Alexei Panshin's The Abyss of Wonder

Heinlein and the Golden Age

Part 4

The Families have left Earth because the very fact of their existence is intolerable to ordinary men.  As one member puts it:

"It is clear to me now that our mere presence, the simple fact of our rich heritage of life, is damaging to the spirit of our poor neighbor.  Our longer years and richer opportunities make his best efforts seem futile to him--any effort save a hopeless struggle against an appointed death.  Our mere presence saps his strength, ruins his judgment, fills him with panic fear of death."
But amongst the stars, the long-lifers find beings who are even more dismaying to them than the Howard Families are to normal humanity.

The first stop of the Families is the planet of the Dog People--or, as they call themselves, the Jockaira.  These tall thin humanoids are scientifically and mathematically advanced.  Not only is their planet a near-twin of Earth, but they are very hospitable folk.  They empty a city and turn it over to the Earthmen for their use.

After a time, however, a price is demanded.  The Jockaira talk constantly of their gods.  Now they say that the Earth people must pick a temple and a god to worship.

The Earthmen decide to play along with this charade.  Administrator Ford is the first to be initiated.  He and Lazarus go to the temple of Kreel; Ford enters, while Lazarus waits for him outside.

However, when Ford comes out of the temple again, he is a broken man.  He can't even communicate what has happened to him.  But Lazarus believes he knows what has occurred.  He says:
"Here's my opinion: we've had these Jockaira doped out all wrong from scratch.  We made the mistake of thinking that because they looked like us, in a general way, and were about as civilized as we are, that they were people.  But they aren't people at all.  They are . . . domestic animals.  . . . There are people on this planet, right enough.  Real people.  They lived in the temples and the Jockaira called them gods.  They are gods!"
By this, Lazarus makes clear, he doesn't mean they are supernatural beings.  He means these are beings so evolutionarily advanced that next to the Jockaira--or to humanity--they might as well be gods.

And, very quickly, these higher beings demonstrate their power.  Through the Jockaira, they inform the humans that they must leave this planet and go to another thirty-two light years away.  The gods then enforce this dictate by teleporting the humans through the air, stuffing them into their ship, and then directing the ship through space to the destination they have selected.

This second planet is gentle and sweet and tranquil.  It is populated by the Little People, small furry androgynous beings who are not individuals in themselves, but exist in telepathic rapport groups.  These creatures are far superior to us in physical science, although they avoid employing physics and machines any more than they absolutely must.  They are even more superior to us in biology.  So adept are the Little People that they can create plants that taste like steak and mushrooms or mashed potatoes and gravy.

In a state of considerable disquiet, Lazarus mentally reviews the situation of the Howard Families:
The hegira of the Families had been a mistake.  It would have been a more human, a more mature and manly thing, to have stayed and fought for their rights, even if they had died insisting on them.  Instead they had fled across half a universe (Lazarus was reckless about his magnitudes) looking for a place to light.  They had found one, a good one--but already occupied by beings so superior as to make them intolerable for men . . . yet so supremely indifferent in their superiority to men that they had not even bothered to wipe them out, but had whisked them away to this--this overmanicured country club.

And that in itself was the unbearable humiliation.  The New Frontiers was the culmination of five hundred years of human scientific research, the best that men could do--but it had been flicked across the deeps of space as casually as a man might restore a baby bird to its nest.

