Author: Robert A. Heinlein
Publisher: Astounding Science Fiction, 1942, Fantasy Press, 1948
ISBN: 0-451-16676-0

Beyond This Horizon was the first full length novel that Heinlein wrote for an adult audience. It originally appeared in the April and May issues of Astounding Science Fiction as a serial, under the pseudonym Anson MacDonald. It's really not very good. It's not bad, but contrasted to his other works it doesn't have any particular merit. It is rather interesting to read if you are already a Heinlein fan, and it is very much a Heinlein novel. It's just not a very interesting one.

The story is set in a future utopia, where work is optional, food is free, and a healthy positive eugenics program has eliminated most of humanities ills. There are still some social misfits who are plotting revolution (although no one takes them seriously), and some of the 'control naturals' (genetically un-manipulated humans) are perhaps less than satisfied, but overall humanity is happy. The main concern of the story is the eugenics program; the hero, Hamilton Felix, finds out early on that he is the keystone to the government's program of breeding the next generation of ubermensch. These will not be superhuman, but rather the perfect human; eidetic memory, high intelligence, superior immune systems, etc. All the positive traits that are present in the population of control naturals will be condensed into one optimal human.

Just one problem -- Felix just doesn't care. Despite being one of the smartest and fittest humans in the world, he doesn't see any point in continuing the human race. No real reason for this apathy, he just doesn't care. After much cajoling by the powers that be, he concedes that he might be willing to breed if someone can prove scientifically the 'meaning of life', which he defines, for the most part, as the existence of an afterlife.

A tremendous research project is undertaken, covering nearly every type of pseudoscience and planned to span hundreds of years. The story ends with hackneyed conclusions about humanity's unfulfilled potential. I was not particularly impressed by the metaphysical research projects, but Heinlein is no fool. He gives us plenty of stuff to keep us interested; romance, a football player from the past stuck in a entropy field, attempted revolution, and lots of science (mostly biology and genetics, which is still largely valid even after 60 years).

You can see some of Heinlein's reoccurring themes appearing already: a strong pro-eugenic stance, a love for telepathy and other advanced mental powers, and a high degree of sexual liberty. None of the strong Heinlein libertarianism yet, but plenty of rugged individualism and gun-toting young males. There's a good dose of sexism in there too. It was no doubt very liberal and imaginative in the early forties, but it has been soundly trumped by his later works, which are both more imaginative and better written.


Trivia: Heinlein's idea for a water bed appeared in print for the first time in Beyond This Horizon. While water beds have been around since at least 1871 (when Mark Twain referred to them in A New Beecher Church), the earlier models were not very practical. When the first marketable water bed was designed in 1968, the inventor, Charles Hall, was unable to patent it because descriptions of water beds had appeared in a number of Heinlein's works.

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