An Audiobook Review: Second Door on the Left?


The Door into Summer

by Robert A. Heinlein

Published by Blackstone Audio

Read by Patrick Lawlor

The Book:

The Door into Summer is an excellent example of Heinlein writing during his transitional period from mostly writing juveniles to his treatments of more adult topics. Now I do not mean to use adult here as a euphemism for sex, but while he was still writing stories that went, “Golly gee, Jackie, let’s build a spaceship today and travel to the Moon for our vacation!” this story was obviously intended for a more mature audience.

In it we meet one of Heinlein’s typical individualistic character, Daniel Boone Davis. Is he related to Manuel O’Kelly-Davis and the rest of his family of The Moon is a Harsh Mistress? Maybe, but it never comes up in this book, nor does Manny ever mention his engineer/inventor predecessor that I recall. However I suspect there is an implied relation between this Davis and Black Jack Davis, first husband of the Davis line marriage. For all I know he may have later invented the Davis Drive for spaceships, mentioned in Podkayne of Mars, but once again this is unsaid. And besides Dan Davis seems content to build robots of various types.

Regardless of whether there is a relationship, Dan Davis is a successful inventor. Maybe too successful when it turns out his erstwhile fiancée has been stringing him along while plotting with his partner to force Dan either into a subsidiary position or out of the company altogether. Dan is understandably depressed when he realizes the scope of the deception that has been perpetrated on him and decides to take the “cold sleep,” a form of suspended animation, hoping to wake up to a better future along with his cat, Pete, who he carries around in a bag, although the cat does occasionally come out for food and ginger ale.

Pete, like Dan, is a stubborn individualist and when indoors during the winter will refuse to go outside into the snow, but will insist on being shown what is outside every door  in the house, in the hopes of finding a door that opens into summer, hence the name of the book. Dan too, admits he, too, is looking for his own door into summer.

Well Dan might have been intelligent, but his wisdom is somewhat lacking and in the heat of the moment he decides that rather than go to sleep he’ll give his partner and ex-fiancée one last chance, an encounter that turns into a bit of a brawl capped off when the ex injects Dan with a sort of “Zombie drug” that saps him of all his will, making him completely compliant to her every spoken wish. He is ten sent into “cold sleep,” although not in the institution Dan had made arrangements with and he wakes up thirty years later to find he owns absolutely nothing but the clothes on his back – all his assets have either been stolen or are now worthless and he must build a new life for himself in this sparkling future.

However, there are problems even in a Utopian future, it seems and, looking around, Dan sees things that don’t seem to add up, but he is too caught up, just trying to make a living at first to do more than ponder them. By the time he is semi-established in the future, he discovers there is a form, albeit unreliable, of time travel and he decides to use it to both get his revenge, save his cat and at the same time make his life better in the future world.

What I think I like most about this story is that Heinlein completely avoids the whole time paradox issue. You probably know the one I mean; what if a man goes back and kills one of his ancestors before that ancestor has kids? An interesting question, I suppose for college sophomores sitting around the dorm at 2 am, but when you get right down to it, a pointless one. We do not have time-travel (well, we do, but we all travel through time at the usual rate of one second per second and only in one direction. And if you know otherwise, have a nice trip!) so speculating about changing the past is something we can never prove one way or the other. Some authors have taken their stabs at such a possibility in any case and the genre is filled with stories along those lines, but most authors these days (myself included) find a way to make such a paradox impossible.

Heinlein, in The Door into Summer avoids the issue almost completely. Do you really want to find out what happens with you kill an ancestor before he or she has children? Of course not. It is a foolish and suicidal line of investigation. It would take sheer insanity to seriously attempt such a thing and when you get right down to it, there are easier ways to kill oneself, so why even make it a part of your story?

The story itself is a bit predictable. By the time the time travel mechanism is described the reader should be able to guess what happens next and with, perhaps, one or two details excepted, figure out how the rest of the story is going to go and how it will all turn out. Even so it is worth the ride. Entertaining and thought-provoking. I enjoyed it.

The Audiobook:

Patrick Lawlor was an interesting choice of reader for this book. At first his tenor voice seems to make Dan sound a bit too young, but as he went on, I started to enjoy the reading. His vocal mannerisms are subtle and maybe at times a bit too subtle and many characters sound alike, but he does not resort to annoying voices or accents in order to tell the story. In short he is reading, not acting the book out. One can discern male from female characters in his voice but not necessarily one man from another just by listening, except for Pete – Mister Lawlor does great cat meows. However, Heinlein’s characters make themselves known well enough so funny voices and annoying accents are not necessary so it is fair to say that Mister Lawlor reads the story just right.

So all told, The Door into Summer is a fun and interesting story. It gives the reader much to think about without hammering the subject matter into one’s head at the expense of the story and while the ending is predictable, there is nothing about Heinlein’s writing that makes one want to stop until the very end. As I said above, Lawlor was an interesting match to make for the reading of the story, but not a bad one at all. He gives us the “Gosh!” and “Wow!” of Heinlein’s story without the upstaging some readers might. A good piece of classic science fiction and a good reading of it.

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