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Just in time for Lazarus Long's birthday
November 26, 2012 9:54 PM   Subscribe

People tend to divide noted libertarian Robert A. Heinlein's career into three different eras, with the "juveniles," the "slick" science fiction stories, and the bigger, more opinionated novels, but over in Locus Magazine, Gary Westfahl has a theory that's sure to be controversial: Heinlein's career actually divides into a slew of serious novels, followed by a swerve into satire. {Via I09}

The Heinlein Society is yet to respond.
Here is a quote page if you want a refresher of his work, and here are the thoughts of Tor's bloggers two years ago on a variety of issues (previously).
posted by Mezentian (96 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

 
That seems... Sort of arbitrary and dismissive of some of Heinleins better works?
posted by Artw at 10:01 PM on November 26, 2012 [6 favorites]


That and the essay is written in a style I find insufferable.
posted by Justinian at 10:02 PM on November 26, 2012


Starship Troopers seemed like a satire of science fiction to me. Some of his later books didn't, however.
posted by agog at 10:13 PM on November 26, 2012 [4 favorites]


I've been reading his first-ever (from 1941, previously unpublished, because it's terrible, unless you are in to Heinlein) novel, "For Us, The Living". It's very much not 'libertarian'.

You can analyze anything to death. Heinlein is very entertaining, but the sexism can be very uncomfortable in his earlier works. His late novel, "Friday" (heroic female protagonist), I suspect was an attempt to make amends for that.

Now I'll RTFA.
posted by Goofyy at 10:23 PM on November 26, 2012


I remember when I read "The Number of the Beast". The 'alternate universes where fiction was non-fiction' trope was painfully Meta long before the term was ever coined. I lent it to a friend who worked in a shipping department with the warning that he might not like it, and he returned it a few days later encased in 14 layers of shrink wrap. Best amateur review ever. (I shelved it without ever removing the wrapping)
posted by oneswellfoop at 10:23 PM on November 26, 2012 [21 favorites]


I thought he had two eras; everything up until Lazarus Long showed up, and then the dirty old man phase.
posted by msalt at 10:25 PM on November 26, 2012 [18 favorites]


Starship Troopers seemed like a satire of science fiction to me. Some of his later books didn't, however.

That's weird since it is more or less the opposite of conventional thought. Troopers a satire of SF but, say, Job or The Number of the Beast as serious? Plus what exactly would ST be a satire of? Preceding all the later mil-SF as it does.
posted by Justinian at 10:32 PM on November 26, 2012


His late novel, "Friday" (heroic female protagonist), I suspect was an attempt to make amends for that.

Not a very good one, what with the protagonist being raped but not minding it because it's all part of the business of being a superspy, just annoying that the guy didn't brush his teeth beforehand.
posted by MartinWisse at 10:52 PM on November 26, 2012 [12 favorites]


Bounce.
posted by stevil at 10:54 PM on November 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


The crucial problem with this essay isn't that some of the later stuff should be read as completely serious--I'd agree there's at least a touch of satire in all those--it's that the early juveniles have a streak of whimsy that's a mile wide and could be read as satires of educational/parenting trends that were not encouraging toward independent, engaged, pragmatic learning experiences Heinlein clearly favored.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 10:59 PM on November 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


Starship Troopers seemed like a satire of science fiction to me. Some of his later books didn't, however.

I read it just a few months ago, and it felt to me either like either very good political satire or a very very bad book.

Man did I hate that book.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:01 PM on November 26, 2012 [4 favorites]


With regards to the original article I think Westfahl is right that Heinlein was satire in his later career; it's just that he was lousy at it. A sense of humour is not the first thing you think of with him and indeed most of the attempts of humour he does attempt fall flat.

Course' it didn't help that his health took a tumble after 1970 or so; I Will Fear No Evil was only written in first draft and had to be published that way as he was recovering from a nasty dose of peritonitis. Afterwards he never wrote much worth reading again.

Westfahl's argument, though the timing may be disagreed on, is not new of course. It was the late Gharlane of Eddore e.g. who made the case that The Number of the Beast, a strong candidate for the worst Heinlein novel, sprungy nipples and all, was in fact intended as a how-not-to book, showcasing all the traps a new novelist might fall into by example.

The Heinlein Society is yet to respond.

The Heinlein Society, being the passive agressive sycophants that they are will problably take offense and insist that, no, these really are masterpieces of science fiction and moral instruction and whinge on and on about how the critics don't respect Heinlein because of his strong moral line yadda yadda yadda.
posted by MartinWisse at 11:05 PM on November 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


I liked the article, and it seemed to make sense. Somebody on FB remarked the other day that the Cat Who Walks Through Walls seemed to be some sort of parody or satire of his early works.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:20 PM on November 26, 2012


Plus what exactly would ST be a satire of?

Actually, the writer of the article does argue that it is a satire of one of his early juvenile novels.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:25 PM on November 26, 2012


This makes me dislike Heinlein slightly less.
posted by cthuljew at 11:41 PM on November 26, 2012


The only Heinlein I ever read was "I Will Fear No Evil", which pretty much cured me of the impulse to read any more.
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:42 PM on November 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


I happened upon a paperback of Expanded Universe and it's a drudge of mediocre stories interspersed with some sad attempts (a la the more apt Asimov) at science/historical literature with a [very] few decent tales buried in the pages.

It was published in the 1980 or so but I don't know where that falls on this author's or the mainstream's view of Heinlein timeline/development but if I recall correctly he still goes off on a few pretty hardcore political tangents in his commentary/essays even at that point in his life.
posted by RolandOfEld at 11:46 PM on November 26, 2012


"Plus what exactly would ST be a satire of?"

Aside from the juvenile novels mentioned by the text (and Koku), it's also possible to read it as a satire of larger jingoistic nationalism.

(Or so I think. I haven't read it since I was about twelve, and so the movie probably unfairly weighs in my memory.)
posted by klangklangston at 12:00 AM on November 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


The comment I was replying to called it a "satire of science fiction". I agree it could be read as satire of various other things, I just thought that quote meant it was a satire of other science fiction and wondered what he meant.

Personally, I don't think ST is satire of Heinlein's earlier works at all. It seems a real stretch to me.
posted by Justinian at 12:10 AM on November 27, 2012


Aside from the juvenile novels mentioned by the text (and Koku), it's also possible to read it as a satire of larger jingoistic nationalism.

It's possible, I suppose, but it seems to me that you have to be trying pretty hard. I guess it's been a while since I read it, but it just never struck me as all that insincere. Over the top, sure, but I don't think the word for the way that it's over the top is "satire".

(Or so I think. I haven't read it since I was about twelve, and so the movie probably unfairly weighs in my memory.)

Uh huh. The movie is pretty transparently intended as a satire on the source material (among other things), but it's pretty hard to read as a faithful rendition of the book's tone or general aesthetic.

Also it totally lacks powered battle armor, which made my highschool RAH-nerd self incredibly irate. I wasn't very reflective about the politics at the time, to put it mildly, but even now I wonder why in hell you would bother making a Starship Troopers movie with an effects budget, transparently calculated to appeal to teenage boys on the "hey let's sell a lot of tickets to this movie" level, and completely fail to include the entire technological gee-whiz premise of the book that appealed so much to teenage boys in the first place.

