An excercise in futility.
archives links about me

Disclaimer: The author of this piece, Chefelf, is a great fan and admirer of Robert A. Heinlein's work. However, the author remains convinced that "The Cat Who Walks Through Walls" is not among Heinlein's finest efforts. That having been said, please take these facts into consideration while crafting your hate mail. Thank you.


The Cat Who Walks Through WallsIn 1985 The San Fransisco Chronicle declared The Cat Who Walks Through Walls "...a thinking man's HITCHHIKER'S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY." I'm not sure I agree with that assessment. Personally, I feel that The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is the thinking man's The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. However, if the San Fransisco Chronicle's statement is correct then the thinking man is a big stupid idiot.

Since I was a teenager I have been a great fan of Robert Heinlein. While I have not read every book he's ever written I have read enough to be able to start ranking them against each other. In ranking the works of Robert Heinlein it is quite safe to say that last place should most likely be reserved for The Cat Who Walks Through Walls.

Robert Heinlein certainly deserves credit for being one of the twentieth century's greatest science fiction authors as well as one of the key factors in shaping modern science fiction.

I recall reading Time Enough for Love when I was 16-years-old. On the surface this is a disgusting tale of a man who travels back in time and has sex with his own mother as a young woman. Such a masterful author is Heinlein that I remember feeling that this situation was romantic and wonderful at the time I read it.

All of Heinlein's faults come out to play in The Cat Who Walks Through Walls. His strange openness about sex, which often teeters on the edge of creepy, takes a full vacation in Creepyland throughout this book. His misogynist, chauvinistic nature comes out through one of his more hot-headed, despicable characters, Dr. Richard Ames.

Heinlein is the worst kind of chauvinist, the one who thinks he is an open-minded crusader for women's rights. His overall tone would make any feminist boil with fury as he continues to treat women as helpless creatures who need defending as well as his propensity to casually referring to them as "wenches". Heinlein is not unique in this respect as anyone who has read any amount of early twentieth century science fiction can attest to. It is not terribly surprising that early science fiction authors often display little or no understanding of women whatsoever, after all, they are science fiction writers. It is interesting to note that Robert Heinlein's wife was a brilliant chemist who was also a figure skater who competed at the national level and spoke over seven languages.

Let it be said that I am glad The Cat Who Walks Through Walls was not Robert Heinlein's final published book before his death. His final work, To Sail Beyond the Sunset is a fantastic end to a brilliant career and I am glad that he went out on such a high note. The Cat Who Walks Through Walls is an incomplete, plotless mess that would never have been published if it didn't bear the name of one of science fiction's greatest authors.

Nothing in The Cat Who Walks Though Walls ever comes together or gets resolved. New elements are continually introduced to be left unexplained or to simply fade away. There is no climax, the book just seems to run out of pages with a fizzle. If the final pages of the book were to be represented by a sound I would recommend that that sound be that of a muted fart.

The most disappointing thing is that the book starts out so strongly. It starts off with the protagonist's dinner being interrupted by a man who tells him that he needs him to kill another man. The uninvited dinner guest is then killed by an unseen assassin and this sends (or is supposed to send) the main character, Dr. Ames, headlong into adventure and intrigue. Unfortunately that never happens. Instead he and his new bride simply bounce around from one stupid situation to the next. It is no mistake that two of the reviews quoted on the book are as follows:

"A marvelous beginning."
--New York Daily News

"Begins with a bang..."
--Fantasy Review

It can only be assumed that both those reviews concluded with: "... too bad it degenerates into such a meaningless collection of pointless events."

I will admit that I picked this book up in high school because the title sounded ridiculous and I liked that. As I read the opening chapter in the bookstore I wondered how this could possibly lead to a cat who walks through walls! Well, I thought to myself. It certainly will be fun to find out! How wrong I was.

Upon rereading this book recently I found it necessary to warn other Heinlein fans about the nature of this book with a simple, chapter-by-chapter synopsis which keeps track of the book's plot along with a summary of all feline movement through walls. This is what follows.


Book One - Indifferent Honest

Chapter 1
Chapter Synopsis: Our protagonist and his lady companion have their dinner interrupted by a mysterious stranger who shows up and gets himself shot at their table. The two have a weird night that ends in an impromptu marriage ceremony by the light of a computer screen.
Cat Synopsis: There are no cats who walk through walls.

Chapter 2
Chapter Synopsis: The mystery unravels a bit. Who was this man that was killed at their table? They don't know. They have pancakes and try to figure it out, something that Nate the Great would probably do in the same situation, only Nate the Great would probably steer clear of using quite as much sexual innuendo when speaking to his friend Annie.
Cat Synopsis: There are no cats who walk through walls.

