This is a difficult book to review. I’m not sure if it actually belongs in the science fiction genre. It’s at times obscene, gross, disturbing, and at other times, eloquent and touching. Whatever this novel is, it’s not simple, easily categorized, nor capable of being summarized in a short blurb. Time travel story? Love story? Romance novel? Social satire? Treatise on genetic engineering? All of these, and none of them, when considered as a whole. I don’t believe I can recommend it to a casual reader; definitely not to a Heinlein newcomer.
One has to wonder: why was Heinlein exploring the various forms of love? Despite delving into group marriage and two forms of incest, he steered clear of gay marriage and completely avoided homosexuality. Group marriage is fine and dandy as long as the plumbing is used as nature intended. I don’t particularly want to defend either point of view, just observing that the staunch free-thinking, free-love libertarian avoided the subject while exploring varieties of heterosexual unions.
In the end, I just sort of got tired of the whole subject. I was tired of incest, marriage, divorce, groups/communal living, all of it…. The novel becomes obnoxious at some points. And, possibly the most troublesome issue for the writer is, I have no desire to ever touch this story again. Not because the content made me uncomfortable–hardly–but it became dull and boring, contrived, forced, and I never truly gained any suspense of disbelief.
I can’t help but bring up the feeling I had while reading this: It seemed to me that Heinlein was trying to write a sequel to Stranger, without touching that novel, which was Bible-like at the time for many millions of fans. Religions have been started due to Stranger. Good or bad, Heinlein did not seem to want to touch it again–like a painting already infamously valuable, one dares not modify it or try to best it. But, as a not-quite-sequel to Stranger, or perhaps some sort of contrast to it, that didn’t seem to work.