6xH: Six Stories by Robert A. Heinlein by Robert A. Heinlein
Robert A. Heinlein, certainly one of the most influential authors in science fiction history, was also one of the most celebrated. As reported in The Science Fiction Encyclopedia, Heinlein was the guest of honor at three World SF Conventions, received the first Grand Master Nebula Award, and was selected “best all-time author” in many readers’ polls. His four Hugo awards for Best Novel is a record that stands to this day, and in his long and prolific career, the man wrote 32 novels (13 of them juveniles) and 58 short stories. In 1959, six of those shorter pieces were collected in what was to later be appropriately titled 6xH, consisting of tales written between 1941 and 1959. Most of these tales are rather fantasy-oriented and not really science fiction, and indeed, all six appear in a larger collection called The Fantasies of Robert A. Heinlein.
6xH kicks off with the longest tale of the bunch, “The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag” (which first appeared in Unknown Worlds; 10/42). In this novella-length story, a prim and fussy man hires a detective couple (that Heinlein obviously based on Nick and Nora Charles) to find out just what he does for a living. The little man is an amnesiac, it seems, and pretty soon our detecting couple is involved in a very bizarre case involving apparent hypnotism, hallucinations, the kidnapping of souls and the mirror-dwelling Sons of the Bird. The reader will never guess just where this one-of-a-kind story is going next, or the mystery of Jonathan Hoag’s background. A way-out finale answers our many questions, but just barely. This tale, by the way, was chosen for inclusion in British critic David Pringle’s book Modern Fantasy: The 100 Best Novels, despite its 105-page length. Yes, it IS that good. (6xH collection, by the way, was originally called “The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag,” but my 35-cent Pyramid paperback from 1961 carries the 6xH title, so I’m reviewing it under that title. Amazon readers who wish to see additional comments on this book are urged to look under the original title.)
Next up is a short tale called “The Man Who Traveled in Elephants” (Saturn; 10/57), supposedly one of Heinlein’s favorites. If I’m reading this tale correctly (and I suppose that the story is open to interpretation), the author is here suggesting that heaven is very similar to all the parades, state fairs, and expositions in the world rolled into one. This is a sweet little story, rich in detail, that features a warmly satisfying ending.
“All You Zombies” (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction; 3/59) is one of the author’s last short pieces, and was something of a head-scratcher for yours truly. Supposedly a classic time paradox story, this one almost gave me a migraine as I tried in vain to figure out its loopy temporal conundrums.
“They” (Unknown; 4/41) was much more satisfying for me. A man sits in a mental ward, convinced that he is different from every other human being in the world. Is he a raving paranoiac or rather on to a hideous worldwide conspiracy? Heinlein waits until the very end of this fun story before showing his hand.
“Our Fair City” (Weird Tales; 1/49) is a very whimsical fantasy that is heavy on the humor. It tells the story of Kitten, a sentient whirlwind (as in spinning current of air) that helps to bring down the corrupt government in a nameless small city. This one really had me chuckling out loud, with its tough talk and outrageous situations. A very charming tale indeed.
The collection winds up nicely with the much-celebrated “‘And He Built A Crooked House — ‘” (Astounding Science-Fiction; 2/41). In this story, an eccentric architect builds a house in SoCal based on a tesseract, and succeeds in having this structure enter a fourth-dimensional wonderland, where our three-dimensional rules seem to be in abeyance. Things get pretty outré and hallucinatory by the end of this remarkable tale.
Thus ends this very entertaining bunch of fantasies from one of science fiction’s foremost practitioners. By the book’s end, I have a feeling most readers will be wishing it were called 12xH!