The Little People did not seem to want to kick them out, but the Little People, in their own way, were as demoralizing to men as were the gods of the Jockaira.  One at a time they might be morons but taken as groups each rapport group was a genius that threw the best minds that men could offer into the shade.  Even Andy.  Human beings could not hope to compete with that type of organization any more than a backroom shop could compete with an automated cybernated factory.  Yet to form any such group identities, even if they could, which he doubted, would be, Lazarus felt very sure, to give up whatever it was that made them men.
And almost immediately, the question of what makes a man is put to the test.  One of the oldest humans, fearing death, chooses to swap her individuality for a permanent continuing existence as an element in a Little People rapport group.  And a human child is born that has been modified and improved by the Little People:
It lacked even the button nose of a baby, nor were there evident external ears.  There were organs in the usual locations of each but flush with the skull and protected with bony ridges.  Its hands had too many fingers and there was an extra large one near each wrist which ended in a cluster of pink worms.  There was something odd about the torso of the infant which Lazarus could not define.  But two other gross facts were evident: the legs ended not in human feet but in horny, toeless pediments--hoofs.  And the creature was hermaphroditic--not in deformity but in healthy development, an androgyne.
At this point, only a very few of the long-lifers wish to continue exploring among the stars.  A larger handful is content to remain with the Little People.  But the vast majority, Lazarus chief amongst them, wants to go home.

So homeward they go.  When they arrive, they find that seventy-four years have passed on Earth.  They aren't received as outlaws and fugitives as they had feared, but rather as heroic stellar explorers.  Nobody is mad or jealous anymore.  Thanks to positive thinking and radioactive vitamins everyone is a long-lifer now, and everything is just swell.

The story concludes with Lazarus whistling "California here I come!  Right back where I started from!" and hoping that his favorite Dallas chili house from way back when is still in business.

What an unsatisfactory ending this is!  Here we have Robert Heinlein--the man who assured us that any custom, technique, institution, belief, or social structure must change--concluding a novel about a stellar voyage longer than the entire reign of the Prophets with the earnest hope that nothing has changed on Earth and that things will still be the same as when the Families left.

More than that.  The early chapters of Methuselah's Children were Heinlein's most futuristic work yet, filled with casually fantastic detailing like this: "When Lazarus went to bed he stepped out of his kilt and chucked it toward a wardrobe . . . which snagged it, shook it out, and hung it up neatly.  'Nice catch,' he commented. . . ."

But it isn't even this world that Lazarus seems to expect to find upon his return.  What he actually has in his head, at least, are the songs and cuisine of his boyhood, way, way back in the Twentieth Century.  Seemingly Lazarus has encountered more than he can handle among the stars and it has shocked him out of 275 years or so of growth.

A fundamental Techno Age problem is presented for solution in Methuselah's Children--the problem of evolutionary superiority.  It is set forth no fewer than five times: by the Howard Families; by the gods of the Jockaira; by the Little People; by a human choosing to join a Little People rapport group; and by the human baby that the Little People redesign and improve.

The first of these cases, the longevity of the Howard Families, proves in time not to be a true example of evolutionary difference after all.  Mere longer life doesn't make the long-lifers any wiser or more competent or more successful as human beings.  As Lazarus is frank to say in criticism of one Family member: "'Bud, you strike me as a clear proof that the Foundation should 'a' bred for brains instead of age.' "

In fact, it is precisely because this difference is only a superficial one that ordinary humanity can catch up to the Howard Families so quickly and that the long-lifers can be welcomed back to Earth at the end of the story.

But the other examples are far more serious challenges.  They represent the prospect of fundamental change in human form and human mentation, of encounter with beings who can out-compete us on our own terms, and, most trying of all, of discovery of the existence of beings of another and higher order than our own.

The Howard Families and Lazarus Long simply are unequipped to cope with any one of these possibilities.  Instead, they are left feeling bullied and baffled, horrified and demoralized.  Like kids who have dared to cross the street to the next block and discovered more than they can deal with there, they must turn tail and scoot for home to climb into the safety and comfort of a nice hot bowl of chili.

But as hard as Lazarus and the others might try to pretend that nothing at all really happened on the voyage of the New Frontiers, we, who were along for the ride, certainly know better.  We can remember Administrator Slayton Ford--a man of such "superior ability and unmatched experience" that he was able to take over executive direction of the Howard Families even though not a long-lifer himself--as he ran weeping and distraught from the temple of Kreel, gazed on Lazarus with "horror-stricken eyes" and then clutched him desperately for security.

