- The Number of the Beast (novel)
infobox Book |
name = The Number of the Beast
image_caption = First paperback edition cover
Robert A. Heinlein
Richard M. Powers
language = English
publisher = Fawcett
July 12, 1980
media_type = Print (
isbn = ISBN 0-449-13070-3
The Cat Who Walks Through Walls
"The Number of the Beast" is a
science fiction novelby Robert A. Heinleinpublished in 1980. The first (paperback) edition featured a cover and interior illustrations by Richard M. Powers. Excerpts from the novel were serialised in "Omni" (October, November 1979).
The book is a series of diary entries by each of the four main characters,
ZebadiahCarter, programmer Dejah Thoris "Deety" Burroughs Carter and her mathematicsprofessor father Jacob Burroughs, and an off-campus socialite Hilda Corners. Zeb and Deety's names are overt homages to John Carter and Dejah Thoris, the main protagonists of the Barsoomor Martian novels of Edgar Rice Burroughs.
The odd foursome dash off in Gay Deceiver, Zeb's sports car spaceship, outfitted with the professor's continua device and armed by
Australian Defence Force, into various fictional universes. There is sex, rivalry, and even a trip to Oz. An attempt to visit Barsoom, curiously, takes the quartet to a different version of Mars, seemingly under the colonial rule of the British Empire. However, near the end of the novel, it is obliquely hinted by Lazarus Longthat they had in fact been to Barsoom, the "colonial Mars" being an illusion imposed on them by the telepathically adept Barsoomians:
Explanation of the novel's title
In the novel, the Biblical number of the beast turns out to be, not 666, but , or [http://serprex.staticfire.co.uk/666.txt 2.6591197721532267796824894043879e+36305] , which is the number of parallel universes accessible through the continua device to the protagonists.
The plot of the story revolves around Jacob's "Continua Device," a strange machine that can move the characters anywhere and anywhen without electricity. The continua device was built by Professor Burroughs while he was formulating his theories on n-dimensional
non-euclidean geometry. Burrough believes, and proves during the story, that there are six dimensions; the three spatial dimensions familiar to everyone and three additional chronological dimensions - t, our axis of time, τ (tau), and т (teh). The continua device can move the characters on all six axes.
The novel lies somewhere between
parodyand homagein its deliberate use of the style of the 1930s' pulp novels. Many of the plot lines and characters are derived directly from the pulps, as referenced by the first line of the novel:
Mad Scientistand I'm his Beautiful Daughter." —Deety
"The Number of the Beast" contains many
in-jokes and references. For instance, the name of "every" villainis an anagramof a name or pen nameof Robert or Virginia Heinlein.
As in other works, Heinlein brings up the philosophical idea of
solipsism, but in this book he takes it a step further with the concept called " pantheistic solipsism" or "world-as-myth" — the theory that universes are created by the act of imagining them, so that somewhere even fictional worlds (Oz is one of the examples Heinlein uses) are real. Burroughs' device is simply a means of accessing these universes.
Literary significance and reception
Jack Kirwan wrote in the "
National Review" that the novel is "about two men and two women in a time machine safari through this and other universes. But describing "The Number of the Beast" thus is like saying " Moby Dick" is about a one-legged guy trying to catch a fish." He goes on to say the Heinlein celebrates the "competent person". [cite journal|last=Kirwan|first=Jack|date=1980-12-12|title=Books In Brief|journal=National Review; , , p1522-1523|volume=Vol. 32|issue=Issue 25|pages=p1522–1523|issn=00280038]
Sue K. Hurwitz said in her review for the "
School Library Journal" that it is "a catalog of Heinlein's sins as an author; it is sophomoric, sexist, militantly right wing, and excessively verbose." She comments that the book's ending was "a devastating parody of SF conventions—will have genre addicts rolling on the floor. It's garbage, but right from the top of the heap." [cite journal|last=Hurwitz|first=Sue K.|date=1980-11|title=The Number of the Beast (Book Review)|journal=School Library Journal|volume=Vol. 27|issue= Issue 3|pages=p93|issn=03628930]
Allusions to other works
Near the end, this book is connected to "
Time Enough for Love", and through it to several others of Heinlein's later works. Many characters from earlier Heinlein works make an appearance, and a few notable real-world authors, including Heinlein himself, are mentioned as being present in the final chapter.
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