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This book is the culmination of Heinlein's Future History series, unifying his earliest published works with his Lazarus Long novels. As the full title suggest, the book tells the story of Maureen Johnson, mother of Lazarus Long, from her youth in the late 19th century to her old age in one of the alternate future that Heinlein created for the stories he wrote in the 1940s.
Unfortunately, it's also one of his weakest. Heinlein is controversial for his depiction of what strong female characters should be, and in "To Sail Beyond the Sunset" he pulls out all the stops. There are sex-positive polyamorous women; I've met a few. But none of them are like how Maureen Johnson is depicted: not only accepting incest, but actively promoting it among her own children.
Frankly, there were points while I listened that I was embarrassed for the reader, Bernadette Dunne. She's the best female audiobook reader I've heard (I hope it isn't sexist to say so). However I cringed every time I heard her read Maureen Johnson's opinions of what it means to be a woman, on the character's desires for her father, and (what was probably worst of all) how raising 17 children was merely an exercise in household management. Dunne reads all of this in the tone of the character, but I couldn't help but think about Dunne's internal reaction as she did a professional job as an audiobook reader.
I also cringed at the few passages in which Heinlein indulges in some right-wing educational and political philosophy. But since I'm one of those bleeding-heart tax-the-rich liberals, you should take my reaction with a grain of salt.
Setting that aside (and it's a lot to set aside!) "To Sail Beyond the Sunset" still shows Heinlein near the peak of his skill with words. He paints his future and alternative worlds with an economy of phrase that many of his contemporaries never mastered.
If you'd like to listen to Heinlein's Future History, I strongly recommend other audiobooks: The Green Hills of Earth and The Menace From Earth; after that perhaps Time Enough Fro Love; all these books are prequels to this one. For the best Heinlein, try listening to The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, Job: A Comedy of Justice, or Stranger in a Strange Land.
I recommend you only come to this one after you listened to other works by Heinlein, so you can accept how some of his fantasies got ahead of reality near the end of his life.
34 of 36 people found this review helpful
Where does To Sail Beyond the Sunset rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?
Among the top.
What did you like best about this story?
Oh loved the change of perspective to hear from Lazarus's mother. This was a great change from the Methuselah's series.
What about Bernadette Dunne’s performance did you like?
A talented reader who can change voice tones on a dime to meet new characters coming in to the story.
Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?
This book is extreme and rubs against social norms of present society. Its content may not be new for long time readers of Heinlein work, but new readers may be shocked by the content. This read is not for children or Harry Potter readers.
Any additional comments?
It was great to have this in audio version as I have commute time and little time for sitting and reading paper copies at present.
5 of 5 people found this review helpful
An exciting romp, with quirky attitudes to challenge our social norms.
The vivid exploration of incest can be troubling at times.
Expertly read though with good characterisations.
Heinlein does know how to create a good story, but this one regretably has a lot of weaknesses. In actual fact some of his views (stated through the protagonist) to me were in many ways more interesting than the story itself. I think Heinlein's main excuse for writing the story is that it is an old goat's wish for meeting an amoral and horny lady. In actual fact the description isn't very believable. Will a woman really go into the most minute details regarding her sex life to strangers? I find that difficult to believe, especially when she does her best to hide her sexual feelings from society.
Another thing is that Heinlein seems to believe that if you catch a VD, you can just pop down to your physisist and be healed, just like that. If that's the case, why then may as many as 1/3 of the adult population in the world have herpes? And that in the West. As far as I know, it is one of the VDs that still is not curable, so "free sex" may not be that free after all, contrary to what Heinlein seem to believe.
So the main reason to read this would either be for Heinlein's views on general right to vote, education system, religion and other topic. Some you may agree with and others you may heartedly disagree with, but at least I found them interesting. And of course to get the conclusion of his Future series.
Regarding the performance, Bernadette Dunne did a valiant effort, but I didn't feel she was totally successful to imitate the voice of the male characters. She just didn't seem to get her voice low enough without straining it. But having to read descriptions that I'm sure she would crinch from, is admirable.