A book report? Maybe. I first read this book when it first came out in the ’80s. It references past works in the brilliant way that Asimov’s later efforts did not. This book is written off by posterity, it seems, because it is one of the last of Heinlein’s books, and on a subject not well understood perhaps by “sci-fi fans.” (I use the term sci-fi with all the disdain it deserves).
You can find synopses of the book throughout the web, including Wikipedia, so I won’t belabor that issue. The protagonist is definitely a stylized version of Heinlein–military veteran, corn-fed midwestern American and writer (Jubal Harshaw and Lazarus Long also follow these character lines to one extent or another).
While its science-fiction is not as hard as Heinlein’s past works, the lines where traditional hard science fiction and (for lack of a better term) metaphysical science fiction are clearly drawn. As soon as Richard Colin Ames Campbell leaves Luna City he is in a dream world.
Almost a fever dream. Heinlein is himself commenting on the world on the other side of the Looking Glass as Richard observes the world of Lazarus Long.
Critics complain about the pacing of the second half of the book. The first is a nimble space adventure like old Heinlein, cracking and breathless. The second half is slower, whimsical, weirdly out of time–which is as it’s supposed to be. The second half was as deliberately paced as the first. Heinlein was no doddering old man. His writer’s instincts were still sharp as was his humor.
The second half is populated by great characters of Heinlein’s other works, like Jubal Harshaw, Lazarus Long, most all the characters of Time Enough For Love, another brilliant book in fact, and The Number Of The Beast, which is closer to this book in its subverting (co-opting?) the role of author and story. What Heinlein refers to as “Pantheistic Solipsism.”
And then there’s the cat.
The cat referred to in the title is Pixel, who I believe also shows up in Heinlein’s final novel, To Sail Beyond The Sunset. Pixel is the embodiment of Schrodinger’s Cat. In fact, this book seems to end as an embodiment of Schrodinger’s Cat, and the cat’s retort (The protagonist damns the author for his predicament at the end, as I believe the cat would as well).
Was the “pantheistic solipsism” Heinlein wrote on at the end of his career truly brilliant and subversive or an old man’s folly? I’m leaning towards the former. I will write about another of Heinlein’s later books, Job: A Comedy of Justice later on as another example. Another book of the period, Friday, is looked upon as quite ahead of its time. He wasn’t slipping, he was quite deliberate in his writing.
Suffice to say, the disdain The Cat Who Walks Through Walls has suffered over the years says more about its readers than its author. He could still write a razor line every time for those who would read.