The Pursuit of the Pankera
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The Pursuit of the Pankera

by Robert A. Heinlein
Release date: March 2020
Type: speculative fiction
Genres: science fiction

The Pursuit of the Pankera: A Parallel Novel about Parallel Universes.

Phoenix Pick recently announced that, working with the Heinlein Prize Trust, they have been able to reconstruct the complete text of an unpublished novel written by Robert A. Heinlein.

Heinlein wrote this as an alternate text for The Number of the Beast. Reconstructed from notes and typed manuscript pages left behind the ‘Dean’ of Science Fiction, The Pursuit of the Pankera is approximately 185,000 words and while it largely mirrors the first one-third of the The Number of the Beast, it then follows a completely different story-line.

The plot for both The Pursuit of the Pankera and The Number of the Beast centers around four geniuses, Zebediah ("Zeb") John Carter, Dejah Thoris ("Deety") Burroughs, her father Jacob, and their friend Hilda Mae, who find themselves embarking on an adventurous journey (Heinlein style) through The Multiverse thanks to Jacob's newly invented time machine.

Both books start off with the main characters being pursued by the marauding inter-dimensional adversaries, The Black Hats (or Pankis), who are trying to kill them.

However, while The Number of the Beast then deviates away from this plot line (approximately one-third of the way through) and subsequently ignores The Black Hats with the conclusion of the book having nothing to do with the adventure that starts the book, The Pursuit of the Pankera remains much more focused on the Black Hat threat leading to a more traditional Heinlein adventure and ultimate conclusion. The famous (or infamous) Party scene does not exist in the new book, nor does Lazarus Long make an appearance.

Fans of classic science fiction are also going to get a special treat by Heinlein’s much more authentic usage of some classic science fiction universes in The Pursuit of the Pankera. Heinlein pays homage to the authors he admired by having his characters visit universes like Burroughs’ Barsoom universe and E.E. ‘Doc’ Smith’s Lensman universe and interacting with characters actually inhabiting those worlds.

Not only is The Pursuit of the Pankera much more of a traditional Heinlein adventure and a more direct homage to classic authors, in some ways it harkens back to his more classic juveniles in the manner in which the plot is set-up and resolved.

Readers should, thus, not expect to find just a slightly different version of The Number of the Beast in The Pursuit of the Pankera. Even though both books share the same main characters and mostly mirror each other for the first one-third of the book, these are two totally different books and The Pursuit of the Pankera will remind readers more of ‘classic’ Heinlein than The Number of the Beast.

(updated 2019-10-11)

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