With his ideal of an elite of human competence, Robert Heinlein was easily able to imagine coming to terms with a future of social and psychological change.  But evolutionary change was another matter.  Could even the most competent of men cope with creatures like Kreel?  Maybe not.  Probably not.  As one character says ruefully to Lazarus: "'Those creatures the Jockaira worshiped--it does not seem possible that any amount of living could raise us up to that level.' "

We should note that Heinlein would not always feel this way.  In 1958, a moment when faith in the efficacy of universal operating principles had reached its maximum, Heinlein would publish the revised and expanded book version of Methuselah's Children.  There he would drop out this line that we have just quoted, and he would add a concluding conversation between Lazarus and Andy Libby in which Lazarus expresses renewed zest for interstellar exploration and a determination to grow up enough someday to take on the gods of the Jockaira.

Libby says: "'They weren't gods, Lazarus.  You shouldn't call them that.' "

And Lazarus answers:
"Of course they weren't--I think.  My guess is that they are creatures who have had enough time to do a little hard thinking.  Some day, about a thousand years from now, I intend to march straight into the temple of Kreel, look him in the eye, and say, 'Howdy, bub--what do you know that I don't know?' "
With these changes, Heinlein would reduce the gap between Kreel and Lazarus from an evolutionary difference that can't possibly be surmounted to a mere difference in state of knowledge.  In the same way that the ordinary people left behind on Earth managed to scuffle and scramble and catch up to the Howard Families, so may Lazarus aspire to catch up to Kreel in another thousand years or so.

In 1941, however, Heinlein had reached his sticking point.  His Future History had carried him just as far as it could and then run him into a brick wall, or what looked like a brick wall.  After one last Future History story--a relatively weak and unconvincing sequel to "Universe" entitled "Common Sense" (Astounding, Oct 1941)--Heinlein was ready to put his whole connected future on the shelf.

And, in fact, at this moment the Future History was about as complete as it was ever going to be.  After World War II, Heinlein might shuffle stories around, add some new stories to the near end of the chart, and rewrite and tidy the Future History for book publication.  But he would never get around to writing any of the other "Stories-to-be-told" that were promised on the chart as it first saw publication in May 1941.  And neither would he ever do anything to close the sixty-year gap remaining between "Logic of Empire" and "'If This Goes On--.' " Eventually, Heinlein would simply declare, "I probably never will write the story of Nehemiah Scudder; I dislike him too thoroughly."

Now, rather than filling in the Future History, Heinlein beat his head some more against the problem that Methuselah's Children had raised but not resolved.

In the intricate time travel novelet "By His Bootstraps" (Astounding, Oct 1941) by Anson MacDonald, a contemporary graduate student named Bob Wilson is hauled thirty thousand years into the future by a man of lined face and gray beard who calls himself Diktor.  Diktor informs Wilson that the Palace they are in and the Time Gate through which he has come are the work of "the High Ones," superior beings who came, ruled humanity for twenty thousand years, and then departed, leaving mankind a pretty, placid, doggish species, like some cross between the Jockaira of Methuselah's Children and the Eloi of Wells's The Time Machine.

Diktor horses Wilson around, tricking him into making loop upon loop through time to meet himself and argue with himself and even punch himself in the mouth.  And the poor befuddled Wilson finds himself helpless to do anything more than compulsively repeat lines he has already heard himself say twice over.

This callous treatment only leaves him suspicious, resentful and rebellious.  Eventually, Wilson dodges ten years into Diktor's past--where Diktor proves not to be--and sets himself up in Diktor's place as boss of the docile local folk.

In time, however, being top dog here grows to be a bore, and Wilson conceives a desire to know more of the High Ones.  He uses the Time Gate to search for them, and at last he sees one.

We aren't told what it looks like, only what Wilson does:  He screams.  He runs away.  He gets a fit of the shakes.  He reacts like Slayton Ford in the temple of Kreel.

We are told: "He felt he had learned all about the High Ones a man could learn and still endure."

Wilson's sleep is ruined--he has night sweats and bad dreams.  His face becomes lined and his hair and beard turn gray.

