The Door Into Summer: A charming time-travel story from Golden Age Heinlein

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsThe Door Into Summer by Robert A. Heinlein children's SF book reviewsThe Door Into Summer by Robert A. Heinlein

The Door Into Summer (1957) is an immensely enjoyable time-travel story told effortlessly by Robert A. Heinlein long before he turned into a crotchety, soap-box ranting old crank who had a very unhealthy obsession with free love and characters going back in time to get involved with their mothers (gross!!).

So, back to this book. The Door Into Summer is the story of Daniel Davis, a hard-working engineer in 1970 who invents a wonderful robot vacuum cleaner named Hired Girl (not at all sexist, right?), but has more ambitious plans for an all-purpose household robot called Flexible Frank. He collaborates with his business partner Miles Gentry and assistant named Belle Darkin. However, one evening Dan discovers that his partner Miles is in cahoots with Belle to wrest control of the company from him. They take a controlling share and fire him as Chief Engineer, and to make matters worse, they steal his designs for Flexible Frank. He is so upset that he elects to go into “cold sleep,” entrusting his stock certificates to Ricky, the stepdaughter of Miles, hoping to wake up to a better world in 2000.

Of course when he is revived all is not well. His plan has not worked, the company that Miles and Belle ran has gone bankrupt, and a different company seems to have developed Flexible Frank under the name of Eager Beaver. Dan is at a loss to figure out what has happened. He starts to follow a series of clues that point to a number of paradoxes that could only be explained by time travel…

Hang on, did I forget to mention the most important character in The Door Into Summer? Indeed I did, for the most charming figure in the book is a tomcat named Petronius the Arbiter (Pete for short), and he really steals the show. Dan brings Pete everywhere, including to restaurants and bars, where he keeps him hidden in a bag but orders him drinks. Pete plays an absolutely critical role later in the story, but Heinlein’s descriptions of Pete should really resonate with cat lovers.

Upon further reflection, I may have to revise my earlier statement that Heinlein didn’t delve into any of his later creepy obsessions about women or mothers. In this story the little girl Ricky is a plucky kid who is wise beyond her years, and Dan really admires her, imagining what a fine young woman she might grow up to be. But wait, if he goes into “cold sleep” for 30 years, won’t that bring their ages closer together? Actually it’s much more complicated than that, and why bother getting together with Ricky when she’s in her 40s when you can manage things so she is only 21 instead? How is this possible? Well, when you’re the author you can make anything happen, didn’t you know?

So lurking under the surface of this otherwise charming and very cleverly-constructed time-travel story, we have yet another subtext of creepy wish fulfillment. It really didn’t have to be part of the story, but then again this is Heinlein, and for him writing was always an opportunity to explore his own fantasies and political ideas.  If you can overlook this, The Door Into Summer is a brisk and well-told story, I think you will find it quite enjoyable, even if he is laying the foundations for later travesties like Time Enough for Love, To Sail Beyond the Sunset, and The Number of the Beast.

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STUART STAROSTA, on our staff from March 2015 to November 2018, is a lifelong SFF reader who makes his living reviewing English translations of Japanese equity research. Despite growing up in beautiful Hawaii, he spent most of his time reading as many SFF books as possible. After getting an MA in Japanese-English translation in Monterey, CA, he lived in Tokyo, Japan for about 15 years before moving to London in 2017 with his wife, daughter, and dog named Lani. Stuart's reading goal is to read as many classic SF novels and Hugo/Nebula winners as possible, David Pringle's 100 Best SF and 100 Best Fantasy Novels, along with newer books & series that are too highly-praised to be ignored. His favorite authors include Philip K Dick, China Mieville, Iain M. Banks, N.K. Jemisin, J.G. Ballard, Lucius Shepard, Neal Stephenson, Kurt Vonnegut, George R.R. Martin, Neil Gaiman, Robert Silverberg, Roger Zelazny, Ursula K. LeGuin, Guy Gavriel Kay, Arthur C. Clarke, H.G. Wells, Olaf Stapledon, J.R.R. Tolkien, Mervyn Peake, etc.

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  1. Stuart, this was one of my favorite books when I was a kid. My dad had many earlier Heinlein novels on his bookshelf and I read them numerous times each.

  2. Oh, Heinlein. What a weird guy! I love reading this book (primarily because of Pete), but the wish-fulfillment always creeps me out.

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