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Like most of Robert Heinlein’s protagonists, the main character of The Door into Summer is a thinly veiled reflection of Heinlein himself. Much like his creator, inventor and engineer Daniel Boone Davis is a rugged individualist and scientific thinker. And while at times Heinlein may use Daniel as a means to pontificate on his own theories and insights on various topics, he more than makes up for it by sending him along on a fast-moving, ingeniously plotted and ultimately satisfying tale of betrayal, revenge and time travel. What starts out as a simple case of backstabbing and corporate intrigue, eventually turns into a time-bending story of one man’s attempt to get back what was taken from him. While some critics and fans have expressed discomfort at the romantic elements of the novel (which involve Daniel’s friendship with an emotionally mature 11 year old named Ricky), I don’t personally have a problem with them. In the end, Heinlein cleverly uses time travel to mitigate the age difference. In fact, compared with some of Heinlein’s other works, this is relatively tame stuff and shouldn’t keep you from enjoying the book.
The Door Into Summer Summary: When we first meet Daniel, he’s been drinking for a while – drunk and despondent at losing control of the company he founded with his business partner Miles Gentry, Hired Girl Inc. While the company specialized in robot vacuum cleaners, Daniel was hard at work on an all-purpose household robot, tentatively named Flexible Frank. Through flashbacks we learn that Daniel was hoodwinked by the company’s beautiful and manipulative secretary, Belle, into giving her just enough stock in the company to team up with Miles to gain complete control. After objecting to the sale of the company to a large corporation, including the rights to Frank, Daniel is given a large financial settlement and fired as the chief engineer of the company.
In his grief, he decides to take the “cold sleep,” a form of suspended animation, in the hopes of awakening into a better future with the value of his stock in the company having multiplied. Unfortunately, the doctors at the sleep facility won’t let him make the decision while drunk. After sobering up and mailing his stock certificate to the one person he knows he can trust, Miles’ 11-year old stepdaughter Frederica “Ricky” Gentry, he unwisely decides to confront Belle and Miles in their home. After injecting Dan with a drug that makes him temporarily complacent and docile, they go about forging documents giving the corporation ownership over his remaining shares. Their final act of betrayal is to put Dan into cold sleep anyways so that he can’t cause them anymore trouble. Dan wakes up 30 years later with no friends, no money, and almost nothing to live for…except revenge.
The Door Into Summary Review: I won’t spoil the fun of learning exactly how Dan exacts his ingenious revenge. I will say, however, that Heinlein’s use time travel paradoxes to foreshadow and then reveal how Dan manages to reinvent and re-imagine his own timeline is a thing of beauty. While his ability to understand complex engineering details and causality paradoxes and seamlessly weave them into his stories makes his a master of Hard Sci-Fi, his ability to use those concepts in the service of a compelling story is what truly sets him apart from almost every other science fiction writer in history.