I started reading “Pursuit of the Pankera,” which is I think the only book by Robert A. Heinlein I have not read. I am enjoying it so far. I’m finding it a pleasant surprise.

The book was initially published in 1980, as “The Number of the Beast.” The first third of “Pankera” is the same as “Number,” and then they go off in different directions. They are two different novels with the same beginning, and many of the same characters throughout. “Pankera” disappeared for 40 years, and was finally published in 2020.

So far, I’m still in the first third, which is the same as “The Number of the Beast.”

I read “Number of the Beast” when it first came out. I was 19 years old. I was and am an avid Heinlein fan–he was and is my favorite writer by far.

“Number” was Heinlein’s first novel after a hiatus of six or seven years, nearly as long as I’d been reading real books (as opposed to children’s picture books). So the availability of “Number” was a big deal for me.

Like many fans, I found “Number” very disappointing.

Now I see something I managed to miss then: The book is an action-comedy. I think many critics missed that too. The situations and much of the dialogue are ridiculous, but they’re supposed to be. Their ridiculousness is not a failure of the book.