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May 28, 2010 2:02 PM   Subscribe

Robert Heinlein really, really didn't like early Science Fiction fandom.
posted by Artw (129 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
I really really didn't like Robert Heinlein.
posted by Danf at 2:06 PM on May 28, 2010 [4 favorites]


Thus Heinlein:
Fandom has had a chance to prove itself and it has failed. I find the mags crowded with escapism and other nonsense. . . . I find many other evidences of group paranoia and of psychotic infantilism---and unwillingness to face up to adult problems and to cope with them. . . . I am not generalizing; there are a few adults among them. . . . I do not indict any who are carrying their load. . . . A bunch of neurotic, selfish, childish, insensitive and unimaginative, vicious bunch of jerks! It is time you quit associating with them and tackled the problems of the real world.
Substitute "Blogging" for "Fandom", "blogs" for "mags", and "bloggers" for "fans" throughout RH's letter, and you have pretty much the standard-issue pundit critique of the blogosphere circa 2010.
posted by Creosote at 2:16 PM on May 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Well the whole "fans are slans" thing does sound kind of obnoxious.
posted by GuyZero at 2:16 PM on May 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Fandom has had a chance to prove itself and it has failed. I find the mags crowded with escapism and other nonsense. . . . I find many other evidences of group paranoia and of psychotic infantilism---and unwillingness to face up to adult problems and to cope with them. . . . I am not generalizing; there are a few adults among them. . . . I do not indict any who are carrying their load. . . . A bunch of neurotic, selfish, childish, insensitive and unimaginative, vicious bunch of jerks! It is time you quit associating with them and tackled the problems of the real world.

Many people would say quite a few of those things about the whole of science fiction.
posted by atrazine at 2:18 PM on May 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Substitute "Blogging" for "Fandom", "blogs" for "mags", and "bloggers" for "fans" throughout RH's letter, and you have pretty much the standard-issue pundit critique of the blogosphere circa 2010.

Shit, it's still a fairly reasonable critique of several subsections of fandom. Heinlein would've had an aneurysm if confronted with, say, 4chan or Something Awful.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 2:19 PM on May 28, 2010


Heinlein was at least consistent. Reading his non-fiction essays suggests a guy who was quite serious in his assertion that citizenship be tied to military duty, of any sort. (Also, for factoring simple polynomials, in at least one case.) If you're not joined up, you're not a citizen. When Starship Troopers was made into a film as a sly, just brimming over the top commentary on fascism, I don't think Heinlein, had he seen it, would have batted an eyelash.

However, I do not much care for him as a writer or as a self-promoting, hectoring proponent of the "war effort." Would you like to know more? No, thank you.
posted by adipocere at 2:23 PM on May 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


I read this in Hunter S. Thompson's voice.
posted by adamdschneider at 2:23 PM on May 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


Hmm. I have a new respect for the man after reading this:
The second job is, now and after the war, to see to it that it shall not happen again. There are many ways to do that and each must select his own---political activity of every sort, writing intended to stir people up, the willingness to combat race hatred, discrimination, limitations of civil liberty, generalized hates of every sort, whenever and wherever they show up.
Words to live by.
posted by No Robots at 2:23 PM on May 28, 2010 [11 favorites]


He wasn't right all the time, but he sure wasn't wishy-washy.
posted by infinitywaltz at 2:25 PM on May 28, 2010


Having read all of Heinlein's fiction, I find it harder to induce Heinlein's own opinions from it than many people suppose it to be.

But one of the things I don't think it leaves doubt about is that he had no use for men who wouldn't join the army in time of war.

The first of a two volume Heinlein biography is coming in August.

Some dude Heinlein was trying to overthrow via the sweat of his brow

It's fair to say Heinlein was practicing what he preached on this count. He would have been in the Navy if not for a medical discharge, and was working for the Navy during WW II (recruiting L. Sprague de Camp and Isaac Asimov to work with him, see Green Fire -- sorry, only half in the archive -- for an account of their and Grace Hopper's involvement in the Philadelphia Experiment.)
posted by Zed at 2:26 PM on May 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Earliest known citation for the existence of the Forry Fandom.
posted by Wolfdog at 2:28 PM on May 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Zed - the full text of that is in Eileen Gunn's Stable Strategies for Middle Management, a thoroughly worthwhile short story collection.
posted by Artw at 2:30 PM on May 28, 2010


Huh. Who knew? Then again, unpopular opinions do nothing to diminish brilliance. I still think Heinlein was a fantastic author, even if he wouldn't have approved of my pacifist arse. :P
posted by MaiaMadness at 2:33 PM on May 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


When Starship Troopers was made into a film as a sly, just brimming over the top commentary on fascism, I don't think Heinlein, had he seen it, would have batted an eyelash.

Unless he saw the directors previous film. I would've shit my pants if somone had told me "Yeah, you know that guy who made Showgirls? He's going to turn your novel into a film."
posted by P.o.B. at 2:35 PM on May 28, 2010


The two films have basically the same plot.
posted by Artw at 2:37 PM on May 28, 2010 [11 favorites]


You'd think he would've made a good film the second time.
posted by P.o.B. at 2:39 PM on May 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


see Green Fire -- sorry, only half in the archive

Here's part 2.
posted by Nothing... and like it at 2:39 PM on May 28, 2010


Completely in character for the man, especially considering his personal history. He expressed a great deal of contempt in Starship Troopers, Time Enough for Love and many other novels towards those who didn't fight to preserve their freedoms. It's an ongoing theme in his work, both subtly and overtly.
posted by zarq at 2:43 PM on May 28, 2010


Anyone know who Jocquel was?
posted by Artw at 2:47 PM on May 28, 2010


In case you're curious about "that traitorous little bastard Jocquel."
posted by Iridic at 2:47 PM on May 28, 2010 [4 favorites]


Nicely done. :-)
posted by Artw at 2:48 PM on May 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


Forry: It is in Fans that we must place our hope.
Heinlein: Fans? Fans are weak. The Blood of Numenor is all but spent, its pride and dignity forgotten. It is because of Fans that Hitler survives. I was there, Forry. I was there three thousand years ago. I was there the day the strength of Fans failed.
posted by Joey Michaels at 2:48 PM on May 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


I first noted something odd about Heinleinian characters upon reading The Puppet Masters, where the lead female (called Mary, if dim memory serves) tells the main character (the narrator) that she fell in love with him when he slapped her.

In an earlier discussion on an online forum (perhaps even this one) I called Heinlein a bit of a chauvinist, but considering that passage in context of some of his other works I've read (Tunnel in the Sky and Time for the Stars; I've yet to read his most popular work, Stranger in a Strange Land), I'm more inclined to think of him as an incredibly gifted author with a peculiar weakness when it comes to female characters. I may be wrong about this, but I think Heinlein tended to write fully-fledged male characters, and assign the females as counterparts. Absent actual chauvinism the pairing of the lead couple in The Puppet Masters seems best understood in this context, and the pairing of the narrator with one of his female relations at the end of Time for the Stars seems similar in its convenience. Tunnel in the Sky is a more distant memory, and far less familiar, but I remember being struck with the convenience in that book of the main character's sister taking up with his irascible old teacher.

Only related to the subject of the post by virtue of the author, but it's something I've been looking to get off my chest. Hope it's not taken as too severe of a derail.
posted by The Confessor at 2:51 PM on May 28, 2010


Robert Heinlein really, really didn't like early Science Fiction fandom.