It is years before he can bring himself to fool around with the Time Gate again.  And when he does, it is only to find himself inadvertently snatching young Bob Wilson, the graduate student, into this future moment.

At last, then, the heretofore unrecognized truth dawns on Wilson: "He was Diktor.  He was the Diktor.  He was the only Diktor!"

By no means does he fully comprehend what has happened even yet: "He knew that he had about as much chance of understanding such problems as a collie has of understanding how dog food gets into cans."

At this point, all he can think to do is to go on with the foreordained game, secure in the bittersweet certainty that what has happened must happen.  And so, with the supreme false assurance of a used car salesman who has a live one on the hook, he smiles on his younger self and says, "'There is a great future in store for you and me, my boy--a great future!' "

And Heinlein-as-narrator echoes wryly: "A great future!"

Like so much of Heinlein's fiction in this year since his declaration of artistic freedom, "By His Bootstraps" was a confidently brilliant work of science fiction.  Nobody had ever written a time travel story of this order of complexity before, and readers were dazzled by its intricacy.

But as ordinary readers were less likely to notice, "By His Bootstraps"--like most of Heinlein's stories of the past year--was filled with undertones of bitterness, resignation and defeat, accentuated by Wilson/Diktor's disastrous encounter with the High One.  This story was one more "solution unsatisfactory."

The one reader who could not help but notice Heinlein's inability to cope with superior beings was John Campbell.  In August 1941, Heinlein sent him yet another such story, a novelet called "Goldfish Bowl" in which this Earth is suggested to be the home of atmospheric intelligences who are as far beyond humanity as men are beyond fish.

In this story, two American scientists attempt to investigate a strange phenomenon--two gigantic waterspouts that have appeared in the Pacific Ocean near Hawaii and remained in place for months.  Instead, however, they find themselves taken prisoner and kept in the mysterious somewhere at the top of the spouts.  From the manner in which they are held, it is possible for them to deduce that their keepers are highly advanced beings.

In Methuselah's Children, Slayton Ford encountered Kreel in his temple, even though he could remember nothing of it afterward.  And in "By His Bootstraps," Bob Wilson was able to see the High One through the Time Gate, though again it would be a blank to him later.  But the scientists in "Goldfish Bowl" aren't permitted even this much.  They never meet their captors, they never see them, and they are never able to communicate with them.  They are just kept.

One of the men, "an oceanographer specializing in ecology" named Bill Eisenberg, says in despair:
"We've had some dignity as a race.  We've striven and accomplished things.  Even when we failed, we had the tragic satisfaction of knowing that we were, nevertheless, superior and more able than the other animals.  We've had faith in the race--we would accomplish great things yet.  But if we are just one of the lower animals ourselves, what does our great work amount to?  Me, I couldn't go on pretending to be a 'scientist' if I thought I was just a fish, mucking around in the bottom of a pool.  My work wouldn't signify anything."
And, after his older companion has died and his body has been removed, Eisenberg thinks to himself:
They were outclassed.  The human race had reached its highest point--the point at which it began to be aware that it was not the highest race, and the knowledge was death to it, one way or the other--the mere knowledge alone, even as the knowledge was now destroying him, Bill Eisenberg, himself.
Despite the fact that by his own reasoning this knowledge can do humanity no good, what it occurs to him to do is to painfully inscribe a cryptic message in scar tissue on his body: "BEWARE--CREATION TOOK EIGHT DAYS."  And then he waits to die and to have his body thrown out like a pet goldfish flushed down the toilet.

This was the Heinlein story that John Campbell would attempt to turn down, as though he hoped a timely rejection might serve as a shock to bring Heinlein to his senses and help him escape from the grip of this compulsive funk.  "Goldfish Bowl" would see publication--after  Heinlein went on his strike and Campbell backed down and took the story--in the March 1942 Astounding as another work by Anson MacDonald.

But Heinlein may have had his batteries recharged by his short vacation.  When he did return to storytelling, it was with his longest and most ambitious piece of fiction yet, Anson MacDonald's Beyond This Horizon (Astounding, Apr-May 1942), a novel that he would complete all in a rush on the eve of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the beginning of official U.S. participation in World War II.

