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To Sail Beyond the Sunset cover To Sail Beyond the Sunset by Robert A. Heinlein

Published by Ace Books

Reviewed by Leigh Kimmel

A number of the great writers of the Golden Age came to find it necessary, near the end of their careers, to draw together widely divergent strands of their earlier writing to make some kind of coherent statement. This, the last book in Robert A. Heinlein's long career, was in part just this sort of effort.

To Sail Beyond the Sunset is a sort of prequel to the Future History which Heinlein created in the 1930's and 40's. It is the story of the early days of the Howard Families, the people who bred themselves to longevity through voluntary financial incentives and would ultimately be persecuted by the envious masses who thought certain their "secret" could be wrung out of them. It is also the biography of the mother of one of Heinlein's most fascinating characters, the immortal Lazarus Long.

Maureen Johnson was born in the latter half of the ninteenth century, to a country doctor who was more than he seemed. She was an intelligent, independent woman in a time when women were to be quiet and domestic, but she soon learned ways of being herself without causing unnecessary pain to those around her. Her upbringing was in many ways an explication of Heinlein's philosophy that courtesy is one of the central virtues of civilization, and that its erosion is the first sign of decay.

As the years go by, there is more and more evidence that this is an alternate universe. Bit by bit we see the elements that caused it to develop into the Heinlein Future History rather than our own world. But this is not enough for Heinlein -- he then reveals that it is only one of many timelines, and many of those are the worlds of his other novels that cannot be reconciled into the main Future History. In a dramatic triumphal flourish he draws everything together for its final conclusion.

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This review posted June 2, 1999

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