Kat Hooper's Reviews > The Number of the Beast

The Number of the Beast by Robert A. Heinlein
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's review
Jun 30, 2012

did not like it
bookshelves: audiobook
Read from June 18 to 20, 2012

Originally posted at Fantasy Literature.

When I was a kid I loved some of Robert A. Heinlein’s “Juveniles” — science fiction stories for children and teens. Red Planet was one of my favorites and I must have read it at least five times. These novels are part of the reason I kept reading science fiction — they left such an impression on my young mind.

Despite this nostalgia, I haven’t read Heinlein in years. When Blackstone Audio recently started releasing some of his later novels on audio, I thought it was time to check out some I’d never read. The first one I tried was The Number of the Beast, written in 1980 after a seven-year hiatus brought on by ill health when Heinlein was in his seventies.

This story starts when professor Zebadiah John Carter meets Deety (short for Dejah Thoris) Burroughs and her father, mathematician Jacob Burroughs, at a party hosted by a socialite named Hilda Corners. Within minutes, Zebadiah and Deety are engaged and Jacob’s car is bombed by unknown attackers. Zebadiah, Deety, Jacob, and Hilda flee in Zeb’s flying car, Jacob and Hilda decide to get married, and they all hide out in a cabin where Jacob has been working on a device that can access parallel universes. Soon the couples are visiting places such as Oz, Lilliput, and Barsoom (fans of Edgar Rice Burroughs will already have noticed that Zeb and Deety’s names come from the BARSOOM novels). There are lots of SFF in-jokes and Heinlein self-referentially brings in some of his characters from his previous books (he’s assuming you’ve read them) and even he and his wife are mentioned.

The audio production of The Number of the Beast was excellent. It was read by a cast of top-tier narrators: Bernadette Dunne, Emily Durante, Malcom Hillgartner, Sean Runnette, Paul Michael Garcia, and Tom Weiner. They were exceptional. Unfortunately, the story was wretchedly awful and I was not able to finish it. It started off bad from the very first scene and persevered in its badness until I started skimming and finally gave up. (“Life’s too short.”)

Most of the problem was the characters and their non-stop obnoxious dialogue and interactions. We hear from all four points of view and every one of them is odious. The first one we hear from is Zebadiah as he’s dancing with Deety who he’s just met at Hilda’s party. He’s looking down her dress and wishing she’d shut up. Then he asks her about her cleavage: “Is that cantilevering natural, or is there an invisible bra, you being in fact the sole support of two dependents?” Fortunately for Zeb, Deety is just as infatuated with her “teats” as he is and is happy to discuss all of their perfections (often), and all of her other perfections (often), with us every time it’s her turn to talk. To be fair, I must admit that she’s quick to alert us of her imperfections in great detail, too, such as the body odor which requires her to soak in a hot soapy tub twice daily. (Thank you, Deety.)

Despite his annoyance with Deety’s chatter, once they are much better acquainted (i.e., three minutes later), the two are engaged and off they go to get married, with Jacob and Hilda in tow. When they arrive at the cabin, after Jacob’s car is bombed, things get even worse. Now Jacob and Hilda are hitched, too, and the four of them are running around scantily clad. Each in turn regales us with his or her sleazy interior monologues (Deety’s teats are frequently the subject) and the four of them together engage in constant banter that’s supposed to be clever, witty, and provocative but is usually just vulgar, sexist, and boring. When Deety takes off her bikini top in front of her father, and then says that she wouldn’t have refused him if he’d made advances toward her when she was younger, I knew I’d suffered long enough. I stuck it out a bit longer just because I was in the car and had nothing else to listen to and I hoped The Number of the Beast might redeem itself but, looking back, I would have profited more from listening to my squeaky fanbelt.

How sad it is to hate a novel written by an author you loved in your youth. I used to think of Robert A. Heinlein as one of my heroes, but now I find out he was a self-indulgent perverted narcissist with a breast fetish and an obsession with incest. To protect my memories, and to give Heinlein the benefit of the doubt, I’d like to assume that the dismal quality of Number of the Beast was caused by Heinlein’s poor health. I don’t know. I just feel really disappointed.
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Comments (showing 1-14 of 14) (14 new)

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message 1: by Greg (new)

Greg Bates Oh, man. This is Heinlein's worst novel. Even counting the one where the protagonist adopts and then has sex with an underage girl. Still worse.

