I read this book about
This is the first time I've read this book.
The book is copyright 2004.
This note was last modified
Wednesday, 20-Jan-2016 15:28:14 PST.
This note does not contain major spoilers for the book.
Yes, I'm finally getting to this. This is actually Heinlein's
first novel—written in late 1938 and barely slopping
over into 1939. Before even "Lifeline" was written and sold. I was
delayed because I couldn't buy it for myself when it came
out; I had to wait to give people a chance to give it to me for
Needless to say, a "new" Heinlein novel is pretty exciting, especially
one which comes from the good end of his career. I imagine this is
going to be pretty lengthy.
I've read a bunch of the discussion about this book, I'm not coming at
it completely cold.
I'm going to make a bunch of individual notes this time through, I
think. Then maybe rework some of them if they're interesting, or
maybe preserve the notes regardless and write more on some of them
that turn out to be interesting.
Pg. 6. "Smoke?" Yep, apparently people still do that in 2086.
Nothing about it being modified to be healthy, either (whereas
the rum later is "rum surrogate", and she puts a sedative pill
Pg. 9. "Television". Diana asks Perry about famous television
stars, and Perry says "Television wasn't available." So is
Heinlein really saying Perry would have known the word then?
And note that this was written in 1938-39; was the word in fact
Interesting; it appears that a complete TV system
(non-broadcast, I think) was demonstrated in 1923. This was
before the first practical loudspeaker was developed (Rice and
Kellogg, in 1925), according to this.
1927 shows the first "electronic" TV picture, and 1928 has
experimental TV station permits issued. CBS begins experimental
broadcasts in 1931, NBC in 1932. And there were TV
demonstrations at the World's Fair in 1939. Roosevelt gives a
speech on TV, and the DuMont company begins manufacturing
consumer TV sets. Okay, I guess he's allowed to know the word.
The first TV station, however, only went on the air in 1940 (in
Pg. 10. "Diana 160-398-400-48A". There was this period
fascination with representing people by numbers. Most people
seem to have been against it. And note the presence of
the trailing "A". Check digit scheme? Why not use letters
throughout, and a shorter number (like phone "numbers" on the
moon in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress)?
Pg. 10. Am I missing a joke on the Sinclair Lewis title? It's
given as The Gallion of God. Spelling error?
Unusual spelling? Or another word I don't know? There are
43,900 hits on Google, but it seems to be a surname and a
business name, I don't see a connection.
Pg. 11. "Televuestat Reno station with tube delivery,
destination G610L-400-48". So he's got fax machines, but
they're too expensive to have at individual locations (although
they have picturephones to every house). And he's got an
automated delivery system covering the city, at least for small
items. Very handy, and we never got anything like that.
Frankly I think the tube system is far more useful than fax
machines. Also note the weird addressing code. He does
something like that in "Gulf", too. Zip codes didn't come in
until 1963, and that was only 5-digit, which would cover an
entire small town, not just one address.
Pg. 12. "Why they support themselves on their heritage." First
hint of "Social Credit" concepts, I believe.
Pg. 12 ff. Discussion of marriage, monogamy, divorce, and
such. This might have seemed pretty hot for 1939. I imagine it
seems pretty hot to the religious right right now, and there are
an appalling number of them.
Pg. 16. Biometric ID over the picturephone. And you'll note
Diana didn't need it to order services and presumably have them
billed to her earlier. The ID is done to look up who Perry
Pg. 26. "Televue". You can watch remote programs, or you can
put recordings in it, and isn't this their phone too? A
convergence device, telephone, television, VCR/DVD player,
perhaps computer too?
Pg. 27. "Sphere". Public and private. Things are not allowed
to cross spheres. Very much the opposite of how things work
today. Perhaps better, it's not clear yet. Wouldn't a murder
affect your suitability to be a senator?
Pg. 29. The start of the "Man too Lazy to Fail" story shows
Pg. 38. The infamous two-page footnote about character
development. Yep, it's really there.
