Friday Review: The Pursuit of the Pankera: A Parallel Novel about Parallel Universes by Robert A. Heinlein

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I didn’t even know this book existed until a few years ago. Of course, I read “The Number of the Beast”, this novel’s sister story- a “parallel novel about parallel universes”. And, since I still credit Heinlein with starting me on reading science fiction, I had to read this one, too.

“The Number of the Beast” is about four very Heinlein-esque characters- free-thinking, establishment-defying, highly intelligent- who are ambushed at a party by what they come to call “Black Hats”, alien beings who think Zeb knows a scientific breakthrough that the aliens want kept secret. They escape in the Gay Deceiver, Zeb’s spaceship which they outfit with a device that allows them to travel through alternate universes. “Pursuit of the Pankera” starts exactly the same, but as soon as they travel to the first of the alternate realities, the stories diverge. “Number”, which was published in 1980, is much more in line with Heinlein’s late work- social commentary, a message to convey, with political overtones. “Pankera”, which was never published while Heinlein was alive, is more like his earlier stories- firmly scifi, good v. evil, us v. them.

What did I think? Well, I remember enjoying “Number” to a point, but never feeling it was a favorite. “Pankera” didn’t really change that. I still had a hard time getting invested in the characters, there was a lot of suspension of disbelief (even for Heinlein) that got in the way, and it was just rather slow reading. Too much explaining of the “science” and mathematics of space travel and the reality-jumping mechanism, which seemed jammed in there to prove how smart each one of the characters was- even the wimmin, fergodsake! And while Heinlein’s insistence that his female characters have brains as well as beauty (though they all had their damsel in distress moments, too) was always one of the things I liked about his work, I found this one to pound that a little too hard. On top of that, there is the very dated feel of the book, which can’t be helped. This one, from what was pieced together in discovering the manuscript bits, was written in 1977, so it’s kind of like watching an old TV series- you can’t help but be amused at some of the props and situations that look so old-fashioned to today’s eyes. Overall, this one just didn’t hold up well for me, but as I said, “Number of the Beast” was never a standout story for me, either.

If you are a diehard Heinlein fan, you probably will want to look this one up, just for completeness. Others might find it a bit dated and old school feeling.

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