The Door into Summer
Robert A. Heinlein

Robert A. Heinlein

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The Door into Summer


science fiction

time travel

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The Door into Summer

Copyright © 1957 by Robert A. Heinlein
Copyright © 1956 by Fantasy House, Inc.


One winter shortly before the Six Weeks War my tomcat, Petronius the Arbiter, and I lived in an old farmhouse in Connecticut. [...] The lack of plumbing made the rent low and what had been the dining room had a good north light for my drafting board.

The drawback was that the place had eleven doors to the outside.

[...] I have spent too much of my life opening doors for cats—I once calculated that, since the dawn of civilization, nine hundred and seventy-eight man-centuries have been used up that way. I could show you figures.

Pete usually used his own door except when he could bully me into opening a people door for him, which he preferred. But he would not use his door when there was snow on the ground.

While still a kitten, all fluff and buzzes, Pete had worked out a simple philosophy. I was in charge of quarters, rations, and weather; he was in charge of everything else. But he held me especially responsible for weather. Connecticut winters are good only for Christmas cards; regularly that winter Pete would check his own door, refuse to go out it because of that unpleasant white stuff beyond it (he was no fool), then badger me to open a people door.

He had a fixed conviction that at least one of them must lead into summer weather. Each time this meant that I had to go around with him to each of eleven doors, hold it open while he satisfied himself that it was winter out that way, too, then go on to the next door, while his criticisms of my mismanagement grew more bitter with each disappointment.

Then he would stay indoors until hydraulic pressure utterly forced him outside. [...]

But he never gave up his search for the Door into Summer.

On 3 December, 1970, I was looking for it too.


Great beginnings

If a man had an incurable disease and expected to die anyhow but thought the doctors a generation later might be able to cure him—and he could afford to pay for suspended animation while medical science caught up with what was wrong with him—then cold sleep was a logical bet. Or if his ambition was to make a trip to Mars and he thought that clipping one generation out of his personal movie film would enable him to buy a ticket, I supposed that was logical too—there had been a news story about a café-society couple who got married and went right straight from city hall to the sleep sanctuary of Western World Insurance Company with an announcement that they had left instructions not to be called until they could spend their honeymoon on an interplanetary liner . . . although I had suspected that it was a publicity gag rigged by the insurance company and that they had ducked out the back door under assumed names. Spending your wedding night cold as a frozen mackerel does not have the ring of truth in it.

And there was the usual straightforward financial appeal, the one the insurance companies bore down on: “Work while you sleep.” Just hold still and let whatever you have saved grow into a fortune.


Suspended animation

Oh, I had read H. G. Wells’s When The Sleeper Wakes, not only when the insurance companies started giving away free copies, but before that, when it was just another classic novel; I knew what compound interest and stock appreciation could do.
The company claimed that the odds were better than seven out of ten that I would live through thirty years of cold sleep . . . and the company would take either end of the bet. The odds weren’t reciprocal and I didn’t expect them to be; in any honest gambling there is a breakage to the house. Only crooked gamblers claim to give the sucker the best of it, and insurance is legalized gambling.




I swiped the basic prowl pattern from the “Electric Turtles” that were written up in Scientific American in the late forties, lifted a memory circuit out of the brain of a guided missile (that’s the nice thing about top-secret gimmicks; they don’t get patented), and I took the cleaning devices and linkages out of a dozen things, including a floor polisher used in army hospitals, a soft-drink dispenser, and those “hands” they use in atomics plants to handle anything “hot.” There wasn’t anything really new in it; it was just the way I put it together. The “spark of genius” required by our laws lay in getting a good patent lawyer.

The real genius was in the production engineering; the whole thing could be built with standard parts ordered out of Sweet’s Catalogue, with the exception of two three-dimensional cams and one printed circuit.



There are cat people and there are others, more than a majority probably, who “cannot abide a harmless, necessary cat.” If they try to pretend, out of politeness or any reason, it shows, because they don’t understand how to treat cats—and cat protocol is more rigid than that of diplomacy.

It is based on self-respect and mutual respect and it has the same flavor as the dignidad de hombre of Latin America which you may offend only at risk to your life.

Cats have no sense of humor, they have terribly inflated egos, and they are very touchy. If somebody asked me why it was worth anybody’s time to cater to them I would be forced to answer that there is no logical reason.



I wanted a gadget which could do anything inside the home—cleaning and cooking, of course, but also really hard jobs, like changing a baby’s diaper, or replacing a typewriter ribbon. [...] I wanted a man and wife to be able to buy one machine for, oh, say about the price of a good automobile, which would be the equal of the Chinese servant you read about but no one in my generation had ever seen.

If I could do that it would be the Second Emancipation Proclamation, freeing women from their age-old slavery. I wanted to abolish the old saw about how “women’s work is never done.” Housekeeping is repetitious and unnecessary drudgery; as an engineer it offended me.

Five Engineering is the art of the practical and depends more on the total state of the art than it does on the individual engineer. When railroading time comes you can railroad—but not before.



