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Saturday, July 28, 2012

The Cat Who Walks Through Walls (audiobook) (abridged) by Robert A. Heinlein

 Easy to love and easy to hate

Published by Simon and Schuster Audioworks in 1987.
Performed by Robert Vaughn
Duration: 3 hours

Note: The 2007 re-release of The Cat Who Walks Through Walls clocks in at just over 13.5 hours, so this  3-hour-long 1987 abridgment is undoubtedly heavily abridged, even considering that acclaimed actor Robert Vaughn is a relatively quick reader.

Books like The Cat Who Walks Through Walls are hard to describe and easy to love and hate. This is a soaring piece of fiction that takes the listener into a fully-developed world that has enough internal coherence and relationship to our current world that the reader can feel comfortable (there are Volvo vehicles, they stop at a Sears store, etc.) On the other hand, the action is frenetic to the point of chaos (this may be due to the abridgment, but upon reading an online summary, it may not) and the interaction of the characters is often witty but unrealistic to the point of being laughable. For example, when the main character finds out that his new wife (he has only known her for 3 days or so) wants him to marry her granddaughter as well in a group marriage he doesn't question the arrangement for more than about 3 seconds.

The premise of the story is that Colonel Colin Campbell and his new wife named Gwen Novak are on the run, framed for a murder they did not commit. The story is told from Campbell's point of view and he soon discovers that his new wife can travel through time, is much older than she says she is and is a member of a quasi-military unit called the Time Corps. She has been sent to recruit Campbell to help with a mission and has fallen in love with him.

Robert A. Heinlein (1907-1988)
Heinlein throws a great number of ideas around in this book, which is actually loosely tied into a number of his books. Heinlein continues his long string of books featuring women that are hyper-sexual, independent and yet often subservient to strong men. He explores time travel paradoxes and his idea of "World as Myth." World as Myth asserts that the multiverse is all fictional and that exceptionally good storytellers make their own universes and the rules of those universes. Members of the Time Corps have visited L. Frank Baum's Oz and Alice's Wonderland universes and John Carter of Mars makes a silent appearance in a dramatic scene towards the end.

Throw in talking space ships, smart-talking air traffic controllers and truly fun banter you have the making of a good book. Unfortunately, Heinlein's silly sexual politics, tendency to have long lecture scenes and his decision to keep the reader in the dark as long as possible hurt the book.

Robert Vaughn
A gigantic bright spot in this audiobook is Robert Vaughn. I have never heard Robert Vaughn read an audiobook before and I was uncertain as to what to expect. Vaughn has a very distinct speaking voice (he played Lee, the black-gloved gunman in The Magnificent Seven and Napoleon Solo in The Man from U.N.C.L.E.) and I was not sure how that would work. I am totally convinced that all of Heinlein's later books should have been read by Robert Vaughn (maybe they still could be, I am not sure how much Vaughn works nowadays). Vaughn's unique voice is able to pull off the pretentious and confident nature of Heinlein's prose and he is able to create any number of distinctive voices, both male and female. Truly a performance, not just a reading.

I rate this book 3 stars out of 5.

Reviewed on July 28. 2012.

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