...or women.
posted by Pope Guilty at 2:54 PM on May 28, 2010 [7 favorites]


You really don't want to read I Will Fear No Evil, or anything after 1966 really.
posted by Artw at 2:56 PM on May 28, 2010 [4 favorites]


I may be wrong about this, but I think Heinlein tended to write fully-fledged male characters, and assign the females as counterparts.

Several of his books were narrated by female characters, including Friday. While they were fully-fleshed out, independent women, they are also a product of the time -- defined in some small part by the male partners (lovers and/or husbands) they acquire through the course of the story.
posted by zarq at 3:00 PM on May 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Artw: Well yeah, he was an Annapolis grad and worked as an engineer during WWII after he was medically discharged. But I was referring to an old corollary (Case?) to Godwin’s Law - If the subject is Heinlein or homosexuality, the probability of a Hitler/Nazi comparison being made becomes equal to one.

I don't think Heinlein, had he seen it, would have batted an eyelash.

Except for the actual content of the book in which military service is an extremely small proportion of public service. And greatly discouraged.
Heinlein was a man of his time, as enlightened as he was, and bit rustic to my taste (for that matter as good as a lot of old science fiction may have been a lot of the prevailing thinking was philistine. But one can enjoy fiction without sharing an authors personal views. I like Lovecraft for example.)

But I think the contrast between people dedicating themselves to a worthy cause (in this case fighting the Nazis) and selfish escapist narcissists is fairly apt. One has to choose whether to embrace the real world and adult responsibility or idle in fantasy and minutiae. There are definitely people who put these things off for much of their lives for one sort of fandom or another.
Doesn’t have to be science fiction. There are people who collect Hummels. Guys who's every answer to something is to ride motorcycles who haven't moved out of mom's basement. People who immerse themselves in an artifice to the exclusion of all else, genuine values and responsibility and even to the detriment of themselves (Big Fan as a fictional example comes to mind. But I know people who would go pretty far to maintain their pretensions)

I don’t think war or the military should be a rite of passage to adulthood (and I don’t think Heinlein did either, or if he did he got old-man-itis and the reminisces of his youth became a panacea) but I have to agree with the basic premise that fandom is no substitute for working against discrimination and hate or being politically involved and taking responsibility for what happens in the world to the extent of one’s ability.
posted by Smedleyman at 3:01 PM on May 28, 2010 [6 favorites]


You really don't want to read I Will Fear No Evil, or anything after 1966 really.

Now there was a book with no redeeming value whatsoever.
posted by zarq at 3:03 PM on May 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


Heinlein was the kind of libertarian I'd like to have to dinner. Something very different from the Pauls and Kochs and Cato-Institute-ites we have calling themselves that today. He seemed to recognize that the organizations, propped up by the government, big religion, big corporations were as as oppressive as anything the government could do by himself. He also recognized the way the oppressed, or their mouthpieces, could and did become as bad as any repressiors they replaced, (the Stalinist Soviet world) without deciding that made fighting repression was somehow bad. His strong feelings for the importance of individualism did not include supporting the right of one strong (rich) individual robbing a poorer person of their liberty.

So it appears to me from the bits I've read about him and the whole lot I've read by him. though I'm not a Heinlein scholar. And his distaste for those not evolved in WWII isn't at all the equivalent of those who whine about bloggers today. He saw that as a fight to the death for freedom, an idea that has much in his favor.

There may be a few that are fighting for the environment or what they believe to be the preservation of independence (and they might have a point in a way (aren't there somethings you feel you should be giving your life to, if you had more courage?)), but that isn't where the whines are coming from.
posted by Some1 at 3:03 PM on May 28, 2010 [6 favorites]


He sure was a cranky old bastard.
posted by lazaruslong at 3:09 PM on May 28, 2010 [7 favorites]


No, no, Confessor, that's not a derail at all. If anything, you're too kind. I had Stranger in a Strange Land talked up to me as a paragon of open-mindedness for some time as a child until I finally got around reading it as a teen. His handling of women (and the way his male characters handled women) was, ah, rustic at best. I basically had to chalk it up to it being open-minded for the time and let it go at that. Oh, The Puppet Masters, yeah, that was awkward in spots.

Some of the writing, though, does not get a pass. People barf out vast, long paragraphs while the recipient takes it all in. And then you have that scene in so many Heinlein books where the Wise Old Dude spends about twenty pages laying it down for the new guy. Other people drop by and just sort of ... agree and leave, all while the protagonist presumably basks in the transmitted wisdom like Kent standing before an enormous illuminated vat of raw popcorn kernels.

Maybe we need a Rather Less Grating Heinlein Reading List, with decent counterexamples.
posted by adipocere at 3:10 PM on May 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


You really don't want to read I Will Fear No Evil, or anything after 1966 really.

So I was 13 and I had heard this Robert Heinlein guy was pretty great so when I found one of his books at a used bookstore I got it and read it and found myself seriously wondering if everybody who wasn't me and liked science fiction was really, really fucked up in the head.

Years later I found an old issue of Analog that had an editorial in which the editor represented his id as a troll that he kept locked in the basement. It was all very pedestrian, but the detail that stuck out to me was that the id, being a creature which was locked in a basement, used pages from unsold copies of I Will Fear No Evil in place of toilet paper.
posted by Pope Guilty at 3:15 PM on May 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


It's a good thing Heinlein is dead because something like fandom secrets would kill him. LiveJournal is all about group paranoia and psychotic infantilism.
posted by betweenthebars at 3:15 PM on May 28, 2010 [5 favorites]


I would like to have a LOLCat made that reads "DO NOT GROK."

That is all.
posted by Joey Michaels at 3:20 PM on May 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


I Will Fear No Evil holds a special place in my heart. It taught me a valuable lesson. It was the very first book that I started and failed to finish. Wait, failed isn't the proper word here. It was the first book that I started and realized I did not have an obligation to read all the way through. I remember thinking, "It'll get better." I thought this dozens of times. Then, 30 pages from the end, I decided it didn't matter if it got better. There was no way to redeem that book.

I now give a book roughly 30 pages. I've since not finished hundreds!

Life is too short for bad books. Thanks Robert Heinlein for this valuable lesson.
posted by cjorgensen at 3:21 PM on May 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


Heinlein: Fans? Fans are weak. The Blood of Numenor is all but spent, its pride and dignity forgotten...
Ellison: The fans are weak? You're weak. I've been in this business fifteen years... Hugo's for closers only. A-B-C. A- Asimov, B- Bester, C- Clarke.
Herbert: What about Ray Bradbury?
Ellison:*waves off* I’m aware of his work … You know what it takes to rule fandom? It takes seven stones to rule fandom … and one white tree.
posted by Smedleyman at 3:24 PM on May 28, 2010 [13 favorites]


I found Heinlein's female characters aren't much fun, but the creativity in "All You Zombies" was pretty good, and Starship Troopers and The Moon is a Harsh Mistress were well crafted and entertaining. I could not get into his later books and Stranger in a Strange Land was not my cup of tea at all.
posted by Phalene at 3:24 PM on May 28, 2010


Zed: "But one of the things I don't think it leaves doubt about is that he had no use for men who wouldn't join the army in time of war."

