The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag, published in 1959, collects Robert Heinlein’s novella of the same title plus five short stories — all of which exist in Twilight Zone territory.
The Rod Serling show, which premiered the same year as this book, specialized in stories that were weird and grotesque, only occasionally having to do with science fiction.
It’s not inconceivable that this Heinlein collection was put together to piggyback on the popularity of the Twilight Zone although there’s no indication in the packaging of the issue I read. It’s also worth noting that, as far as I have been able to determine, Heinlein never wrote for the show in any of its permutations.
Only one of the works in this collection, “ ‘All You Zombies’ ” (originally published earlier in 1959), could be described as clearly science fiction.
It has to do with time travel. In this case, though, Heinlein seems to be layering conundrum upon conundrum upon conundrum in what seemed to me to be a send-up of the whole if-a-man-went-back-in-time-and-killed-his-father subgenre of speculative fiction.
Only in this story, the complications are much more complicated.
The other works in this collection exhibit a range of styles and tones. One is particularly sweet while another intellectually discombobulating. Another focuses on a guy who’s obviously paranoid….although maybe he’s not so crazy. Still another is whimsical inasmuch as its central character is a whirlwind named Kitten.
In terms of subject matter, the novella and the five stories tackle such ambitious concepts as the Creator of all that we know, the reincarnation of the soul, the tragedy of love, the nature of bad art, the role of the art critic and the uniqueness of the individual.
I’m going out of my way not to indicate which stories deal with which subjects since one of the pleasures of this book is the way Heinlein gets a plot going and then twists it, sometimes back upon itself, sometimes in a series of twists.
These stories are twisted in a Twilight Zone-way.
Which is to say, in a good way.
Patrick T. Reardon