I'm still waiting for someone to film The Forever War, which is the one you'd do if you wanted to articulate a critique of Starship Troopers and actually had some respect for either of SF or your audience.
posted by brennen at 12:24 AM on November 27, 2012 [5 favorites]


Starship Troopers is set in a nakedly fascist society and none of the characters much seem to mind that fact. That's deliberate, but we're clearly not getting Heinlein's own views. It could hardly be less libertarian (civilian industrialists are disenfranchised and looked down on with contempt). However, I don't think it's satire either.

There's a line he puts in the ethics instructor's mouth about why they have a system where only veterans get to vote. There are historical reasons (there was a coup) but fundamentally the system survives only because "it works tolerably well." It's a nasty little comment about the irrelevance of political theory to politics. Why does the United States have an Electoral College? Why do we have first-past-the-post ballots? Historical accident plus the fact that the system works tolerably well, at least well enough that nobody wants to roll the dice on revolutionary upheaval. So far.

Why do people keep calling this a juvenile? There's substance here underneath the gee-whiz.

To answer my own question, we call it a juvenile because that's what Alexei Panshin called it 1968 and because Panshin's system of classification works tolerably well.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 12:38 AM on November 27, 2012 [27 favorites]


I figured the Lazarus Long books - all of them, taken together - were just the natural result of singing "I'm My Own Grandpa" to oneself one too many times. (Written in 1947 - it's plausible!)

No way is Starship Troopers a satire. The book is painfully earnest, and it's contemporary with the Heinleins' formation of the Patrick Henry League. Heinlein was emphatically a lifelong militarist, but his philosophy was born of a rigid sense of civic duty. However, he was personally frustrated in his military career by ill-health, and he was disappointed in his fellow citizens for their failure to live up to his expectations. I think his later works are - in addition to the way he paid his bills - an ongoing effort to cope with the cynical disappointment in mankind characteristic of the ageing idealist and with his disappointment in what he made of himself in life. There's a lot of black humor in his later work, but it's not satire. (Well, except Job. But Job is such a fevered mess of in-jokes, who can tell what it was supposed to do?)

Now, about Friday. Friday isn't *exactly* a female protagonist - the whole book is about how a person would feel if she was raised believing she wasn't human and thus had none of the unalienable rights which are endowed to a human. She's female, but she isn't a woman. Given his passion for liberty, Heinlein undoubtedly read Rousseau and Hobbes. I think he chose to make Friday female because he could demonstrate she had no sense that rape was a special sort of violation, because she didn't think of herself as human, and because he could try to show what underlies full humanity, namely love. Friday realizes she is a fully-human woman because she loves and is loved, and because she becomes both a biological mother and a parenting mother. Heinlein's writing experiment fails - neither the rape scene nor the redemption is convincing. But Heinlein's experiments often fall down on his inability to convey emotional nuance. He's too much the engineer, I think.

(Uh, I've said this elsewhere: I am a lefty feminist with an unfortunate, contradictory love for Heinlein and it makes me tl;dr something fierce. My motivations just don't bear thinking about.)
posted by gingerest at 12:56 AM on November 27, 2012 [25 favorites]


the sexism can be very uncomfortable in his earlier works. His late novel, "Friday" (heroic female protagonist), I suspect was an attempt to make amends for that

Sorry about the arson. Here, have a Molotov cocktail.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 1:12 AM on November 27, 2012


The dividing line ?

The door dilated.

Après dilatation, l'interminable conférence


posted by y2karl at 1:13 AM on November 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


The only Heinlein I ever read was "I Will Fear No Evil", which pretty much cured me of the impulse to read any more.

Yeah. I'm in the exact same boat [my Dad had that and "Stranger In A Strange Land" on his bookshelves; guess I picked wrong]. It was 20+ years ago, but it's stuck in my memory in a way that only bad novels can. I've just read MartinWisse's comment that it was only a first draft due to ill-health, but I'm slightly dubious that any rewrite could fix it unless it was of the "Christ, what was I thinking" variety.

(I was actually a bit surprised from the original article that Heinlein is still a significant contemporary presence; based on my limited exposure and the occasional grousing I'd read about his political stance, I'd sort of assumed he'd faded away quicker than most.)

(Although this thread has made me resolve to read my copy of "The Stars My Destination" that's been hanging around for a while now.)
posted by Hartster at 1:23 AM on November 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


The only Heinlein I ever read was "I Will Fear No Evil", which pretty much cured me of the impulse to read any more.

That was my exact experience with "Stranger in A Strange Land" as an 18 year old, when a good friend recommended it to me - unironically, as "the best book I've ever read about anything."

God, even clueless dipshit 18 year old me could see what a load of shit it was.
posted by smoke at 1:30 AM on November 27, 2012 [4 favorites]


Ha, I didn't see you Harster. Seems to me the only winning move in your scenario is not to play.
posted by smoke at 1:31 AM on November 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


I divide Heinlein's career into one long period that I call "Not nearly as good at Frank Herbert".
posted by jeffburdges at 1:52 AM on November 27, 2012 [7 favorites]


I think the usual categorization is the juveniles, the adults and the seniles...
posted by TheophileEscargot at 2:00 AM on November 27, 2012 [6 favorites]


I learned French by reading Stranger in A Strange Land in that language which worked really well, for some reason. Maybe because illustrating ethereal concepts uses a wide range of grammatical techniques?

I read no other Heinlein except the odd anthology entry and I'd like to keep it that way.
posted by telstar at 2:11 AM on November 27, 2012


Starship Troopers is set in a nakedly fascist society and none of the characters much seem to mind that fact. That's deliberate, but we're clearly not getting Heinlein's own views

That's because you're reiterating Verhoeven's views. The society was a democracy/meritocracy and the instructor's views are usually assumed to be Heinleins.

I don't know if there would be as much conversation around ST as there still is these days, but it is kinda crappy to see people use the movie as shorthand when talking about the book because they are miles apart from each other.
posted by P.o.B. at 2:15 AM on November 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


Or, if that language seems too strong, say that from 1939 to 1957, Heinlein took his science fiction very seriously, and after that, he no longer took his science fiction seriously.

This also describes the best way to approach Heinlein as a reader.

I like The Moon is a Harsh Mistress & The Door Into Summer.
posted by chavenet at 2:18 AM on November 27, 2012 [5 favorites]


(Although this thread has made me resolve to read my copy of "The Stars My Destination" that's been hanging around for a while now.)

You should. It's not what everyone says, but time has not been kind in some of the plot twists, but it is otherwise brilliant. I prefer Bester in the short story format, but... I really dig his work.

I didn't mind The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, but his politics annoyed me (not so much for what they were, but the relentlessness of it all).
I read Stranger In A Strange Land earlier this year and... ugh. It almost cured me of reading any more. I do have some Juvies to finish first.

I have I Will Fear No Evil. I have no intention of reading it. Too many people have warned me away.
posted by Mezentian at 2:22 AM on November 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


If Starship Troopers really had been satire, Heinlein fans wouldn't have had so many problems with the Verhoeven movie.
posted by MartinWisse at 2:43 AM on November 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


brennen writes "I wonder why in hell you would bother making a Starship Troopers movie with an effects budget, transparently calculated to appeal to teenage boys on the "hey let's sell a lot of tickets to this movie" level, and completely fail to include the entire technological gee-whiz premise of the book that appealed so much to teenage boys in the first place."