Kat  Hooper ok... so that means it's not going to get better, right? Shall I cut my losses? I've read about 10% of it and it's intolerable so far.

message 3: by Greg (new)

Greg Bates Nope. If anything, the first 10% or so is the BEST part of the book. It just keeps spiralling downward into one of the most insultingly bad endings i've ever read.

This is kinda off topic, but on the subject of bad books: I'm reading the Wheel of Time books since I swore I always would if the series got finished (I abandoned them as a teenager around books 6/7). I'm planning on skipping books 8-10, but do you think Knife of Dreams is good enough to read, or should I go directly to the Sanderson books?

Kat  Hooper OK, I quit. Thanks!

Other topic: If I were you, instead of reading KOD, read the chapter summaries here: http://www.encyclopaedia-wot.org/book...

The plot moves forward (finally), but most of it is rehashed fluff.

message 5: by Greg (new)

Greg Bates That's what I was already doing for the two before that, thanks! I had just heard some conflicting reports that KoD was some sort of "return to form" and worth reading over skimming.

message 6: by David (new) - added it

David Heinlein had a stroke in 1977. I liked Friday and Job: A Comedy of Justice but most of his other books after 1980 are mediocre at best.

Jean-marcel David wrote: "Heinlein had a stroke in 1977. I liked Friday and Job: A Comedy of Justice but most of his other books after 1980 are mediocre at best."

Funny, those are the two later Heinlein books that I liked, too! I haven't actually read many of his. I think it was this one Kat read that really put me off.

Kat, I'm not surprised you gave up. I thought the book did improve once things of significance actually started happening, but the thing is that I barely remember any of those supposed happenings...I just remember the characters prattling endlessly about really stupid crap, all the time!!!

Kat  Hooper Have any of you read Heinlein's Glory Road? I was planning to try that next because it's coming out on audio.

I loved Heinlein when I was a kid, but I haven't read him in years. This book was a huge disappointment.

message 9: by Andrew (new)

Andrew I've got a battered copy of Glory Road that I picked up 20+ years ago and still re-read once a year or so. Worth reading, if you enjoyed Heinlein as a kid.

message 10: by Kat (new) - rated it 1 star

Kat  Hooper I'll try it. Thanks, Andrew!

message 11: by Mike (new) - rated it 4 stars

Mike I'm pretty fond of any Heinlein, but for some books I have to work hard manage to filter out his sex fixations (misogyny? something else?). So I liked NOTB but empathize with your dislike.
Glory Road has a touch of the issues you dislike in NOTB, but wedged around a pretty good, quick reading adventure tale. I think you can keep your shields up and still have a good read.

message 12: by Matthuvius (new)

Matthuvius Manhandlinglambs Your review cracked me up, because you absolutely nailed it. I had never read a science fiction (or any other type of) book where so much time is devoted to hanging up dirty panties to air out. LOL. That said, I read the whole thing with growing fascination and disbelief, and eventually grew to love it.

I don't recommend that, mind you. The ending is awful. But I still love it because it was my intro to Heinlein, whom I now adore.

message 13: by Kat (new) - rated it 1 star

Kat  Hooper Matthuvius wrote: "Your review cracked me up, because you absolutely nailed it. I had never read a science fiction (or any other type of) book where so much time is devoted to hanging up dirty panties to air out. LOL..."

Two people (in these comments) have said that the ending is awful. I missed it. What happens??

Gauchoworm The ending is rather anti-climactic, and while I too was put off by much of the book, I am a recent Heinlein fan and decided to continue. Some parts annoyed and frustrated me while others intrigued me. When I finished and realized that nothing made sense, I did some searching online. There are several "papers" dedicated to deconstructing NOTB and seem to show a consensus that Heinlein wasn't actually writing a "novel" with this one (hence all of the references to other materials and people). Apparently it was one big exercise in demonstrating how to (and how not to) write a sci fi story while making reference to other great works and poking fun at his one. Check it out, and maybe you'll feel like finishing it.

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