Excerpt from Mining Heinlein
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Shannon and Waldo continued searching for new Heinlein works a bit closer to home, so to speak. While they often found familiar stories with minor, and even several major, differences, so far they hadn’t come across anything completely new.
That all changed in a world ten million universes south- southwest of their own, in a used book store called, simply, Words. There they hit real paydirt, in a worn paperback collection of Heinlein short stories titled 7 X Heinlein.
Waldo idly pulled it off the shelf and opened to the contents page. “Holy Batman,” he said loudly, then glanced around. Several readers looked up from their books, but none paid much attention.
“What?” Shannon whispered, joining him from her search.
“Look at this! Just look at it!” He opened the book to page seventy-six and found The Day of the Rats, a short novel about survivors of, ironically, a nuclear war. Its theme explored the mutation and evolution of various species of Rattus.
“We did it!” Shannon whispered. “This is exactly what we were looking for. A Heinlein story that doesn’t exist in our own universe.”
“This is so cool,” Waldo whispered, leafing through the pages. They knew they couldn’t bring the book back with them, so they took turns reading the story. By this time, they had eliminated the return timer, relying on their failsafe buttons to get them back home. They spent hours in happy contentment, one reading while the other explored the book stacks. They stopped for lunch at a nearby fast-food joint called Berg’s House of Burgers. Shannon counted out the total for their meal and pushed a stack of quarters over. She held her breath, but the clerk simply slid them into the register after confirming the total.
Back in the bookstore, Shannon found two novels unknown in their dimension, one by Theodore Sturgeon and other a Philip K. Dick novel, Almost Human and A Scanner’s Dark Victory, respectively.
They read until fatigue made them stop. They returned home for a good night’s rest, then returned to that particular universe several times until they’d read all the new works they could find.
Waldo was able to confirm that food eaten in another universe left him full upon returning home. He was happy to have his hypothesis confirmed; sad that he couldn’t pig out in another universe and not have to pay for it upon returning home.
“I had visions of empty hot fudge sundae bowls stacked up around me, then pushing a button and everything would disappear except the satisfaction of having eaten them all.”
“So you’re just a pig without the guts to pig out?” Shannon gave him a sideways glance and stuck a salad in front of him.
Several weeks later, they had another Heinlein “hit.” Fourteen million universes away, in a bookstore called Used Ink they found a Heinlein juvenile, Ocean Rancher.
“In our universe, he’d planned to write this as one of his novels for boys,” Shannon whispered, “but Ginny wouldn’t let him do any more research after he almost drowned.”
“Priceless,” Waldo murmured, holding the book at his side, hiding it from other eyes, treating it like precious gold, even though it was probably commonly available in this particular universe.
They found a quiet alcove with a dusty, worn sofa. They sat quietly, reading the book together, enjoying the adventures of its young hero, Cal Hubbard. They hid the book behind a stack of romance novels and went to lunch, using Waldo’s pockets full of quarters to again pay for their food. While money designs were often slightly different, they seemed to be close enough that, with very few exceptions, no one took notice. Only once did someone cop to their deception, but the cashier was willing to take pre-64 silver quarters no matter how different they were from her own. After lunch, they retrieved the novel and finished reading it before dinner time.
In other universes, on other days, they found more new works by alternate Heinleins unknown in their own universe. They spent hours reading The Sky Brides and Small Differences and The Borrowed Body. They spent weeks in one universe, reading a three-part series The Star Destroyers by James T. Hogan. “I loved his ‘Giants’ novels,” Shannon said, “and this is just as good.”
Waldo closed a magazine called Time Out where he had just finished a Heinlein story titled The Hunter Hunted. “We’re the luckiest people in the multiverse,” he said, softly.
Shannon lowered a book of short stories, The Dance of Destiny by Ray Bradbury. “I’d rather have words than diamonds or gold,” she said softly.
“That’s good,” Waldo exclaimed, “because I ain’t got none of them sparkly things.”
Even in a multitude of new stories and novels, by a Heinlein a million, ten million, fifty million, universes away, visitors Waldo Martin and Shannon Douglas were charmed by the master’s imagination, his deft plotting, and his ability to make strange worlds come alive within just a few sentences.
A billion Heinleins in a billion universes with differences subtle and major, seemed to be, universally, incapable of bad writing. They found new works by their other favorite authors as well. They enjoyed Foundation’s End by Asimov and Forerunner Secret by Norton, The Endless Night by Steve Alten, and The Inhuman Kind by Lester del Rey. They perused books with familiar titles, looking for subtle and major differences, and finding precious nuggets in words.
In one universe, they took in a movie, Heinlein’s The Star Beast as produced and directed by Stephen Stielberg. They tried purchasing DVD discs, but found they wouldn’t play on their equipment despite being the identical size and mostly plastic with very thin metal and an organic substrate. While the medium took the universal transfer without obvious damage, the formatting itself was subtly different.
After returning from a full day of reading in a universe twenty-five million away, Waldo looked at Shannon, and noticed concern on her face. “What’s eating you?”
Shannon was slow to reply. After the pause, she said, “we’re just two among many dozens, hundreds, thousands, of an ever-increasing potentially infinite number of Heinlein miners, all digging through the multiverse, all searching for written gold. Can you imagine other versions of the two of us, arriving here, in our home universe somewhere on this world and reading Heinlein novels that are new to them, but which we’ve had for decades?”