Robert Heinlein’s The Number Of The Beast

18 May

The Number of the BeastToday I’m sitting around in Cleveland for work-related reasons, drove up here this morning, went through some loan documents with someone, and then I had three hours to kill until doing it again. A hard life,I know, so let’s sit around and read this paperback book I borrowered from someone, called The Number of the Beast by Robert Heinlein.

I’m only about 85 pages into it, but it is the strangest novel I’ve read in a while. It was written in 1980 and it shows – none of the characters can stop talking about sex, and everybody appears to be open to swinging, and even though it’s set in the future where cars fly, there’s not much of an Internet, most things need plugged in, and women are sexually liberated, but mostly aspire to be dutiful wives.

It’s strange – the writing is very convoluted. Long, long paragraphs – sort of typical of paperback science fiction. Sex, sex and long paragraphs. Wonky dialogue and really long technical descriptions of time machines, and even though this one predates Back to the Future by five years, the protagonists build a time machine and mount it in their car so they can travel time and space in it.

They haven’t done that yet though. Traveled through time. They’re just standing around naked, being eighties-style creepy, talking about tax evasion, group sex, and time travel. Okeedokee then.

Here’s the situation. It starts out at a university where a square-jawed American named Zebadiah has just met Deetee, who is the self-described beautiful daughter of a mad scientist. Zeb and Deetee dance a bit, and then decide they should get married. So they go back to her Dad’s house, and he really is a mad scientist, having some history with Zeb, whom he’s invited into town to see his time machine.

Her Dad’s name is Jake and he is married not to Deetee’s mom, but instead to her friend Hilda. Deetee’s mom is dead, and so Hilda stepped up and married him, and everybody’s cool with that. All over the book, they casually banter about trampled sexual taboos. The daughter casually mentions that she’s never had sex with her father but would have been happy to, for instance – gross, Eighties People. Gross.

They all agree that it’s a great idea for Deetee and Zeb to get married, so they go on outside and someone blows up one of their cars, and they all get into Zeb’s car, which flies and which talks and which he calls the Gay Deceiver. I’m not making any of this up, that’s what happens when you have been knocking out classic science fiction books for decades, nobody edits you, not one word.

LibyansWho blew up the car? Well, the Black Hats, we learn. They are aliens who don’t want Jake to invent the time machine. My guess is, they’re aliens or people from Earth’s past who our perverted protagonists are going to screw with later, which will cause them to want to come either forward or back in time to prevent them from building the machine they use to get within screwing-with-them distance.

Black Hats = Libyans, for those of you wanting to speak in Back to the Future terms. Gay Deceiver equals the Delorean, and the Professor equals Jake (who is of course also a professor). Okay, got it?

Cool, so they all pile into the Gay Deceiver, go and get married, and then they head to Jake’s desert hideout which not even the government knows about, and confirm via the Gay Deceiver’s wonky Radio Internet Thing, that everybody thinks they died in the explosion even though there are (presumably) no body parts.

Then they spend the rest of the eighty pages I’ve read having sexual intercourse, discussing sexual intercourse, turning out to be pregnant and drinking wine to celebrate, and mounting the time machine on the dashboard of the Gay Deceiver. They go into incredible detail explaining that there’s no way anyone can find them out there, and then explaining how their time machine works.

Hot Tub Time MachineI don’t know about you, but I prefer not to hear too much about how time machines work. I’m a Flux Capacitor kind of guy. How does it work? It works great, let’s go.

Anyway, they tell me all about it in long, long paragraphs, and I’m just trying to get to the part where they travel through time in it. The reason you’re reading about it is, I’m planning to read the next eighty pages now, but I’m cursed to blog daily about something. Anything. So here you go – a blog post about a creepy time traveling swinger book from the eighties, which is oddly, pretty good and I want to finish now.

I’ll keep you posted.


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2 responses to “Robert Heinlein’s The Number Of The Beast

  1. Joachim Boaz

    May 18, 2013 at 7:57 pm

    I find Heinlein’s later works — this one included — utterly unreadable/preachy fantasies of an old man… You’ll probably enjoy I will Fear No Evil and The Cat Who Walks Through Walls if you manage to trudge through this beast…


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