Friday, March 7, 2008

Robert A. Heinlein's "...And He Built a Crooked House" (novelette, humor, free)

Quote from short story titled And He Built a Crooked House by Robert A. HeinleinNon-stop action, & non-stop smiles. Moral of the story: if you ever find an architect who will build your 4 dimensional house, make sure it's anchored securely in the accessible dimensions!

Story summary.

Quintus Teal is the main protagonist. A great architect with post modern tastes. During a drinking session with his friend Homer Bailey, he decides to build a 4D house! You get far more space than you can get in accessible dimensions - ideal for crowded places.

Since Homer is anyway going to build a new house, he bullies his friend into signing the contract & pay the advance. Friend is proceeding on a vacation; he will have the magical home ready & will be able to surprise his wife Matilda on return. Whole episode has parallels with Howard Roark's contract for building Stoddard Temple in Ayn Rand's "Fountainhead".

Friend returns. Quintus takes him & his puzzled wife to a tour of their new house. First shock of future owners - it appears far tinier than contracted! Oh - there was an earthquake yesterday night. While the 4D house is earthquake proof, it ended up "folding" to its *normal* shape. Don't worry about what is "folding"; it just makes the house more magical.

From outside, it's just single room on ground floor! Major disappointment for owners, until a fancy staircase appears inside this room & seems to go ... where? Never mind, just go ahead. Ah - you reach the second story (invisible when you entered!) with 6 large & well appointed rooms. There is also another floor with one room - invisible from our normal world.

Much of the story is the party's adventures moving through the home. Because of "folding", even architect cannot predict what will lead to where. To add to complications, there is a further earthquake when they are inside; no damage because it's quake proof, but its geometry is further changed!

For a while, you find Quintus chase his own backside visible some doors ahead, thinking it's a mugger! Try getting out of ground floor room, & end up on a higher floor. One window opens to ocean, another to desert, yet another to probably a place not on earth, ...

Finally, the panicky trio will jump off a first floor window overlooking some forbidding place, only to find there is no house where they landed! They'll find they are some tens or hundreds of miles from the home they were in! Take a lift, eventually reach the site of house - where they originally entered. Only there is no house there now - thanks to quake when they were inside!

Of course, the great architect is still bubbling with the possibilities of new architecture.

Fact sheet.

First published: Astounding, February 1941.
Download full text from Internet Archive.
Rating: A
Listed among the stories from John Campbell's Astounding/Analog.
Related: Stories of Robert Heinlein.


Rusty said...

Nice review Tinkoo,

You know, one of the things I love about science fiction is that (for the most part) the stories really are timeless. Meaning that a short story written 47 years ago, such as this one, is still very readable today. Several of the classic authors, such as Heinlein, or even Asimov and Bradbury, either didn't expand on the details of what the future would be like, or else they missed the point so badly is doesn't matter. To me this means that there will always be great science fiction short stories to read and explore.
Anyway, my point is that this story from nearly half a century ago is still relevant, fun and provokes some deep thinking as we read it now. I wrote my own little blurb about this story on my blog, if anyone is interested. Thanks for reminding us about this gem - I definitely agree with you A rating.

tinkoo said...

Thanks Rusty.

La Rose Pourpre Gracieux said...

Absolutely love this story!