Oops! I got distracted and forgot to post this one on time. Sorry about that!
To Sail Beyond the Sunset:
The Life and Loves of Maureen Johnson (Being the Memoirs of a Somewhat Irregular Lady)
By Robert A. Heinlein
Published by National Library Service
Read by Carol McCartney
I am a fan of Robert Heinlein most of the time. My own writing has some heavy influence from his, although I may be the only one who sees it. When political discussion come up I frequently describe myself as a Heinleinian anarchist (similar to Professor La Paz in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress who calls himself a “Rational Anarchist.”) However, this story left me unsatisfied.
Part of the problem might be that unlike most Heinlein fans I find the character of Lazarus Long a crashing bore. He always seems to know everything and is always right even when he isn’t. All-knowing characters who insist on demonstrating they know it all are not interesting to me. They just destroy any form of literary tension. Now I’ll admit I have not read all the Lazarus Long stories, so maybe I just read the wrong ones and am being unfair, however I so dislike him as a character I am not likely to bother so I will endeavor to take this book on its own merits.
Maureen Johnson Smith Long is Lazarus Long’s mother and husband and probably his daughter too for all I know. There’s a lot of incest in this book and is a bit more upfront than it is in some of the earlier stories. I suppose the message is that sex is for mutual enjoyment and is an expression of love. Certainly, the Long family seems to be more concerned with keeping in-breeding to a minimum than worrying about who is in bed with whom. Well, I already knew that about this crew, so there were no surprises there although Maureen seems at times to be in heat while her cats are models of propriety… Go figure.
I am uncertain just how much new story there is in this book. Maureen in is prison, dictating her memoires, most of which seem rather familiar to me. At least there was nothing I had note either read or inferred about the Howard Families or the history of her time line – the one in which the preacher, Nehemiah Scudder was elected President of the USA in 2012 (Story in If This Goes On,,, and others) although she was rescued from death by truck in 1982.
For the most part, I was not really engaged by her life story. I thought was well-written but, as I said, it seemed too familiar, but I don’t recall reading it before. Maybe it was just too obvious where the story was headed. I was somewhat more interested in what she was doing in the prison and how she would get out, although even then there was not a lot of tension since anyone who has read enough of Heinlein’s stories to know of the Time Corps would realize they would eventually find her no matter how long it took for them, since they could always pop back and get her at the right time.
There was a slight (and I do mean slight) twist when Maureen is rescued by a group of terminally ill people calling themselves the Committee for Aesthetic Deletions and using such secret names as “Dr. Frankenstein, Lizzie Borden etc.) instead of by the Time Corps directly. But eventually Maureen is rescued as I knew she would be. After all Pixel, the cat who walks through walls, was there to sort of lead them to her… in a feline sort of way, I guess.
Anyway, they finally do get her back to safety, heal her up, because it seems that most later Heinlein characters get wounded in the exciting scenes, and at that point the story should have been over, but maybe it was not long enough yet to suit the publisher or else Mister Heinlein felt Maureen deserved to realize her lifelong dream of being married to her father, so once again they planned a Time Corps mission to go back and rescue him from death in World War II. Once more everyone is several wounded, but futuristic medicine saves them and they all live together happily ever after. That final section, however felt like an appendix or the start of another story (one that was never written so far as I know)
The whole thing left me wondering why was this story even written and the best I can come up with was to resolve a few problems that came up due to the very end of The Cat Who Walks Through Walls (if you did not catch them, I won’t ruin it for you.) I just cannot help but think there were more exciting stories that did not get told so that this one could be.
Maybe I am wrong about that. Looking around, I see a lot of Heinlein fans loved this book and , yes it did have its moments, so if you have not yet read this and you did like the Lazarus Long Stories, this is probably for you!
I have listened to part of the Audible edition of this book, read by Bernadette Dunne and she does a pretty good job of it, but I think I prefer Carol McCartney’s reading. Ms. McCartney. Her high, clear voice seems to capture Maureen’s personality (as I envision her) perfectly. Her skepticism mixed with wonder, joy and irreverence for societal norms comes out perfectly as Ms. McCartney reads. I am not sure I could, or would have read through the book from cover-=to-cover, but I was able to listen and that says a lot.
So, this is a story that is probably best aimed at long-time Heinlein fans who enjoy Lazarus Long as a character, but whether you are one of them, I do recommend Carol McCartney as the reader of this tale.