Pg. 41. "refreshing room", appears to be euphemism for
"bathroom". He often used "refresher" or just "fresher" later.
And there's "her refreshing room" and the "guest's refreshment
chamber", rather prefiguring modern architectural ideas on the
Pg. 49. "A Semitic gentleman appeared on the screen." A
tailor. Apparently some things weren't going to change over the
next 150 years. Have you seen a Jewish tailor lately?
Pg. 56. What's this with Edward, Duke of Windsor, having
abdicated the throne in 1936 "rather than accept the complete
domination of his prime minister"? Was the actual cause not
known when Heinlein was writing this? No, because he was
"reluctant to accept but finally agreed to do so provided his
wife was given equal formal rank with him", i.e. he got his
revenge. "They say that the English queen never got over it."
Pg. 61. Bankers seem to have been much more powerful in this
timeline than they were in ours. One of the great victories was
a "publicly owned bank". (There's also a reference to bankers
in this context earlier.)
Pg. 67 "in 2003 December two aircraft carriers...raided
Manhattan". Hey, that's right now. And rather
prefigures Pearl Harbor, in its way; it just waited a bit
Well, we seem to be solidly past WWII. It wasn't much of a big
deal in that world. Apparently Heinlein didn't know about the
extermination camps, and of course the atomic bomb hadn't been
used yet. And Pearl Harbor hadn't happened. So it wasn't much
of a war.
Pg. 81. "Nehemiah Scudder". Founder of the New Crusade and
leader of the Neo-Puritans. Obviously a baddy.
Pg. 87. "Dancing, ... games and other vanities were verboten".
That last, of course, is German for "forbidden". Apparently
some of the cultural attitude towards Germany that we have today
goes back at least to WWI.
Pg. 87. "Libertarian", capitalized (and not at the beginning of
the sentence). He's used the lowercase once previously in this
Pg. 88. "Cyrus Fielding, Rosa Weinstein, John Delano Roosevelt,
Ludvig Dixon, Joseph Berzowski, and Colin MacDonald...".
"Ludvig" with a 'v'? Anyway, a traditional Heinleinian game
with names standing in for ethnic identity. Maybe it still
works that way for most people, but it never has for me. Too
many people are culturally not what their male-line pedigree
would suggest. Note the breadth of ethnicity there, though. Is
one of those clearly black? Not to me.
Pg. 89. "No law shall forbid the performance of any act, which
does not damage the physical or economic welfare of any other
person." (and then a sentence later which requires damage or
present danger of such damage"). (From the new constitution
ratified in 2028).
That's not a restriction,
that's a broadening of powers. I think Heinlein had
missed (through writing in 1938) a considerable amount of the
extension of government power under the Interstate Commerca
Clause of the present Constitution. It's the inclusion of
economic welfare that opens the floodgates. However, what I
think he's trying to accomplish is eliminate
Pg. 89. And then he clips all rights from corporate persons (but
not natural persons they may be representing). For exactly the
reason we'd like to do it now. In 1938.
Pg. 90. And then he defines a right of privacy, and starts
stripping the Senate of its powers (the House can pass
legislation over the Senate's objection) and increasing the
power of the President (he can propose legislation that becomes
law in 90 days in the absence of Congressional action). And he
allows the House or the President to force new elections if
needed. They considered abolishing the Senate, but were blocked
by an obscure provision in the original Constitution requring
unanimous consent of all states to do so. Presumably that's the
last part of Article V: "no State, without its Consent, shall
be deprived of its equal Suffrage in the Senate."
Pg. 93 ff. Personal flyers. At least this one has the
possibility of robot controls with radio links to the ground.
Electric powered, with "chlorophyll batteries" (storage
batteries). Except the newest ones somehow use direct
conversion of coal to electricity, apparently something Eddison
was working on when he died.
