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The Door Into Summer

Heinlein with (I believe) Pixie, c. 1953. Wikipedia photo.

The Door Into Summer, by Robert A. Heinlein. Original publisher: Doubleday, 1957.

When I can’t find any newer science fiction that seems worth reading, a classic Robert A. Heinlein is always a good bet. The Door Into Summer is delightful.

I’m certain I’ve complained here before about writers who don’t know how to write. The science fiction writer Theodore Sturgeon made an axiom about that. It’s called Sturgeon’s Law: “Ninety percent of everything is crap.” Sturgeon was responding to the criticism that science fiction was usually of low literary quality. The point he wanted to make is that most fiction is of low literary quality, so why pick on science fiction? I have certainly found Sturgeon’s Law to be true in a long life of reading. It’s why I fling so many books after fewer than 30 pages. On Amazon, it’s why I move on after spending a few minutes with “Look Inside.”

Robert A. Heinlein could write. He’s often called “the master” by lovers of the science fiction genre, because few writers have been able to match his skill. Heinlein rarely bends the rules that apply to classical story structure, which is a great virtue. There are many reasons why some writers can’t write. But one of those reasons is that bad writers often imagine that they are too creative and too literary to be constrained by classical story structure. That kind of writing stinks so badly that you can smell it and fling it within three pages. To my taste, the stricter the form, the better the art, as long as one can master the form. The analogy I use is fugue form, one of the strictest forms in music. And yet, working within that strict form, J.S. Bach can blow your mind. As can a Heinlein novel.

The Door Into Summer is a story about extreme injustice followed by justice and revenge. Much of the charm comes from a character who is a cat. Heinlein’s dialogue can be counted on to be as good as his plots. The dialogue with the cat in The Door Into Summer is not just funny, or clever in how it serves the plot and the characterization. Anyone who knows cats will also recognize it as a true reflection of how cats think (and talk).

The cat character sent me to Google, wanting to know more about Heinlein’s cats. It seems that, in Grumbles from the Grave, a posthumous biography of Heinlein assembled by his wife and published in 1989, there is a letter to Lurton Blassingame, a literary agent. In the letter, Heinlein writes:

“Pixie is dying … uremia, too far gone to hope for remission; the vet sent him home to die several days ago. He is not now in pain and still purrs, but he is very weak and becoming more emaciated every day — it’s like having a little yellow ghost in the house.”

I believe Pixie died in 1957, and I believe Pixie was the cat that Heinlein wrote about in The Door Into Summer.

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