My rating: 4 of 5 stars
[This review may contain spoilers]
Beyond This Horizon, is the second of Heinlein’s published novels, and introduces us to a future utopia where poverty no longer exists and genetic engineering has advanced to a point where it is possible to selectively breed children for increased health, intelligence and longevity. The biggest problem faced by most of this world’s denizens is what to do with their time, leading to a society in which decadence is the norm and duelling with sidearms is considered an acceptable way of resolving disputes. Non-advanced citizens also exist, known as control normals, and are seen by the majority of others as a baseline with which to compare the genetic improvements found in the general populace.
The main bulk of the story follows the adventures of Hamilton Felix, a notably superior (others refer to him as an example of a star line), albeit mildly disillusioned citizen of this world’s breeding program and his attempts to find a meaning in life. When he is approached by a synthesist (effectively an administrator of the breeding program) with a request to help propagate the next generation of advanced humans Felix’s apathy towards the future, along with an unwillingness to propagate initially leads him to decline, but only after he is convinced to agree that if the synthesist can provide him with proof that a man’s life is more than just the existence he experiences then he would be willing to reconsider.
Along the way he is also drawn into a burgeoning conspiracy by a group of citizens who feel that the current system needs to be overthrown, and that their society needs to be restructured under their control. Felix agrees to join this group, known as The Survivor’s Club, though his decision is motivated more by a sense of loyalty to society, leading him to act as a double agent within their midst, than by any need to change the status quo. When the Survivor’s Club do make their move Felix turns against them and helps to overturn their coup.
The second half of the novel then explores the results of Felix falling in love with and marrying Longcourt Phyllis, the woman selected for him by the synthesists. Between them they produce a son, Theobald, who they soon discover has powers that seem to equate to telepathy.
By the end of the book Felix has found a purpose for his life, and his original apathy no longer causes him concern.
Some have suggested that Beyond This Horizon represents one of the first examples of a post-singularity novel and to some degree I can agree with that assertion, though many of the elements required for a true post-singularity world are absent simply as a result of when it was written; computers were barely known of, and the idea of a world-wide interconnected communication network (the internet) was still a few decades away from being considered.
Personally I don’t consider this to be one of Heinlein’s best, though it’s still better than much of the sci-fi of the time. In it he explores themes of reincarnation and the immortality (and possibly even the existence) of the human soul. He also presents a world of social equality, a world where things such as race, creed, faith and gender are simply portions of a person’s make-up, and not things to get concerned over. In that respect it was a highly progressive novel for the times, and introduced a number of themes that continued to crop up in his future novels.
In all I still enjoyed re-reading this one, though if you’re new to Heinlein I’d suggest starting with one of his later works.