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Lunch » Tags » Books » Reviews » The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag » User review

And he built a crooked tale ... !

  • Jan 5, 2011
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Rating:
+3
Heinlein's 6xH is a collection of (would you believe it?) six of Heinlein's short stories ranging in tone from warmly optimistic and almost religious through paranormal mysticism all the way to hard core multi-dimensional (both space and time) sci-fi. Just as the tone and nature of the stories represent a wildly eclectic blend of plots and characters, the quality and credibility of the stories is all over the literary map as well! But, rest assured, it's all vintage Heinlein and will certainly appeal to Heinlein fans!

The centre piece of the collection, The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag (***), is a 125 page novella that, in a fashion vaguely reminiscent of Robert Louis Stevenson's Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, tells us of Hoag's total inability to recall what he does during the day. When he hires a very earthy and yet very warm and loving husband and wife team of detectives to follow him, we are treated to a sparkling story filled with superb dialogue, terrific suspense and first-rate characterization. Sadly, like a poorly written episode of The Twilight Zone, the story ultimately dissolves into a conclusion of meaningless metaphysical bafflegab that left me completely deflated as a reader and asking what happened.

The Man Who Traveled in Elephants (*****), in a remarkably small number of words, not only describes a positively astonishing cross section of 1940s American cultural snippets but also clearly delivers the message that happiness both here on earth and ultimately in a heavenly after-life is in the eye of the beholder. Warm, uplifting, charming, believable and well-delivered without a trace of religious or preachy overtones. Wonderful, indeed!

In "---All You Zombies---" (**), Heinlein has prepared a racy, adult-rated time travel tale that opens with a bartender, clearly a time traveler and recruiter for other potential time travelers, listening to a customer's tales of woe over his beer. Once again, Heinlein's dialogue is crisp and realistic as is the characterization but (and how ironic is this?) the story has not stood the test of time. Heinlein completely ignores the issue of time travel paradoxes and, as a result, the story ends up unresolved in a most unsatisfactory fashion.

They (***) presents a morbid, dark and probably realistic vision of serious mental illness, or at least debilitating paranoia from the point of view of the suffering patient. The twist at the conclusion of the tale, while entertaining, is perhaps just a little too predictable and, frankly, is not sufficiently resolved to be completely satisfying.

A whimsical flight of fancy, indeed, Our Fair City (*) tells the story of an animated whirlwind that seems to know its own mind and makes friends with Pete Perkins, an elderly all night parking attendant. While treating us to some truly inspired slapstick comedic moments, ultimately this childish whirlwind dwindles to a limpid zephyr and then just hits the doldrums.

On the other hand, "And He Built a Crooked House" (****), also clearly intended as a lighthearted fantasy with a bent towards comedy succeeds in a walk. Heinlein gives us an out on the edge California (where else?) architect with an extraordinarily imaginative idea for his clients - a new age house designed as eight cubes stacked in the shape of a tesseract. Imagine the confusion when, in the middle of the guided tour, they are jostled by an earthquake tremor and their brand new home somehow collapses into the fourth dimension and folds back up into a hypercube. At once, funny, mind-bending, tantalizing, novel and provocative.

An interesting, collection of stories that must be read by and I dare say will even appeal to diehard Heinlein fans in order for them to say they've read it all. But, for my money, I'll call it a very average rating overall as science fiction goes and a disappointment coming from the pen of a master such as Heinlein.

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Paul Weiss ()
Ranked #16
   A modern day dilettante with widely varied eclectic interests. A dabbler in muchbut grandmaster of none - wilderness camping in all four seasons, hiking, canoeing, world travel,philately, … more
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Author: Robert Heinlein
Publisher: Easton Press

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