No kidding. They managed to squeeze in a naked shower scene despite the book having heavily gender segregation as multiple plot points (Rico at one point in the book is ecstatic about conveying a message to the captain of the ship because it meant proceeding past bulkhead "30" the traditional division between the male only mobile infantry and the mixed sex navy) but they couldn't manage to even mention the suits that put the mobile into Mobile Infantry. The movie was a huge disappointment.
posted by Mitheral at 2:51 AM on November 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


However, when one decides to be a little bit outrageous, to convey deeply felt opinions in a slightly overstated manner, in order to amuse readers – the plan I detect in Starship Troopers and Stranger in a Strange Land – and when one then finds that there is an enthusiastic audience for these works, the natural response is to be even more outrageous, to state one’s views in an even more exaggerated fashion, to see how far one can go in this direction.

Hm. Possibly I have less faith in people, but I'm a little sceptical of the idea that getting more and more extreme when you find you're rewarded for it is an experiment in seeing how far you can go. In my experience it's more usually a case of normal human interaction: people influence each other, and if doing X is enjoyable for you and gets you a good response, you're going to do more and more of X. And in the process of so doing, you're probably more likely to lose your sense of proportion than to keep an experimental eye on it.

Beyond that ... well, I always think of Max Frisch's play The Fire Raisers, in which a group of diabolical arsonists move into a man's house, and whenever he asks them why they're shipping in so many fuses and flammables, tell him cheerfully that it's because they're fire raisers ... only to have him laugh nervously and tell them to stop joking. Sometimes an artist sets out a whole store of fuses and flammables, and admirers respond by assuming satire - what, you say you really are a fire raiser? Oh, stop joking.

I have read very little Heinlein, so I mostly am going on second-hand impressions. But I'm always a little doubtful when someone assumes an artist must have been perpetrating a complicated satire. They could be right. But on the other hand, maybe the guy really was a fire raiser.
posted by Kit W at 3:00 AM on November 27, 2012


Put me in the group that read Starship Troopers as a satire. Its politics is so extreme and so over-the-top that I actually had some real cognitive dissonance when I read that Heinlein was an earnest believer of those mores. At least, that was one interpretation; "right-of-Atilla" is the phrase I read describing his views.

I'll have to read it again someday, but it's pretty mind-blowing to me that someone would hold such views non-ironically and non-humorously, even now. And I peruse r/Libertarian pretty regularly...I wonder what those folks (who want to cut down on the military, specifically) think of this book?
posted by zardoz at 3:34 AM on November 27, 2012


That's because you're reiterating Verhoeven's views. The society was a democracy/meritocracy...

That is not the case. The society in Starship Troopers has elections, but without universal franchise. There is a ruling elite, but it's not meritocratic in anything like the usual sense. Citizenship is conferred on those who have served the state through military service, not for intelligence or any other personal attribute.

Verhoeven's film is a farce about fascism. The original book wasn't as noisy about it, but it goes as far as to include long classroom lectures advocating fascist ideology* and comparing it favorably to liberal democracy. The only question is what Heinlein's intention was in setting the story inside a fascist society.

*I don't like to throw the word fascism around without defining it. Here's Dave Neiwert's definition. The Terran Federation in Heinlein's Starship Troopers fits the definition quite well.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 3:55 AM on November 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


I read all the Heinlein that existed when I was in high school. It was very puzzling when, a few years later, counterculturists picked Stranger in a Strange Land as the Cool Book to Read and went around "grokking" stuff. It was an early (for me) illustration of cognitive dissonance.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:52 AM on November 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm still waiting for someone to film The Forever War, which is the one you'd do if you wanted to articulate a critique of Starship Troopers and actually had some respect for either of SF or your audience.

Are you talking about Verhoven's handling of ST? Verhoeven had no respect for the book, but he has filmed four SF films that are north of mediocrity (RoboCop, Total Recall, ST, Hollow Man), so it doesn't seem he lacks respect for SF in general. His audience isn't necessarily people who unreservedly like Heinlein (just like Jackson's audience isn't people who liked The Hobbit as a short, whimsical book i.e me) and I certainly didn't think he was disrespecting me by making a good film that handled its source material tongue-in-cheek. Why do you think he disrespected his audience in general?

That's because you're reiterating Verhoeven's views. The society was a democracy/meritocracy and the instructor's views are usually assumed to be Heinleins.

It's not a democracy or a meritocracy if universal suffrage has been limited to ex and current military.
posted by ersatz at 5:09 AM on November 27, 2012 [4 favorites]


The original book wasn't as noisy about it, but it goes as far as to include long classroom lectures advocating fascist ideology* and comparing it favorably to liberal democracy. The only question is what Heinlein's intention was in setting the story inside a fascist society.


I rather liked how truly monstrous the society was without actually coming out and saying it. The society had depended on a military to function politically and the price had been eternal war- first a civil war (where from the looks of it earth had suppressed colonial entities trying to break free), then with the Bugs in what was never explicitly said as being the Bugs fault- but with preemptive fighting with the 'Skinnies' to force them to go to war with the bugs too, so it was probable you could live and let live with the aliens but the humans chose not to.

I assumed that, especially in light of the later books that went into hippy land, it was kids fiction that didn't pander in the same way that a young adult novel with a realistic Ancient Rome would appear to have alien values. It also reminded me of the squeaky clean WWII narratives that leave out the rape, starvation and senseless civilian deaths other than a hat tip to 'the blitz' and 'the holocaust' and focus on the battles like they were the most epic and justified sporting event ever.

Thus I thought he was a militarist who created the logical result of a society that lived and breathed for the soldier and was too good at setting creation not to make the shitty parts evident as well as the awesome fun war glory stuff.
posted by Phalene at 5:15 AM on November 27, 2012 [4 favorites]


And I peruse r/Libertarian pretty regularly...I wonder what those folks (who want to cut down on the military, specifically) think of this book?

A lot of the libertarian critiques of the military center around its offensive/expansionist aims, or with its mandatory nature. Few libertarians (that I know, anyway) disagree with the idea of a volunteer defensive military. Thus, it's possible to hold libertarian aims and agree with some of the points in Starship Troopers: that the military should be purely voluntary, but that people who aren't willing to defend their community should not get the same rights as those who are not. It's actually just a small-militia kind of thing writ large, along with Heinlein's ideas about military tactics. Which...I have to say are not very realistic or useful.

I certainly didn't think he was disrespecting me by making a good film that handled its source material tongue-in-cheek. Why do you think he disrespected his audience in general?

Because Starship Troopers: the movie, and its awful, awful sequels, were horrifically bad acting with a lot of CGI, over-the-top humor, and romance added in for the funsies.
posted by corb at 5:31 AM on November 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Friday is probably the single most entertaining book I ever read. For that, I'll politely ignore a lot about Heinlein.

But if Bella Swan and Wesley Crusher had a daughter and actually named her Mary Sue, it still wouldn't approach the Mary Sue level of The Number of the Beast.
posted by Egg Shen at 5:31 AM on November 27, 2012 [4 favorites]


Verhoeven agreed to do Starship Troopers specifically so he could do an anti-fascist satire; this should not be surprising to anybody familiar with his work.
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:38 AM on November 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's not a democracy or a meritocracy if universal suffrage has been limited to ex and current military.

