The Great Heinlein Juveniles Plus The Other Two Reread
November 15, 2014 4:57 AM   Subscribe

Unlike Elsie, Jackie, or Peewee, poor Podkayne is cut off at the knees before her adventure begins. Podkayne can dream of commanding a space ship but she can never see that dream realized because her narrative purpose is to serve as a doleful lesson to readers. This is where misplaced female ambition can lead! Well, if not Podkayne’s misplaced ambition, then her mother’s. Where the classic Heinlein juveniles are about boys reaching for the stars, Podkayne of Mars is a hectoring lecture, telling women to stay in their place.
James and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Heinlein Juvenile is a review of Podkayne of Mars, the last of the Heinlein Juveniles and last in James Nicoll's series of The Great Heinlein Juveniles Plus The Other Two Reread.

The other reviews:
  • Rocket Ship Galileo (1947):
    “Depraved indifference” and “the uncle who used his relatives as living meat shields” are going to be book-ends for this series of reviews.
  • Space Cadet (1948):
    It’s entirely possible that Matt is part of a terrible machine and too naïve to realize but at least, unlike my memory of Starship Troopers, the Patrol has ambitions of being lawful good.
  • Red Planet (1949):
    By this point in his career, Heinlein was still sticking with the “girls are ick and moms are a drag” model; there’s a genially patronizing treatment of the female inability to handle math in a discussion of the air plants that made me idly wonder what that character’s throat would sound like if his wife stuck a knife in it in mid-sneer.
  • Farmer in the Sky (1950):
    It’s pretty clear to me that George’s Plan A was to ditch Bill on Earth so George could secretly marry Molly and emigrate to Ganymede; given the difficulty of communicating with Earth, it’s possible Bill might not have found out about George’s new family for years, if ever.
  • Between Planets (1951):
    I’ve never particularly noticed it before but there are parallels between the plot of this and the plot of Lord of Rings; Don is stuck with a ring of great importance and what he needs to do to save the day is get rid of it under the right circumstances.
  • The Rolling Stones (1952):
    Heinlein paid lip service to the idea that women could be professionals but all that had to stop as soon as he married one of them, even if it meant poverty for the Heinlein family.
  • Starman Jones (1953):
    This book stands out as possibly the first young adult novel I ever encountered that featured pretty transparent references to johns being rolled by prostitutes.
  • The Star Beast (1954):
    Of all the Heinlein Girls in Charge, The Star Beast’s Betty Sorenson is the girl most in charge and in Mr. Kiku we find an extremely uncommon figure for SF, a sympathetic career bureaucrat.
  • Tunnel in the Sky (1955):
    Since the majority of Americans didn’t come to see mixed race marriages as acceptable until the mid-1990s, forty years after this book was written, that minor bit of business was pretty daring on Heinlein’s part.
  • Time for the Stars (1956):
    Given that telepathy completely breaks relativity, I don’t know that it makes any sense to discuss whether the way he telepathic communication is affected by relativistic star-flight is realistic.
  • Citizen of the Galaxy (1957):
    Purchased on an apparent whim by the beggar Baslim the Cripple, Thorby is rescued from a life of exploitation and abuse for one as the acolyte and adopted son of a man who is far more than he appears.
  • Have Space Suit, Will Travel (1958):
    For me, the highlight of the book is young Peewee Reisfeld, twelve years old — almost — and willing to take on an alien invasion single-handed if she has to. Peewee might be the finest example of Heinlein’s girls in charge. Peewee is smarter than Kip, she is just as brave, she manages to escape (temporarily) from the wormfaces before she ever meets Kip, something she keeps up through the book, and she saves Kip on a number of occasions.
  • Starship Troopers (1959):
    The book opens as Juan Rico nerves himself to murder alien civilians, “Skinnies”, as he calls them. Heavily armed and armoured, Rico and his human confederates rampage through the Skinny city, destroying infrastructure and leaving a trail of bodies behind him (including what may be a substantial fraction of the congregation of a church).
posted by MartinWisse (110 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
 
[From the book] Up till a couple of years ago I used to regret not being male (in view of my ambitions), but I at last realized how silly I was being; one might as well wish for wings. As Mother says: “One works with available materials” … and I found that the materials available were adequate. In fact I found that I like being female; my hormone balance is okay and I’m quite well adjusted to the world and vice versa. I’m smart enough not unnecessarily to show that I am smart; I’ve got a long upper lip and a short nose, and when I wrinkle my nose and look baffled, a man is usually only too glad to help me, especially if he is about twice my age.

I knew there was a reason I could never get into Heinlein.
posted by Librarypt at 5:35 AM on November 15, 2014 [12 favorites]


HSSWT was the first and only Heinlein juvenile that I read. This validates my decision to stop there as it was clearly the zenith of the series.
posted by localroger at 5:57 AM on November 15, 2014 [3 favorites]


Heinleins adult books are less sexist but more disgusting. Why does anyone still read Heinlein? I guess he was part of the general opening of American discourse on sex and mores in general which was a good thing. But, yeccch. I wish someone had told me as a kid in the 80s HEY DONT READ THAT AND DONT READ PIERS ANTHONY EITHER. And then given me more Wolfe and Tiptree.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 6:07 AM on November 15, 2014 [5 favorites]


Why does anyone still read Heinlein?

