The Unpleasant profession of Jonathan Hoag (Penguin books. no. 2510.) Paperback – 1966
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SCIENCE FICTION-MR.HOAG IS A NICE LITTLE MAN WORRIED ABOUT HIS FINGERNAILS-AND ABOUT HIS WORK.THE TROUBLE IS-HE DOESN'T KNOW WHAT HIS WORK IS.AT LEAST THAT'S WHAT HE TELLS PRIVATE DETECTIVE TEDDY RANDALL AND HIS WIFE CYNTHIA,WHEN HE HIRES THEM TO INVESTIGATE THE STRANGEST CASE OF AMNESIA EVER-IT ONLY OPERATES FROM NINE TILL FIVE.COLLECTION OF SIX STORIES-THE MAN WHO TRAVELLED IN ELEPHANTS,ALL YOU ZOMBIES,THEY,OUR FAIR CITY,AND HE BUILT A CROOKED HOUSE PLUS THE TITLE STORY.
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This short novel was written for Unknown, John Campbell's short-lived fantasy magazine, and Heinlein went off to war work soon after so there was no opportunity to follow it up.
Jonathan Hoag doesn't know what he does during the day and a visit to a doctor to check what is under his dirty fingernails only gets him thrown out in disgust. The Randalls, a married couple of private investigators, are approached and paid to track his profession down. This doesn't go well and the Randalls are soon in trouble with a bunch of supernatural villains (Straight out of Neil Gaiman, fifty years before his time.) The ending sorts it all out and contains Heinlein's best ever joke - Hoag's profession.
This is a classic in a number of ways. The main plot denouement is one of the first examples of its kind. The main characters are a mature married couple and clearly have sex - something usually eliminated by Campbell so it needed to be sneaked in, and the hard-boiled prose in a contemporary setting is excellent.
I read this first about fifty years ago and didn't like the plot outcome,frankly it scared me. I missed the elegance of the writing and certainly failed to see the innovations in his plotting. It stands up as one of the best, if neglected, fantasy novels of its time.
For that reason alone 1 star. Had there been honesty in the marketing then I would have given 5 stars. Heinlein would not have behaved like this, nor would he have agreed to such misleading. Shame.
"The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathon Hoag" first appeared in the Oct 1942 edition of Unknown magazine, as by "John Riverside" (one of about six of Heinlein's pseudonyms). Mr. Hoag has a problem: in the evenings he finds a curious reddish residue under his fingernails, and no memory of what he was doing during the day to get that residue. So he hires a husband and wife team of detectives to follow him around and find out what is really going on. The trail leads to non-existent 13th floors, some very shadowy characters who are part of the Order of the Bird, and a conclusion that reality really isn't what we think it is. Some good suspense, reasonable characterization, but the final answer that Heinlein presents may leave you feeling a little let down, and I had difficulty believing in the scenario.
"They", first printed in the April 1941 issue of Unknown, is a minor classic. Here is paranoia run rampant; the main character just knows that everything around him is just a setup meant to keep him ignorant of the true state of the world. Of course, it's only paranoia if such a belief is incorrect... One of his better early stories.
"Our Fair City" first appeared in the Jan 1949 issue of Weird Tales, and is an out-and-out fantasy, with an intelligent whirlwind used as an instrument to bring down a corrupt city government. Mildly amusing but a pretty slight effort.
"The Man Who Traveled in Elephants" was apparently written in 1948, but didn't get published till Oct 1957 in Saturn magazine. When I first read this, I thought it was a totally unremarkable, very quiet story, detailing a man and his wife who travel to all the various county/state fairs; the sights, sounds, and exhibits of such affairs. By the end of the story it is clear that this is the man's version of heaven. Reading this again, I begin to wonder if this story is actually a key to Heinlein's personal beliefs about both the hereafter and the reasons for living, and the story is actually quite charming and heart-warming.
"...And He Built a Crooked House" first appeared in Feb 1941 issue of Astounding; as such it's the earliest work in this collection. It's all about an architect who designs and builds an 'exploded' three-dimensional version of a four-dimensional tesseract, then has it collapse into a real four-dimensional house when one of California's innumerable earthquakes strikes. A minor piece, though it will warp your mind a bit, and has some historical interest as the street where this house was supposedly built is the one Heinlein was living on when this was written.
"...All You Zombies" is the newest story here, first published in the March, 1959 issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction. It's also, for my money, the best and most inventive story of the bunch, and possibly the ultimate in time-travel stories. Starting from a bartender listening to one of his (male) customers complain about how tough life is in the "True Confession" writing racket, it proceeds to be the complete answer (at least for one person) to the question of the beginning of everything and to the inherent paradoxes of time travel. Warning: this is not a children's story, some of the situations described within it probably make it unsuitable for anyone younger than mid-teens.
As a group, these stories are a mixed bag. They show inventiveness in plot and theme, are all at least reasonably well written, but some cross the line of believability, others make too minor a point to be really good stories. Still, a very different set of stories from what some call the greatest science fiction writer, ever.
--- Reviewed by Patrick Shepherd (hyperpat)
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