Book Report: The Past Through Tomorrow by Robert Heinlein (1969, 1974)

Robert Heinlein is like Ayn Rand with ray guns.

Okay, I said that to cheese off Robert Heinlein and Ayn Rand fans, but I think there’s probably some overlap. Heinlein works some political views into his books with paragraph-long statements of philosophy. A lot of authors do this–you can review the list of contemporary crime fiction authors who have cheesed me off with their flippant anti-conservative remarks–but the difference with Heinlein is that you get some building of an argument in those paragraphs, a defense and explanation of the viewpoint instead of just a glib insult. I like it better. Also, it tracks with my viewpoint.

This book collects 800 pages of short stories written over decades that make up the Future History timeline (most of the material; Wikipedia says there are others, and I think Time Enough For Love fits into the story arc). The Future History covers several hundred years, from Earth’s movement to the Road City model (where moving sidewalks built to superhighway size dictate commerce and growth) to the drive to put man on the Moon, the resulting interplanetary colonization and imperialism, the revolts, the rise of a theocracy in America, the revolution against the theocracy, and then the treatment of a subrace of long-lived humans when they are discovered.

The stories themselves are forty to sixty years old, so the space race and human development haven’t proceeded in the fashion depicted, but given that we haven’t gotten far into space yet, much of it could still come truish. For example, Heinlein doesn’t see moon travel as a government program (as it was), but a private endeavor (as it will be). So you have to overlook places where the author projects his expectations into the future that is actually our past and present (and future) that don’t follow along the lines of actual development. If you can get past that, you have a lot of exciting and engaging classic science fiction available to you.

Mostly short stories, but some long novellas and short novels in the mix kept me coming back. I was feeling pretty cocky after Thanksgiving when I’d read 95 books or so, so I thought I’d try to run through this in my drive to 100 books. This took me a month to read, but I’m still in good shape. And Heinlein is good fun. The stories are not hyper-obsessed with science like you get in more modern science fiction along the lines of The Forge of God or the works of Larry Niven, so the focus on story keeps one reading.

I’ve got more Heinlein on my to-read shelves, and that’s a good place to be.

Books mentioned in this review: