Beverly Diehl's Reviews > Assignment in Eternity

Assignment in Eternity by Robert A. Heinlein
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Jun 25, 2011

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bookshelves: sci-fi, fantasy

Read this many moons ago, and the stories were written even longer ago than that: Gulf (1949), Elsewhen (1941), Lost Legacy (1941), Jerry Was a Man (1947).

All but the last story focus on the idea of psychic or supernatural powers; the idea that, if trained, humans could think faster, react faster, use telepathy and telekinesis, perhaps even levitate and travel through time and space.

In Gulf Joe Greene is "converted" to the cause of supermen/women against evil, taking on an evil genius determined to rule - or destroy - the Earth. Joe and his partner, Gail, are the literary and genetic grandparents to Heinlein's Friday.

In Elswhen, a professor learns how to slip into different time dimensions (this one's a precursor to The Number of the Beast), and helps five of his students relocate to different universes.

Lost Legacy explores the idea that humans all once had psychic powers, but they fell into disuse, as a child raised among deaf-mutes will still possess a speech center, but not know how to speak. Through training - and a fortuitous encounter with a group of advanced psychic elders upon/within Mount Shasta, the trio of beginners become adepts. This story inspired me in a recent trip to the foothills of Mt. Shasta, but sadly, I did not leave Mt. Shasta able to levitate or pick winning lottery numbers.

Jerry was a Man is a little different. Humans have come so far in bio-engineering that the very rich can buy miniature elephants able to hold a pen in their trunk and write their own names. You can buy a unicorn, or a Pegasus. Or, you can lease worker chimpanzees able to speak and sing.

This story is why the collection makes a contemporary reader uneasy, IMO. Is it racist? I don't *think* so, BUT... because there is a long history of slavery of African-Americans, a long history of A-A people being called monkeys and apes, the parallel can't help but feel pointed, and when as the ultimate demonstration of his ultimate humanity, modified chimp Jerry begins singing, "Way down upon de Suwannee Ribber..." I cringed. The intended take-away message is anti-racist, I think... or is it saying, "Men, human, but not of equal capabilities"?

It's a collection worth reading, and although I am not sure that Heinlein was the first to postulate them, there are pocket phones and other doodads we take for granted today, which were the wildest stretch of fantasy in the 1940's.
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