Not to defend Heinlein overly much here, but the early Roman Republic and the Athenian democracy are examples of basically that, as are many other "democracies" in the ancient world. I've always understood those to be the implicit models he's drawing on (the instructor even mentions Carthage at one point). The society of ST is a militaristic democracy without much concern with inequity and many horrible features, modeled after the two examples above but for an interstellar, industrialised society.
posted by Pseudoephedrine at 5:39 AM on November 27, 2012


I liked some of the juveniles very much, but I was very young. I'm afraid to reread them.

We say militarist knowing it is a bad word, but probably to someone with a formative experience in the US Army circa WWI, it was not. With lots of Heinlein it seems like he is either still processing it, or is lost and bitter without it.
posted by fleacircus at 5:49 AM on November 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Not to defend Heinlein overly much here, but the early Roman Republic and the Athenian democracy are examples of basically that

Not so sure about Athens, but this is not true for the Roman Republic, although they had very broad military service. Soldiers stopped being citizens and, to some degree, people, for the duration of their service -- they lived under extremely ritualized and proscribed traditions, and they regained their citizenship and humanity when the formally left the legion transferring their military crimes to the state.* There was a figure during one of the Punic Wars who was a ridiculous Rambo character -- he replaced a severed hand with a mace and escaped from Carthaginian captivity missing an arm and a leg -- whose political career after retirement was cut short by voter uneasiness that he could not leave the War behind; it was too etched on his body.

Roman political life was tied up with the military, but not in quite the way that, say, Heinlein's society shows -- rather, many political offices (especially early in the cursus honorum) had a military function (although in many cases this seemed more show than substance), and the reward for the more "civilian" positions was often a nice governorship, which could either be license to exploit the province or a way to get more flashy political experience for future political efforts (Crassus notably died trying to get a military victory to put him on a level with Caesar and Pompey).

Later on, military service was a way for urban poor to get land (if you could survive years of hard service), although they were already citizens. It was also a way for non-Romans to gain citizenship, although there were other ways as well (bankrolling a general with good connections, for example, or siding with Caesar against Antony in a sufficiently visible way). I won't get into the nature of the Roman electoral process, but it was not "one man, one vote."

Sorry for the derail, but American militarists who fetishize Rome don't always seem to have a good idea of how Rome actually operated. It was a remarkable place, more alien to our ideals and ideas than most SF cultures.....

*It's tempting to see this as a way to provide psychological relief from the horrors of war for the soldiers, although I expect that is impossible to see clearly.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:58 AM on November 27, 2012 [15 favorites]


That is not the case. The society in Starship Troopers has elections, but without universal franchise.

Which is no way is incompatible with a democracy. None. Indeed, the original democracy was in no way a universal franchise. Hell, the US republic does not have universal franchise.*

Citizenship is conferred on those who have served the state through military service, not for intelligence or any other personal attribute.

FFS, I'm not a big fan of the book, but before you criticize it, read it. It explicitly states, over and over, than a very tiny fraction of the people who go into federal service enter the military, and it is made clear that most of the scare stories told by the "recruiters" about testing space suits on Pluto are there to make you seriously think before you sign up.

The only requirement to the franchise is two years federal service. Remember the scene about a guy refusing discharge despite the fact that he was unfit for service in the mobile infantry? That's because that person had the right to complete his service and gain the franchise. He was explicitly not disenfranchised because he was unsuited to military service -- despite the fact that said service had screwed up in slotting him into the MI.

The key parts of fascist society: It is based on a nation linked on ancestry or culture. Hint: Rico isn't even white. He's Philipino. It demands mass militarization. Hint: Even *during* an interstellar war, one which Buenos Aires is destroyed, Rico and his father have to volunteer for service. It is made very clear than federal service is rare, and military service is very rare, even during the height of the war!**

But finally, and most importantly, fascist societies are dictatorships to a fault. They may have been lain with the trappings of republics early on, but those were rapidly disposed of. Fascist societies, every time we've come across them, are at best mixed economies, and are often command economies, but they're always dictatorships.

How does this jibe with the book? Not at all. The economy is a free market -- hell, the Navy and MI outsources just about everything not directly related to their direct functions, and that's implied of all parts of the service. The Navy and MI both refuse to enlist anybody except as a recruit private/spaceman -- you have to go through the ranks to reach the opportunity to become an officer, and to gain high command, you have to do so through both the MI and the Navy***

Freedom of speech is very clearly supported -- people working for the federal service (as opposed to serving) are very clearly critical of the service.

And, of course, there are elections. The franchise is limited, but that does not make it any more, or less, a democracy or republic. It does make it one without universal suffrage, but if that's the requirement, the US only gained something close to a republic in 1920 with the passage of the 19th Amendment, and arguably not until 1971 with the adoption of the 26th Amendment Does that mean we had a fascist government until 1971?

Of course not. That's silly.

The closest you can point to this society as a fascist one was the fact that it started with an event that might be described as coup, but arguably, so did the US, and there are several fascist societies that arose through political, not military processes. The big disagreement with "coup" -- it's not clear if the revolt was led by actively serving military men or those who had been in the service, but were no longer. The other disagreement is did those veterans take over an existing government, or did they build one when the government collapsed?

You may not like the political society in the novel. That's fine. I'm certainly not a fan of it. But it in *no way* is fascist. It is not directly a stratocracy, because it is made very clear that people actively in federal service do not have the franchise and cannot be elected (it is after completion of service that those are gained.)

Here's what it also isn't. It's not a meritocracy, because it doesn't matter how competent you are, you have the right to serve, and they have to come up with something that you can complete to earn the franchise. It's pretty clearly not a dictatorship, and it's nowhere near totalitarian. It's hard to call a society with free speech and free markets despotic.

It clearly fits into an aristarchy of some type -- somewhere between the greek definition of aristocracy, which rule by elite citizens, and a meritocracy, in which that "eliteness" is earned by completing federal service, with a dash of oligarchy thrown in. It doesn't match the now traditional definition of aristocracy, because birthline enfranchisement doesn't exist -- doesn't matter who your parents are. It doesn't match anything autocratic -- there is clearly no Supreme Leader, or Monarchic (no birthrights.)

But if you wanted to paint a single word label on it, it's a oligarchy -- rule is held by a fraction of the population. Note that oligarchic societies can operate democratically -- if you have a republic where only 10% of the people can vote, you have both an oligarchy and a republic. I disagree with calling it a stratocarcy, because it isn't ruled by the military, it's ruled by those who have completed and left military service, but that's clearly where the society came from, and if I had to paint a single label, it would be a poststratocratic representative republic.

Which is light years away from a fascist state. It's also a couple of parsecs away from the system we have, which aims to be a universal suffrage representative democracy, but operates differently****.



* Neither those under 18, or those convicted of a felony in many states may vote. And, of course, the current extent of the franchise is very new, for over half the history of the US, most of the people in the US were not franchised.

** I don't agree with Heinlein much, but I am all for his statement about conscription -- if a nation can't, in a time of crisis, get enough volunteers to defend it, it deserves to go down.

