Beyond This Horizon

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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.



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 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.

A major theme in the novel is reincarnation, the immortality of the soul, and telepathy. Hamilton Felix is the product of generations of genetic engineering. He is almost but not quite the perfect human. In the second half of the book his genetically engineered son is born. The son is the final climax of generations of genetic engineering and selective breeding, and is a genetically perfect human. As the son grows he begins to develop almost super human mental abilities and a surprising telepathy ability. As the novel draws to a close, it becomes apparent that the son senses that Hamiton Felix's second child, a daughter, is the reincarnation of a wise elderly government official who foresaw her own death and arranged to die shortly before Felix's daughter was born. This official understood that the soul is reincarnated, and in preparation for her own death and reincarnation she was instrumental in the genetic engineering of the son and daughter.

Literary significance and 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 consists largely of thinly-fictionalized lectures on social credit (a movement that Heinlein later hid his involvement in), as well as free love, and criticism of religious fundamentalism. 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, and possibly his most significant.

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