I’ve finally managed to stomach completing The Number of the Beast, by Robert A. Heinlein. Number of the Beast tells the story of four characters, who have to flee after an attempt on their life, and end up in various parallel universes through the means of a device invented by one of the four. This knowledge of inter-dimensional travel is also the reason why an unknown enemy is trying to kill them. Towards the end, the book turns into a discourse of Heinlein’s favorite world-view (that universes are created by the belief in them; meaning that all fictional worlds actually exist somewhere).
Number of the Beast has been hotly disputed like few other Heinlein works. Fans of the work contend that it is a brilliant parody and a textbook on how not to write a story. Critics claim that Heinlein must have been senile to produce such drivel.
I’m almost inclined to follow the first line of logic. There are sections in the book which are intriguing and well-paced. Unfortunately, the book slows down and the four protagonists begin to squabble among one another almost constantly. At other times, Heinlein degrades into his often-used more or less graphical descriptions of of sex and various very liberal sexual practices. The same pattern holds true for “The Cat Who Walks Through Walls”, which is tied to this novel at the end. The well-crafted parts surely are not the work of a senile mind; *Cat* is probably written even better.
Unfortunately for the prospective reader of *Beast*, the critics are correct in that the book is simply too annoying, too tedious to bother with. What good is any book that is so annoying that it makes you want to drop it into the next recycling bin? If Heinlein’s purpose truly was to demonstrate how not to write a book, he failed in that few people will have to patience to complete it, and even less would be able to draw a lesson from it. A more traditional “how to write” textbook might have been a better idea.
As it stands, *Beast* is a horrible book, and you’ll have to be an absolutely die-hard Heinlein fan – or a masochist – to even make it through it, much less to enjoy it. Not recommended for any sane person.