Ted Nolan <tednolan>
2020-05-17 03:09:11 UTC
Well, April was an odd month. The ongoing crisis cut severely into my
reading time, as I usually read during lunch. Then there were several
work and personal projects...
The Pursuit of the Pankera: A Parallel Novel About Parallel Universes
by Robert A. Heinlein
I read _The Number of the Beast_ back in the day. Honestly I don't
recall it all that well, but I know I found it underwhelming, with
some good parts, and then a lot of bickering about "lifeboat rules"
and "white mutinies" followed by an ending that didn't really address
the threat that was the impetus to the plot.
For some reason, while he was writing TNOTB, Heinlein was also
writing _The Pursuit of the Pankera_, using the same characters and
starting point while taking the story in a different direction.
Perhaps he was making a point about the Many Worlds theory, alternate
history and characters who more than half suspect they are fictional.
Again, for some reason, he decided not to publish _The Pursuit of
the Pankera_ after TNOTB. In general I would say he should have
done the opposite and kept TNOTB in the trunk. TPOTP is a much
more fun book, not as bogged down in blind alleys as Beast, and
spends more time in interesting places.
I am struck, as well, by something I totally missed when reading
The Number Of The Beast back in the day. Despite all the invocations
of Doc Smith, I somehow did not see that at least the first third
of the book is a recapitulation of Smith's _The Skylark of Space_
(the first space opera): Two bantering couples, a brilliant scientist
and man of action, a deadly menace and a wonderful new conveyance
to unimagined worlds. To take it even a bit further, Smith was to
some extent lampooning Burroughs, with his naked, martial Martians,
so that the Skylark's first destination "Osnome" is modeled on (and
sounds like) "Barsoom". In Pankera Heinlein goes to the original
but even has the Earth party do the doubletalk grandiose introductions
to the natives that Smith pioneered.
The book opens at a campus party where Zebadiah John Carter, a man
with many escapades in his past who nonetheless enjoys playing the
campus dilettante, quickly meets Deja Thoris Burroughs, the young
woman who will be his bride, her brilliant mathematician father
Jake, who has been desperately trying to get in touch with him, and
somebody who is trying to kill them all, including the party's
hostess, Hilda Corners, who unknown to Carter (or to her) is his
Making a quick escape in Zeb's flying car (we are at some indefinite
point in the future), the foursome quickly tie the knots in whirlwind
courtships and go to ground to try and figure out what is going on.
What that is, is that apparently some nonhuman species has infested
the Earth and has it violently in for anybody with enough mathematical
talent to figure out where they came from, or how to escape. Jake
had, in fact, been seeking out Zeb under the assumption (for
complicated reasons) that he was also a brilliant mathematician.
He's not. But he *does* have the practical engineering skill to
adapt Seaton's (ah, I mean Burroughs's) discoveries into a
multiuniversal drive which will fit in _Gay Deceiver_, the
aforementioned flying car.
With that barely done, the foursome bugs out just in advance of a
nuclear strike on their bolt-hole and decides that Earth is no
longer safe. A few adjustments and misadventures behind them, they
find themselves at Mars in a parallel universe and decide to take
a rest stop.. To find themselves on Barsoom, hosted by Carthoris,
Thuvia and the original Dejah Thoris (the warlord, whom Zeb has put
out is his cousin is off on adventures). Of course trouble has a
way of following one (or four)...
Although Zeb is essentially the main character, the story is told
in alternating first person sections, narrated by each of Zeb,
Hilda, Deety & Jake. This works pretty well, though Deety has an
"I'm X, I am" tic that can be annoying, and each of the characters
This was a fun book, better, as I said, than "the original". My
main criticism would be that he still doesn't totally "stick" the
ending, though it is better than TNOTB. After a whole book of
pretty much "real time" adventures, we suddenly go into fast forward
mode where there are a bunch of kids we never get to know, and the
foursome go off on a genocidal tear (that is not a good look for
them), before getting it under control and deciding to actually
address the threat seriously. And we are just about to see that
happen (with a whole bunch of cast additions that we have our
suspicions about, but which said are never wholly addressed) when
the book ends. Granted we know that they are going to carry the
day, and all live through the battle, but it's a bit of an anti-climax,
and still never really addresses the underpinnings of the threat.
Also, be aware this is late period Heinlein, so you have ideas on
sexual liberation from a man born in 1907, and who has very firm
ideas on sex roles. Of course, I think he turned it up to 11 to
make some heads explode on purpose, but yeah, those heads are going
to explode. (Mine just hurt a bit).
As for the trunk-novel status of the book.. There were a few places
where there were some obvious needs for edits (one chapter was
almost 100% dialogue for instance, so that apparently Heinlein
forgot whose chapter it was and dropped into third person at one
point), and a few spots that could have used another draft (Carthoris
came across looking too naive at one point, for instance), but in
general this is well flowing, sure-footed Heinlein prose.
If you are asking yourself: Did Lazarus Long show up like he did
in TNOTB? The answer is.. maybe.
On the Late Heinlein scale, this is closer to _Friday_ than anything
else, so if you detest LH, you may still like this one. I did.
What's not in Columbia anymore..
What's not in Columbia anymore..