On the contrary, he seems to be against the draft:
I also think there are prices too high to pay to save the United States. Conscription is one of them. Conscription is slavery, and I don't think that any people or nation has a right to save itself at the price of slavery for anyone, no matter what name it is called. We have had the draft for twenty years now; I think this is shameful. If a country can't save itself through the volunteer service of its own free people, then I say : Let the damned thing go down the drain!
I suppose the problem Heinlein faced was a lack of imagination, to imagine that people would actually volunteer without the carrot of a vote. Or that he overestimates the value of a vote.
posted by pwnguin at 3:27 PM on May 28, 2010


lazaruslong: He sure was a cranky old bastard.

[You had such a eponysterical opportunity and that's what we got?]
posted by Some1 at 3:27 PM on May 28, 2010 [7 favorites]


Yeah, it happens every now and then on the blue, and I gave up a while ago. I really loved Heinlein's Stranger and Time Enough for Love and a few others, but I was young. Whaddya gonna do.
posted by lazaruslong at 3:33 PM on May 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


His strong feelings for the importance of individualism did not include supporting the right of one strong (rich) individual robbing a poorer person of their liberty.

Just FYI, any libertarian that values money over freedom doesn't qualify for the title, no matter how strenuously they may claim otherwise. Look at the root of the word.

Anyone know offhand what Heinlein's feelings were on Vietnam? On the whole, I find myself rather strongly in agreement with him on WW2, but if he'd said the same things about Vietnam (or Korea, or pretty much any conflict we've been in since), I'd have disagreed vehemently.

And, yes, you always have to read Heinlein in the context of his time. Some of the posts I've enjoyed here on MeFi would have had a fair chance of getting the author killed in the 1950s. Compared to most authors in the 50s and 60s, he was decades ahead. And even if he had the imagination and perspicacity to go even further, he still had to sell books, and the further out to the fringe he went, the fewer he'd move.

If you go back and read most 'outrageous' books of that era, the language sounds mostly modern, but the ideas are very strange. We've changed a lot over the last fifty years, and even for those who were there at the time, it can be hard to remember the overall public mindset. It's hard to express or understand, for example, just how much paranoia about the Soviets and fear of nuclear weapons and, therefore, nuclear power gripped the country. (I caught just the tail end of it, growing up in the 70s, and we were still having regular nuclear-attack drills.) The general consensus was that we were doomed any minute now, all the time, 24x7x365, and that's extraordinarily difficult to, ahem, grok even if you lived through it yourself. (and, for what it's worth, the doomsayers were almost right... we got very close indeed to nuclear war on a couple of occasions.)

Whether you like or dislike the man, there's no denying that he carried many passionate convictions, and while some of them may seem quaint to current readers, they were pretty mindblowing and outrageous for the era. He pissed off both liberals and conservatives.

Even today, it's pretty unusual to meet a proponent of both mandatory military service and group marriage.
posted by Malor at 3:35 PM on May 28, 2010 [8 favorites]


Although I have to say that Stranger in a Strange Land was the book that allowed me to free myself from my Christian upbringing, so despite his many faults I will always be grateful for that.
posted by lazaruslong at 3:35 PM on May 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


I really loved Heinlein's Stranger and Time Enough for Love and a few others, but I was young. Whaddya gonna do.
posted by lazaruslong


I would never have guessed. :-)
posted by Malor at 3:37 PM on May 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think "bit of a chauvinist" is a fairly dramatic understatement. In Heinlein, women could be intelligent and capable, but they were also supposed to find a husband (or husbands) and relegate authority. Even Star, the Empress of Twenty Universes, was ready to do that with Scar Gordon (Glory Road); he has the sense to leave the governing to her (which she pretty clearly knew he would in advance of the offer.) In Red Planet we briefly encounter a nagging wife and henpecked husband. She leads them to their deaths in about 3 minutes flat. In the "Tale of the Adopted Daughter" in Time Enough for Love, one of Lazarus Long's conditions for marriage was obedience; Dora cheerfully agreed.

He was a teenager prior to women's suffrage (barely). And he was often trying to give female characters more interesting things to do than his contemporaries among male sf writers, which is why we end up talking more about Heinlein's sexism than theirs.

But noting those things is as far as I'll go toward being an apologist. I imprinted on Heinlein as a teenager; if I came to him as an adult, I'd probably throw his stuff against the wall.

Maybe we need a Rather Less Grating Heinlein Reading List, with decent counterexamples.

The openly tendencious stuff started with Starship Troopers in '59. Anything prior to that is a good bet for avoiding the lecturing.

I'll recommend some of the stories in The Past Through Tomorrow -- "The Green Hills of Earth", "The Man Who Sold the Moon", "Requiem", "The Longest Watch." Among the novels, today I'll say The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, the first half of Stranger in a Strange Land (and avoid the expanded, unedited version that was published posthumously), The Door Into Summer, Have Spacesuit, Will Travel, The Star Beast.
posted by Zed at 3:40 PM on May 28, 2010 [4 favorites]


Several of his books were narrated by female characters, including Friday.

Friday in particular is pretty much Heinlein with a vagina, though. Even down to his intense dislike of, of all things, New Zealanders.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 3:41 PM on May 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Say what you like about him, he certainly had an ethos.

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress would probably be the Heinlein book I would most recommend, even if it does feature polygamous libertarians on the moon and comes just before his later, somewhat crazy period. Highly recommended.
posted by Artw at 3:41 PM on May 28, 2010


No Robots: "...the willingness to combat race hatred, discrimination, limitations of civil liberty, generalized hates of every sort, whenever and wherever they show up.

Words to live by.
"

If only he did.
posted by ShawnStruck at 3:44 PM on May 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


In Heinlein, women could be intelligent and capable, but they were also supposed to find a husband (or husbands) and relegate authority.

And if they happened to write to him about issues they were having with their husband (a friend of his), he might well later forward their letters to said husband.
posted by asterix at 3:53 PM on May 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


Anyone know offhand what Heinlein's feelings were on Vietnam? On the whole, I find myself rather strongly in agreement with him on WW2, but if he'd said the same things about Vietnam (or Korea, or pretty much any conflict we've been in since), I'd have disagreed vehemently.

Yeah. What bothers me about this letter is that Heinlein is directing it at a man whose brother has just died; a more socially adept person, I want to say, would not have written him that letter...not at that moment. But then I'm not so sure whether that's true. Because -- and maybe this is easier to grasp in hindsight, when the full magnitude of what the Axis was up to is clear and has been that clear for the entire lifetimes of probably all of us -- I would like to think, anyway, that Heinlein's passion would have been my passion, had I been around in January 1945. I'd rather think that I'd have been too busy some kind of way supporting the war against the Axis to have time to go to cons and swap pulp fiction magazines. Because that was as just as wars ever get, and the cost of failure is impossible to even imagine. I think what Heinlein is saying to Forry there is we need your help, and why are you fucking around with this bullshit when we need you so goddamn bad. I don't know that he should have said that right then, but I can't blame him for saying it at all.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 4:01 PM on May 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


Heinlein's feelings were on Vietnam?

The March '68 Fantasy and Science Fiction included ads taken out by 2 groups of sf writers, in support of and opposition to the Vietnam War, respectively. Heinlein's name was on "We the undersigned believe the United States must remain in Vietnam to fulfill its responsibilities to the people of that country."