Pg. 99. "The streets move in strips." Hence "The Roads Must
Pg. 100. "Kilt" (as common dress for men). Lazarus was very
fond of them, some time later. (It's mentioned earlier, when
they're ordering clothes, come to think of it).
Pg. 108. "Marko's going to drive one to the moon someday."
Meaning apparently they haven't reached the moon yet in 2086?
Pg. 108. "That's the asbestos rug." To keep from burning your
feet where the rocket just landed. But "asbestos" is an evil
word now, so it sounds funny.
Pg. 108. "changed to helico". I believe the switch position was
labeled "helix". Hmm; let's see. Pg. 94, the switch position is
labeled 'helicopter'. Then on Pg. 95 the "main control switch"
has settings 'helix' and 'plane'. I think the editors should
have done something about this.
Pg. 123. Here comes the jealousy scene. Perry hadn't been
paying attention to what Diana told him. Also he's crazy even
for 1939; he appears to be jealous of people Diana used to
Pg. 129. First black man I've noticed. In a position of
authority. Perry doesn't particularly notice, but he has other
things on his mind. Is he really going to simply have no racist
Pg. 133. "Coventry". Apparently a feature of his very first
imaginary landscape. (The place they send you if you don't
accept the rules of society.)
Pg. 158. "Worked it out on my slide rule". Nice engineering
phrase that just doesn't have any modern equivalent. We simply
"work it out", without reference to a special tool. Of course
we all use computers to do it, or at least an electronic
Pg. 159. "Money is gold". Not any more. That one sounds
really stupid. But I guess it was nearly axiomatic then
(although the US essentially went off the gold standard in 1933,
and it says that right in the book). The
axiom in 2086 is "Anything that is physically possible can be
made financially possible, if the people of a state desire it."
(I'm sure he excludes doing simultaneously two things each of
which are only barely physically possible; since then the actual
goal is to do both, which is not physically possible.)
Pg. 162. List of ways in which excess production was canceled.
Doesn't mention inflation, which pushes the other way.
Pg. 205. "Isn't it a man's job?" And he doesn't get any
push-back on the assumptions, either. (The girl who developed
the rocket fuel was running the ground test; in fact when the
rocket blew up later she was severely injured or killed.)
Pg. 206. "Fractional controls". Some of the ships the Stones
considered had them, too, whatever that means. In this one it's
some kind of alternative to "precession", so I think they're
talking about reacting against a big gyro vs. using a bunch of
little rockets pointing various directions.
It's been mentioned before, but I'm just noticing the use of
rockets for domestic transport. It also occurs a lot in early
SF; seems like the natural progression, they think, is something
like water, rail, air, jet, rocket. That last step never
happened in the real world.
I see now why the picture on the jacket shows him with a chess board
(and it's a picture I haven't seen before). His play-at-home
macroeconomic model uses a chess board (and poker chips and playing
cards). I haven't bothered to try the game. What I really want to do
is see how valid it's thought to be by today's standards. That'd be a
lot like work, though.
I wonder why there are so few photos of him around? He attended
several worldcons (more than just the two he was guest of honor at),
and I know at least at Midamericon a lot of people took pictures. I
got quite a few myself. I can see that the family snapshots might not
get out. He might also be in snapshots by a lot of other writers, he
wasn't a hermit particularly so far as I can tell.
I dunno if this will be interesting or not, but I'm going to build a
table of specific future-historical predictions. Not social change
stuff, but specific events or inventions. People have been talking
about it a lot.
|48 states in the union in 2086
|LaGuardia serves two terms as president
|Television will be important
|Sinclair Lewis writes The Gallion of God
||Yes (probably already done in 1938?)
||Blackberries still have seeds, however
|Computer-generated custom clothing
|Roosevelt fails of reelection in 1940
|Outlawing the communist party
|America stays out of WWII
||Working on it
|Asiatic economies bad
|2010 US population 180 million
|2010 US value of goods produced 540 billion