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The Cat Who Walks Through Walls The Cat Who Walks Through Walls by Robert A. Heinlein


My rating: 3 of 5 stars

One of Heinlein's last books, and not one of his best. It represents yet another installment in the "World As Myth" theme that he used so often later in life, and therefore includes many characters from his older, better works - including, inevitably, Lazarus Long, who continues his long (pun intended) degeneration from the original interesting protagonist of "Methuselah's Children" into an annoying incest-freak, Heinlein surrogate, self-parody (I suspect), and all-around jerk-who-must-be-worshiped-due-to-his-natural-moral-superiority.

Still, Heinlein retained his great gift as a storyteller even at this late date in his career. And the first two-thirds of the book are basically a well-told, straightforward science fiction adventure story, albeit a chatty one. The main protagonist is yet another Heinlein surrogate, even more thinly-disguised than usual; Richard Ames (apparently born Colin Campbell), a writer, combat veteran, and general man of action and competence.

For the first two-thirds of the book, Ames has near-future adventures in space, told with the usual Heinlein flair - albeit with a greater-than-usual helping of Heinlein smarm and the usual badly dated romantic banter (the older I get, the more obvious it becomes that Heinlein all too often used the language and idioms of his youth in Kansas City - which makes his one exception to that habit, The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, all the more surprising and impressive).

I don't want to get too detailed, so let me wrap this up quickly. Once Lazarus Long enters the picture, the book rapidly degenerates into the usual confused World-Is-Myth mishmash, with the obligatory long expository party scenes in which far too much is explained. Including (of course!) lots of sex, homophobia overcome, and incest. Please don't get the idea that I'm a prude! Actually, I am a prude in many ways, but not when it comes to reading. It's just that Heinlein is so one-sided, and such a one-note author when it comes to sex and incest, that it really becomes tiring and annoying. It's a waste of his incredible talent.

One odd thing: toward the end, a large, black, rage-filled character named Samuel Beaux is suddenly introduced as yet another two-dimensional foil. The pun (if that's what it is) is obvious - Samuel Beaux, "Sam Beaux", "Sambo" - but Heinlein spells it out just to make it clear for the idiots in the crowd. He apparently felt that he nullified the implied racism by suddenly having Ames/Campbell turn out to be black himself, although there were absolutely no clues to indicate that anywhere prior to that point. In fact, Ames calls Beaux "Boy" in the process, which strikes a very false note indeed!

I'm not one of those people who subscribes to the concept of political correctness. Nor do I practice it - I'm a fanatic when it comes to free speech, and believe that the notion of political correctness was either created or adopted as a form of characterizing criticism of racism (and sexism, etc.) as reverse racism. That is, accusations of "political correctness" are usually just an attempt to defend racism and other outdated behaviors; either that, or they're just idiotic attempts to "protect the children" or similar nonsense. I hate racism, but I also strongly object to censorship of Huckleberry Finn and The Story of Doctor Dolittle on racial grounds.

So I'm not criticising Heinlein for racism per se; as far as I know, he didn't practice racism, and his language is probably just a reflection of the language and concepts that were commonly accepted in the time and place of Heinlein's childhood. But "Sambo" is rather egregious, doesn't really bring anything to the story, and Heinlein's sudden revelation of Ames/Campbell as black strikes me as very phony and dishonest. I disapprove of bullshit, and given that Heinlein always presented himself as tough and plainspoken, that whole passage strikes me as very hypocritical - the literary equivalent of "some of my best friends are gay/black/Jewish/whatever".

Sorry to have gotten so tangled up in the issue of race; it was unplanned.

And now, the ending: I don't like it. No, let me make that stronger: I really don't like the ending. It leaves the plot hanging, badly. What's more, there's a large hole in the plot - we've been told repeatedly that there are only two possible outcomes, and while the outcome isn't necessarily final at the close of the book, it seems to be as close to it as possible - and it doesn't match either of the two scenarios that were presented.

And dammit, it's a sad ending. I don't like that, particularly when kittens are involved. Call it a personal quirk.

Heinlein only wrote one more book after this; I've read it, but don't remember much of it (which is not very high praise, I must say). Unfortunately, that means that I don't remember if there was any mention of the outcome in that book. I suppose I'll have to re-read it to find out.

If it weren't for Heinlein's great skill as a storyteller, I'd have given this two stars at best. It's certainly among his weakest novels.

View all my reviews >>
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