It is an interesting exercise to read books you adored in your early life. One such book for me was Heinlein’s “A door into summer”, a light sci-fi/thriller/mystery with some romance in it. I would have given it a five star rating when I first read it, mainly for its tight plot that Carl Sagan thought to be perfect, for its courage in terms of prediction of technology and a sweet tale of protagonists quest to get even. How does it fare now? I read it last week and here is my report.
Heinlein was my favorite among the ultimate sci-fi trio of Asimov, Clarke and Heinlein. Though Clarke was perceived to be more meticulous researcher, Asimov was the master storyteller at the grand scale, Heinlein was the funny one who balanced the serious with the comic. Even within his work, I thought A door into summer is a better work than his others, mainly because of the plot and the intrigue built into it. It can stand on its feet in terms of the suspense it builds and the thrilling elements it has in the excellent plot.
Even starting to talk about the plot would mean some spoilers, so I will stay away from it. The main characters are Danny – a technical whiz-kid, Miles – the marketing brain of the company, Belle – Danny’s love interest and many other folks they meet during the roller coaster ride of the book. These three own a company called Hired Girl that manufactures robots that carry out the household work. The only thing I can safely say is that time travel is involved(it is a Heinlein book, okay?) There are issues of trust, betrayal and romance too. The time travel creates some intricate complications that the plot navigates through adroitly and this is the aspect of the book that keeps the reader engaged.
Heinlein’s characters are remarkably flat. They lack depth and I do not understand much about Danny even at the end of the book. He is a tech whiz for sure, but what is Danny as a person? Why does he behave in the way he does. Heinlein is not interested in really telling us that. There is a big controversy regarding Danny’s character, but telling what it is would be a major spoiler so I will avoid that. But I agree with people who want other to boycott Heinlein’s books because of that controversial aspect. If Heinlein treats the protagonist in such a callous way, just imagine how underdeveloped the other characters would be. They hardly get any space to express themselves. They are just some pawns in the intricate plot Heinlein is trying to build. The strategy would work for certain type of readers who seek their thrills in the the plot and not the depth of the characters.
The science in the book is flaky to say the least. It overstates development of certain technology, like robots and automatons that do household work. We still do not have the devices that Heinlein predicted for the year 2000. On the other hand, Heinlein misses some obvious technological developments like the personal computer and the internet. Heinlein spends far too much time in explaining the science behind the technological predictions that he makes, and while sometimes they are pretty good(They would be right? Carl Sagan is not easily impressed.) but sometimes they are outright ridiculous.
So, in the end, did it leave the same impression as it did when I first read it? No. I still like the plot, but am totally underwhelmed with the character development. I feel the science is a little shaky too. As a result, It gets 3/5 and a selective recommendation. I recommend it only to sci-fi and fantasy fans and probably thriller/mystery fans. People who like elaborate character development would be disappointed reading the book.