Double Star

BOOK REVIEW | The Door into Summer by Robert Heinlein Thumbnail

The Door into Summer

The Door into Summer, by Robert Heinlein, is the author’s last adult novel written before his arguably three most famous works: Starship Troopers, Stranger in a Strange Land, and The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. The book benefits from the strong points that every Heinlein novel displays, but in other ways it almost feels like the author was holding back. Like Alfred Hitchcock, Heinlein had some great works mixed in with a lot of decent ones, and the present novel fits squarely into the latter category. In researching it, I came across a quote by John W. Campbell that sums up for me how I feel about certain Heinlein novels, The Door into Summer included: “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.”

The narrator, Dan Davis, is a gifted engineer who cannot see eye to eye with his business partner and best friend, Miles Gentry. Miles and Dan’s fiancée, Belle, conspire to steal Dan’s company from him and then send him into hibernation for thirty years. He wakes up in the year 2000, destitute, but begins working to build himself back up and maybe get some revenge. Along the way, as Dan investigates what has happened since he was put into the “Long Sleep,” strange clues begin turning up, indicating that there is more going on than he may realize.

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BOOK REVIEW | Double Star by Robert Heinlein Thumbnail

Robert Heinlein’s first Hugo Award winner was Double Star, a work that garners him far less attention today than his other Hugo winners. A reading of the novel will make obvious the reason for this: it is simply not as good. This is not to say that the book is poor, but for it to have won the Hugo Award in 1956, one must suppose either that it was a weak year for science fiction or that giving it the award was a mistake, akin to giving the Oscar to American Beauty or Shakespeare in Love.

It is something of a mystery to me why the novel does not amount to much. The protagonist has a distinct and interesting personality and the idea for the story holds promise. The prose is spare but efficient as you would expect from a Heinlein piece. What went wrong is that the plot is underdeveloped, a fault that would seem to be easily avoided, especially with a veteran author if he cares enough to put the effort into it. A writer needs to squeeze out of a story idea its potential, like one wrings the juice from an orange, and this is not achieved in Double Star. Given that The Puppet Masters came out a few years earlier, its weakness cannot be explained by an author who had yet to come into his own as a storyteller.

The main character is Lorenzo Smythe, an actor in the middle of some lean times but who preserves his pride and thespian affectation, though not to the point of becoming a caricature. He is offered a top secret job to impersonate a kidnapped Martian politician, Joseph Bonforte, until the man can be recovered. At stake is the peaceful equilibrium of human society.

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