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Literature / Beyond This Horizon

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Beyond This Horizon is a Science Fiction novel by Robert A. Heinlein, first published as a Serial Novel in 1942.

This novel provides examples of:

  • Archaic Weapon for an Advanced Age: Lethal duels with rayguns are commonplace, but the hero makes a replica of an obsolete weapon, the '.45'. When his friend informs him that chemical reactions are too slow, the hero replies that it's human reflexes that make the difference.
  • Artistic License – Economics: This story is set in a society where everyone is given the basics for free. However, they still had money and the economics made sense in context. Though to be fair that's pretty easy: just give out really crappy basics, kinda like issuing everyone on a dole an orange jumpsuit and feeding them on prison loaf: surely it would let you survive on the dole, but would you like living like that for any extended period of time?
  • Author Catchphrase: Characters say "So?", with context making it clear it's meant in the sense of "Is that so?"
  • Designer Babies: Beyond This Horizon has the same gamete-selection process and discrimination as in Gattaca, but it's treated much better by being actually scientific; traits are studied extensively before being integrated into the general population, there is a protected class of "control naturals" just in case any of the selected genes turn out to be a bad idea, and the gene-selected humans won a war against an an empire of caste species to show that individual survival drive trumps "Brave New World"-style human insect hives with custom-bred units. There's also a condemnation of the Uterine Replicator concept; you don't want to risk the genetics for a healthy womb deteriorating — if civilization ever collapsed and humans had to breed naturally again, a lack of healthy reproductive systems and knowledge of reproductive care would doom the entire species.
  • Dilating Door: In the first few paragraphs of the novel the protagonist arrives at the office door of his friend. He enters a code combination for the door (as opposed to knocking or ringing a doorbell), then awaits "face check" (from context some sort of video camera rather than some kind of fish-eye lens in the door). Then the door "dilates". None of this is explained or expanded upon, nor is it really relevant to the plot. It's all just background detail, serving simply to establish that the action of the novel takes place in The Future, and was cited enthusiastically by Harlan Ellison as a brilliant example of science fiction Worldbuilding. The Trope Namer.
  • Duel to the Death: A very important part of the society of the novel; citizens (male citizens, at least) are expected to carry deadly weapons as a matter of course. If they do not wish to go armed, they must wear a "peace brassard"—but are then liable to be snubbed at every turn, being expected to "give way automatically" in public places to armed citizens. The rules of dueling in the novel are a trifle unclear; on the one hand there are references to set-piece duels with formal challenges, and to gentlemen sending their "next friends" (formal "seconds") to demand satisfaction. On the other hand, a Quick Draw shootout breaks out in a crowded restaurant, and no one seems to feel any law or custom has been broken thereby—after it's over, the other diners return to their meals "with the careful indifference to other people's business of the urbane sophisticate".
  • Evilutionary Biologist: Subverted. The world government genetically engineers everybody for maximum genetic perfection (or, at least, elimination of imperfection), except for a carefully guarded population of "control naturals," and strongly encourages particularly hopeful genetic matches, as between the hero and heroine. The subversion is that this is presented as entirely a good thing. This society is sometimes described as a "socialist" state but bears more in common with Technocracy. Everybody gets a small annual dividend from the output of the whole global economy as if it were a corporation in which all are stockholders; control naturals get a larger dividend, enough for a livable income, in compensation for their genetic inferiority and inability to compete with the average person.
    • It's an aversion that one of their prime tenets is 'you will not engineer anything into the human genome that isn't already there'; the "genetic engineering" is used only to ensure that two people having children have children with the best genetic combination that both parents' DNA could potentially have made on their own if the kid rolled all natural 20s in the genetic lottery. A past society that did use full-on genetic engineering to try and create perfect people, specialized to their jobs, is held up and lampshaded by characters in-setting as 'The History Of A Really Horrible Idea And Why We Don't Do That No More'. An attempt to revive that movement is done during the story by the villains of that chapter, and presented as an even more horrible idea.
  • Humans Are Survivors: This story claims that humanity's true strength is in its ability to survive in dangerous environments.
    "Man is an unspecialized animal. His body, except for its enormous brain case, is primitive. He can't dig; he can't run very fast; he can't fly. But he can eat anything and he can stay alive where a goat would starve, a lizard would fry, a bird freeze. Instead of special adaptations he has general adaptability."
  • Kinetic Weapons Are Just Better: The hero uses an "old fashioned" .45 pistol when every other man in his society uses some form of laser or similar pistol because he likes it and the noise is extremely disorienting to his enemies, who expect a silent gun.
  • No Control Group: Averted: most couples select the best sets of their genes for their children. But the government subsidizes a group designated as "Control Naturals" to create their children the old-fashioned way, in case current generations' definitions of "best" turn out to have unforeseen liabilities.
  • Serial Novel: Published (as by Anson MacDonald) in two issues, starting from April 1942 of Analog.
  • Strolling on Jupiter: There's a quick mention of "the stations we now have on Pluto, Neptune, and Titan". Of those three worlds, only Pluto and Titan have anything like a humanly-attainable solid surface.