Given his rabid anti-communism and, I suspect, a belief that criticizing the US at time of war would be giving aid and succor to the enemy, I'd be pretty surprised by anything else.

too busy some kind of way supporting the war against the Axis to have time to go to cons

Not '45, but Heinlein did squeeze in time to be guest of honor at the '41 Worldcon.
posted by Zed at 4:07 PM on May 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Bummer, nothing came up for "Pokane of Mars" slash fiction.
posted by sammyo at 4:13 PM on May 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


I imprinted on Heinlein as a teenager; if I came to him as an adult, I'd probably throw his stuff against the wall.

This. Oh God, this exactly.

I utterly imprinted on his stuff when I was in my early teens. I can't help it. I can see all the issues with his work but it slides away leaving almost no critical trace.
posted by rmd1023 at 4:13 PM on May 28, 2010 [4 favorites]


Bummer, nothing came up for "Pokane of Mars" slash fiction

It was "Podkayne" No?

I ain't googlin' that. ;)
posted by zarq at 4:36 PM on May 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


I probably read twenty of his books between the ages of 13 and 17 and don't think that I've read one since. It's hard to blame him completely for his attitudes about women though, he was born 103 years ago, times have changed.
posted by octothorpe at 4:39 PM on May 28, 2010


Malor > Even today, it's pretty unusual to meet a proponent of both mandatory military service and group marriage.

For the record, in Starship Troopers public service to obtain citizenship was mandatory, but military service was both optional and to an extent discouraged.

Heinlein was explicitly against mandatory military service and said so in his non-fiction writing as pwnguin noted. However, I believe that Zed is also correct in that he detested both the idea of conscription and men who wouldn't volunteer for military or public service in a time of war, as noted in this letter and illustrated by the scene in Time Enough For Love where Long is shunned as a coward for thinking of seeking asylum in a neutral country.

As far as his views on group marriage, Heinlein was clearly extremely influential in the formation of the so-called polyamory movement. It is unclear whether Heinlein had open relationships with his first two wives. His third wife, Ginny, is said to have told him, "That stuff in the books is just the books–it sells!"
posted by ob1quixote at 4:39 PM on May 28, 2010


I actually wrote a paper in college about The Number of the Beast. It's "car that is infinitely large on the inside leaping from well known story to well known story with illustrations of occasionally topless women" thing was just what I needed at 16 and worth a freshman year paper. In 1986.
posted by Joey Michaels at 4:59 PM on May 28, 2010


"For the record, in Starship Troopers public service to obtain citizenship was mandatory, but military service was both optional and to an extent discouraged."

I think Heinlein's point was that citizenship should be an obligation instead of a right, and that obligation should only be taken on by people who have already proven themselves capable of self-sacrifice. It's an interesting point of view, but it totally ignores the realities of human nature. Even honorable veterans can become a corrupt elite if there's nothing to check their power.
posted by Kevin Street at 5:00 PM on May 28, 2010


It's a fair cop.

But someone's got to keep the home fires lit, too, even in an existential struggle.
posted by fleacircus at 5:06 PM on May 28, 2010


The letter shows an interesting progression in Heinlein's thinking, in that he was still idealistic enough in 1945 to believe that everyone should do all they can to fight evil - but by the time of Starship Troopers he seems to have decided that most people simply can't or won't pull their own weight, so the tiny minority that do will have to perform all the work for them.
posted by Kevin Street at 5:07 PM on May 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


Christ, what an asshole.
posted by telstar at 5:26 PM on May 28, 2010


The letter shows an interesting progression in Heinlein's thinking, in that he was still idealistic enough in 1945 to believe that everyone should do all they can to fight evil - but by the time of Starship Troopers he seems to have decided that most people simply can't or won't pull their own weight, so the tiny minority that do will have to perform all the work for them.

That's just shy of Randian.
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:31 PM on May 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


When Starship Troopers was made into a film as a sly, just brimming over the top commentary on fascism, I don't think Heinlein, had he seen it, would have batted an eyelash.

Ugh. Others have addressed this to some extent so I'll leave it at saying that you're quite wrong and are presenting a complex man's views as black-and-white. And not even getting the simplified version right.

Heinlein isn't exactly my favorite author. He's of monumental importance in the history of Science Fiction. Only Tolkien (for fantasy) is of greater stature in the history of a genre. That doesn't mean his writing, in and of itself, was any great shakes. Or that he couldn't hold views that we today would find questionable at best and offensive at worst. But he's not alive today; this is a letter he wrote during World War II for god's sake! Heinlein was certainly more progressive on many, many issues than most men of his place and time.

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress would probably be the Heinlein book I would most recommend, even if it does feature polygamous libertarians on the moon and comes just before his later, somewhat crazy period. Highly recommended.

Also, anyone who thinks that it is a simplistic tale of a successful libertarian revolution has not read it closely enough. It has a reasonably happy ending only in the sense that he stopped the tale at a carefully chosen point. But one can read between the lines without much difficulty.

...

Like Kevin Street I think this letter is very interesting mostly as a vehicle for following the evolution of Heinlein's views over time and not in a yuk-yuk-yuk HEINLEIN HATED EARLY FANDOM sort of way.
posted by Justinian at 5:33 PM on May 28, 2010 [5 favorites]


He wasn't right all the time, but he sure wasn't wishy-washy.

At any one time, no. But he did have that whole cartoid artery/brain thing going on, which explains a lot about his writing arc.

.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 5:46 PM on May 28, 2010


"That's just shy of Randian."

All I know about Ayn Rand comes from Metafilter (so I could be misinterpreting her views), but imo, the conceptual territory they occupy is pretty different. For Rand the most worthy individuals are those who fulfill their individual potential by building and taking, but for Heinlein the measure of worth is self sacrifice. His citizens in Starship Troopers would look down upon Randian robber barons as selfish parasites. In fact, I think that's a good way to sum up the character arc of Rico's father: he starts out as an industrialist, learns about evil by losing his wife, then grows up by throwing away his fortune and joining the military
posted by Kevin Street at 5:51 PM on May 28, 2010 [7 favorites]


Heinlein was certainly more progressive on many, many issues than most men of his place and time.

That. I can vouch for.
posted by Twang at 6:14 PM on May 28, 2010


There's a passage in Starship Troopers about "bleedin', profiteering, black-market, double-time-for-overtime, army-dodging, unprintable civilians"; I figured it came from Heinlein's feelings about WWII, and this letter sure shines a light on it.

Given the times, I can sympathize; this was not a war we wanted to lose. Still, the boy seems a little excitable. An interesting contrast is with C.S. Lewis's essay "Learning in Wartime", written in 1939, which defends the study of culture in the face of war, and from a place closer to the danger than Heinlein was.
posted by zompist at 6:28 PM on May 28, 2010


"We are very fond of you, Forry. You are a fine and gentle soul. This is a very difficult letter to write; if I did not think you were worth it, I would not make the effort. This letter is for your eyes only; the ideas in it you are free to use but the letter is for you only.

Not so much anymore.
posted by cjorgensen at 6:32 PM on May 28, 2010


I still love Hazel Stone from The Rolling Stones. Some of his juveniles were just great; others not so much. I liked Moon is a Harsh Mistress enough that I don't want to read it again for fear that this time I'll find far too much in it too object to and won't be able to enjoy it a second time. This happened with Glory Road, which I managed to read when I was about 12 or so and just tuned out the sexism entirely. He had such a brisk and entertaining style that I ignored a great deal, and when I reread it a while back I spent a lot of time rolling my eyes at his attempts to be didactic about women and sex and so on.