Chapter 3
Chapter Synopsis: They talk for a long time about a lot of stuff, most notably about how the main character, Dr. Richard Ames, enjoys writing at his computer. They discuss their plans for getting a second computer in their new place so that he can have access to one at all times. At the end of the chapter he gets evicted from his apartment.
Cat Synopsis: There are no cats who walk through walls.

Chapter 4
Chapter Synopsis: Dr. Richard Ames and his new bride Gwen leave his apartment taking all of his belongings which includes a sort of bonsai tree which is named Tree-San.
Cat Synopsis: There are no cats who walk through walls.

Chapter 5
Chapter Synopsis: They are ambushed at Gwen's apartment by a strange man named Bill. They quickly disarm him and then proceed to take ownership of him, treating him some sort of stray dog. Speaking of dogs... they make reference to this man as a stray kitten. After more than fifty pages, the reader is "standing on his toes" as it were. Is the cat in the book's title a metaphor?
Cat Synopsis: There are no cats who walk through walls.

Chapter 6
Chapter Synopsis: Richard and Gwen decide that after two deadly encounters they are going to go to their area's manager to complain about the eviction. There is an uncomfortable author's commentary about how rapists should be brutally murdered as it is the only fit punishment for such a crime. The chapter concludes with Richard Ames being clumsily framed for a murder he did not commit.
Cat Synopsis: There are no cats who walk through walls.

Chapter 7
Chapter Synopsis: Richard, Gwen and their adopted monkey man, Bill, make a run for it and end up at a place called Old MacDonald's Farm.
Cat Synopsis: There are no cats who walk through walls.

Chapter 8
Chapter Synopsis: Richard finds out that Gwen has smeared Limburger cheese in the heating system of their former landlord's office to cause a nasty smell. This is apparently an an act of revenge for their unjust evictions. They rent a Volvo from Budget Rent-a-Jet because Hertz did not have one. We remind ourselves that this is supposed to be Science Fiction.
Cat Synopsis: There are no cats who walk through walls.

Chapter 9
Chapter Synopsis: They fly away and Bill vomits all over the place because he gets space sick. Richard gets angry with Bill for causing such a mess by vomiting in zero gee. He reluctantly reserves a certain amount of respect for him because while he was sick he did not lose Richard's bonsai tree. They later crash land on the moon.
Cat Synopsis: There are no cats who walk through walls.

Chapter 10
Chapter Synopsis: They are rescued from their crash site and put up for the night by a friendly hostess.
Cat Synopsis: There are no cats who walk through walls.

Book Two - Deadly Weapon

Chapter 11
Chapter Synopsis: Richard begins feeling terrible about the hat he stole as part of his disguise to escape from the Golden Rule Habitat space station where they were being pursued. Richard, a man of honor, feels that stealing another man's hat is the worst thing a man could do. He fully plans on returning the hat to its original owner when this ordeal is over. They meet a twelve-year-old girl named Gretchen and there is an uncomfortable scene where Richard speaks about spanking her bottom. Later on in the evening there is a near sexual encounter as Gretchen tries to seduce Richard in the middle of the night. It is a bit uncomfortable for the reader.
Cat Synopsis: There are no cats who walk through walls.

Chapter 12
Chapter Synopsis: The chapter begins with an awkward moment where Richard explains that he really is grateful that he didn't have sex with the twelve-year-old girl but it is clear that the author (through this character) is trying to convince himself more than the reader. On their way to Hong Kong, Luna they are attacked by bandits that leaves some of their group dead.
Cat Synopsis: There are no cats who walk through walls.

Chapter 13
Chapter Synopsis: They are rescued after their ambush and meet up with a woman named Xia. Richard find himself sexually attracted to Xia. In true Heinlein fashion there is a lot of open "free love" talk between Richard and his bride about how they should have some sex with Xia. Then a cat walks through walls! Just kidding.
Cat Synopsis: There are no cats who walk through walls.

Chapter 14
Chapter Synopsis: When they arrive at Hong Kong, Luna they are accused of starting the violence with the bandits and Richard is extremely annoyed and starts talking about Stalin and Hitler and how he's being persecuted, etc. A little old lady leaps to their defense and explains that Richard is not guilty of anything.
Cat Synopsis: There are no cats who walk through walls.

Chapter 15
Chapter Synopsis: It turns out that it is the anniversary of "Free Luna!" when the moon revolted or some such nonsense. They decide to run from the angry Moderator guy named Mao (who is sore with them) so they take a tube ride to Luna City. Gwen fools someone into believing she has an alligator in her purse. Richard and Gwen get into an argument. Gwen, Bill and Tree-San go one way and Richard goes the other because he's a big stubborn idiot.
Cat Synopsis: There are no cats who walk through walls.

