Is “The Pursuit of the Pankera” the novel Heinlein once claimed to have burned?

I recall reading (I think it was in the foreword or introduction to an edition of his Future History collection, published after his aneurysm procedure) Heinlein’s claim that he’d burned an entire novel written immediately before The Number of the Beast – in recognition of the fact that his mental condition was such, at the time he wrote it, that it was unsalvageable.

Now, newly released in 2020, we have The Pursuit of the Pankera which is claimed to be an “alternate novel of alternate worlds” – beginning exactly the way The Number of the Beast did, then diverging after Zach, Deety, Jake, and Hilda (and Gay Deceiver) made their first trip to an alternate universe.

Now, please avoid spoilers, because I’m still reading the new novel, looking forward to my first unfamiliar Heinlein fiction in almost thirty years – but is there any evidence whether the scattered notes the editors refer to having assembled to create this alternate novel, entirely in Heinlein’s words, is in fact the novel he claimed to have burned?

Science Fiction & Fantasy Asked on November 11, 2021

2 Answers

2 Answers

Having finished The Pursuit of the Pankera and had a few weeks to think it over, I'm now convinced that this is not the novel Heinlein burned after his brain surgery (the one he claimed was damaged beyond salvage by his brain dysfunction due to his undiagnosed aneurysm).

First, based on my recollection of The Number of the Beast, about 40% of Pankera is effectively identical to Beast -- not word for word, but event for event. Second, the portions that aren't the same seem to be worlds or events that were glossed over in Beast -- Barsoom is treated in much more detail in Pankera, and returned to near the conclusion; the Galactic Patrol is visited, convinced the four main characters are aware of Arisia, and enlisted to aid in the Pursuit. Third, the style of the conclusion is pure vintage Heinlein, as if it had been dredged up from 1960 or before -- very Starship Troopers, if you will.

Bottom line, Pankera appears to be, as the editors and publishers claim, assembled from notes made for Beast but written out for one reason or another (copyright might still have been an issue in the 1970s when the book was written -- another forty years has passed, after all). As far as I can tell, it's no worse (and in some ways, better) than Beast.

Answered by Zeiss Ikon on November 11, 2021

The Patterson biography, which is a totally unreliable hagiography, doesn't seem to have anything about the process of writing the book. The Mendlesohn book says:

In 1977...his health was becoming a worry and some people were noticing slurring in his speech. While working on 'The Number of the Beast', he gave a speech at a small convention in Utah. His performance there seems to be the source of the rumour that his later books were his 'senile' period. might be better to say that they are his near-posthumous books. He completed the manuscript, but for the first time Ginny said 'no'; the book was a mess.

While in Tahiti, he had a transient ischemic attack. Mendlesohn continues:

While recovering Heinlein sorted out the book that was to be 'The Number of the Beast' (called initially 'Panki-Barsoom'...)

Clareson and Sanders have a long discussion of the text, but nothing about the writing process AFAICT from a brief browse. Gifford seems to have nothing on the writing process.

Answered by user2490 on November 11, 2021

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