Nutshell: libertarian builds time machine, elects to use it for the noble humanitarian purpose of fulfilling oedipal desire.
Lucked out and got this first edition at a library sale; it includes original interior art by one Richard Powers. The art is the normal ensemble, listed in order of ascending centrality, of cold war era spaceships, trippy expressionisms, and jugs. That’s all thematically consistent with the narrative.
Eponymous number is not the numerology of St. John, but rather 6^6^6, or 1.031(10^28), which is the number of parallel universes available to the time machine (59), which can travel along all three space axes and all three time axes (56). So that’s nifty. Initial plan is to import parallel earths at Trojan points on our planet’s orbit and “start selling subdivisions the size of old Spanish Land Grants” (80).
Opens with a nice moment of self-derogation: “the oldest cliché in pulp fiction” (13). Another moment of self-derogation occurs at the end when female protagonist meets with another Heinlein heroine and it is revealed: “Same broad shoulders, same wasp waist, same well-packed, somewhat exaggerated buttocks” (403), which we should accept as an admission that Heinlein writes the same bad female character in each book.
Lotsa early references to Lovecraft, Burroughs, Wells, Doc Smith, Lewis Carroll, Baum, et al. in the discourse of the protagonists. Arthur Clarke is mentioned as “liquidated in the Purge” (79). Time machine then actually visits Lilliput, an undesignated Arthurian setting, Doc Smith’s setting, Oz, and Heinlein’s own texts. The conclusion is to join Lazarus Long’s group marriage and assist him in his Oedipus Complex by retrieving his mother for more hard fucking. (I know, right?)
The rationale for this silly existence for our fictions is that the large number of universes are populated by our ideas: “human thought exists as quanta”--“imagination has its own sort of indivisible units or quanta--you called them ‘fictons’” (348). Alrighty then! This is explained as “pantheistic multiperson solipsism” (349), which does have a nice ring to it. Apparently the fictons travel from the brains of an author or maybe from the copyright office interdimensionally and colonize empty parallel universes. Doesn't that create a nice set of IP infringement cases, though? (Not for Heinlein, of course, who maligns attorneys at every opportunity herein.)
Protagonists are revealed to be from a setting alternate to ours, when they settle in yet another alternate of Earth: “’Who is Eisenhower? This shows him serving one of Harriman’s terms and one of Patton’s” (383).
Antagonists are referenced as “Black Hats.” No idea what that is, though the protagonists speculate about it generically. Much of the narrative is the interaction of the four protagonists as they bring it around town in their time machine, usually as a platform for author’s arriere garde ideas on public policy, gender, and so on.
In that connection, we get rightwing populist producerism in the form of investment advice: “study the Federal Budget and decide what is useful and what is sheer waste by fat-arsed chair warmers and pork-barrel riders […] we’ve quit paying for parasites wherever we can identify them” (53).
Or nietzschean education theory: “I was grouped with what they called ‘overachievers’ after it became ‘undemocratic’ to call them ‘gifted children’” (57).
Or fascistic anti-intellectualism: “No philosopher allows his opinions to be swayed by facts” (58), and when one protagonist earned a PhD “to prove that degrees per se are worthless,” “the false faces for overeducated jackasses,” “a doctorate is a union card to get a tenured job” (83).
We see also Romney’s 53%: “But with over half of this country’s population living on the taxes of the lesser number it is not as easy to get rich as it was in Grandpa’s day” (85).
Second amendment fundamentalism: “Pop says cops and courts no longer protect citizens, so citizens must protect themselves” (103).
We are solemnly informed that “all humans are created unequal” (326).
“Every major shortcoming of our native planet could be traced to one cause: too many people, not enough planet” (379).
Tries initially to be an intrigue, but drops the extraterrestrial villains to find a new setting for a quarter of the volume wherein the US never declared independence and the UK is in an interplanetary conflict with Russian Tsarism, which never liberated its serfs. That could be interesting as alternate history, but the protagonists bug out in time machine for another setting.
This concoction of bait & switch narrative, dumb literary homage, tendentious politics, and inane gender discussion is further marred by many pages of intraship discussion of the libertarian crew and their relation to the ship’s computer. It really is very tedious. However, it takes a true master such as Heinlein to mess up a perfectly awful novel that is full of abysmal political doctrine by adding in a signature nastiness, such as how protagonist’s father “has never laid a hand on me. But if he had…I would not have refused” (42). Uhhh?
Recommended for gentlemen who never leave their chambers without a codpiece equal to their status, readers who believe that any paradox can be paradoctored, and literal motherfuckers.