by Robert Heinlein
I like when 1950’s science fiction imagines all sorts of futuristic advancements, but that folks still have their mid-20th century positive attitudes about industry and growth and capitalism and such. It’s comforting to go back to a time, even if it’s in the future, when industry and growth and capitalism didn’t mean the abuse of people and the earth. (Ok, ok, I know that the industrial revolution brought horrible consequences along with cheap textiles, and one of my favorite television shows, Hell on Wheels, focuses on just one corruption-ridden business, the railroad in the 19th century, but let me occasionally live in the land of 1950s television commercials.) The main character in the novel is Dan Davis, an engineer and an inventor. He invents robots that do household tasks. Really he’s an innovator. He’s proud of the fact that he’s able to take technology that already exists and change it just a bit to produce completely new results. A good example of this is when he takes an electric typewriter, you know, like they use in the future, tinkers with it a bit, and creates a device that types architectural plans. Coincidentally, while reading this book I was being trained on a computer program called Revit that is used to design buildings. It’s fun that Heinlein missed predicting the personal computer (and email) revolution (Davis spends a lot of time at the post office and making phone calls), but was still able fairly accurately predict computer/electric typewriter programming.
The story revolves around Davis going into business with a couple of people of folks who turn out to be shady characters, including one really awful/great femme fatale. This part of the story reads like an old hard boiled crime novel, one of my favorite genres, so that was fun. In order to get his head off his business partners’ chopping block, Davis engages in some twisty and turney time travel maneuvers, something else I enjoy.
And there’s something in there about his cat, that seems really important to him at the beginning of the story, but it don’t remember. And something about a door into summer, a metaphor that may have been missed on me.
But among the engineering discussions, the noir fiction element, the 1950’s future, the fun characters, and especially the plot twists and turns made possible by the time travel, I really enjoyed this book.