Robert Heinlein - To Sail Beyond The Sunset

Heinlein came to me as young kid, when a ragged paperback of Stranger In A Strange Land literally fell on my head from the ceiling high bookshelf I could only scour the bottom three shelves of. Not only did this single reading help define my genre of choice, it also positioned Heinlein, through the views expressed in his writings, as the closest thing to an understanding parent I’ll ever have. His conversational style was a perfect rendition of father/son talks for a confused boy in the non-sensical midwest landscape of the 1980s.

I devoured his works. Everything I could lay my hands on… the H section in every library and book store would scarcely change without my knowing it: The Man Who Sold the Moon, Revolt in 2100, Methuselah’s Children, Time Enough For Love, The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, The Number Of The Beast. Through these books, I came to understand myself in the context of a much larger picture than racial bigotry, burnt-out factories and blue-collar attitudes on intelligence and human potential. Like most sons, I didn’t agree with him on everything, but his guidance set me on paths I still walk today.

When Heinlein died in 1988 it was like being thrown from a cliff. If you’ve ever cried on finishing a book you loved reading, you’ll understand this as the same response writ large. There were two volumes I’d not read: The Cat Who Walks Through Walls and To Sail Beyond The Sunset. There would be no more. I mentally set these aside for future expeditions when most needed. With the recent unearthing of For Us, The Living, Heinlein’s very first (and previously unpublished) novel, it was time to complete the circle.

Time Enough For Love tells the tale of Lazarus Long’s time trip into the Golden Age America of his youth, and his relationships there with his family, particularly his mother, Maureen Johnson. To Sail Beyond The Sunset is partly the same story from Maureen’s point of view, but goes beyond and wraps all of Heinlein’s works together for a final, suitable finale to a lifetime of social criticism through science fiction. His works are fantastical not so much as science fiction, but for the stripping bare of social taboo and fuzzy thinking he presents as lesser states to be overcome by intelligence and individual action.

Heinlein formulates a concept in his later works he calls World-As-Myth, where we are all equally fictional and everything which can be imagined exists somewhere in an infinity of universes. If you consider the nature of infinity and view reality through the useful lens of patterned, mathematic structure, you come to the only possible conclusion: Heinlein’s right. To Sail Beyond The Sunset brings World-As-Myth home.

I like to think of Robert Heinlein being rescued at the very end of his life here by the characters he created, that he and his partner Virginia are roaming the multiverse with Lazarus, Maureen, Jubal, Ira, Deety, Zeb, Hilda, Jake and all the others who were most surely family to him the way he’s family to me.

Heinlein is no longer here, but I’m still living a story in which he plays a part.