Short Reviews – Gulf (Part 2 of 2), by Robert Heinlein

Friday , 14, September 2018 7 Comments

The second installment of Gulf by Robert Heinlein appeared in the December 1949 issue of Astounding Science Fiction. It can be read here at 

Robert Heinlein’s Spy-Fi thriller, Gulf, showed so much promise before sinking into the Campbellian morass of dull thinkery.

Whereas Part 1 featured covert cat & mouse action, high stakes interrogation, and a daring escape from a private jail by helicopter, Part 2 is devoted mostly to the characters explaining to the protagonist about the next step in human evolution: the man who is a better thinker. Lots of woo ensues.

These supermen have cooked up a special language in which phonetic sounds can convey the meaning of entire words and sentences, so a single word or sentence in smart-guy talk can convey encyclopedias of meaning, making thinkery that much more efficient. As a potential super-guy, the hero must be taught this language by a snarky dame.

The idea behind the language is that if you absorb and process information as a whole (such as a 10-digit number as a glyph rather than as a series of digits) you can retain more of that information. Except for smart-guy talk to work, I’d think you’d need a base language, since you’d have to be taught the complex idea which the single phonetic syllable was supposed to represent. Anyway…

Heinlein eventually remembers that he was writing a spy thriller, so the last three page are devoted to the hero and the dame who taught him smart-guy-talk going to the villain’s moon-palace, and they stop her from blowing up the earth. The hero and the dame both die in the explosion, but not before they get married over the radio. The end.

  • BLUME says:

    People can’t keep the meaning of the simple words we have straight and deliberately twist them as well. This is terrible thinkers piece. Also vox with his scientage shows just how hard it is to create even relatively simple new precision words.

  • Jon Mollison says:

    Not even 1950 and already Heinlein’s mask has begun to slip. Rough review this week, thank you for your sacrifice.

    Dat meme tho.

  • Bruce says:

    Telegraphese was mad cool in the forties, and tall tales about super-sciency rhetoric go great with spy fi. John M Ford’s Princes of the Air, where it’s iambic pentameter instead of supersyllables, required a writer who could excrete excellent iambic pentameter effortlessly. Dean Ing’s Silent Thunder, where it’s subsonic voice tones, had to be easier to write.

    Remember you are splitting up the story and then complaining because each half is wobbly on its own. The garish thud and blunder of the first half of the story and the climax gain by being chastened with this cerebral intermission, and the intermission gains from action stuff on each end.

    • Alex says:

      I’m not complaining each half is wobbly on it’s own. I’m complaining because the second half was crap.

      It’s totally fair to judge stories within the context that they were published.

    • Overgrown Hobbit says:

      Not only that, but Mr. Heinlein signalled the rubbish-fest to come at the end of part 1 with the New Superhumans Cos Smarter schtick.

      The action adventure was good readable action adventure. What you call the cerebral bit was asinine. The boring quality is laginappe.

      • cirsova says:

        Yep. The conclusion to the story where the adventure must be resolved feels like an afterthought… page after page of smartboi stuff followed by a quick “orite, the villain had an evil moonbase. They go there and stop them, but they died. The end.”

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