Stranger in a Strange Land is one of the few books I have actually thrown across a room with annoyance.
posted by jokeefe at 6:44 PM on May 28, 2010


Also, I hate it when people use the word "grok". What's wrong with "understand"?
posted by jokeefe at 6:44 PM on May 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


Grok is a perfectly cromulent word.
posted by Justinian at 6:47 PM on May 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


I like Heinlein a lot, but 'grok' is one ugly word. No cellar door, it.
posted by rainy at 6:57 PM on May 28, 2010


Stranger in a Strange Land blew my fucking mind when I was 13.

I followed it up with Starship Troopers a few years later... not so much.

The third and last Heinlein book that I will ever read was Number of the Beast.

Heinlein was a weird guy.
posted by empath at 7:07 PM on May 28, 2010


The Confessor: "I called Heinlein a bit of a chauvinist"

Zed: "I think "bit of a chauvinist" is a fairly dramatic understatement."

Now that chauvinism is yet another synonym for male sexism, is there a good way to sum up in a single word what chauvinism used to mean?
posted by idiopath at 7:11 PM on May 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


And yes, Heinlein was definitely a sexist.
posted by idiopath at 7:12 PM on May 28, 2010


I'm reading this as "Sorry about your brother, Forry, but I'm not going to write anything in his memory because I care about him more than you do."

Yeah, the "fans are slans" thing always struck me as self-flattery of the most egregious sort, but look at the date on that letter. By the end of January 1945, the war in Europe was pretty much over except for some rear-guard action and in the Pacific, the allies were already moving through the Phillipines; on what basis can Heinlein state that Alden Ackerman would have been alive if a bunch of science fiction nerds had volunteered for something, anything? And don't people in times of war need some diversion?

I think that a lot of this can be put down to survivor guilt on the part of Heinlein, who graduated from Annapolis but got discharged for tuberculosis well before the war, and probably knew some of the officers who ended up on the bottom of the ocean. But, in the end, he used the same people who would help him become a wealthy, famous man as scapegoats.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:24 PM on May 28, 2010


Apropos to an earlier comment, I've read the first half of the upcoming two-part bio of Heinlein, which covers the war years and also some of Heinlein's early scrapes with fandom. It's a good bio, and one thing that becomes reasonably clear pretty quickly is that Heinlein was a fellow one didn't get too many second chances with in a general sense, once you crossed a certain line with him. The bio also points out a few times where members of the LA branch of fandom crossed that line and as a result RAH and his wife of the time chose to cut ties with the group at large.

On the other hand it also shows him being rather generous to fans (and to fellow writers) when he felt it was the right thing to do. What I got out of the bio, to be very brief, was that Heinlein was a complicated dude, no less so with friends than with others.

Like someone else earlier in the thread, I think this is a letter that I myself wouldn't have written to someone still flooded with grief over the death of his brother; on the other hand I see it consistent with Heinlein's sense of honor, i.e., he owed Ackerman an honest explanation of his refusal more than he felt he needed to avoid the possible fallout of a letter like it.
posted by jscalzi at 7:26 PM on May 28, 2010 [6 favorites]


I'd like to expand on ChurchHatesTucker's point. Heinlein had a stroke in '77, and from sone accounts, the medicine he had to take after that had a strong debilitating effect on his intelligence. However, he was a writer, and had to write to pay his bills, so write he did. You can see hints of what made his post-stroke writing so bad in many of his earlier novels, but for the most part he kept those bits of id under control. My own opinion is that he was on a downward track starting with Stranger in a Strange Land, and that The Moon is a Harsh Mistress was the last of his decent works. I'm always surprised to see that it came five years after SiaSL, in fact.

He was one of those people who ages rather than maturing. As he got older, instead of examining himself and getting better, he examined other people and got angry. Still, I got a hell of a lot out of his books when I was growing up.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 7:30 PM on May 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


He was one of those people who ages rather than maturing. As he got older, instead of examining himself and getting better, he examined other people and got angry.

Just like Harlan Ellison!
posted by P.o.B. at 7:35 PM on May 28, 2010 [7 favorites]


Oh great, now you're going to get sued or stabbed.
posted by Artw at 7:39 PM on May 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


I enjoyed that letter.
posted by Gamien Boffenburg at 8:07 PM on May 28, 2010


Like a lot of you, I grew up reading RAH -- I read a lot of his Future History stories as a 12-14 year old, then really sunk my teeth into Stranger in a Strange Land and The Moon is a Harsh Mistress in high school (transformative books for me as a teenager). Sometime in college, I circled back around and read Time Enough for Love, and... wait a minute -- WTF?!? He wants to travel back in time and sleep with his mother?!? Uh...that's...um...weird.

I didn't read as much Heinlein after that, though I did plow through Friday and some other stuff, eventually reading (and frankly enjoying) the redux of SiaSL.

Heinlein was a complicated dude. He had some ideas about society that don't hold up now, but he was very much a product of his times, and his writing needs to be evaluated in that context, not against modern social mores. Stranger, for example, was far too racy for him to publish initially, so he had to set it aside for a few years to let society catch up. He may have become a cranky old bastard, but that doesn't mean his vision in his prime was anything less than amazing.

Advances in computing have robbed The Moon is a Harsh Mistress of some of its pop, but it's still a very well told story that's a fun read. Same with Stranger, which has lost a lot of its ability to threaten us socially, but is still a good read. I Will Fear No Evil, however, is still shit.
posted by mosk at 8:11 PM on May 28, 2010


Also, I hate it when people use the word "grok". What's wrong with "understand"?

Clearly you don't grok the difference between grokking and understanding. Understanding is merely intellectual, grokking is deeper and more visceral.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:23 PM on May 28, 2010 [4 favorites]


The difference between understanding and grokking, I think, is the difference between reading or hearing about something and learning something by living it. Head vs gut knowledge. I think its a useful distinction.

I think maybe a good example is reading a book on music theory vs actually being a musician.
posted by empath at 8:32 PM on May 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


If I had any energy left over, I would know that I was not doing all that I could do and I would then, in truth, be disloyal to your brother's memory.

(I have, not a belief, not a conviction, but a knowledge of personal survival. You said on your post card that you wanted to discuss the matter with us someday. We will be honored to do so.)


I thought Heinlein might be referring to the whole Bridey Murphy business here, as he was an ardent and vocal believer in that particular hoax, but that didn't get started 'til the early 50s.

Wonder what "knowledge of personal survival" he was talking about.
posted by jamjam at 8:57 PM on May 28, 2010


Artw: "You really don't want to read I Will Fear No Evil, or anything after 1966 really."

Late RAH is undisciplined, badly in need of an editor, channelling some kind of Libertarian Hef, crazy, surreal, blind to his own misogyny while simultaneously fighting it tooth and nail, and far, far more bizarre than anything he turned out in his earlier days. Verhoeven is the perfect director for his stuff. I would not necessarily say that equates to "you don't want to read." If your tastes run to Crowley and Robert Anton Wilson, late RAH might have a similar bizarre stroll on offer. The distinction is essentially one of self-awareness on the part of the author.

Now, I will admit that earlier RAH is a better read considered as pop fiction or as examples of craft. Late RAH is like the anti-RAW, and my sympathies are generally more with RAW. But old and crazy doesn't necessarily mean avoid and fear.
posted by mwhybark at 9:05 PM on May 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


jamjam: "Wonder what "knowledge of personal survival" he was talking about."

I think he is referring to the long-life thing, which came out of SF fandom (sorry Bob). Remember 'Longevity' magazine? Avoid free radicals!

