|Beyond This Horizon by Robert Heinlein
(Originally published in 1942 in Astounding Science Fiction under the pseudonym Anson MacDonald.)
Hardcover (September 2001)
Review by Ernest Lilley
Check out this book at: Amazon US / Amazon UK
A lot of publishers keep an eye out for the "next Robert Heinlein," which isn't surprising considering the enduring popularity of the author. Consider: the first Hugo was given out in 1953, so we'll never know how many Hugos RAH would have collected for his early years, but the Retro-Hugo, awarded for the same category's as today, but to works published exactly 50 years ago, were just swept by RAH for best book, novelette, and Dramatic Presentation for his efforts in 1951.
While Baen books is certainly looking harder than anyone, they've no objection to going to the source as well, and have been printing hardcover reprints of the master for a while now. (In fact, you can check out a number of classic titles at their Heinlein Page.)
Beyond this Horizon is pretty early Heinlein, first published in 1942. I'd never read it, and the thought of an new early Heinlein was enough to get me to put down everything else I was reading until I'd finished it. Of course, at 239 pages, a perfectly normal size for a book then, but wafer thin by today's standards, that didn't take all that long.
Beyond This Horizon has lectures on zero-growth economics, genetics, citizenship, parenting, manners, divorce, and marksmanship. Its cast has wise and foolish men, a genetically advanced hero, a classic Heinlein babe to offset the rest of self repressed womanity and a pair of precocious infants. All the classic Heinlein elements.
Unfortunately it doesn't have much of a plot.
You pretty much couldn't pay to get this published today, but it fits into its period like a glove, or maybe a chain mail fist. The heavy social drama reminds us that the sixties weren't the first period in Science Fiction to put social change ahead of space opera.
Set several centuries ahead, Mankind has achieved a gradual utopia, war, sickness, poverty…all wiped out. Genetic counseling has cleaned up the gene pool and computers and an advance understanding of economics has stabilized the economy.
Nearly everyone works, though no one has too, because it's human nature to want to do something useful and productive.
Their biggest problem is boredom.
Oh, and a secret cabal that wants to take over and change the direction of the genetic counseling program along "scientific" lines. Lines that would discard the "normal" human and push man to be all and whatever he can be, gilled for survival on watery Venus (1940s, planetary science, remember?) or expanded brain cases for super-intelligence or whatever suits the scientific rulers' fancy.
Contemporary genetics, on the other hand, is dedicated to making the genome all it can be, within normal lines. Picking the best of each generation and encouraging reproduction, but only encouraging the traits that occur naturally.
If you've read E.E. "Doc" Smith's Lensman series, you'll find this to be a familiar theme. Actually, if you've seen the Gary Seven episode ("Assignment Earth") of Star Trek in the sixties, you'll note that Seven is the product of exactly such a program. Which makes you aware that Roddenbury's ideas were developed in the 40s and 50s. Just as significantly, Khan Noonian Singh, Jim Kirk's old nemesis is a product of this other school of Genetic engineering, one that doesn't use the natural form of man as an ideal.
Interestingly, they refer to a "First Genetics War" in which there was engineered a "Great Khan". A fascinating coincidence, as our favorite Vulcan would point out. You might catch the details of this issue's Eugenics Wars review to see just how fascinating.
The main (barely) character is Felix Hamilton, third generation of a "Star Line", the succession of matings of good genes that the story's geneticists drool over. In just one more generation, they theorize, they'll have a superman. It's not at all clear why they want one, or why they think one will be benevolent, considering the novel was published in the middle of WWII and issues of a "master race" had to be on RAH's mind.
Felix, a name forever tarnished by "The Odd Couple", doesn't see the point in existence and is adamant that he'll not bring a child into a world he considers without meaning. His friend and super-geneticist, Hardon, is quite distressed by this, as he's already picked out a gal of sufficient genetic worth to match Felix with and finish the line.
He'll breed that pesky doubting streak out while he's at it.
I nearly despaired of RAH as I read the story and found all the men wearing either side arms or "peace brassards" and ready to fight over infractions of honor or etiquette at the drop of a crab's leg while the women remained meekly waiting for their honor to be defended.
I shouldn't have worried. Enter the classic Heinlein Woman. Longcourt Phyliss, a gun toting, kick-bite-and scratch fighting, shorts wearing dame that can kiss with as much gusto as she can kick. A classic, I'm as good as any man, but happen to like being a woman, gal.
My kind of character.
I don't think her hair color is mentioned, but one can bet it's Virginia Heinlein Red.
In a grand SF tradition, the cover art has precious little to do with the story. It bears mention however as a blatant steal of a classic 2001: A Space Odyssey image. Floating serenely over the planet, we see an embryo backlit by the sun. A dead ringer for the Star Child image at the end of the Clarke/Kubrick movie.
Since this is 2001, I assume this is an attempt to get in on the revived interest in the movie…not that I've seen any to speak of.
As I said before, it's got all the classic Heinlein elements, but they fail to make a noble compound. It's readable, and if you have a yen to know everything there is to know about the most influential SF writer of the last century, you'll want to make sure you don't miss it.
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An excellent Robert Heinelein Page: http://www.severing.nu/rah.htm