To Sail Beyond the Sunset

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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 timestream 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 POV 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 Two.


Tropes used in To Sail Beyond the Sunset include:
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 (the page image, in fact) 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.
  • Default Answer:

Maureen: "Donald, when someone asks 'Why do they?' or 'Why don't they?', the answer is almost always, 'Money'."

  • Eternal Sexual Freedom: Maureen got her happily lusty values from her father, in late 19th century America.
  • Free-Love Future: Maureen happily joins Lazarus' Polyamory on Tertius, then seeks to recruit her father into the same.
  • 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.
  • Harsher in Hindsight: The book's title. It was Heinlein's last book before he died.
  • 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).
  • 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.
  • Mutually Fictional: The World as Myth concept continues in this novel, mainly continuing the themes from the past two.
  • Parental Incest: Two ways: 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.
  • 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 / Temporal Paradox: Before Lazarus went off to World War I 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).
  • 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.