*** Note the fact that the Navy is primarily female, but the MI exclusively male, is one of those subtle sexist things in the novel. It also seemingly bars women from the highest echelons of command -- they can gain the high level command in the Navy, but not the mid level command in the Army. I love the idea of it -- you need to serve in both services and understand the issues to command both, but as Heinlein describes things, it explicitly bars women from that command.

*** I'd describe us as a borderline plutocracy with a strong dash of stratocracy, though the military here is military contracting businesses.
posted by eriko at 6:26 AM on November 27, 2012 [29 favorites]


Oh, yeah --

As to Verhoven's society? With all the flags, the loud commercials encouraging you to join, and the GO TEAM, it really doesn't look like a fascist society.

It really looks like the US in 2010.
posted by eriko at 6:26 AM on November 27, 2012 [4 favorites]


Why do you think he disrespected his audience in general?

In part, I suppose it was simply that, as a Heinlein fan, I wanted to consider myself part of the audience for a film made from one of his novels. I obviously wasn't an audience Verhoeven had any interest in.

That's what it is. I have more sympathy for the axe grinding now than I did then. I mean, you know, fascists are bad, and Robert A. Heinlein's understanding of the military sure as shit ain't mine, and I sure wouldn't want to live in even the best possible version of the polity the book depicts.

The thing is, leaving all that out of the equation, it's kind of a relentlessly stupid movie that spends as much time pandering to exactly the impulses it's theoretically satirizing as it does on the LOOK AT THESE FUCKING FASCISTS stuff, and, most damning of all, it is still distinctly lacking in scenes of mechanized battle armor vs. giant extraterrestrial spiders, which is sort of like making Star Wars without lightsabers or spaceships. That it's relentlessly stupid is kind of the point, and there are some good moments of camp satire in there, but on the whole it just feels like kind of a cheap shot.

Now that I think about it, Verhoeven has done some interesting things, but my feeling in watching his movies has never been that he has much respect for his audience. That doesn't directly equate to bad art, but I think it's not something I'm really looking for.
posted by brennen at 6:29 AM on November 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


We say militarist knowing it is a bad word, but probably to someone with a formative experience in the US Army circa WWI, it was not.

A little research might surprise you.
The Bonus March.
World War I History Commission Questionnaires
posted by Kirth Gerson at 6:30 AM on November 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


>It's not a democracy or a meritocracy if universal suffrage has been limited to ex and current military.

Sorry if this is off topic.

IIRC in the ST book, you could still do service in non-military ways. Again IIRC the recruiter suggests the main character might end up being a guinea pig for EVA equipment tests on Titan.

I also wonder if the movie ST borrows a small bit from the short story "Problems of Creativeness". In that story, full rights are conferred on people who must prove their worthwhileness - either through military service, or through some other notable achievement.

As for the movie ST, people need to realize this is supposed to a propaganda film, aimed at recruiting youngsters to serve in the Terran Volkssturm. (remember at the beginning, the kid in battle uniform, and later Rico inspects the new recruits who are all kids). You need to think outside the film, so to speak, to grasp what's going on - the humans precipitated a war against the bugs for facist reasons (expansion, war is perceived as beneficial). But now they're losing very badly. Like Germany in WWII with their invasion of the USSR.

So yes the film is 'flawed' - but only if you treat it like a regular movie. It doesn't work on that level, nor is it supposed to.
posted by thermonuclear.jive.turkey at 6:31 AM on November 27, 2012


Navy is primarily female, but the MI exclusively male, is one of those subtle sexist things in the novel.

Hmm. I always saw the treatment as very much a separate but equal based upon men and women's respective aptitudes*. Men had a killer instinct and the ruggedness it took to survive outside of a powersuit if/when that situation came up. Women had faster reaction times and made better pilots because of superior mathematical abilities, also a better view of the bigger picture of a space battle while still retaining that human element that men might lose sight of.**

That was my viewpoint on the men/women thing, not necessarily sexist until I read...

It also seemingly bars women from the highest echelons of command -- they can gain the high level command in the Navy, but not the mid level command in the Army.

I guess I just missed this, I don't think it was explicitly stated anywhere that women couldn't/were banned from attempting the requirement of rising though the MI ranks but I could be wrong and maybe it was just strongly implied. But, yea, now that you mention it the book certainly didn't have female recruits going through boot camp alongside their male counterparts like in the movie. So yea, if that's the case then it is a more sexist view than I recall it being.

IIRC in the ST book, you could still do service in non-military ways. Again IIRC the recruiter suggests the main character might end up being a guinea pig for EVA equipment tests on Titan.

You recall correctly, and I always liked how the whole peace/americorps model led to citizenship and franchise just as easily as military service.

* Aptitudes as presented as a given by the book, take that as you may I suppose.

** I may be conflating the movie and book a bit, but I don't necessarily think so.
posted by RolandOfEld at 6:38 AM on November 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


FFS, I'm not a big fan of the book, but before you criticize it, read it. It explicitly states, over and over, than a very tiny fraction of the people who go into federal service enter the military

IIRC, that's actually something that Heinlein made up later. It's not inconsistent with the book but isn't stated in the book. The book implies but does not state that all federal service is military or equivalent, and that the quinea pigs on Titan are part of a military command. They're just not combat troops.

On google, here's the relevant bit from a txt of it, from the mouth of the anti-recruiter:

     "Because the government  doesn't care one  bucket of swill  whether you
join  or  not! Because it  has become stylish, with some people  -- too many
people -- to serve a term and earn a franchise and  be able to wear a ribbon
in  your  lapel which says that you're a  vet'ran  . . . whether you've ever
seen combat or not. But if you want to serve and I can't talk you out of it,
then we have  to take you, because that's your constitutional right. It says
that everybody, male or female, shall have his born right to pay his service
and assume  full citizenship but  the  facts are that we  are  getting  hard
pushed  to  find  things  for  all the volunteers  to  do that  aren't  just
glorified K. P. You  can't all be real military men; we don't need that many
and most of  the volunteers  aren't number-one soldier material  anyhow. Got
any idea what it takes to make a soldier?"

The alternatives laid out are real military (combat) and fake military (noncombat), not military and civilian service. The alternative to combat service being "glorified KP" also implies that it's noncombat military, not effectively civilian service.

It might be what Heinlein meant, but it's not what he put in the book.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:55 AM on November 27, 2012 [6 favorites]


I have a soft spot for Heinlein, who was my intro to science fiction when I was 12 or 13 (through Stranger). But he can be hard to read now, given his awful politics and his cardboard women. I still absolutely love The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress (where the politics don't bother me) and Podkayne of Mars (with imho his only convincing female protagonist).
posted by joannemerriam at 7:12 AM on November 27, 2012


MI is 100% male in the book, not just in Rico's unit(s). We only know how people become eligible for the rank of Sky Marshall via Rico so it's possible that he got it wrong and there are combat positions that qualify one for that rank that aren't MI but I doubt it. That women wouldn't be able to obtain that rank despite being the best pilots is just the sort of sexism that is typical of his works.
posted by Mitheral at 7:20 AM on November 27, 2012


Wait, what's going on now? My birthday was back in September! Although my ten year MeFi anniversary was more recent, so I'll take it. Carry on.
posted by lazaruslong at 7:27 AM on November 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


It might be what Heinlein meant, but it's not what he put in the book.

Yeah, word. After I read it, I was pretty dismayed by some of the non-textually based defenses of the book.

