To Sail Beyond the Sunset is the last novel that Robert A. Heinlein wrote and published before his death. Set in The World as Myth established in the previous two novels, the story focuses on a character first introduced in Time Enough for Love: Maureen Johnson Long (aka Maureen Johnson Smith), mother of Heinlein's archprotagonist Lazarus Long.
The setup takes a bit of explanation. In Time Enough for Love, Lazarus traveled in time from the year 4292 to the year 1916 to meet his original family. In so doing, he fell in love with and romanced his own mother. In The Number of the Beast, he used a more advanced Time Travel technology to rescue her from late 20th century Earth and bring her back to his time, whereupon she was rejuvenated with 43rd century technology and joined his extended group marriage. In The Cat Who Walks Through Walls, Lazarus' Time Corps fought a battle throughout the multiverse to rescue the dormant supercomputer Mycroft Holmes from Luna to help them predict the effects of their time manipulations.
This novel has two story threads. It starts with Maureen waking up naked in a hotel room next to a dead man. As the story evolves it turns out that she has been stranded in a previously unidentified Earth timeline after an apparent accident involving a pandimensional transport. She must negotiate the bizarre, yet strangely familiar culture while investigating her situation and surviving long enough to be rescued.
While she does this, she subvocally narrates her memoirs to an implanted recording device, recounting her life from adolescence all the way to her rescue by Lazarus. The result is something of a P.O.V. Sequel to large chunks of Heinlein's "Future History" series, as her presence at various events in the timeline did everything from saving the Howard trust from collapsing in the Great Depression to making a crucial investment in the first manned spaceflight.
After she is finally rescued, she then embarks on the mission she joined the Time Corps to accomplish in the first place: to rescue her father, who disappeared during the Battle of Britain in World War II.
Provides Examples Of:
- Author Appeal: Maureen may be the single greatest example of this in the history of Heinlein's writing, embodying a double Oedipal fantasy: Mother-Son, then Daughter-Father. In fact, after Lazarus gets involved via Time Travel, the whole family gets into the incest business.
- All Stories Are Real Somewhere: The World as Myth concept continues in this novel, mainly continuing the themes from the past two.
- A Bloody Mess: Maureen wakes up next to a dead man covered in blood. When the doctors show up, they taste it — much to her horror — and then start discussing which brand of ketchup it is.
- BrotherSister Incest: Maureen accidentally discovers one of her sons and one of her daughters are having sex, and decides to gently confront them so as neither to frighten them nor anger them and make them rebellious. She's not upset about what they're doing, since she's had this happen with older children, she just wants to make sure they're being very careful about contraception and being discreet.
- Cats Are Magic: Pixel from The Cat Who Walks Through Walls shows up again and provides the Deus ex Machina by which Maureen is rescued — he hops through dimensions to find her, and then Lazarus and company take him to Oz so he can tell them what he saw.
- Contemptible Cover: One cover shows Maureen naked on a half shell like The Birth of Venus, only she's green for some inexplicable reason.
- A Date with Rosie Palms: Maureen and her husband Brian have a conversation while he's on the road. As they have an open relationship, she asks him if he's going to pick up girls at a bar, but he says that he's too tired and will take care of it himself.
- Divorce Assets Conflict: Eventually averted when Brian divorces Maureen. She has to slap him down hard when he proposes splitting their marital assets 1/3 Maureen, 1/3 Brian, and 1/3 Brian's new fiancee, but eventually gets a fair 50/50 split ... by pointing out that if she invokes this trope in court, she'll get a whole lot more than 50% as the wronged spouse (in the days before "no-fault" divorce).
- Eternal Sexual Freedom: Maureen got her happily lusty values from her father, in late 19th century America.
- Fingertip Drug Analysis: Maureen very carefully does this with white powder she finds when searching an out-of-control teen daughter's room. She decides it's cocaine from the numbing effect, considers the idea of turning it in to the police in hopes that they can find her daughter's dealer, decides it would be close to impossible to convince them that the cocaine (and some suspected marijuana) is her daughter's rather than her own, and flushes it.
- Free-Love Future: Maureen happily joins Lazarus' Polyamory on Tertius, then seeks to recruit her father into the same.
- The Gay '90s: Maureen's childhood.
- Happily Ever After: The final words of the novel, following the huge mass-marriage on Tertius. As this was the final novel Heinlein wrote, it also serves as the happy ending for his greater Future History multiverse.
- In the Past, Everyone Will Be Famous: In the comparison of the various alternate universe timelines, one person notes that their universe's Harry Truman was a haberdasher and therefore couldn't have entered politics (Truman was, in fact, a haberdasher).
- Literary Allusion Title: From "Ulysses" by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, in which an aging hero, bored by his happy-ever-after, resolves to set out on one last great adventure.
- Masquerade: Maureen recounts the moment when the Howard Families' masquerade started, as people were starting to notice that there was a small group of folks who kept not dying.
- Mix-and-Match Man: Pallas Athene gets a human body in this novel, like her "sister" Minerva in Time Enough for Love.
- Parental Incest:
- Maureen and Lazarus, and then later Maureen and her own father, Ira. The latter does not occur onscreen but Maureen makes it clear that it is one of her motivations for rescuing him.
- Maureen narrates an encounter between her husband, Brian, and Nancy, their oldest daughter. Nancy is an adult, pregnant, engaged, and definitely a willing participant.
- Pregnancy Scare: Happens to one of Maureen's daughters, after her then-boyfriend refused to stop after the condom broke. She's not pregnant, her period shows up two days later, but it's still a valid concern the daughter in question had been refusing to admit she was sexually active, so Maureen hadn't been able to give her any sex ed, and the pre-World War I era wasn't exactly accepting of unmarried mothers.
- Really Gets Around: Maureen is completely uninhibited by conventional sexual mores; she is, however, very choosy.
- Secret Society Group Picture: A photograph of Maureen's extended female relatives is the inspiration for their Masquerade, as five generations of women all look suspiciously similar in age.
- Stable Time Loop: Before Lazarus went off to World War One in Time Enough for Love, he gave Maureen a laundry list of future happenings, which she carefully recorded. She parlayed that list not only into considerable fortune for herself but also into helping ensure that the things on the list actually came to pass.
- STD Immunity: Maureen never gets one, despite decades of philandering, presumably because she is very careful in whom she sleeps with and uses protection unless there's no chance of disease. One of her daughters, however, is quite a bit less careful and winds up with a double dose (gonorrhea and syphilis simultaneously).
- Supernaturally Young Parent: Maureen mentions her 150th birthday during the book. Lazarus is well over 2000 years old at this point. Explained by Time Travel allowing Maureen to skip over millennia that Lazarus simply lived through.
- Time Travel: Again, thanks to the Burroughs device, temporal and interdimensional travel are common. The problem with rescuing Maureen is that they can't at first figure out which time-space-dimension she's in.