Beyond This Horizon would be many things at once, as though with his time for writing SF visibly running out, Heinlein aimed to say everything he had to say in the pages of one story:

This novel would be a late scientific utopia, a vision of a society-to-come attempting to make itself better by the deliberate selection and cultivation of its citizens' soundest and most desirable genetic qualities.  In this, it would be a deliberate retort to Aldous Huxley's dystopian satire Brave New World (1932), which itself had first been conceived as an attempt to answer H.G. Wells's Men Like Gods (1923).

Beyond This Horizon would also be a modern science fiction story, Heinlein's most masterful presentation of a future America that is radically altered and yet still recognizable.  The strange kind of skew that Heinlein had put on the opening pages of "'If This Goes On--' " and the first few chapters of Methuselah's Children, he would manage to sustain for the entire length of this novel.

In the world of Beyond This Horizon, men wear their names back-to-front, pass through doors that dilate, compare shades of nail polish, surprise their ortho-wives by visiting them two days in a row, and sleep on beds filled with water (something Heinlein had conceived and designed, but not built, during the time he was bedfast with TB).  They have colonies and research stations throughout the Solar System, including Pluto, but they have not yet made the big jump to the stars.

This future is not like the society of the Covenant.  There a man might be sent off to Coventry for the deviant act of punching someone in the nose and refusing therapy.  In the urbane survival-of-the-fittest society of Beyond This Horizon, however, first class citizens carry sidearms and fight duels to the death when their manners are called into question--and should they survive, they go back again to their dinners and think no more about it.

The world Heinlein presents in this story is the product of an entirely different course of future development from the one he had evolved for his official Future History.  If "Magic, Inc." was the story in which Heinlein had first shown that he could construct an imaginary future society around any state of knowledge or belief, Beyond This Horizon was Heinlein's proof that he could just as readily invent future histories to order, now that he knew the method.

Heinlein had made it clear in his guest-of-honor speech in Denver in July--a mere two months after the publication of his Future History chart--that he wasn't attached to the particulars of his prototype.  He had said, "I do not expect my so-called History of the Future to come to pass, not in anything like those terms.  I think some of the trends in it may show up; but I do not think that my factual predictions as such are going to come to pass, even in their broad outlines."

What was actually central to him was the process of "time-binding," a Korzybskian term that meant the making of mental projections into time-to-come as an exercise of preparation for future change.

So it was, then, that in Beyond This Horizon, the future historical thread given is all different.  Rather than the rolling roads, we are referred to the "Atomic War of 1970."  And instead of being reminded of the overthrow of the Prophets, we are bidden to recall "the Empire of the Great Khans."

In this variant line of development, it would seem that after the overwhelming horror of the Atomic War people were so shocked at what they had done that they deliberately did their best to breed aggressiveness out of the species.  Some resisted this, however, and set themselves apart.  Eventually there was a war between the new pacific strain of humanity and unaltered man--the First Genetic War.  We are told:

"The outcome was . . . a necessity and the details are unimportant.  The 'wolves' ate the 'sheep'."

The Second Genetic War, some three hundred years later, was fought against the Great Khans over the issue of human general adaptability vs. special adaptation.  Like Wells's non-human Selenites in The First Men in the Moon or Aldous Huxley's society in Brave New World, the Great Khans were willing to bend the basic form of man to produce specialized creatures for specialized tasks:
They tailored human beings--if you could call them that--as casually as we construct buildings.  At their height, just before the Second Genetic War, they bred over three thousand types including the hyper-brains (thirteen sorts), the almost brainless matrons, the clever and repulsively beautiful pseudo-feminine freemartins, and the neuter "mules".
In fighting mule soldiers directly, generalized men did not fare well.  But in the end, they won the war:
The Empire had one vulnerable point, its co-ordinators, the Khan, his satraps and administrators.  Biologically the Empire was a single organism and could be killed at the top, like a hive with a single queen bee.  At the end, a few score assassinations accomplished a collapse which could not be achieved in battle.