Anyway, whether or not the book is "fascist", it suggests that the right way to citizenry and manhood is through the systematic destruction of our enemies (otherwise they might kill us first); that crime is the fault of parents for not sufficiently striking their children; that women who disagree with the politics of the novel are "shrill" (that very word is used). It's a book with very ugly politics. And the SF elements are barely present. They're certainly not well-integrated into the plot.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:45 AM on November 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


MI is 100% male in the book, not just in Rico's unit(s). We only know how people become eligible for the rank of Sky Marshall via Rico so it's possible that he got it wrong and there are combat positions that qualify one for that rank that aren't MI but I doubt it. That women wouldn't be able to obtain that rank despite being the best pilots is just the sort of sexism that is typical of his works.

It may actually have been reflective of the real-world Army, which, in wartime, has tended to require combat service for its highest ranks.
posted by corb at 7:51 AM on November 27, 2012


[ Skipping a bunch of comments. Full disclaimer: I write SF for a living, have read about 90% of Heinlein's output, and have even written a Heinlein homage novel, "Saturn's Children", targeting "Friday", so I have strong opinions on the subject. ]

I disagree with Westfahl, although I have to say it depends on what you mean by the word satire. A quick slog through the first volume of Patterson's epic Heinlein biography suggests that H was very interested in metafiction and cognitive games at least as far back as the early 1930s; it certainly became a dominant theme in some of his novels no later than "Glory Road" and possibly as early as his early-1940s shorts such as "He Built a Crooked House" and "The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag". And H was nothing if not experimental, over the course of his career -- there's Gharlane of Eddore's theory (ref'd above) about "The Number of the Beast", there's "Glory Road" (a deconstruction of the fairy-tale convention "and they all lived happily ever after"), "Job: A Comedy of Justice", and even the radio show in "Space Family Stone".

But it seems to me that Heinlein's career went through at least four phases rather than two, and that metafiction and satire were merely themes within some of his work. A stronger continuing theme was his professionalism: he wrote for a living, and was laser-focused on that. Meanwhile, he worked in a narrative genre that, at least at first, was relatively crude and unsophisticated: after a decade anyone would get bored of churning out unironic two-fisted spaceman v. alien stories and start playing card tricks in the dark, and I'm pretty sure he was doing a lot of that.

Also: Heinlein liked arguments. And he was quite capable of convincingly sock-puppeting a position he didn't agree with in order to explore its implications/make a point. "Starship Troopers" (which, coincidentally, more or less single-handedly invented modern Military SF in one volume) was such a novel: it was an argument about the nature of society, and an exploration of the argument that "war is the strength of the nation" in the context of an interstellar polity with neighbours. (Oh, and he picked WW2 as the basis for the war, with the Bugs and the Skinnies as fairly crude mappings for Germany and Italy -- I forget the third alien species which represented Japan, but it's in there IIRC).

Some of his arguments fell flat or failed the test of time. "Farnham's Freehold" was arguably an attempt at exploring white racisim/segregation. But he wrote it around 1960, and didn't have the mental toolkit to discuss race relations constructively (we're talking pre-Rosa Parks, pre-Martin Luther King, never mind pre-Malcolm X) other than in a crude "we oppress you without thinking -- oops, tables turned, my bad!" way. "Friday", seen in this light, looks like an exploration of child abuse. The Artificial Persons, such as Friday, are so warped and broken by their upbringing that when Friday is raped in the first chapter she's most annoyed by the rapist's bad breath; she has zero self-esteem, and the book is in large part an account of her learning to be (or at least to emulate) a human being. Again: "Friday" was written before the mid-80s/late-90s consciousness-raising about child abuse, and, furthermore, by an Old White Guy who probably had no direct experience of the thing itself. So: full marks for trying, a rather lower score for overall achievement.

But anyway: Westfahl isn't so much full of shit as making a point that reverse-telescopes a 50-year writing career into about a thousand words of grandstanding. Heinlein is a lot more complicated (and flawed, and fascinating) than Westfahl makes out. And I, for one, am awaiting the manuscript of the second volume of Patterson's biography with interest.
posted by cstross at 8:23 AM on November 27, 2012 [32 favorites]


Robert Heinlein was my Rand - really enjoyed his writing and philosophy as a teenager but am mildly embarassed by that fact now. Heck, I wrote a paper during my freshman year in college about Number of the Beast - arguably the only academic paper produced on that particular work. In retrospect, I think the book's nude drawing(s) had more of an impact on how I felt about the book than I realized at the time.
posted by Joey Michaels at 8:32 AM on November 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


That was my exact experience with "Stranger in A Strange Land" as an 18 year old, when a good friend recommended it to me - unironically, as "the best book I've ever read about anything."

Yeah, I was a huge Heinlein fan as a kid, particularly Starship Troopers (hey, even had the Avalon Hill board game!). Then I read Stranger in a Strange Land in my 20s. Well, I read I think 2/3rds of it, until the protagonist began arguing for the position that rape was the fault of women.

86'd the book, my Heinlein fandom, and haven't read a book of his since.

Occasionally will still "grok" things, however.
posted by Celsius1414 at 8:40 AM on November 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


As to Verhoven's society? With all the flags, the loud commercials encouraging you to join, and the GO TEAM, it really doesn't look like a fascist society.

It really looks like the US in 2010.


It was uncannily like the post-9/11 Bush years, when the country was at most hysterical (and pretty ready to embrace fascist ideals if you flag-wrapped them).
posted by Artw at 8:41 AM on November 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Susceptibility to totalitarianism is a primate thing. It applies to all human societies at all points in history.

It's a feature, not a bug.
posted by Egg Shen at 8:44 AM on November 27, 2012


"Farnham's Freehold" was arguably an attempt at exploring white racisim/segregation. But he wrote it around 1960, and didn't have the mental toolkit to discuss race relations constructively (we're talking pre-Rosa Parks, pre-Martin Luther King, never mind pre-Malcolm X)

Just to say, Rosa Parks was 1955, Brown v. Board of Ed was 1954, and Little Rock Central High School was forcibly desegregated by the 101st Airborne in 1957. And all these were built on a foundation of earlier successes that you might start with Truman's desegregation of the military in 1947.

It might well be that Heinlein didn't have it, but constructive mental toolkits about race certainly existed before 1960.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:48 AM on November 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


Heinlein is one of those authors where I like his juveniles more than his adult books; the writing is tighter and he's not trying to prove how clever he is. I'd definitely recommend The Rolling Stones, Have Spacesuit Will Travel, and The Star Beast over Heinlein's adult stuff.
posted by happyroach at 8:49 AM on November 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


"That was my exact experience with "Stranger in A Strange Land" as an 18 year old, when a good friend recommended it to me - unironically, as "the best book I've ever read about anything.""

I tried reading it in my mid-20s, and was kinda amazed at how much of a following/cult it had amassed despite being pretty laughably written in a lot of places.

I still really like Double Star, though, which is one of the Heinlein books nobody seems to remember but is really good and even deals with prejudice in a pretty intelligent way.
posted by klangklangston at 8:52 AM on November 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Thus, it's possible to hold libertarian aims and agree with some of the points in Starship Troopers: that the military should be purely voluntary, but that people who aren't willing to defend their community should not get the same rights as those who are not.

