Beyond This Horizon

Beyond This Horizon

infobox Book |
name = Beyond This Horizon
title_orig =
translator =

image_caption = First single volume edition - 1948
author = Robert A. Heinlein
illustrator =
cover_artist =
country = United States
language = English
series =
genre = Science fiction novel
publisher = Astounding Science Fiction (orig. serial) & Fantasy Press (single book)
release_date = 1942 (orig. serial) & 1948 (single book)
media_type = Print (Hardcover & Paperback)
pages =
isbn = NA
preceded_by =
followed_by =

"Beyond This Horizon" is a science fiction novel by Robert A. Heinlein. It was originally published as a two-part serial in "Astounding Science Fiction" (April, May 1942, as by Anson MacDonald) and then eventually as a single volume by Fantasy Press in 1948.

Plot summary

The novel depicts a world where genetic selection for increased health, longevity and intelligence has become so widespread that the unmodified 'control naturals' are a carefully managed (and protected) minority. Dueling and the carrying of arms is a socially accepted way of maintaining civility in public - a man can wear distinctive clothing to show his unwillingness to duel, but this results in a lower social status. The world has become an economic utopia; the "economic dividend" is so high that work has become optional. The chief economic problem is in fact using up the economic surplus: many high-quality goods actually cost "less" than those of lower quality. But as many use the lower quality goods anyway as status symbols, much goes into scientific research, but this has the side-effect of further increasing productivity a decade or three later, so long-term projects with no (expected) possible economic return are favored above all but medical research (longer lifespans will consume more surplus).

The story's protagonist, Hamilton Felix (surname first) is the archetypal Nietzschean superman; he possesses a superhuman physique, an intellect to match it, and can expect to live centuries without any form of medical assistance. Authorities aware of his genetic makeup consider him to be the most advanced human in existence - the "star line". However, he lacks eidetic memory, which disqualifies him for what many consider to be humanity's most important occupation: that of an "encyclopedic synthesist", one who analyzes the sum total of human knowledge for untapped potential. As such, he finds his life - and the society he lives in - to be enjoyable but meaningless. However, when one of these synthesists seeks him out, inquiring when he plans to continue his line, he finds himself drawn into an adventure which not only gives him purpose but convinces him that his society is worth saving after all.

Literary significance & criticism

In the first two decades of his writing career, Heinlein averaged writing a novel every year, of which nearly all were intended for young adult readers. "Beyond This Horizon" occupies an interesting place in this period of Heinlein's work, being only his second published novel, and the last adult novel he was to write for a long time. The recent publication of his lost first novel, "For Us, the Living", reveals that "Beyond This Horizon" is largely a second attempt to treat most of its ideas. The contrast is amazing. "For Us, the Living" is nearly unreadable, a complete failure as a work of fiction, consisting largely of lectures on social credit, a socialist movement that Heinlein later hid his involvement in. From the first page of "Beyond This Horizon", Heinlein shows a revolutionized mastery of storytelling applied to the same materials. The title of the first chapter is "All of them should have been very happy —," and it introduces the utopia by the dramatic expedient of the protagonist's inexplicable dissatisfaction with it. Although many of the ideas, characters, and events are lifted directly from the earlier novel (social credit, a 20th century man mysteriously transported into the future, a character who is a dancer) they are reworked into a story that stands out as one of Heinlein's best.

It is particularly interesting to see how Heinlein handles some of his favorite, and superficially contradictory, philosophical themes. Eugenics is shown as the wave of the future, and yet it is a eugenics that explicitly rejects racism, and can be reconciled with Heinlein's strongly held belief in cultural relativism. Scientific progress is satirized as often as it is glorified, and Heinlein displays his trademark disdain for positivism, as his protagonist convinces the society's leaders to plow vast amounts of money into research on topics such as telepathy and the immortality of the soul.

One sub-theme of the book is the carrying and use of firearms. In the novel being armed is part of being a man; otherwise he wears a brassard and is considered weak and inferior. Women are allowed but not expected to be armed. Duels, either deadly or survivable, may easily occur when someone feels that they have been wronged or insulted, a custom that keeps order and politeness. A defining quote from the book which is repeated throughout Heinlein's work is, "An armed society is a polite society", is very popular with those who support the personal right to keep and bear arms.

The novel is also interesting for what it leaves out. Nudism and free love, which had been prominently featured in "For Us, the Living", are absent from this story, and would not appear again in Heinlein's work until "Stranger in a Strange Land".

Waterbed description

This novel contains Heinlein's first discussion in print of a waterbed, which, along with more detailed descriptions in "Double Star" and "Stranger in a Strange Land", later made it impossible for others to patent the invention.

Release details

*1942, USA, Astounding Science Fiction magazine (ISSN NA), Pub date April 1942-May 1942, orig. serial
*1948, USA, Fantasy Press (ISBN NA), Pub date ? ? 1948, hardback (First edition)
*1948, USA, New American Library(ISBN 0-451-07599-4), Pub date ? ? 1948, Paperback
*1981, UK, Gregg Press (ISBN 0-8398-2672-9), Pub date ? ? 1981, paperback
*1975, USA, Signet (ISBN 0-451-08966-9), Pub date ? ? 1975, paperback
*1975, UK, Panther Press (ISBN 0-586-02348-8), Pub date ? ? 1975, paperback
*1981, USA, Ultramarine Publishing (ISBN 0-89366-282-8), Pub date ? June 1981, hardback
*1983, UK, Hodder & Stoughton (ISBN 0-450-06022-5), Pub date 1 May 1983, hardback
*1985, USA, New English Library (ISBN 0-450-03289-2), Pub date 1 November 1985, paperback
*1989, USA, Signet (ISBN 0-451-15616-1), Pub date ? April 1989, paperback
*1997, USA, Atlantic Books (ISBN 0-451-16676-0), Pub date 6 August 1997, paperback
*2001, USA, Baen Books (ISBN 0-671-31836-5), Pub date ? September 2001, hardback
*2002, USA, Baen Books (ISBN 0-7434-3561-3), Pub date 1 September 2002, paperback

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