with the creatively exhausted, banal expectations of Once Upon a Time leads to B leads to C leads to D leads to Happily Ever After preferably with quite a few explosions and chases and an ever expanding body count sprinkled on top for good measure.
This is the challenge that Heinlein has flung before you, gentle reader, between the covers of The Number of the Beast The question in my mind is not whether Heinlein had simply gone insane when he wrote this he had not , but whether readers are capable of grokking for a moment that the limits of what a novel can be are far, far broader than they ve previously imagined If, gentle reader, you are able to accept TNotB for what it is rather than for what you think it is supposed to be, then I think you can be truly impressed with Heinlein s achievement.
I ve been a big fan of Heinlein for years But with each successive Heinlein book I read these days, my enthusiasm for his writing wanes just a bit This book was so dismal that it actually negatively affected my feelings about other Heinlein books specifically Time Enough For Love.
In a nutshell, this is Heinlein at his most masturbatory Towards the end of his career, he set out to tie together not only his own quite broad body of work but also the entire scope of human fiction, sending his characters to Oz, Lilliput, etc.
, ad nauseum He has his characters discuss his own books during a conversation about sci fi, and later he even inserts himself and his wife though they aren t actually present in the scene they re only mentioned as being nearby.
The big idea here that Heinlein is trying to put forward is that writing fiction creates a real universe, as real as our own The main characters have a device that lets them travel to other universes, and they find themselves interacting with characters from Stranger In A Strange Land, Time Enough For Love, and several other Heinlein stories In the hands of someone with any modesty at all, this could be humorous and clever, but in the hands of a creepy old pervert like Heinlein, it s just an excuse to get some new characters to have orgies with characters he d written years earlier.
Heinlein really scrapes the bottom of the barrel here in terms of sexual politics, too he s famous for endorsing polyamory and multiple marriages, but in this book he seems to be trying to make the world safe for father daughter incest I would have loved to hear his half baked rationale for that oneFinally, I can t state this strongly enough if you liked Time Enough For Love and want the memories of that book to stay untainted, stay away from this book This book takes the edgy ideas of the other and acts as if they re commonplace, which only makes them seem reprehensible in the strong light of day I d give this zero stars if I could Run while you still can.
Arguably one of Heinlein s finest and controversial.
Before forming an opinion on this novel, one must first be familiar with golden age scifi pulps particularly Edgar Rice Burroughs Barsoom Mars stories, E.
E doc Smith s Lensmen stories, the fiction of Asimov, Clarke, Poul Anderson, and the likes of Larry Niven, Pournell and Bova as well Even the worlds of OZ is also featured And naturally, most of Heinlein s earlier work Only then will you appreciate the scope and wit of this novel.
Alright, careful while carrying that tall stack of hardcovers, paperbacks, and please, be ultra careful with those Astounding, Fantasy and Science Fiction and Galaxy magazines, they are rather frail these days Once having got through those, you will discover that Number of the Beast, in spite of the utterly sexually liberated characters, typical of later Heinlein works and in my opinion, handled with a little taste and flair than when Silverberg treads into this territory, this is a fun and inspired work from a man who is ready to return to the craft in full force after a seven year hiatus Much a homage to the pulps of the golden age From the first line, He s a mad scientist and I m his beautiful daughter , I found this brilliantly thought out and surprisingly imaginative and intelligent novel exceptionally funny a brilliant self parody packed with Heinlein s witty zingers.
Upon this reading my fourth I decided that this could possibly be paired down and made for the stage Any ambitious play writes out there If you re into stuff like this, you can read the full review.
Non Sexist Rip Roaring SF The Number of the Beast by Robert A Heinlein original Review, 1980 08 31 Robert Heinlein s agent had hoped to get 1 million for his latest novel, The Number of the Beast What he had to settle for was half that, and not from his accustomed publisher nor from any of the houses with heavy SF publishing programs The U.
S book rights went to Fawcett Columbine, and the resulting trade paperback is 6.
95 per copy Is it worth it Very likely not It s full of science fiction community in jokes Its payoff depends heavily on your being able to recognize not only the bylines, but also the principal characters and personalities of a fair number of other science fiction writers.
When Two Male And Two Female Supremely Sensual, Unspeakably Cerebral Humans Find Themselves Under Attack From Aliens Who Want Their Awesome Quantum Breakthrough, They Take To The Skies And Zoom Into The Cosmos On A Rocket Roller Coaster Ride Of Adventure And Danger, Ecstasy And Peril From The Paperback Edition