What's a Gay Deceiver?

"You're a smart girl, Gay."
"Boss, I bet you tell that to all the girls."

- Zebadiah Carter and Gay Deceiver, The Number of the Beast

Robert A. Heinlein was the dirty old uncle I never had.

I always pictured the Grand Master of science fiction as a black sheep. He was the rake who leaves town under suspicious circumstances, only to return years later, bearing stories of the great beyond for his nieces and nephews. The one who occasionally let a cuss word slip as he held forth on some midwestern porch. Who told the girls how pretty they were, let the boys have a sip of his bourbon, then mussed their cowlicks and chuckled when they coughed.

Most importantly, he took our dreams seriously, and let us in on the wonderful secrets and harsh realities other adults thought we should be protected from.

He was wordly and wise, witty and wicked. "You can take the boy out of the Bible belt," he wrote, "but you can never quite take the Bible belt out of the boy." Be that as it may, through his novels, Heinlein took an awful lot of boys out of the Bible belt, introducing them to concepts and possibilities they never would have encountered otherwise.

I was one of those boys.

In one of his later novels, The Number of the Beast, Heinlein introduced the character of Gay Deceiver, an intelligent space car which embodied his ability to transport readers to strange and exotic places. Gay Deceiver could travel not only through time and space, but between different fictional settings as well, depositing her passengers in L. Frank Baum's Oz, Edgar Rice Burroughs' Barsoom, and—in a supremely self-referential leap—Heinlein's own "Future History".

It is my hope that this web site, named after that "continua craft", will serve as a small tribute to the influence Robert A. Heinlein had on my life, and perhaps transport a few readers to destinations they've never visited before.

- Jason

The etymology of gay deceit

Heinlein didn't coin the term "gay deceiver". It's actually an archaic bit of slang referring to "a man of loose morals, a lothario, a libertine." (The Dictionary of Phrase and Fable.) It is appears in that sense in the lyrics to the Southern anthem "Dixie's Land", referring to a seducer named Will.

However, Heinlein's Gay Deceiver was emphatically female, leading me to believe he was using a the slightly more modern connotation, one reflected in the following exchange from the 1944 play The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams:

Mother: No, wait! Wait just a moment - I have an idea!
Laura: What is it then?

[Mother produces two powder puffs which she wraps in handkerchiefs and stuffs in Laura's bosom.]

Laura: Mother, what are you doing?
Mother: They call them gay deceivers!
Laura: I won't wear them!
Mother: You will!
Laura: Why should I?
Mother: Because, to be painfully honest, your chest is flat.

In the 1950s Gay Deceiver was actually a brand name for a line of girdles, clearly associating the term with women who were more than they seemed to be. It's an appropriate title for Heinlein's character of the same name, who harbors capabilities unpossessed by the average Ford.

Books featuring Gay Deceiver

In association with Amazon.com The Number of the Beast, in which Gay Deceiver makes her first appearance, contains references to many other Heinlein stories which are also worth reading. Chief among them is Time Enough For Love, the reminiscences and exploits of Lazarus Long, whose earlier adventures are recounted in Methuselah's Children. (A novella included in the Future History collection The Past Through Tomorrow.) Characters from Stranger In A Strange Land make an appearance, along with Hazel Stone from the Hugo award-winning The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress and her incorrigible grandsons, introduced in the juvenile novel The Rolling Stones.

Gay and the rest of the cast return to save the universe in The Cat Who Walks Through Walls. It's a sequel or sorts to The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, and features a minor reference to another one of our favorites, Glory Road.

To Sail Beyond the Sunset is the last novel featuring Gay Deceiver and the last piece of fiction Heinlein published before he died. It's the 'autobiography' of Lazarus Long's mother, Maureen.

Heinlein Links