Chapter 16
Chapter Synopsis: Richard goes off on his own and gets a room in a hotel that has a plaque saying that the revolution for Free Luna started in that room. Gwen returns and there is love in the air. She reveals that she is a "Founding Father" of Free Luna named Hazel Stone. This would make her several hundred years old. Richard is skeptical.
Cat Synopsis: There are no cats who walk through walls.

Chapter 17
Chapter Synopsis: It turns out that Gwen/Hazel also authored Richard's favorite childhood serial, The Scourge of the Spaceways with Captain John Sterling. This was a show where captain John Sterling escapes the Horsehead Nebula with the radiation worms after him just in time to make a truce with the Galactic Overlord to save the Galaxy!

It is revealed that the twelve-year-old from earlier is Gwen/Hazel's great great granddaughter which adds the familiar Heinlein element of incest to nicely round out the already present lecherousness and orgy atmosphere. Gwen convinces Richard that she is indeed Hazel Stone and this causes her to cry.

Cat Synopsis: There are no cats who walk through walls.

Chapter 18
Chapter Synopsis: There is a lenghty discussion about a computer becoming self aware. No discussion of cats or walking through walls.
Cat Synopsis: There are no cats who walk through walls.

Chapter 19
Chapter Synopsis: Hazel feels a psychic link with a computer that is randomly called different names. Usually it is called Adam Selene. It is called Mike on the description on the back of the book but maybe only once in the course of the book itself. The computer is apparently "asleep" in an adjoining room. They are attacked for some reason and they manage to escape. The computer is undamaged and does not walk through walls.
Cat Synopsis: There are no cats who walk through walls.

Chapter 20
Chapter Synopsis: Richard is apparently injured in this attack and a gaggle of weirdos comes out to tend to his wounds. They start spouting some nonsense about what timeline they're in then whisk away the group along with a Rabbi that has joined up with them. There are no cats who walk through walls. By this point it becomes quite clear that the title of the book must merely be a metaphor. Unfortunately the reader is completely in the dark as to what that metaphor may be.
Cat Synopsis: There are no cats who walk through walls.

Book Three - The Light at the End of the Tunnel

Chapter 21
Chapter Synopsis: Richard awakens to find himself in a sort of hospital bed, being tended to by a woman and a robotic woman. He requests a roasted brontosaurus for breakfast but gets waffles instead.
Cat Synopsis: There are no cats who walk through walls.

Chapter 22
Chapter Synopsis: It turns out that the people in this strange place have replaced the Rabbi's missing legs (did I mention that he was missing legs?) which is pretty impressive to Richard. Then he finds out that they have given him a new foot (I didn't mention that Richard had a missing foot either, did I?). It turns out they're in some weird futuristic place with super advanced technology where people grow clones of themselves for spare parts such as missing appendages.
Cat Synopsis: There are no cats who walk through walls.

Chapter 23
Chapter Synopsis: These people claim to be part of the Time Corps, an organization which seems to spend the majority of its time lounging around and engaging in hedonistic activities. They spend a small amount of time traveling through time to different realities for no apparent reason. Lazy-Hedonistic Corps didn't sound as good so they have elected to call their group the Time Corps.

It is revealed that the leg they gave Richard belonged to Lazarus Long who will be familiar to anyone who has read any Heinlein books as he always tends to creep up in some way. Lazarus demands payment for the leg. Richard tells them to cut it off and keep it. When the insufferable jerk protagonist from this book doesn't seem to be enough, Heinlein has brought in the insufferable jerk protagonist from previous books to add to the reader's dislike for the characters.

Cat Synopsis: On page 288 there is a cat! Richard wakes up to find a cat on his chest! The cat doesn't do anything except be catlike. It is introduced as Pixel. Pixel the cat. It certainly doesn't walk through any walls, however, it is a cat and it is in this book so we're making progress. So the title of the book may not be a metaphor after all. The plot thickens!

Chapter 24
Chapter Synopsis: Gwen-Hazel gets into a fight with Lazarus because he is a jerk. It's mostly about the foot donation. Hazel claims that Richard comes from a culture in which debts are sacred. She claims his national motto is "There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch." She says that they have TANSTAAFL embroidered on their flag. This reader remains skeptical. It is revealed that the plan is to train Richard in the ways of the Time Corps in order to carry out Task Adam Selene Operation Galactic Overlord. Richard takes this in stride.
Cat Synopsis: The cat from the previous chapter does not appear. If it walks through any walls it is not mentioned in the book.