Caring about the community under pain of not having rights is a funny position because libertarians don't seem to care a lot about community and supposedly care a lot about liberty and rights.

I'd say going over the top is an interesting way to cope with Francois Truffaut's remark that there is no such thing as an anti-war film.

Not to defend Heinlein overly much here, but the early Roman Republic and the Athenian democracy are examples of basically that, as are many other "democracies" in the ancient world.

Athenian democracy is celebrated because it afforded more rights and power to a greater segment of the population than before while reducing the influence of nobility and wealth. It is not the platonic ideal of democracy and it would be a bad form of government nowadays, but it was better than what had come before. ST would represent restricting currently existing rights and that's a no no. Besides, Athens prided itself in not focusing exclusively on warfare in contrast to Sparta and its most celebrated era was between wars. If ST is the Athenian democracy, it's Athens expending its resources in inconsequential endeavours during the Sicilian expedition before sliding into irrelevance.

In part, I suppose it was simply that, as a Heinlein fan, I wanted to consider myself part of the audience for a film made from one of his novels. I obviously wasn't an audience Verhoeven had any interest in.

Yeah, I can sympathise with that.
posted by ersatz at 8:55 AM on November 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Double Star, though, which is one of the Heinlein books nobody seems to remember

Possibly because it doesn't support anyone's pre-conceived theory or narrative about RAH.

Good enough for a Hugo, though.
 
posted by Herodios at 9:00 AM on November 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


And I, for one, am awaiting the manuscript of the second volume of Patterson's biography with interest.

The first one was fascinating. It's obviously written from a starting position closer to hero worship than is really quite comfortable, but it doesn't seem to flinch from uncomfortable things so much as take a sympathetic position by default, which seems preferable to the barely-restrained loathing that informs a lot of the literary biographies I've read.

Anybody who's interested in the history of SF and the origins of organized American Libertarianism could do a lot worse than to pair a reading with Jennifer Burns' Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right, which manages quite a bit of sympathy for a much less sympathetic figure.
posted by brennen at 9:14 AM on November 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Magic Inc. is the only Heinlein that has anything like what I think of as satire. That's another one that will probably thwart what you might think of as the stereotypical Heinlein. Another genre pioneer too.
posted by wobh at 9:15 AM on November 27, 2012


Hmm. Appeared simultaneously with Hubbards Fear, which I always associate it with. I guess contemporary witchcraft was in the air...
posted by Artw at 9:22 AM on November 27, 2012


I know that Heinlein is sexist / racist / gross as all hell in a lot of his work.....but I do have to say, Stranger in a Strange Land hit me at just the right time to completely remove the last vestiges of my religious upbringing, and for that I am eternally grateful. Also, the listing of the stuff to pack for a frontier trip in Time Enough for Love is rad.
posted by lazaruslong at 9:28 AM on November 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also the very lovely mediareport once gifted me this version of the Notebooks of Lazarus Long with really cool calligraphy looking lettering and it is also rad.
posted by lazaruslong at 9:31 AM on November 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Heinlein was one of my favorite writers when I was a kid and young adult. I read absolutely everything, still have a bunch of tattered paperbacks I haven't looked at in years, and wrote him a fan letter when I was in college (got a lovely personal response from his wife, Virginia).

Something about my super-conservative-and-religious uni-cultural upbringing crossed with the rebellious-and-ultra-liberal streak I was born with had room for RAH in it. But the further I got from target shooting in the backyard and my first-place win in extemporaneous speaking for a heartfelt anti-abortion plea, the further I got from Heinlein, too. Not that he represented those things, but I had less room for things he did represent.

Also, uuurrrggghhh, women only really being fulfilled by having lots and lots of babies. UUURRRGGGHHH.
posted by Occula at 9:45 AM on November 27, 2012


Oh, those Notebooks are wonderful!

Now, I read tons of Heinlein as a smart kid, but even then some of them squicked me out. In the past few years I have re-read a bunch of the "juvenile" books and still enjoyed most of them.

I agree with cstross that Heinlein was smart enough to work through ideas in a story. In one of them, "If This Goes On," a theocratic American government is (spolier!) overthrown by a cabal made up mostly of disillusioned soldiers. It's interesting, even if the "romance" angles are a little....Lucas-ly wooden. As the protagonist learns more about his religion and his government, and his disillusionment grows, you can watch a consciousness change.

Also interesting is the way his "Future History" thread ties together so many of the stories over time.
posted by wenestvedt at 10:21 AM on November 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


On the subject of "military service" versus "federal service" in Starship Troopers, I had an enlightening dialogue on this subject with grobstein last year.

In the course of researching evidence for my statement that, "95% of citizens were veterans of civil service, not the military," I found an essay by James Gifford entitled "The Natures of 'Federal Service' in Robert A. Heinlein's Startship Troopers". Gifford's essay resolves the disparity between the memory Heinlein fans have that military service was not required for citizenship in that novel with the commonly held idea that only military veterans could be citizens.

To summarize my findings, grobstein and I were both right: The text of Starship Troopers does not support the argument that most citizens gained the franchise through non-military service. However, Heinlein himself thought that it did because he wrote as much in Expanded Universe. Gifford concludes, "By the text of the novel, Federal Service is entirely military in nature. But if any reader chooses to take Heinlein’s separate comment as evidence of his intent to make Federal Service ninety-five percent “civil service,” they will get no argument from me."
posted by ob1quixote at 10:23 AM on November 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


I wish to argue that this article is satire. It suggests that the juvenile novels are serious expositions of our future expansion to the stars. It uses supporting evidence such as This Book Has A Long, Silly Title and, even better, It's Obvious. Clearly this idea that the joke is on us is actually just a joke on us. I mean, it's really quite obvious. Plus the article has a silly title.
posted by mountmccabe at 11:10 AM on November 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


I am all for his statement about conscription -- if a nation can't, in a time of crisis, get enough volunteers to defend it, it deserves to go down.
And this is the context to Starship Troopers that critics never seem to get - the whole exploration of "what makes people willingly serve their country" is an attempt to open the door to *less* fascism - specifically, the end of military conscription. Heinlein certainly held disdain for the left-wing attitude of "we hardly need a military". Note that the Korean War had recently ended in cease-fire when he wrote, "level of US military power" was inversely correlated with "size of North Korea", and a little foresight could see the positive correlation between that size and "number of people who would be tyrannized and dying for the indefinite future". But IIRC (I may be confusing him with Pournelle here) he saw the stereotypical economists' answer of "we can just get everything done with mercenaries" (or "market clearing salaries" in nicer words) as unacceptably dangerous. Money makes good force multipliers (compare Verhoeven's cannon fodder with Heinlein's walking tanks) but not good soldiers. And yet he definitely reserved his greatest animosity for the right-wing attitude of "when we do need a military, we can always enslave some people and jail the ones who don't cooperate".

So what's left? What makes people willing to enlist, willing to keep fighting, when there's an actual danger to face, but when there's no gun at their back and no possible salary high enough to be worth not saying "I quit" when things get their worst? It shouldn't be surprising that the answers boil down to some deontological ideas about patriotism, national service, duties of citizenship, etc. Psychologically and historically, what else works?
posted by roystgnr at 11:15 AM on November 27, 2012 [5 favorites]


As to Verhoven's society? With all the flags, the loud commercials encouraging you to join, and the GO TEAM, it really doesn't look like a fascist society.