No need to dwell on the terror that followed the collapse.  Let it suffice that no representative of homo proteus is believed to be alive today.  He joined the great dinosaurs and the sabre-toothed cats.

He lacked adaptability.
With this history, it is no wonder that the society of Beyond This Horizon should be genetically oriented and survival-minded.  However, in its genetic selection it avoids the mistakes of the past.  It rejects tampering with either human nature or the human form.  Instead, it strives to eliminate heritable defects and to conserve and generalize positive qualities:
Infants born with the assistance of the neo-Ortega-Martin gene selection techniques are normal babies, stemming from normal gene plasm, born of normal women, in the usual fashion.  They differ in one respect only from their racial predecessors: they are the best babies their parents can produce!
And we are allowed to see that they are getting somewhere.  In the course of Beyond This Horizon, in a satiric modern science fiction reversal of an old-time scientifiction situation, an anomaly--"the Adirondack stasis field"--is finally opened and proves to contain a time traveler, a wide-eyed, bushy-tailed, young go-getter from 1926 named J. Darlington Smith.  Smith, looking for something to do, introduces football to this latter-day world, but though he was twice an All-American himself, he can't play now.  Nor does he dare to wear a gun.  His reflexes simply aren't fast enough to allow him to compete with genetically improved future man.

The central story line of Beyond This Horizon would be Heinlein's best attempt to phrase and resolve his great dilemma about the relationship between the man of competence and his society.  Heinlein's protagonist, Hamilton Felix, is a man of superior ability who fritters his time away as a designer of what he terms "'silly games for idle people.'"  Though the District Moderator for Genetics, Mordan Claude, informs Hamilton that he is a biological crown prince, a genetic star line, the best of the best, he feels like a failure.  He lacks a photographic memory, and this has disqualified him from being what he dreamed of becoming as a boy--"an encyclopedic synthesist."

The occupation of synthesist was something that Heinlein had called for in his speech in Denver.  His suggestion was that these men of encyclopedic understanding would "make it their business to find out what it is the specialists have learned and then relay it to the rest of us in a consolidated form so that we can have, if not the details of the picture, at least the broad outlines of the enormous, incredibly enormous, mass of data that the human race has gathered."

And he had offered his boyhood hero, H.G. Wells, as his example of a pioneer synthesist.  He called him "so far as I know the only writer who has ever lived who has tried to draw for the rest of us a full picture of the whole world, past and future, everything about us, so we can stand off and get a look at ourselves."

This was the kind of man that Hamilton Felix had aimed to be:
All the really great men were synthesists.  Who stood a chance of being elected to the Board of Policy but a synthesist?  What specialist was there who did not, in the long run, take his orders from a synthesist?  They were the leaders, the men who knew everything, the philosopher-kings of whom the ancients had dreamed.
But when it became apparent to Hamilton that he wouldn't be able to become a synthesist because of his lack of an eidetic memory, everything else available came to look no better than second-best to him.  Life seems pointless.  His society wants him to have children and fulfill four generations of genetic planning, but he isn't disposed to cooperate.  He says to Mordan:
"You can probably eliminate my misgivings [in my children] and produce a line that will go on happily breeding for the next ten million years.  That still doesn't make it make sense.  Survival!  What for?  Until you can give me some convincing explanation why the human race should go on at all, my answer is 'no.'"
However, when a revolution by people who fancy themselves superior and aim to emulate the Great Khans comes along, and they ask Hamilton to join them, he isn't flattered or attracted.  The society of Beyond This Horizon was the soundest and most uncorrupt, the purest and most ideal that Heinlein could imagine at this moment, and Hamilton Felix, for all his disaffection, finds it worth defending.  He serves as a spy and does his best to see the revolt put down.

And when it is, Hamilton's society does him return service.  The synthesists of the Board of Policy deem it worthwhile to launch a project to scientifically investigate the fundamental questions of human meaning and purpose, and Hamilton is offered a place in this "Great Research" for the unorthodox quality of his imagination.