(That always cracks me up. OF COURSE free radicals - or slackers - are a threat to longevity. Live fast, etc.)
posted by mwhybark at 9:08 PM on May 28, 2010


I fell out of love with Heinlein when I read Friday (think it was Friday) and a tough, kick-ass, supremely capable woman finds herself in a spot of trouble with a male civilian companion - and follows HIS lead to escape from it. The concept of automatically giving precedence to a man (even when the woman is more qualified to lead) was just so shockingly offensive to me when I saw a strong woman subjugated to it. It was like, "this woman is my role model for a badass awesome woman - so you're saying that no matter how awesome I get, a man will always be better? Really?"

I'll always remember that as my first moment of realization that just 'cause it was in a book, didn't mean it was true or good or something I had to agree with.

Tried to read Stranger in a Strange Land again a few years ago and just couldn't do it. This after reading and re-reading every Heinlein book I could get my hands on all through high school.
posted by Billegible at 9:21 PM on May 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


empath, I agree. I think of it as the difference between "I understand this" and "I know this in my bones."
posted by Father Tiresias at 9:38 PM on May 28, 2010


I remember reading I Will Fear No Evil as a teenager and enjoying it. I always thought part of RAH wanted to be a woman. He always seemed to be trying out different ideas; a man becoming a woman, ritual cannibalism as a sacrament (wonder where he got that idea), group marriage. In Farnham's Freeholdhe imagines a post apocalyptic future where white people are slaves. I think many of these stories were simply thought experiments and his views were shaped by where the plot took him. The one book by him I could never bring myself to finish was The Number of the Beast and I tried.
posted by Tashtego at 9:42 PM on May 28, 2010


The Door Into Summer, Have Spacesuit, Will Travel, The Star Beast...

Yes, I would agree these were among his best but...

Has no one here read By His Bootstraps ? Or Beyond This Horizon ?

Sometimes it seems to me that Heinlein hit his peak before World War II was over. But then I read By His Bootstraps in Adventures in Time and Space, which is the treasure trove of short stories from what science fiction fans called the Golden Age.

I grew up reading Heinlein juveniles and loved them and loved most of the Future History series and just about everything up to Starship Troopers. After that, I lost interest.

My tastes had changed. By the time I got around to reading Stranger , a year or two after it came out, I had read Dune, in serialization, no less and Jack Vance's The Star King and Philip K. Dick's Solar Lottery and The Man In The High Castle. Not that I was more than three or four years older but Stranger seemed like a book a thirteen only year old would love. Back in the day, it drove me crazy that people loved that book, which to me could not hold a candle to The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch.

As for his worst, I would put Farnam's Freehold at the bottom--but then I never attempted to read I Will Fear No Evil. And, after consulting the Wikipedia page about the book, I remember why. It sounded, and still sounds, pretty awful. But it is still hard to see how it could be much more awful than Farnam's Freehold.

But sometimes I wonder how much of my dislike of Heinlein is just like my dislike of Sinatra--knowing too much about the man. As in Christ, what an asshole...
posted by y2karl at 9:48 PM on May 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Lots of people seem convinced he specifically endorsed the system depicted in Starship Troopers. This remains unclear to me. I think it was polemic, and don't think he advocated it any more than he did group marriage, or time travel incest, or the Church of All Worlds. (Actually, we know his reaction to that last cropping up in the real world -- he didn't like it.)

I just re-read the only non-fiction I know of where he addressed it, the afterword to "Who Are the Heirs of Patrick Henry?" in Expanded Universe. I don't want to type it all (and I think it would go beyond fair use) but he offers several alternatives to federal service as the criterion for enfranchisement, exploring at greatest length giving the vote only to women and letting only women serve in government. I don't think he meant that one, either. (Here's an essay [PDF] exploring what federal service meant in Starship Troopers.)

On balance, I think it seems likely that he was comfortable with the idea of there being some sort of criterion for the vote beyond being 18, but if he'd made up his mind what it should be, I don't know about it.

He certainly had no illusions that any imaginable criterion would automatically confer proof against tyranny. One of the things I got out of my reading of Heinlein is that any system will tend toward tyranny, and a free society can only be maintained by people willing to fight against that tendency (or resulting tyranny.) In The Cat Who Walks Through Walls we see the future (or a possible future) of the society formed by the libertarian revolutionaries in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. The government had sweeping and arbitrary powers and was clearly not anything the characters of Moon (or Heinlein) would like.
posted by Zed at 10:32 PM on May 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


on non-preview: y2karl: I would put Farnham's Freehold at the bottom--but then I never attempted to read I Will Fear No Evil.

Oh, I Will Fear No Evil and The Number of the Beast are worse. Trust me on this one -- don't find out for yourself.
posted by Zed at 10:45 PM on May 28, 2010


There was an interesting entry on Frederick Pohl's blog recently pointing out that Heinlein's letters were heavily edited by his last wife after his death.
Robert had talked about allowing posthumous publication of his real feelings about a lot of things that he didn’t feel comfortable to talk about while he was alive, and indicated that some of his private letters would be a source for the book. Then some posthumous book with that title did come out, and it was a great disappointment. Someone — it could have been only Ginny — had washed his face and combed his hair and turned whatever it was that Robert might have wanted to say into the equivalent of thank-you notes for a respectable English tea.

I know that Robert wrote some much more raunchy letters than any of those, because I myself got one or two. But all the raunch has been edited out. What’s left is actually rather boring and does a great disservice to the real Heinlein, whose physical person may have been embodied as a conventional hard-right conservative but whose writing was — sometimes vulgarly — that of a free-thinking iconoclast.
But I'm not exactly astonished to find that in the middle of World War Two, Robert A. Heinlein would be extremely vituperative towards men he thought were not contributing to the war effort.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 1:44 AM on May 29, 2010


On the one hand, it's a private letter, not a manifesto.

On the other, if he really felt like that, should he not have withdrawn his books for the duration?
posted by Phanx at 1:49 AM on May 29, 2010


Trust me on this one -- don't find out for yourself.

I have great faith in your judgment on this matter and will follow your instructions exactly. But, on another note....

and the pairing of the narrator with one of his female relations at the end of Time for the Stars seems similar in its convenience...

I don't know about the convenience there so much but the hink is strong in that one. In Time For The Stars, Tom, returns to earth to marry his great-grand niece, whom he had been grooming all her life via the wonders of relativistic time, a twist on the time travel incest, not to mention time travel paraphilia, part, and one with a theme in The Door Into Summer, where, well, let me quote Alexei Panshin:
The romantic situation in this story is a very interesting, very odd one: it is nothing less than a mutual sexual interest between an engineer of thirty and a girl of twelve ('adorable' is Heinlein's word for her), that culminates in marriage after some hop-scotching around in time to adjust their ages a bit.
Of course, the Wikipedia article on Door Into Summer desribes Ricky as physically an 11-year-old girl but emotionally almost adult... Oh, snap! Another grown up trapped inside a child's body. What're ya gonna do ? Then there is this, from an otherwise laudatory review, which puts another angle on it:
Imagine an eleven year old girl and a thirty year old uncle she has a crush on. Now imagine living through the next ten years as that girl growing up, never seeing him, knowing he’s waiting for you to be twenty-one, knowing you’re then going to marry him after a twenty year sleep. Imagine being twenty-one and lying down to cold sleep and giving them the instruction only to wake you if he shows up. It’s not beyond what people do, but it’s creepy and twisted and I can’t believe I ever thought it was sort of romantic or that Heinlein in 1957 bought into this “made for each other” stuff so much as to be comfortable with writing this.
I had much the same reaction as Jo Walton when I thought about that book decades later. How did I manage to miss the creepiness of that when I was twelve ?

