Beyond This Horizon

October 25th, 2010 | by Sqotty |

Beyond This Horizon by Robert A. Heinlein is an intriguing look at a futuristic Utopia, or more like a semi-Utopia. This is one of Heinlein’s early novels, first published in two parts in Astounding Science Fiction in 1942.

The novel feels, and reads, more like two stories woven together to make a whole, with the characters and the social structure binding it together. That social structure is a future where people don’t have to work unless they want to, receiving a government dividend from the annual productive output of all means of production. Some people choose to work for their own reasons.

A second component of this future society is the genetic engineering that goes on to improve the race of mankind, sifting through the very genes of a couple who want to have a child in order to get the best combination of traits. Mixed in with the genetically superior are those who are “control naturals” people who have not had any genetic tinkering and are encouraged to reproduce (as all members of the society are) in order to keep a set of unmodified genomes around, including negative traits like allergies, etc. In between these two groups are those identified as experimental, they have new traits that need to be identified has either a positive improvement or a negative trait.

A third component is that men are generally armed, dueling is an accepted practice, and those men who choose not to be armed are generally considered to be inferior to those who are armed. This is where one of the best known quotes in support of the Second Amendment originates: “An armed society is a polite society. Manners are good when one may have to back up his acts with his life.” A darn good quote, and a sentiment that I agree with. There is another Heinlein quote regarding an armed society that appears in this novel: “The police of a state should never be stronger or better armed than the citizenry. An armed citizenry, willing to fight, is the foundation of civil freedom.” This is a very precise evaluation of why the Founding Fathers incorporated a Second Amendment ensuring that “The right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” Heinlein is right on the money there.

Beyond This Horizon is the story of Hamilton Felix (surnames are given first, then the personal name, just as in some Asian cultures, or, if you prefer, as with the Bajorans of ST:DS9), a star line genetic example of mankind, who designs games (mostly gambling types of games) for a living, and is quite wealthy. He is good with a gun, as all men are expected to be, and is good in apologizing eloquently when his friend accidently drops a crab leg in another diner’s soup early on in the story. He is also reluctant about having children, an odd trait in his society.

Soon he finds himself involved with a conspiracy to overthrow the government, not wanting to get involved, but finding himself in too deep before he could get out of the way, and becomes a government spy. This particular story element provides some of the major conflict in the story.

There are other elements that come into play, such as the Adirondack Stasis Field, which turns out to contain a man from the year 1926. This man, J. Darlington Smith, finds himself in a culture far removed from his own.

On the down side, there is one technical error in the story, and that is when Heinlein writes that human DNA contains 48 chromosomes, rather than the 46 chromosomes. This is not so much an error on his part as it is a scientific error at the time. It turns out that up until sometime in the 1950s when geneticists went back and recounted the number of chromosomes there are in the human DNA, it was accepted that we had 48 chromosomes. Heinlein, upon learning this, chose not to re-edit the story to fix this technical error.

All in all, Beyond This Horizon is a darn good read, with one of Heinlein’s most interesting future societies, with some darn good thoughts on why we Americans have a Second Amendment (and it wasn’t put in the Constitution for hunting, folks).

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