My old man claimed that the more complicated the law the more opportunity for scoundrels.

But he also used to say that a wise man should be prepared to abandon his baggage at any time.



Paymasters come in only two sizes: one sort shows you where the book says that you can’t have what you’ve got coming to you; the second sort digs through the book until he finds a paragraph that lets you have what you need even if you don’t rate it.

“It’s a simple matter of economics, son. These are surplus cars the government has accepted as security against price-support loands. They’re two years old now and they can never be sold . . . so the government junks them and sells them back to the steel industry. [...]

“But why build them in the first place if they can’t be sold? It seems wasteful.”

“It just seems wasteful. You want to throw people out of work? You want to run down the standard of living?”

“Well, why not ship them abroad? It seems to me they could get more for them on the open market abroad than they are worth as scrap.”

“What!—and ruin the export market? Besides, if we started dumping cars abroad we’d get everybody sore [...] What are you aiming to do? Start a war?”



The city—if you can call Great Los Angeles a city; it is more of a condition—had been choked when I went to sleep; now it was as jammed as a lady’s purse. It may have been a mistake to get rid of the smog; back in the ’60s a few people used to leave each year because of sinusitis.



A man knows his own style of work. An art critic will say that a painting is a Rubens or a Rembrandt by the brushwork, the treatment of light, the composition, the choice of pigment, a dozen things. Engineering is not science, it is an art, and there is always a wide range of choices in how to solve engineering problems. An engineering designer “signs” his work by those choices just as surely as a painter does.
Eight Claims aren’t important anyway except in court; the basic notion in writing up claims on an application for patent is to claim the whole wide world in the broadest possible terms, then let the patent examiners chew you down—this is why patent attorneys are born.



Chuck had a theory that women were closely related to machinery, but utterly unpredictable by logic. He drew graphs on the table top in beer to prove his thesis.

Compare to:

Oscar Wilde

“Time travel classified? Good God, why?

“Hell, boy, didn’t you ever work for the government? They’d classify sex if they could. There doesn’t have to be a reason; it’s just their policy.”




“He never missed a chance to tell people he had studied under you.”

You can’t make an enemy by telling a mother her child is beautiful.



“A fat, fatuous, flatulent, foot-kissing fool incompetent to find his hat with it nailed to his head. Which it should have been.”



Ten Nothing could go wrong because nothing had . . . I meant “nothing would.” No—— Then I quit trying to phrase it, realizing that if time travel ever became widespread, English grammar was going to have to add a whole new set of tenses to describe reflexive situations—conjugations that would make the French literary tenses and the Latin historical tenses look simple.


Time Travel


I wish that those precious esthetes who sneer at progress and prattle about the superior beauties of the past could have been with me—dishes that let food get chilled, shirts that had to be laundered, bathroom mirrors that steamed up when you needed them, runny noses, dirt underfoot and dirt in your lungs—I had become used to a better way of living and 1970 was a series of petty frustrations until I got the hang of it again.

Note (Hal’s):
The future in which all these annoyances had been eliminated was the year 2000.

— end note



I had taken a partner once before—but, damnation, no matter how many times you get your fingers burned, you have to trust people. Otherwise you are a hermit in a cave, sleeping with one eye open. There wasn’t any way to be safe; just being alive was deadly dangerous . . . fatal. In the end.
Eleven “She says people have to tell little white fibs or else people couldn’t stand each other. But she says fibs were meant to be used, not abused.”



“Sober as a judge.”

“That’s no recommendation.”

Twelve They made the predictable fuss about taking a cat into a room and an autobellhop is not responsive to bribes—hardly an improvement. But the assistant manager had more flexibility in his synapses; he listened to reason as long as it was crisp and rustled.

“There’s a divinity that shapes our ends, rough-hew them how we will.” Free will and predestination in one sentence and both true. There is only one real world, with one past and one future. “As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end, amen.” Just one . . . but big enough and complicated enough to include free will and time travel and everything else in its linkages and feedbacks and guard circuits. You’re allowed to do anything inside the rules . . . but you come back to your own door.

I’ve thought about what could be done with time travel commercially if it were declassified—making short jumps, setting up machinery to get back, taking along components. But someday you’d make one jump too many and not be able to set up for your return because it’s not time to “railroad.” Something simple, like a special alloy, could whip you. [...]

No, you should never market a gadget until the bugs are out of it.

But I’m not worried about “paradoxes” or “causing anachronisms”—if a thirtieth-century engineer does smooth out the bugs and then sets up transfer stations and trade, it will be because the Builder designed the universe that way. He gave us eyes, two hands, a brain; anything we do with them can’t be a paradox. He doesn’t need busybodies to “enforce” His laws; they enforce themselves. There are no miracles and the word “anachronism” is a semantic blank.


Time Travel

Despite the crapehangers, romanticists, and anti-intellectuals, the world steadily grows better because the human mind, applying itself to the environment, makes it better. With hands . . . with tools . . . with horse sense and science and engineering.



text checked (see note) Aug 2009

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