Assignment in Eternity
First Edition cover
|Author||Robert A. Heinlein|
|Cover artist||Ric Binkley|
|Genre||Science fiction novel|
Assignment in Eternity, is a collection of four mixed science fiction and fantasy novellas by Robert A. Heinlein, first published in hardcover by Fantasy Press in 1953, with some of the stories somewhat revised from their original magazine publications, as follows:
- Gulf (written and published in 1949 in Astounding Science Fiction, October–November 1949).
- Lost Legacy (written in 1939 but first published in 1941 in Super Science Stories, November 1941 as Lost Legion by Lyle Monroe)
- Elsewhen, (written in 1939 and first published in 1941 in Astounding Science Fiction September 1941 as Elsewhere by Caleb Saunders)
- Jerry Was a Man (written in 1946 and published in 1947 in Thrilling Wonder Stories, October 1947 as Jerry Is a Man)
Heinlein dedicated the book "To Sprague and Catherine": L. Sprague de Camp (his friend and noted science fiction author) and his wife Catherine Crook de Camp. Assignment in Eternity was almost immediately picked up for mass market paperback publication by New American Library's Signet line and is currently (as of 2007) offered by Baen Books in trade paper format, with a republication of Heinlein's Future History chart, even though none of the stories falls into the Future History as detailed in The Past Through Tomorrow and Time Enough for Love.
The four stories are loosely related as speculation on what—that we aren't already aware of—makes one a human. "Jerry Is a Man" makes the most straightforward examination of the theme, a court making a legal ruling on the human rights of genetically engineered intelligent creatures. "Gulf," a story connected by its story materials to Kuttner's Baldy stories and Wilmar Shiras' In Hiding, suggests that superior individuals already living among us might become a new step in hominid evolution; "Lost Legacy" suggests that every person has unused paranormal abilities that can be awakened by esoteric training comparable to that used by the supermen of "Gulf." "Elsewhen" suggests that the human mind is not bound to our here-and-now "slum of space-time" but can go voyaging into alternative timetracks of possibility. Although written in 1939, using materials popularized by John William Dunne, the story has gained new currency in the wake of the Wheeler-Everett "Many Worlds" hypothesis.
The story materials of all four novellas were revisited by Heinlein in later, more expansive novels. A number of figures of Lost Legacy, for example, are carried into Stranger in a Strange Land (1961), a book which ultimately could be said to have the same theme as the 1939 novella. Situations and individuals from both Gulf and Jerry Was a Man are examined in Friday (1982). And the multiverse concept first explored in Elsewhen gets very full treatment in Heinlein's last, World as Myth novels, particularly The Number of the Beast (1980), The Cat Who Walks Through Walls (1985) and To Sail Beyond the Sunset (1987). (Arguably the books written between these, Friday (1982) and Job: A Comedy of Justice (1984) also belong with the World as Myth in terms of their thematic material, though Heinlein died before making the connecting material, if any, explicit).
Boucher and McComas were unenthusiastic about the collection, saying it contained "two lightweight and entertaining novelets and two pretty weak short novels." P. Schuyler Miller similarly found the stories "not up to the best in the "Future History" series or the author's recent teen-age books." New York Times reviewer Villiers Gerson reported the collection evidenced Heinlein's status as "one of the ablest craftsmen writing science fiction."