At last he has something to do that he finds worth doing.  So reconciled does Hamilton become that he even marries the girl picked out as his genetic match and fathers the children the Planners wish him to have.

Along with everything else that Beyond This Horizon had to offer--its utopianism, its satire, its future-building, its alternative history-making, and its philosophical ventures--this novel would go at least partway toward solving the intractable evolutionary problem that Heinlein had been banging his head against throughout 1941.

This novel suggested that even human evolution might sometime be domesticated, brought under the conscious direction and control of mankind.  So far, so good--especially if you should happen to be a genetic crown prince like Hamilton Felix and not a despised, discriminated-against "control natural," or unimproved man.

However, in Beyond This Horizon the larger and more difficult part of the evolutionary question--how humanity might learn to cope with the fact of the existence of superior beings--was scamped.  It was acknowledged as a potential problem, but then put out of mind.

That is, in this story there are no other intelligent races in the Solar System.  (Mention is made of a news report of the discovery of intelligent life on Ganymede which proved to be erroneous.)  And though the Great Research is perfectly willing to concede the possibility of non-human intelligence somewhere else, lacking the starships to go and check, human beings are not soon going to be put on the spot and embarrassed again as they were on the voyage of the New Frontiers in Heinlein's other future.

Hamilton Felix does consider the question:
If there were such [non-human intelligences], then it was possible, with an extremely high degree of mathematical probability, that some of them, at least, were more advanced than men.  In which case they might give Man a "leg up" in his philosophical education.  They might have discovered "Why" as well as "How".

It had been pointed out that it might be extremely dangerous, psychologically, for human beings to encounter such superior creatures.  There had been the tragic case of the Australian Aborigines in not too remote historical times--demoralized and finally exterminated by their own sense of inferiority in the presence of the colonizing Anglish.

The investigators serenely accepted the danger; they were not so constituted as to be able to do otherwise.

Hamilton was not sure it was a danger.  To some it might be, but he himself could not conceive of a man such as Mordan, for example, losing his morale under any circumstances.  In any case it was a long distance project.  First they must reach the stars, which required inventing and building a starship.  That would take a bit of doing.
In short, the genetically refined society of Beyond This Horizon is spared from suffering a rude evolutionary awakening by its own comparative technological ineptitude.  Though privately we may wonder whether Mordan Claude really would fare any better in the temple of Kreel than Slayton Ford did, this question is not about to be tested.

Heinlein, however, had clearly not rid himself of his own fear and doubt.  This is indicated by his very last pre-war story, "The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag," written in April 1942 while he waited to take up war work as an engineer in the Philadelphia Navy Yard.  He gave this fantasy short novel to Campbell with the new pseudonym John Riverside, and it would be published in the October 1942 issue of Unknown--by then called Unknown Worlds.

In this unsettling story, the contemporary world is once again revealed to be a sham.  We are offered two Twenties-style explanations to account for its true nature:

There are "the Sons of the Bird"--horrid, powerful Lovecraftian creatures who lurk in the space behind mirrors and yearn to torment and demean us with the knowledge of our own true inferiority.  Are they right in their claim to be the proper rulers of our world?

Or is prissy, creepy Jonathan Hoag right when he offers the alternative Cabellian explanation that this world, including the Sons of the Bird, is actually only an interesting botch by a promising young artist on a higher plane of existence?  It is Hoag's claim that he is an "art critic" from that superior dimension, here in the form of a man to experience this world from within and determine how much of it, if any, is worth saving.

In either case, however, ordinary human beings and their efforts cannot amount to very much.  The best the frightened protagonists of this story, a private detective and his wife, are allowed is to hang on tight to each other and wait to find out what may happen to them.

And on this note, after three intense years at the typewriter, Robert Heinlein ceased storytelling and went off to war.  The conundrum of evolutionary superiority was left for somebody else to resolve.

(This essay first appeared as a chapter of The World Beyond the Hill, 1989.  Ordering information for the book in both print and electronic form is available here.)

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