Probably because they can't get through Atlas Shrugged.
posted by localroger at 6:09 AM on November 15, 2014 [24 favorites]


Life's too short to spend brain space on this crud, I'm sayin. These reviews are neat but like, man, did we read and review all the other books already?
posted by Potomac Avenue at 6:09 AM on November 15, 2014


Kudos to this reviewer for also writing about cool shit like This. More 1930s bad ass warrior woman fantasy, less douchey 50s space-bros. imo
posted by Potomac Avenue at 6:21 AM on November 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


It's amazing how quickly his stuff became dated. I probably read Podkayne in 1975 or 1976 and even then it seemed to be a dispatch from some earlier civilization and at that point it was only a little more than a decade old. Admittedly that decade had been the sixties and early seventies when change happened quickly but it's hard to think of a cultural artifact from a dozen years before now (~2002) that would seem as antediluvian.
posted by octothorpe at 6:33 AM on November 15, 2014 [7 favorites]


I admit I haven't read the links yet (I plan to) but given the general tone of these comments, I want to say this much in defense of Heinlein: I'm a woman with a PhD in physics, and Heinlein, especially his juveniles, is a big part of what sparked my interest in science. His stories make scientists and engineers into heroes, adventurers. They make science glamorous and romantic and exciting in ways that appeal to both boys and girls, whether he meant to target girls or not. So I don't like to hear this "Why should we read Heinlein anyway" stuff -- like Richard Feynman or Thomas Jefferson, the fact that he had some terrible ideas don't stop me from admiring his impressive achievements. Really how many heroes would I be left with if I ruled out all the sexists, not to mention the racists and classists?
posted by OnceUponATime at 6:45 AM on November 15, 2014 [41 favorites]


Why does anyone still read Heinlein?

Because he's like David Bowie. Even bad Bowie is better than no Bowie.

It's fairly easy to dismiss Heinlein, but he did a lot that few other writers were doing. You might not like his portrayals of women, but they were generally strong and sexual equals to the men. One of the criticisms of Heinlein is that his women are just men with a wrapper or they are there only as wish fulfillment for the author, but he allowed his women to generally be sexy without making them dumb.

He also had a fairly large body of work, so it's not surprising some of is truly does suck. I don't have the time to write a proper defense, and I do agree some of it in fairly indefensible, but he really wasn't much worse than his contemporaries, and books were written a bit differently then (he was churning these things out for pennies per word when he and L. Ron Hubbard and Harlan Ellison were writing). Heinlein was one of the first of these to convert over to actual book contracts, where he got paid for the book and not per word.

It's schlock alright, but he and his writing are products of his time, and if you hate the books then you're probably not the audience. I have a difficult time with these as an adult, but I ate them up as a 14 year old kid.

The comparison above to Anthony is also strained. Anthony was way more formulaic and all his women (and often his men) were damsels in distress. One of the things I like about Anthony is he had essays after each book about what was going on in his life during that time and wrote about the craft of writing. I loved Anthony because he made me realize I could do this as well if i wanted.

Heinlein has more good out there than bad if you ask me, and to pigeonhole him as a sexist misogynist is a bit easy, and probably lazy as well.
posted by cjorgensen at 6:46 AM on November 15, 2014 [24 favorites]


The comparison above to Anthony is also strained. Anthony was way more formulaic and all his women (and often his men) were damsels in distress.

Also Heinlein's books mostly imply that (a) he is sexist but in ways that should be unsurprising for someone born in 1907, (b) that he has some generically hippie-ish attitudes towards sex in general, and (c) that he has a wee bit of an oedipal issue. Anthony's books, on the other hand, imply that he is a horrifying pedophile.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:57 AM on November 15, 2014 [14 favorites]


The only Heinlein juvenile I read as a kid was Citizen of the Galaxy, and that one had a matriarchal society in it, which I figured was progressive for its time. I kind of thought all of them were like that—sad to see I was mistaken.
posted by infinitewindow at 6:57 AM on November 15, 2014


The reviews are fair to Heinlen for the progressive tendencies he does express, such as dropping the fact that the protagonist of Starship Troopers is Filipino 2/3 of the way through the story after the reader has, presumably, thoroughly identified with him.

It seems that Heinlein's career can be neatly devided into the Before ST and After ST eras. ST was the book that marked a hardening of his views on almost everything, fixing him in 1950's-era amber for the rest of his career, and ending his professional relationship with Scribners editor Alice Dalgliesh.
posted by localroger at 6:58 AM on November 15, 2014


I was a twelve year old kid who'd just lost his mother, and my stepmom brought her entire collection of Heinlein with her when my dad married her. I ate that up. You wouldn't see me for days.

I reread some of them a few weeks ago. Yeah, some of his ideas were dated, but he wrote in a different time, through a different lens than we have today. I really enjoyed podkayne of mars, and hsswt, and the rolling stones and even stranger in a strange land, although it got pretty weird there.