Chapter 25
Chapter Synopsis: I find it worth mentioning that the name of their ship is Gay. Now, I'd like to take the adult approach and not mention that but I can't help but mention that they are traveling around in a ship named The Gay Deceiver but they repeatedly refer to is simply as Gay for short. Gay. It's their adventuring ship. Even if you break down this word into its various meanings and find synonyms you will still come up with some lousy names for spaceships. Happy, Joy, Homosexual. These are all lousy adventuring ship names. Whatever happened to names like, The Roving Bastard or Flaming Doom Torch?
Cat Synopsis: On page 320 it is mentioned that the cat can walk through walls!! The explanation for how the cat can do this rather impossible feat: It's impossible but the cat is so young that he doesn't know it's impossible so he does it anyhow. Is this what the book has been building to? Despite this rather clumsy explanation that the reader has waited 320 pages for, the cat doesn't actually walk through any walls. At this point I would be satisfied to see the cat walk through a wall made of paper mache.

Chapter 26
Chapter Synopsis: Some of the characters decide to talk smack about Albert Einstein. It is explored that they name different time lines based on who was the first person to walk on the moon. for example, our timeline is code named Neil Armstrong. There are a bunch of others but I won't bore you with the countless different names.
Cat Synopsis: On page 334 Pixel the cat is put in another room. The cat later appears in Richard and Gwen's bedroom. It isn't really mentioned specifically but there is a vague implication that the cat may have walked through a walls to get there, however, it's just as conceivable that someone could have simply left a door open.

Chapter 27
Chapter Synopsis: Gwen and Richard celebrate their first anniversary (most of their first year was spent apart while Richard was operated on and various people traveled through time). They travel back in time to Richard's childhood home to see his Uncle Jock. Gwen's father ends up there as well.
Cat Synopsis: The cat does not walk through a wall.

Chapter 28
Chapter Synopsis: They all drive around in Uncle Jock's replica Model T. Lazarus and Richard continue their antagonistic testosterone-driven pissing contest as Richard is brought before some sort of Time Corps tribunal that resides at the bottom of an elevator shaft under Uncle Jock's house. They talk a bunch more about the different timelines. They also tell Richard that they've been to made up fantasy worlds such as L. Frank Baum's Land of Oz. Richard, along with the reader, is skeptical.
Cat Synopsis: The cat is scared by the Model T but it does not cause him to walk through any walls.

Chapter 29
Chapter Synopsis: All the characters just generally mill around. There is some discussion about how dinosaur meat is tough and tasteless. They talk about hunting dinsaurs not with guns but with cameras! The pages in the reader's right hand are feeling pretty thin at this point and the reader wonders if this is supposed to be some sort of climax or something.
Cat Synopsis: The cat plays with a butterfly but does not walk through a wall.

Chapter 30
Chapter Synopsis: Somehow things go horribly wrong. I'm not sure how since previous chapters seem to give no indication that anything at all is going on. In a confusing finale, things go awry and our protagonist is left dying, waiting for some sort of enemy to enter. It is theorized that the cat may be injured. Richard thinks about how killing a kitten is the worst thing someone can do. Richard readies himself for anyone who may attack.
Cat Synopsis: The cat does not walk through walls.


In conclusion, there is a cat and the cat may or may not actually walk through walls. If there'd been no mention of a cat that could walk through the walls the title would remain a mysterious metaphor which would have been preferable. Instead it is a reference to a completely meaningless and unexplored part of the story. The book may as well be named The Discussion About Dinosaur Meat Being Tough and Tasteless or The Man We Treated Like a Dog That Time.

The fact that the cat enters the book so late causes the reader to be on their toes for the first hundred pages or so. Then, the reader assumes the title is a metaphor and relaxes just to be hit with the cat in the last section of the book. Then, lastly, the reader is filled with confusion as they try to figure out why this stupid cat thing got itself a pride of place mention in the book's title.

Handy Email Subject Line Suggestions For Angry Readers

  1. All you do is criticize... what have you ever created?
  2. I hate you, Chefelf
  3. Heinlein was a great man, you idiot!
  4. u suck i hate u
  5. I though this book was good, therefore you are wrong!
  6. You are too dumb to understand this book!
  7. Instead of being so grouchy, you should try being not so grouchy!
  8. Piss off, Chefelf! Just piss off!

Discuss this article in the forums

Read more articles by this author (Chefelf)

Warning: This website--like every other website on the internet--has been known to contain gross exaggerations and fabrications. Consider yourself warned.

Back to L&E

Copyright © 2001-2017 Chefelf
a division of All rights reserved.