These books are what are behind the books I already mentioned on Bookshelf #7. Yes, folks, I have so many books that I have to double them up on the shelf, else half of them would have to stay in boxes.
Starting from the left, we have three books by Madeleine L’Engle: A Swiftly Tilting Planet, A Wind In the Door, and A Wrinkle In Time. They’re juvenile science fiction, but I remember them as being very, very good, though I’m not sure I grasped everything when I read them the first time. You see, I started reading juvenile fiction probably around six or seven, and moved on to adult fiction by the time I was eight or nine. I read Clan of the Cave Bear when I was ten and started in on Heinlein when I was twelve. Sure, I could muddle through a book that big at such a young age, but I didn’t really grasp the full meaning till I had more experience in the real world under my belt. I’m thinking that I should go back and read Madeleine L’Engle once more so I can really get what she’s saying.
Once you get those three L’Engle novels out of the way, you’ve got thirty volumes of Robert A. Heinlein. I told you I was a fan!! Some of them are repeats; I know I have two copies of Time Enough For Love right next to one another. One is black and the other is red, about a third of the way from the left. The reddish one I bought new, so you can tell how hard I can be on my best-loved novels. This book has been everywhere with me, from getting thrown into my backpack in middle school in Nebraska and high school in Virginia, beat up during college, and tucked into bed with me during my early wedded years. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read that book. If you enjoy books that start in one time period and follow the same period throughout his life, this is the book for you. Lazarus Long, the protagonist of this book, was born in 1912 but is still alive 3,000 years later, and during his long life, he sees almost everything there is to see of human behavior. He even becomes a pioneer on another planet, several hundred years in the future, which gives the reader a glimpse of what life was like on the American frontier 150 years ago.
My favorite Heinlein book, To Sail Beyond the Sunset, is the ninth book from the left, just before you see Time Enough For Love. This book chronicles the life of Lazarus Long’s mother, Maureen Smith, who was born in the last half of the 19th century. I love this book because it combines the best of historical fiction with futuristic sci-fi — my two favorite genres. Plus Maureen is a very spunky heroine, not your typical Victorian lady, and her life spans a period of huge change in America, from the 1880s at the height of the Industrial Revolution, to her rescue in 1982, when computers were just getting started. Of course, her life doesn’t quit in 1982 — it wouldn’t be sci-fi then! But how she is rescued I will not reveal.
Another thing I love about Heinlein is how many of his books are inter-related. The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress was written in the 1960s, and dealt with a futuristic colony on the Moon wanting to gain its independence from Earth. A somewhat minor character in that novel, Hazel Stone, later shows up another novel, The Cat Who Walks Through Walls. Not only that, but the rescue of Maureen Smith takes place not just in To Sail Beyond the Sunset, but also in Time Enough For Love, The Cat Who Walks Through Walls, and The Number Of the Beast, but all from different viewpoints.
I adore The Number Of the Beast. It was my very first Heinlein novel, though I think I have lost my original copy that I bought from a used book sale at the library. In it, four people (a father and his grown daughter, with the man who becames the daughter’s husband, as well as another woman) flee the Black Hats, evil beings who seek to erase their existence from the world. The escape vehicle is Zeb’s flying car, the Gay Deceiver, who becomes her own character later in the novel. Mounted into the car is the father Jake’s time machine, which allows them to travel to different universes by dialing in various points on a 3D spatial axis (x, y, and z), as well as a 3D time axis (t, tau, and teh). But these universes are actually places found in other novels, like Oz and Barsoom, from the books of Edgar Rice Burroughs. It makes you wonder whether we are figments of someone’s imagination, or playthings for greater beings, like at the end of Men In Black (one of my favorite movies).
Heavy stuff for a twelve-year-old, eh?
I also love Friday, though the cover got me into big trouble in 8th grade. My classmates thought I was reading a dirty novel, simply because Friday’s jumpsuit is half-unzipped on the cover. But sex sells, right? This book is about an artificial human who works as a courier, delivering top-secret items. But because she is engineered instead of conceived in the traditional way, she is considered less than human and ostracized, though she is stronger and smarter than the people around her. It’s analogous to what black Americans went through with segregation. After pulling through quite a few near scrapes throughout the book, she realizes that her last mission will end with her death if she doesn’t find a way to slip the clutches of her captors.
This all sounds quite interesting on its own merit (or it does to me, anyhow), but Heinlein can’t just write a novel for the novel’s sake. So many of his novels deal with commentary on where we’re going as a society, and he even gives us plenty of advice on how to get our heads out of our behinds. Not only that, he incorporates many of the technologies he’s come up with in his novels, and he has got to be one of the most brilliant men our nation has produced in many years. His books are full of physics and ballistics and futuristic technologies that seem just out of our reach. It wouldn’t surprise me if many of his ideas come to fruition to make our lives easier because someone’s taken hold of one of his ideas and made it happen. One day technology will catch up with the fertile imagination of Heinlein. I can only hope to be alive the day that happens.