Then there is the relationship between eighteen year old Kip and Peewee, a preteen genius and the daughter of one of Earth's most eminent scientists, in Have Space Suit, Will Travel, which comes to mind. Not that there was any temporal hopscotching there either and the age difference was less than a decade, but still... Oh, I could go on--evidently for Heinlein, sometimes the tree of liberty needed to be watered by the menarcheal blood of twelve year old virgins.
posted by y2karl at 2:19 AM on May 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


I haven't read Starship Troopers. Was the military dictatorship an emergency measure to fight a protracted war, or was it something that had existed in peacetime, too? Was it a defensive war, or far-off empire building?
posted by ryanrs at 3:36 AM on May 29, 2010


Your question isn't really relevant because there was no military dictatorship.
posted by Justinian at 3:40 AM on May 29, 2010


Stratocracy, then? Like I said, I haven't read the book.
posted by ryanrs at 3:49 AM on May 29, 2010


Also, I hate it when people use the word "grok". What's wrong with "understand"?

Lots of people "understand" climate change. Few "grok" it.
posted by anthill at 6:34 AM on May 29, 2010


Man, I really loved that dude's books when I was younger. I reread Starship Troopers a year or so ago, and I still enjoyed it I guess, but he was really one hell of a jerk. "Behold my neat trimmed beard as I wear a Hawaiian shirt and get sloshed by the pool in the middle of the day. Which of you three intelligent and adventurous but ultimately inferior bitches love slaves is on drink getting duty today? Let's make a Jesus."

You can tell the measure of an individual by measuring how often they address you directly. It's fucking well rude.
posted by solipsophistocracy at 6:40 AM on May 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


The first Heinlein I read was Job, when I was about 15. I had no idea what the hell was going on but at least I managed to finish it, something I can't say for Stranger in a Strange Land.

The letter is fascinating. One of the small but interesting things I learned reading it was that the word "fandom" existed in 1941.

Stratocracy, then? Like I said, I haven't read the book.

Then you should. Its politics are really too complex and ambiguous for anyone to be able to do them justice in a metafilter comment.

Also, "grok" is a great word. That silly film Avatar would have been marginally better if it had shown proper deference by dumping all of that comical "I SEE you" malarkey and going straight for "grok".
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 6:56 AM on May 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


Heinlein was really just L.Ron Hubbard without the quite the same amount of batshit.
posted by A189Nut at 7:28 AM on May 29, 2010


Its politics are really too complex and ambiguous for anyone to be able to do them justice in a metafilter comment.

Well, that certainly is a polite way to put it.
posted by y2karl at 7:58 AM on May 29, 2010


Grok is a good word. "Grok with" or "grok closely" is even better. The word was said to literally mean "to drink".

RAH: I can't criticise. Nope. His wit and style have infused me too much. I never read anything he wrote that I wasn't happy to read. "I Will Fear No Evil" was entertaining. Why did it have to be more than that? "Number of the Beast" I have always taken as nothing more than a celebration of his characters. At the time, it looked like a farewell book. And it was painfully wonderful to have something new of his wit.

As for Glory Road, well, I grew up completely gay from age 12. But damn if RAH didn't make me have some doubts. Star was HAWT. I never read anything that made me appreciate a hot female the way he wrote about Star, in Glory Road. At the time, it was disconcerting. Now I'm old enough to merely be amused, and impressed.

Cranky old dude? Uh huh! Hey, I never WROTE the man, even though I consider him a very major influence on my own attitudes. A fan-attic, I'm not. I'm kind of sorry I never did. But I'm not the sort to write celebrities.
posted by Goofyy at 8:31 AM on May 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


Heinlein was really just L.Ron Hubbard without the quite the same amount of batshit.

And the intentional attempts to build a bizarre religion based around aliens in order to bilk the followers of said religion out of insane amounts of money.

Sorry dude: shitty comparison is shitty.
posted by Amanojaku at 8:50 AM on May 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


He wasn't right all the time, but he sure wasn't wishy-washy.

I realize the similarities are striking, but we're talking about Robert Heinlein in this thread, not George W. Bush.
posted by decagon at 9:37 AM on May 29, 2010


Stratocracy, then? Like I said, I haven't read the book.

Timocractic democracy (it's actually an old concept close to meritocracy, Solon, Plato, etc.). Everyone was equal in the eyes of the law, the only difference between modern representative democracies and the government in Starship Troopers is that voting and holding office was limited to those who had voluntarily done two years of civil service.
Germany, in fact, has conscription and mandatory service ( for 9 months) with a civilian or non-combat option.
As does Denmark, Austria, Finland, Norway, Sweden, and others. It’s not that exotic an idea.
And there are a lot of modern limits to sufferage – (age, criminal status) and they were limited in the past based on things like property holdings.
This is not as arbitrarily discriminatory as it seems (oh, it’s discriminatory – just not merely an ass-pull) – the logic being that land owners were invested in society and unlikely to make goofy decisions and/or then split.
So Heinlein’s idea of basing the vote on a short term of voluntary service isn’t that radical.
His conception wasn’t that stability would be based on the incorruptibility of people willing to serve – that was merely the logic, as with the landholders, that they were more likely to have some investment in the society they’ve sacrificed for.
Stability in the book seemed to be more based on the greater likelihood of activism and dynamic response of those who tend to volunteer in the first place. So you would weed out the self-serving types.
Again, logical, but only as realistic as there are people now who do all sorts of things to advance their own careers as well as perform military service.
But fictional societies are so far less sloppy and dirty than real life.
I have to say, the idea that dynamic response by the constituency is the best bulwark against tyranny and seeking to somehow amplify that is a good idea. Especially in contrast to static methods.
But you’re never going to completely check certain behaviors.
And yeah, it's more complex than that. The government rules and regs aren't nailed down in the book.
Heinlein makes a bit of a tautology as well (who watches the watchmen like DuBois?) but the military focus is driven not by the philosophy of the government but by the actions of the main character.
He could have followed some other people (one went off to do research).
Gets into biological imperatives as well. And expounds on H&MP class. And corporeal punishment and some other dizzy things. But it's fiction so whaddya going to do.
posted by Smedleyman at 10:05 AM on May 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


What we see repeatedly in Heinlein (The Door Into Summer, "The Tale of the Adopted Daughter" in Time Enough for Love, Time for the Stars) isn't pedophilia, but the Pygmalion project, a man playing a role in a girl's upbringing to help shape her into the perfect woman, and then marrying her. We don't see sexual attraction to young girls; we see an attraction to their potential. And while all that's hella creepy in its own right, I'm going to insist that it's a different hella creepy from pedophilia.

I don't remember Kip and Peewee's relationship in Have Spacesuit, Will Travel as registering in this regard. Maybe it's time for another reread.
posted by Zed at 10:15 AM on May 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


Heinlein was really just L.Ron Hubbard without the quite the same amount of batshit.

And the intentional attempts to build a bizarre religion based around aliens in order to bilk the followers of said religion out of insane amounts of money.

Sorry dude: shitty comparison is shitty.


