BOOK REVIEW: "The Cat Who Walks Through Walls" by Robert Heinlein (1985)

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Just a little capsule here, not my full length review, mostly 'cuz I can't bring myself to waste too much time on this one. Yes, there are a lot of entertaining ways to say "This is a bad book," but this book is *SO* bad that even making fun of it isn't fun.

PLAY BY PLAY:
A heterosexual veteran living on a space colony in L5 gets embroiled in an entirely-adventure-free adventure in which some people are trying to kill him, and there's a hot chick around. They go to the moon, which sounds cool and all, but this is offset somewhat by them going to Sears, both told with about the same amount of interest. (No, really: they go to Sears!) The vet has some guilt over resorting to cannibalism in some random backstory war years before. Any adventure that may have arisen along the course of this adventure is completely squelched by talking. Seriously: they talk way too much. They talk and they talk and they talk and they even talk about talking, and none, none, none of it comes to anything, it's all just blowhard stuff.

Upon reading this, I honestly thought Heinlein must have thought himself the New Mark Twain (Both being from Missouri and all). Twain was somewhat famous for holding forth on any subject that crossed his path, and he could talk about anything humorously and charmingly. Heinlein *thinks* he's doing that here, but he completely lacks either quality. Worse yet for an SF novel, nothing the protagonists yammer about is in the least bit interesting.

Twain was effortlessly interesting, but in this book Heinlein is effortlessly tedious. Or is he putting effort into it? I've often said that his peers - Clarke and Asimov - were about as interesting to read as an instruction manual on how to eat crackers. Maybe Bob always felt a bit outclassed by them? Maybe he felt his superior prose was no match for their inferior storytelling abilities? Perhaps he felt he needed to live down to their potential, and stop showing off? I'm being facetious, of course, but if that *was* the case, he blows it. Isaac and Sir Arthur would both probably be embarrassed to have written this tripe.

Then, abruptly, for no reason whatsoever, a bit over two thirds of the way through the novel, it all changes. Our entirely unimpressive protagonists falls through to a parallel universe, where he meets up with characters from Heinlen's other books. They talk and talk and talk and talk, then have an orgy, during which said protagonist decides to give homosexuality a fling, which he decides is ok 'cuz he was once raped by a scoutmaster when he was a kid. No, I am not making any of this up.

The folks in the new universe decide to travel back in time and give our protagonist some food in the war, so he doesn't have to resort to cannibalism. How does this make sense? His guilt is one of his defining characteristics, which leads him to this place. Taking it away means he would't have made it to this point in the novel. Furthermore, why does he remember it if it didn't happen to him? Just an example of the slapdash quality of this thing.

The thrown-together plot of the final third of the book - in between the entirely unsexy sex and endless talk about sex, and obligatory incest crap - involves our hero traveling back in time to rescue Mycrolft Holmes from his coma at the end of "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" as part of a larger war against a group called "The Time Lords" (Presumably not the Whovian ones, but who knows? Bob's clearly pretty out of it here). They go back in time, and abruptly we're told they failed. We don't *see* it, we just jumpcut to our protagonist dying on the floor.

The end.

OBSERVATIONS

I read this book a week or two after it came out in paperback in the mid-80s, and it’s one of a very short list of novels by favorite authors that enraged me so much I hurled it across the room several times before I could force myself to finish it. (The only other book on that list is “Valis” by Philip K. Dick.) As has been said elsewhere, the story lacks veracity, peril, and focus, and while it’s nice to see old friends again, they aren’t our old friends, are they? To put it in movie terms, they’ve been re-cast by people who maybe look similar, but act and sound completely different.

Case in point, we meet Hazel Stone from "The Rolling Stones," a great character in a great Juvie novel. she's then retroactively introduced in "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" as a kid, prior to her "Stones" adventures, in a slightly creepy fashion (Owing to the sexual politics of that novel.) Here we meet her again as an immortal over-sexed blowhard talking about huge penises, and how much she likes 'em, 'cepting this one time when one huge penis was, in fact, maybe a bit too huge. Yeah, I'm not making this up. We meet up with some old friends in this book, but Heinlein entirely trashes them.

What really bothers me about this book, in fact, is how Heinlein seems to feel the need to dig up the corpses of his characters and defecate on 'em.

Added to which, the protagonist of the novel is clearly just kind of a placeholder to get the story rolling, and not someone Heinlein is terribly interested in. He endlessly prattles on in what I take to be the absolute WORST example of Heinlein’s “Everyone’s An Idiot Except Me” school of thought, and then, after all the laborious setup, he’s killed off summarily at the end with barely a subsequent mention elsewhere. Once the “Big Reveal” of the book comes, and we meet the Heinleinian Archons (For lack of a better term) in their bland orgytastic utopia, it pretty much reders everything that happened previously completely irrelevant, and of course the abrupt conclusion of the book itself renders the entire novel irrelevant.

Just a massive, sad, possibly insulting waste of time, a once-great author who’s lapsed into dottage, and is wasting his autum years talking to his own navel. Or worse – he could have just been cranking out this kind of mercinary crap to make balloon payments on his mortgage. I don’t pretend to know.
Any way you slice it, however, it’s pretty sad. I swore off Bob after this for a very long time, I didn’t start re-reading him again until the early 90s, but eventually the spectre of the “World as Myth” novels just swallowed everything up again, and honestly, as much as I love Bob, as much as his writing was a huge formative influence on me, as many happy memories as I have as a kid reading his books and stories, I just can’t touch him anymore. It’s sad when you loose a favorite author, sadder still when he, himself, goes out of his way to take himself away from you.

Am I being too harsh? Some have said so. Heinlein suffered a bloodclot in his brain in '77, and nearly died. I sympathize, I really do. Brain damage is no laughing matter. But as much as I feel sorry for the guy, it in no way changes the fact that *everything* he wrote from that point on was crap. And this book is the crappiest thing on the dung heap. No amount of sympathy for the old man should be taken to mean I need to write a lenient review on something that's just awful.

I guess the cardinal lesson here is: know when to stop.

Oh, yes, and the titular "Cat who Walks through Walls?" Yeah. He's a kitten. He walks through walls. That's it. It's of no significance to the plot whatsoever.

WILL CONSERVATIVES LIKE THIS NOVEL?

No, No, Absolutely Not. In fact, this book is so bad it argues *against* the preservation of art. This one should just go out of print and be allowed to fade from existence.

(Overlapping Forum Discussion: http://www.republibot.com/content/does-heinlein-suck-or-he-just-terrible )

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