Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Off the Cuff 'Review' of Robert A. Heinlein's THE DOOR INTO SUMMER

This is not really a regular review. But I've just got to share the comments by a character in Robert A. Heinlein's affectionate look at time-travel, A DOOR INTO SUMMER. The character narrating is inventor Daniel Boone Davis, the hapless hero of the tale, and his comments are about his cat, Petronius the Arbiter, otherwise known as Pete.
The comments are just so funny and so right on the money when it comes to cats that I laughed out loud. At the same time, I fondly remembered how it was to live with a cat many years ago. (Unfortunately, I can no longer keep a cat because of late-onset allergies, but I grew up surrounded by them. My late mother kept a cat until the last moment of her life.)

Why just an off the cuff review? Well, it was a spur of the moment read and I already have my reviewing schedule fixed in my mind. There will be an extra review this week beside my usual two (Monday Review and A Favorite Read review), part of my Vintage Mystery Challenge deal.

Long story short: Dan Davis is an inventor of robotic household helpers. In 1970, after several wars and an attack by an unspecified country (I'm assuming USSR) on our shores, the country is familiar but not. For instance: insurance companies sell something called the Long Sleep, in which a client can be cryogenically put to sleep and wake up years later when, supposedly, all his troubles should be over. It's a nice runaway device, I suppose. Anyway, Dan is betrayed by his fiancee and his partner, they get hold of his patents and company and he [Dan] figures out a way to use time travel and the Long Sleep to get even. That's the gist of it.

So, anyway, this is just an excuse to share the cat commentary. Here is Dan talking about a house he and Pete once lived in.

...the lack of plumbing made the rent low and what had been the dining room had a good north light for my drafting board.

The drawback was that the place had eleven doors to the outside. Twelve if you counted Pete's door. I always tried to arrange a door of his own for Pete - in this case a board fitted into a window in an unused bedroom and in which I had cut a cat strainer just wide enough for Pete's whiskers. I have spent too much of my life opening doors for cats - I once calculated that, since the dawn of civilization, nine hundred and seventy-eight man-centuries have been used up that way. I could show you the figures.

Pete usually used his own door except when he could bully me into opening a people door for him, which he preferred. But he would not use his door when there was snow on the ground.

While still a kitten, all fluff and buzzes, Pete had worked out a simple philosophy. I was in charge of quarters, rations, and weather, he was in charge of everything else. But he held me especially responsible for weather. Connecticut winters are good only for Christmas cards; regularly that winter Pete would check his own door, refuse to go out it because of that unpleasant white stuff beyond it (he was no fool), then badger me to open a people door.

He had a fixed conviction that at least one of them must lead into summer weather. Each time this meant that I had to go around with him to each of eleven doors, hold it open while he satisfied himself that it was winter out that way, then go on to the next door, while his criticisms of my mismanagement grew more bitter with each disappointment.

Here is Dan talking about his would-be fiancee, Belle, in relation to Pete:

Pete was another matter, and if I had not been in love I would have seen it as a clear sign that Belle and I would never understand each other.....liking cats is hard to fake to a cat person...Cats have no sense of humor, they have terribly inflated egos, and they are very touchy. If somebody asked me why it was worth anyone's time to cater to them I would be forced to answer that there is no logical reason...So I put iodine on Belle's scratches, then tried to explain what she had done wrong. "I'm sorry it happened - I'm terribly sorry! But it will happen again if you do that again!"

"But I was just petting him!"

"Uh, yes...but you weren't cat-petting him; you were dog-petting him. You must never pat a cat, you stroke it. You must never make sudden movements in range of its claws. You must never touch it without giving it a chance to see that you are about to...and you must always watch to see that it likes it. If it doesn't want to be petted, it will put up with a little out of politeness - cats are very polite - but you can tell if it is merely enduring it and stop before its patience is exhausted." I hesitated. "You don't like cats, do you?"

"What? Why, how silly! Of course I like cats." But she added, "I haven't been around them much, I suppose. She's pretty touchy, isn't she?"

"He.' Pete is a he-male cat. No, actually he's not touchy, since he's always been well-treated. But you do have to learn how to behave with cats. Uh, you must never laugh at them."

"What? Forevermore, why?"

"Not because they aren't funny; they're extremely comical. But they have no sense of humor and it offends them..."

Okay one last scene - this had me laughing so hard, even now as I'm copying it, I'm laughing and finding it hard to type. This is a scene about mid-book when Belle and Dan's partner Miles show their true colors as they apply to Pete and everything else. Belle has doped Dan so that he can only move at her command. He can partially see what's happening but do nothing about it.

"I've wanted to kill that damned cat for months." She looked around for a weapon and found one, a poker from the fireplace set; she ran over and grabbed it.
Miles picked up Pete and tried to put him into the bag.

"Tried" is the word. Pete isn't anxious to be picked up by anyone but me or Ricky, and even I would not pick him up while he was wailing, without very careful negotiation; an emotionally disturbed cat is as touchy as mercury fulminate. But even if he were not upset, Pete certainly would never permit himself without protest to be picked up by the scruff of the neck.

Pete got him with claws in the forearm and teeth in the fleshy part of Mile's left thumb. Miles yelped and dropped him.

Belle shrilled, "Stand clear, Chubby!" and swung at him with the poker.

Belle's intentions were sufficiently forthright and she had the strength and the weapon. But she wasn't skilled with her weapon, whereas Pete is very skilled with his. He ducked under that roundhouse swipe and hit her four ways, two paws for each of her legs.

Belle screamed and dropped the poker.

I didn't see much of the rest of it. I was still looking straight ahead and could see most of the living room, but I couldn't see anything outside that angle because no one told me to look in any other direction. So I followed the rest of it mostly by sound, except once when they doubled back across my cone of vision, two people chasing a cat - then with unbelievable suddenness, two people being chased by a cat. Aside from that one short scene, I was aware of the battle by the sounds of crashes, running, shouts, curses and screams.

But I don't think they ever laid a glove on him.

I never realized Heinlein was so witty or so funny. I'd never read him before. But Nancy Pearl recommended this book as one of her favorite Time Travel reads, so on impulse, I got a used copy and read it within a few hours the other night. I'm glad I did. Good book. Very funny, especially the bits about Pete.

Unfortunately, I can find no 'sources' for the three cat pictures featured. If someone squawks, I'll insert credit or remove the pix. Thanks.


  1. I HAD to order this book, Yvette!


  2. You will love it! Pete is quite a character and Dan's devotion to him is very touching.

  3. Forget the book. That cat is way too cute. Where is it from?

  4. Don't know, Cathy. Can't remember where I found him. He was filed away in my picture files for possible use at a later date - I often do that with pictures I find online. But sometimes I forget to file the source. I'm going to have to try harder.


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