Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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The Pursuit of the Pankera

Via a post at File 770:

In March, a new Heinlein novel came out, assembled from fragments found in his papers. The Pursuit of the Pankera contains no interpolations to link the fragments together; when placed in their correct order, they form a complete novel.

I don’t remember hearing about that before. How interesting. I used to like Heinlein a lot … not JOB, that one left me utterly cold. Hmm. I guess I liked some of his juveniles the best? Looking back, I might pick Door Into Summer as my probable favorite. That wasn’t the case when I was a kid, but I think it’s the one that stands out now. I do remember thinking his last few books in particular were perhaps not as well put-together as some of his earlier work.

Anyway, whatever, this is still an interesting find.

Here’s this particular reviewer’s reaction:

I awaited it with some trepidation, as pre-publication announcements stated this was, as its subtitle stated, “A Parallel Novel About Parallel Universes,” and the novel it paralleled was, alas, The Number of the Beast. …

Despite my fondness for alternate-history tales, I found long ago that Number was easily Heinlein’s worst book. Pursuit turned out to be somewhat better, but it still has serious flaws. Something the editor did, as a service to the reader, was to place a discreet marker in the margin, near the top of page 152, where the two novels diverge—the first thirty percent is virtually identical to the original.

Yes, indeed, that is interesting. I thought the last, I don’t know, the last third or so of Number of the Beast was pretty awful. I did like the beginning, which is the part that’s essentially unchanged in Pankera.

Wow, it sounds like the two books diverge utterly on the way to Mars. If you’ve read Number, you remember the Mars scenes, I’m sure. In Pankera, this is actually Barsoom.

Okay, and it sounds like Lazarus Long vanishes from the pages of Pankera. Good. He was not an asset in Number. The reviewer didn’t like the new ending, but I hardly see how it could be less appealing than the Lazarus Long ending. I really did not appreciate having all the universes stirred together that way.

All right, the reviewer’s main problem is the protagonists’ genocidal campaign against the Pankera:

Late in the tale, they survey many alternate Earths, and find ten of them to be “infested.” The worst case is our own world—it’s easy enough to figure this out from the clues Heinlein gives. Their solution to this problem is unethical in the extreme: extermination. If it proves impossible to root out all the Pankera from a particular Earth, the entire planet is to be burnt off.

Yikes. Wow. That does sound a bit extreme.

Have any of you actually read this? What did you think?

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3 Comments The Pursuit of the Pankera

  1. Mike S.

    I read it, though if the ebook had a note where it diverged from TNotB I missed it, which meant that I was sort of impatiently waiting for it to happen for a third of the book. (Though it’s probably just as well since it’s been a while since I read that version.)

    I don’t agree that it was better than TNotB, and not because I think the latter is a good book. But I at least remember it being a page turner, where this *dragged*. (Vanishingly rare for me in a Heinlein novel.)

    Large segments of it are no more or less than Barsoom and Lensmen fanfic, and I’m not sure that meeting Dejah Thoris and Dr. Lacy is necessarily better than meeting Lazarus Long. (Who does make a brief offscreen appearance late in the book under one of his aliases.)

    There’s less wrangling over the captaincy and less bed swapping, much more in the way of expressions of mutual admiration in both dialogue and internal monologue. These people are all awesome and all thing each other are awesome, at way too much length.

    I read the ending as largely following the logic of the Lensmen and what I’ve read of Barsoom, where while some enemies are redeemable, others are inimical root and branch at the species level. But where Doc Smith let us see enough of the Ploorans and Eddorians that it was clear that there was nothing else for it and we spent a half dozen books and countless escalating conflicts building to the resolution of the Lensman series. And it’s a space opera universe with ftl antimatter planets and intergalactic conflict.

    I couldn’t help feeling it wasn’t really earned here. The protagonists have a legitimate beef and the villains have messed with a bunch of worlds. But we don’t really know enough about their origins to know that That’s Just How They All Are vs them being their world’s equivalent of filibusters, or one culture with colonial ambitions. At the very least, they don’t seem to have made a serious effort to kill all humans everywhere. Which makes the response (including all the human collateral damage) seem way, way out of proportion.

  2. Rachel

    Thanks for your comments, Mike! I don’t think I’ll rush right out, although I’m a bit amused at the idea of Heinlein writing Barsoom fan fic. I was never a great fan of Barsoom and I’ve never read the Lensmen novels, so I think a lot of the fan fic elements would be lost on me anyway. And yes, the way Pankera seems to resolve is not very appealing.

  3. Craig N.

    In that massive Heinlein bio, it talks briefly about this book. Virginia (RAH’s first reader of course) kicked it back to him and said … they agreed … ‘this is worse than bad; it’s mediocre.’ So he revised it into _Number_, which they were both happier with.

    Given that history, I am still surprised that it’s been published, but I guess I can see them being insufficiently firm if they never wanted it to go out in public.

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