Robert Heinlein’s The Cat Who Walks Through Walls: A Comedy of Manners

859B35C9-03BC-4C19-92F8-96BC4313FCC3The Cat Who Walks Through Walls is, after over forty years of my reading works beyond count by Robert Heinlein, my favorite novel by him bar none. There are without doubt better written novels by Heinlein that stir strong passions in readers, say Starship Troopers and The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, both of which can cause otherwise sensible readers to start hissing and spitting at each over the perceived political and social commentary in those books, and let’s not even broach the matter of Stranger in A Strange Land as that work will really get the mojo rising in many readers!

So why do I pick The Cat Who Walks Through Walls as my favorite novel? In a nutshell — it’s really fun. From its cover illustration of the two principal characters, Dr. Colin Campbell and Gwen Novak (who is really someone else, as I will note shortly), which you can see below in its full glory to his attempts to tie almost everything else he’s written into a more or less coherent story, I feel the old bastard was having a great deal of fun with this book. And you will too provided that you have read almost everything he’s written. Unfortunately, a lot of reviewers, including many who were sf writers of fairly high standing, definitely misunderstood this book. It was never meant to stand on its own, nor should it be reviewed as if it were so!

At a minimum, you should have read The Rolling Stones, Methuselah’s Children, The Glory Road, Starship Troopers, The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, and Time Enough For Love. And if possible, The Number of the Beast. (I do stress that The Number of the Beast will either give you screaming fits or delight you no end. I liked it enough to eventually purchase a a hardcover edition.) So if you haven’t read these works, do so first.

The Cat Who Walks Through Walls is narrated by Dr. Richard Colin Ames Campbell to give him his full name, a writer with, by his own admission, an unsavoury past. He’s a writer of fiction in any genre that an editor’s willing to pay him to write. You can judge his character by knowing that he’s a self-avowed lover of all things traditional as he notes here very early in the novel:

I too like old jokes; I like all sorts of old things — old friends, old books, old poems, old plays. An old favorite had started our evening: Midsummer Night’s Dream presented by Halifax Ballet Theater with Luanna Pauline as Titania. Low gravity ballet, live actors, and magical holograms had created a fairyland Will Shakespeare would have loved. Newness is no virtue.

71802A7B-0058-426D-AF83-91580A56010BComplaints of sexism and outright misogyny have been constantly lodged against Heinlein for decades now. So what? He was born well before The War To End All Wars and came up of age in the Depression — he is not, nor should he be ever judged, as a modern sf writer. Got problems with that? Don’t read him. Now let’s get on the review.

This novel should be regarded as part of Heinlein’s multiverse series, or perhaps as a sort of sequel to both The Number of the Beast and The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress. (It has its own sequel in To Sail Beyond The Sunset.) It is considered by many Heinlein fans (including myself) to to be the Heinlein novel he wrote for the really hardcore, errr, serious fans.

Now consider that Dr. Ames (who many fans argue is, even more than Lazarus Long, an idealized version of who RH wanted to be) is by far the most free-spirited character ever created by Heinlein. And do keep in mind that the other principal character is Gwen Novak is eventually revealed to be Hazel Stone, a character from The Rolling Stones and who had played a small but crucial role in The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress.

Every bit of the Heinlein multiverse comes into play here — indeed late in the book at a meeting of the Orobus Council there are representatives from every major time line and setting used in writings including The Glory Road and Starship Troopers. In an homage to the sf writers of an earlier generation, the Council has a sitting member from the Lensmen series written by E.E. Smith. Given the title of the novel is a riff off Schrödinger’s cat, that all things will be possible and therefore will happen is a given in this novel.

So what we have here is, in my opinion, Heinlein at his very best — opinionated, dishing out gobs of ideas, and generally having it good time telling a great story. I would love to have had him do an audio recording of the novel as I can hear in my mind’s eye the relish he would have taken in telling the tale in that manner! And it is indeed, as the subtitle notes, ‘a comedy of manners’ in some very surprising ways! The actual audio recording is actually flat and not terribly interesting.

Oh, and the title refers to a cat named Pixel that can quite literally walk through walls and be wherever Richard is. Schrödinger’s cat indeed!

(G.P. Putnam and Sons, 1985)

Cat Eldridge

I'm the publisher of Green Man Review. I do the Birthdays and Media Anniversary write-ups for Mike Glyer’s, the foremost SFF fandom site. My current audiobooks are Simon R. Green’s Jekyll & Hyde Inc., Robert J. Sawyer’s Red Planet Blues and Fritz Leiber’s The Big Time. I just read Kathryn Kristine Rusch’s Ten Little Fen which was most superb. My music listening as always leans heavily towards trad Celtic and Nordic music. I’m watching my way though all twenty one seasons of the British forensic series Silent Witness. Yes, twenty one seasons. And I keep adding plants to my flat here, up to nearly thirty now including a miniature banana tree which is growing nice and my first pineapple bromeliad.

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