I said without. Can you Grok It?
posted by A189Nut at 12:04 PM on May 29, 2010


That silly film Avatar would have been marginally better if it had shown proper deference by dumping all of that comical "I SEE you" malarkey and going straight for "grok".
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks


I believe 'I see you' was inspired by namaste, rather than grok. See the wikipedia list of translations of the word 'namaste'.
posted by Faust Gray at 1:32 PM on May 29, 2010


In the world of polyamory, many people list Heinlein as one of their favorite authors. I they are largely fans of his works from the 1970's and 80's which tend to feature free love quite heavily.

I discovered Heinlein when I found a copy of Friday on my English teacher's bookshelf. Like most teenage boys for whom Friday was their first Heinlein book, I read it because of the sexy cover art. From there I read every other Heinlein novel I could find.

The worlds Heinlein described were a revelation; utopias where sexual freedom, lack of shame, and self-acceptance were the norm. Others were cultures very similar to ours, tweaked by having 100% more acceptance of non-monogamous relationships.

These days I look at my life and marvel at how similar it is to one of those Heinlein novels. I like to imagine what my 15-year-old self would say if given a glimpse of the future.
posted by Faust Gray at 1:51 PM on May 29, 2010


"Was the military dictatorship an emergency measure to fight a protracted war, or was it something that had existed in peacetime, too? Was it a defensive war, or far-off empire building?"

The, uh, limited democracy or whatever it was evolved after our society collapsed in the late twentieth century. There was a brief period of chaos, and then order was restored by ex soldiers acting in small groups here and there. The book doesn't go into detail, but apparently the small groups joined together and eventually imposed a new social contract upon everyone else, worldwide. At first the soldiers made the decisions, but that later evolved into a formal system where a full franchise was extended to anyone who had spent time in Federal Service. (Interestingly enough, people could only become full citizens after they finished their period of Service. Career soldiers and serving officers didn't get to vote.) The system just grew, or crystallized, from people acting out of necessity. There were no founding fathers or dictators who set the rules.

As for the war that starts in the book, it seemed to be a mixture of self defense and empire building. Both humans and the Bugs were spreading out into space, and when the two growing empires met, they fought for dominance.
posted by Kevin Street at 2:41 PM on May 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


Interestingly enough, people could only become full citizens after they finished their period of Service. Career soldiers and serving officers didn't get to vote.

I think this is an important point to make to people who consider the depicted society as some sort of fascist or militaristic dictatorship. It's hard to argue that society is run by the military when soldiers don't get to vote.

It's actually more complicated than that; this particular discussion was hashed out in exquisite detail on RASFW over a period of many years. The short version is that the society that Heinlein has characters describe and the society we actually see depicted in the books are sometimes hard to reconcile. But that may simply be an artifact of the novel following soldiers in wartime. Or maybe in practice the society is more military-dominated than described in theory. You can make a case either way.
posted by Justinian at 3:26 PM on May 29, 2010


Also, among the many, many ways the movie was offensive bullshit was the depiction of Johnny as an Aryan fetishists wet dream. Although it is quite stated explicitly, he is actually Filipino in the book. References to Tagalog and so forth.
posted by Justinian at 3:28 PM on May 29, 2010


(not) quite stated explicitly
posted by Justinian at 3:29 PM on May 29, 2010


What we see repeatedly in Heinlein (The Door Into Summer, "The Tale of the Adopted Daughter" in Time Enough for Love, Time for the Stars) isn't pedophilia, but the Pygmalion project, a man playing a role in a girl's upbringing to help shape her into the perfect woman, and then marrying her. We don't see sexual attraction to young girls; we see an attraction to their potential. And while all that's hella creepy in its own right, I'm going to insist that it's a different hella creepy from pedophilia.

You have a point there. I did not read Time Enough For Love, by the way--and I am so grateful to have not--so I am unfamiliar with that story. As for Kip and Peewee, that was more speculation on my part than assertion. I was wondering out loud, so to speak. But as for the other examples, whether hella creepy in their own right, a different hella creepy or whatever, it's hella creepy all the way down.

I did not realize that his wife was a red head before I read this thread, that one of her nicknames was Rikki-Ticki-Tavi or that all of his redheaded female heroines were portraits of her to one extent or another. Which makes this even more fascinating, in the clinical sense. What an ego, if not an id. But then we knew that:
Heinlein had to be praised at all times. He would arrive in Chicago without prior notice, phone me with an order loosely translated as, “I have arrived; bring acolytes and worship me in my ordained manner.”

He had this really peculiar tangentialness about himself as if he deliberately tried to set himself apart from all others. This was evident in his unusual choice of clothing (sitting around in silk pajamas and dressing robes), and in his imperial manner (never allowing anyone to sit higher than himself). He also paid fawning attention to females (with a sneer and a wink; they terrified him), and absolutely never ever permitted himself to hear a negative word associated with himself.
Heinlein Happens

God in a dirty bathrobe, indeed.
posted by y2karl at 4:40 PM on May 29, 2010


You all need to read Fred Pohl's blog if you are so interested in Bob.
posted by A189Nut at 5:32 PM on May 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


Definitely! Frederik Pohl + Blog = awesome.
posted by Kevin Street at 5:44 PM on May 29, 2010


I notice that the "Heinlein Happens" link contains this bit:

I became aware then of the League of the Disremembered, the large, continuously growing number of people Heinlein had simply stopped remembering for causes more often than not totally unknown. Many of them told me privately and secretly to “be on my guard.” Forrie Ackerman was one of them, one of the disremembered and one of the people who tried to warn me about Heinlein’s habits...

... Forrie had been disremembered for some obscure “moral” reason many years earlier, but numerous decades had already passed without Heinlein once remembering him.



I kind of have to wonder if Forrest Ackerman gave Heinlein a ration of well-deserved shit for writing him a letter like that when his brother had just died, and thus earned eternal scorn.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 8:22 PM on May 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


ooh! Fred Pohl, meet my RSS feed.
posted by mwhybark at 11:32 PM on May 29, 2010


http://www.thewaythefutureblogs.com/2010/05/robert-a-heinlein-algis-budrys-and-me/

hm, very odd. I recently read this but can't place where. The post is dated May 12, 2010, which means that someone linked to it in my webtrawls within the past three weeks. It feels to me as if I read it more like several months ago.
posted by mwhybark at 11:44 PM on May 29, 2010


It feels to me as if I read it more like several months ago.

Yes! And there was a followup of some sort in which the "and then they became friends" was refuted. But all I can find is thing BoingBoing article from earlier this month, which links to the Pohl thing but doesn't have the er-no bit in it.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 7:02 AM on May 30, 2010


L'Estrange Fruit: "Yes! And there was a followup of some sort..."

WE ARE NOT MAD!

/Vincent Price histrionics

Glad to hear it's not just me.
posted by mwhybark at 9:28 PM on May 30, 2010


Was Robert A. Heinlein a Libertarian? (via io9, who also have a neat picture of a rocketship)
posted by Artw at 9:14 AM on June 5, 2010


Starship Trooper (the movie) and politics
posted by Artw at 12:03 PM on June 12, 2010


Heinlein's Future History
posted by Artw at 12:16 PM on June 16, 2010


Heinlein's future history has a lot of men wearing speedos.
posted by GuyZero at 12:45 PM on June 16, 2010


Well, speedo sales are up...
posted by anthill at 1:30 PM on June 16, 2010


Excellent David Langford review of "The Number of the Beast."
posted by Chrysostom at 9:09 PM on June 18, 2010


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