The First Rule of Book Club

Hello, Fast Karate visitor. My name is Jon, and I have been a regular around the FK forum for quite some time now. Through a combination of accident, other people’s good ideas, and pure madness, I helped organize a book club whose goal (aside from reviving the flagellant movement, as will become evident) is to introduce people to enjoyable, thought-provoking, or otherwise worthwhile works of literature.

You see, somewhere in the dim past, Spankminister posted that we should start a forumite book club, an idea that I lit upon like Bukowski on a fresh bottle of bourbon. In short order, we had a book selected for the month of April, with hopes of generating both discussions and blog content with every new title we devoured. April’s book, The Number of the Beast by Robert A. Heinlein, is reviewed below.

If you would like to join the book club, you’ll need to join the forums; you are most cordially invited to do both. Just head on over to the main forum page and register for an account. Finally, I should thank Dave and Joel for encouraging the book club idea and generously providing an outlet for content. And now, the review:

Teats: A Hate Story; or,

“I told you. I warned you. I begged. You did not heed the call.”

Exploring the super-multi-omniverse sounds like a simultaneously exhilarating and horrifying experience. I would imagine that, were I in the airborne equivalent of a Ford Focus with three of the people closest to me in this world (my brother having been murdered roundabout the same night I was nearly murdered, myself), I would be less concerned with things like maintaining command structure decorum. I also sincerely hope that I would not find vast expanses of breasts (sorry, teats) as compelling as the draw of billions of universes populated by god-only-knows-what. In Number of the Beast, however, our four-man exploratory team is scarcely more interested in their improbable scientific exploits than I was when I took a Greyhound from Manhattan to Ohio. At night. In the rain.

Heinlein can’t write characters. He can write ideas. – Jason

Various reviewers have observed that each of the main characters resembles Heinlein himself. If that observation is accurate, then I am delighted that I never had the opportunity to meet the man, because I would have had to restrain a powerful urge to bring him physical harm. The dialogue in this book chiefly consists of dry, pedantic arguments about computer programming, tactical decision making, and the chain of command among civilians piloting a flying sedan. Most jarring, however, are the incessant asides — some of them apparently meant to be instructive — about the size, shape, pertness, and measurement capabilities of breasts. Indeed, the quasi-incestuous evening near the close of the book fails to generate even a basic reaction in the reader, as he has spent hundreds of pages having Deety’s “teats” (and eventually their interuniversal twins) described to him in myriad ways, the most regrettable simile likening her nipples to emotional “barometers.”

I think at this point in the book I’m rooting for the guys who tried to kill these people. – Joel

Perhaps in some other setting, this dialogue would be appropriate; watching four highly intelligent individuals who have just discovered perhaps the most important scientific breakthrough in all of human existence behave this way is as asinine as the fact that a completely serviceable plot is wholly discarded to make room for more banal banter.

To its credit, the book opens with a rapid-fire introduction to the characters’ plight, which even manages to create a momentary sense of urgency. Interdimensional “black hat” assassins are trying to crush our mammary-minded protagonists and their incredible new invention. Hailing from one of the myriad alternate universes, they apparently wish to keep this technology restricted to as few hands as possible. Despite nearly being killed three times, our “heroes” spend ample time consuming champagne, having picnic lunches, taking “teat-deep” bubble baths, and thinking disproportionately about trivial nonsense. Perhaps their disinterest in the plot is what ultimately saves them, a surfeit of stale exchanges about nothing armoring them against black hat assault. By the end of the book, nothing is cemented except the reader’s hatred of this story.

They can travel through time right? The only thing I can hope for is that they go back in time to try and murder themselves to keep from going on this stupid trip.

Characters from other fictional works make impotent cameos; someone throws a party; Captain Zebediah J. Carter assembles the “that’s the last we’ll see of him” plot elimination machine; as the curtain closes, Heinlein pats himself on the back and goes for another in a series of long bubble baths.

To say that my experience with this book was dissatisfying would be to describe chemotherapy as mildly unpleasant. A collection of irredeemable absurdity wrapped disingenuous jacket copy, this book merely masquerades as literature. Whatever magic Heinlein worked with his previous writing, it is evident that the reader he charmed the most was himself.