Review: The Pursuit of the Pankera: A Parallel Novel About Parallel Universes

I read Heinlein’s The Number of the Beast when it came out in 1980 because I was reading everything about Heinlein. Also, I had read the serialized teaser published in Omni Magazine in 1979.

One of the consistent criticisms of Heinlein’s work is that the middles of his books are always too long, and Beast was the epitome of this. The majority of the book is taken up by the four main characters arguing with each other over minutiae that does very little to progress the plot or the character arcs. The only good part about it are the many in-jokes aimed at his fans, but for my money, it was not enough to carry the middle.

In my career as a fan of science fiction, the only writer who gives Heinlein competition for middles that are way too long is Stephen King.

It was announced in 2019 that a “parallel” book to Beast, titled The Pursuit of the Pankera, would be published. The advance publicity for the book claimed, “…unknown to most fans, Heinlein had already written a ‘parallel’ novel about the four characters and parallel universes in 1977. He effectively wrote two parallel novels about parallel universes.”

I was unconvinced. It sounded too much like all of those Shakespeare plays that were ‘discovered’ long after his death and were later shown to be forgeries. Still, I would have to read it.

I am now convinced that Pankera is a genuine work of Heinlein. How am I sure? Because the middle is way too long, and is generally taken up by the four main characters bickering about nothing.

The first 100 pages or so are almost identical to Beast, and then the plot goes off at a 90° angle, which I’m sure is no coincidence.

Both Beast and Pankera are stories about four people who build a machine capable of transitioning between universes and attaching it to their airplane. The airplane’s autopilot, Gay Deceiver, becomes a fifth character in the story. You’ll no doubt recognize many of these universes as science fiction mainstays. This puts them on the spectrum between parody and homage of these other stories.

503 pages with only about 200 pages of actual story.

Publisher: CAEZIK SF & Fantasy

#bookreview #heinlein #thepursuitofthepankaera #thenumberofthebeast

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