It really looks like the US in 2010.


GO TEAM COGNITIVE DISSONANCE!!!
posted by ennui.bz at 11:55 AM on November 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


After I read Stranger in a Strange Land, I always kind of wondered if it was Heinlein's response to the bar bet he made with Hubbard.
posted by P.o.B. at 12:01 PM on November 27, 2012 [6 favorites]


“civil service”

The requirement in ST is that enfranchisement is conditional on risking your life for the state. One of the alternatives listed in in the book to military service was asteroid mining in conditions harsh enough that casualties would be expected. In short, the condition for enfranchisement is putting one's life at stake in obedience to the state.

the Athenian democracy...

I think Aristotle was right that military technology has implications for systems of government. It's hard to disenfranchise the people on whom the military strength of the state depends, and hard for powerless people to keep their political rights. There's a correlation; causation can run either way.

It's not accidental that Sparta was an oligarchy because the polity was defended by elite professional soldiers, nor is it an accident that democratic Athens relied on volunteer hoplites and citizen rowers. Likewise it's not an accident that democracies started springing up all over the Western world once the musket became a war-winning weapon (little training required, most useful in large formations) or that modern dictatorships became more common at the same time that governments started rolling tanks into the town square.

It would be difficult or impossible to set up a one-world government with past or current military technology. Occupying a foreign country is logistically difficult and resistance fighters can make it costly. Local armies (conscript or volunteer) have a big home-field advantage. Therefore some degree of local consent is required for government, and there are limits to the degree that consent can be coerced.

Heinlein's Terran government seems to have exclusive access to mobile infantry technology. They can overcome any resistance, with options ranging from nuclear strikes to "killing every left-handed redhead." They can land troops anywhere on earth within an hour, and the only way to reliably kill MI is to carpet bomb the surrounding area. All the Terran government needs to maintain absolute worldwide control is a manufacturing base and a very small pool of fanatical volunteers. Hence a system designed to keep the soldiers loyal and obedient, one that has no need to give anyone else a voice. That sounds more like a metastasized Sparta than anything Athenian.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 12:02 PM on November 27, 2012 [6 favorites]


I totally loved Heinlein's later novels as a teenager but don't remember enough details to defend them here. I wonder whether I'd still love them on re-reading.

(Stranger in a Strange Land did make my buddy in the proto-megachurch realize how strange it was, leaving the service through the gift shop every week.)
posted by fantabulous timewaster at 2:39 PM on November 27, 2012


The alternatives laid out are real military (combat) and fake military (noncombat), not military and civilian service.

I see the consensus is that Heinlein meant for service to be 95% civilian and 5% military but that it somehow failed to become apparent in the novel. But I swear I read something about them finding something for you to do even if you were completely disabled and blind and etc etc. My memory is of some example regarding counting hairs or legs on caterpillars.

Did my brain make that up? It seems a strange thing to make up.
posted by Justinian at 3:36 PM on November 27, 2012


Justinian, I believe this is the phrase you're remembering:

if you came in here in a wheelchair and blind in both eyes and were silly enough to insist on enrolling, they would find you something silly to match. Counting the fuzz on a caterpillar by touch, maybe
posted by RolandOfEld at 4:41 PM on November 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


I totally loved Heinlein's later novels as a teenager but don't remember enough details to defend them here. I wonder whether I'd still love them on re-reading.

FWIW I totally loved Heinlein's later novels as a teenager too and now I have no idea what I ever saw in them. So I'd vote for not re-reading.
posted by asterix at 5:08 PM on November 27, 2012


justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow: The requirement in ST is that enfranchisement is conditional on risking your life for the state. One of the alternatives listed in in the book to military service was asteroid mining in conditions harsh enough that casualties would be expected. In short, the condition for enfranchisement is putting one's life at stake in obedience to the state.
I just want to reiterate that the text of Starship Troopers supports this theory, but Heinlein himself contradicted it in Expanded Universe:
"Veteran" does not mean in English dictionaries or in this novel solely a person who has served in military forces. I concede that in commonest usage today it means a war veteran…but no one hesitates to speak of a veteran fireman or a veteran school teacher. In STARSHIP TROOPERS it is stated flatly and more than once that nineteen out of twenty veterans are not military veterans. Instead, 95% of voters are what we call today "former members of federal civil service." [ellipses in the original]
In Gifford's opinion, Heinlein’s statement is incorrect. The book does not 'flatly state' that any significant fraction of Federal Service positions are civil service-like even once, much less 'more than once.' Why Heinlein was so plainly wrong about his own book is something of a mystery.
posted by ob1quixote at 5:22 PM on November 27, 2012


It was very puzzling when, a few years later, counterculturists picked Stranger in a Strange Land as the Cool Book to Read and went around "grokking" stuff.

these would be the same people who picked hermann hesse's steppenwolf as some kind of youth culture novel

still, i get a kick out of stranger in a strange land - especially the eerily prophetic description of mass media and the not so subtle digs at organized religion and, of all things, aleister crowley's thelema

"age of the child", indeed ...
posted by pyramid termite at 5:24 PM on November 27, 2012


If you haven't read All You Zombies, you haven't read Heinlein.
posted by Lutoslawski at 5:37 PM on November 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Your mother reads All You Zombies!
posted by Artw at 5:44 PM on November 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


I just want to reiterate that the text of Starship Troopers supports this theory

Well, risking one's life can't have been mandatory as the bit I remembered and RolandofEld quoted attests. Unless counting the fuzz on a caterpillar by touch can be deadly.
posted by Justinian at 6:01 PM on November 27, 2012


these would be the same people who picked hermann hesse's steppenwolf as some kind of youth culture novel

Yes. that's them.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 6:40 PM on November 27, 2012


Unless counting the fuzz on a caterpillar by touch can be deadly.

You just have to do it in a really shoddy habitat.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:54 PM on November 27, 2012


Unless counting the fuzz on a caterpillar by touch can be deadly.

I don't think I could do it for a period of years, day in and day out, without some risk to my own sanity and, therefor, life.

That aside, I think the point, and I'm sure that the author says as much during one of the classroom speech flashbacks, isn't that the term of service be risky to the point of loss of life or limb (though it may help to a certain degree) but instead that the person in question comes away at the end of his/her term with a sense that they've earned something that has value and is worth protecting/working for. Which, and I think this is also stated in the book somewhere, is one of the key driving forces that keeps their social and political structure afloat. Along with the means and will to use force and punishment as well IIRC.
posted by RolandOfEld at 7:37 PM on November 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


Ha! I have indeed read (and just reread) All You Zombies, which is where I must have gotten the I'm My Own Grandpa theory from.
I guess contemporary witchcraft was in the air...

If you go digging through Patterson's bio (which is a fun read but occasionally not quite willing to look directly at the feet of clay), you'll find that RAH and some of his dearest friends (including Hubbard) were very big into the occult.
posted by gingerest at 11:14 PM on November 27, 2012


gingerest makes an interesting point. (The Patterson bio also discusses the RAH/L. Ron Hubbard connection at length, including L. Ron's period as Heinlein's lodger, and his affair with Heinlein's then wife.) Not to mention the OTO connection via Jack Parsons.
posted by cstross at 1:43 AM on November 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


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