I have a great affection for these books. They got me through a dark time.
posted by disclaimer at 6:59 AM on November 15, 2014 [9 favorites]


I too read a ton of Heinlein as a kid (60s and 70s Heinlein, even at 14 I found the squarejawed manliness of his earlier stuff repulsive). I liked them but was grossed out by the incest and skevieness his main characters got into, guys (or women) whose superpowers always included hypnotizing everyone into getting naked it seems.

Not that sex isn't fine in Fiction, but this seemed like wish-fufillment or psychological exploration through writing rather than gripping story or something relatable. "What can I have these horndogs do next?" is a lot of what I remember from later Heinlein. Maybe that's because I was 14. But rereading them in my 20s I found nothing much had changed.

Anyway, my point is: it's not just that he's sexist. He's also not much of a scientist or a fiction writer. Let's stop caring about him and talk about all the great unsung geniuses of sci-fi instead.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:10 AM on November 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


Ah, the Heinlein juvies.

For me, they sit in that awkward category of "books that were very important to me as a young reader, but I never recommend them to anyone else."

The Heinlein Question always crops up, of course, the question being: "Is he still worth reading?" I never want to be the guy (and it's always a guy, somehow, hmm) standing there saying "Yes! Because craft!" so I normally don't. But I will say here, in this specific thread, that he was worth me reading. Because craft.

I don't know how many times I've read The Rolling Stones. Dozens, maybe. I'm hard-pressed to argue with the more substantive of this fellow's arguments against the book, though I do think he's letting his antipathy color his position when he gets down the point of accusing the Stone family of out-and-out incuriosity; I think it's more a case of the subplot being worth some hand-waving in re: what might be common knowledge about Martian biology. But whatever.

These days I return to the books because I admire their construction. The Rolling Stones is not exactly tightly-plotted, but the prose and dialogue is drum fucking tight. It's got banter to make Whedon go green with envy (in fact, it suddenly occurs to me that Firefly is basically a Heinlein Juvie for grownups). It talks about orbital mechanics and mountain bikes on Mars. There's a whole subplot about the family collectively workshopping the TV episodes their dad is on the hook to write. It's good stuff.

For me, as a writer who aspires to make stuff that is good in the same way this stuff is good, it's as worth knowing where these book's strengths are as it is understanding where they fail. I recognize that it's my own privilege that lets me over look the work's failings, and that other people may not want to let ol' Heinlein off the book. I think that's fair.

Two years ago I was so frustrated with the mistreatment of Meade in TRS that I requested fanfiction about her for the Yuletide Fanfic Exchange. Miraculously, I received some.

I once started a rewrite of TRS but with updated gender politics. Got a few thousand words in. Maybe that'd make a good NaNoWriMo project one of these years.
posted by Sokka shot first at 7:10 AM on November 15, 2014 [10 favorites]


but they were generally strong and sexual equals to the men.

Heinlein no doubt thought he was writing strong women, he may even have said in the text of the book "this woman is strong," but let me ask you this, what do the women actually do in his books? Well, let's look at the main female characters Stranger in a Strange Land: Jill goes from tough no nonsense nurse to doting secretary\lover, completely suspending her career to take care of a Mike, and essentially becoming indistinguishable as a character from the other women, the three 'feisty' women that Harshaw has as secretaries. Even the text admits they're pretty much interchangeable and only around to look pretty and do whatever he says.

If your female characters can be counted on to always do what the male characters want, they're not strong. No matter how many attempts at snappy comebacks and witty banter you have they try and make.

He was only eight years older than Alice Sheldon, it's not like NOBODY at the time was writing actual strong female characters and so we have to settle for Heinlein.
posted by Gygesringtone at 7:15 AM on November 15, 2014 [15 favorites]


I read my first Heinlein because I saw Starship Troopers and that movie is a fucking hilarious satire of sci-fi tropes, so I went to read the book and I was like, "Wait. Wait. It wasn't the book parodying other books, it was the movie parodying this horrible, thumpingly earnest book that's sexist and xenophobic and frankly boring and the author has no self awareness." It was very disillusioning.

I did eventually read "Stranger" which was interesting if you can read it as - like someone said - frozen in amber and push aside some of the gender issues. But my library had the unabridged reissue where Heinlein was so famous he got to put back in the 10-page speeches about why women are dumb and libertarianism is good and everybody should have all the sex that his editor quite rightly edited out because they were both dull and ham-handed. Nobody gets to talk for ten pages without interruption. Read the abridged original, it's better.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:52 AM on November 15, 2014 [4 favorites]


I don't know that the appeal of Heinlein is all that mysterious. In the early 80s, as a white, middle-class straight teenager I thought his books were AWESOME!

I totally wanted to be a part of the Long family, and have some hot chick offer herself to me for 'Seven hours of Pleasure.' I also thought Michael Smith had the dream life, man! Literally buckets of money sitting around the house, and women who were so into sex they'd starting 'doing it' right on the living room couch in front of guests. Who wouldn't want that?

And being more than a little nerdy, I found myself captivated by giant rolling roads, Shipstones, and larger-than-life industrialists who gamble it all to go to the Moon.

I read and re-read many of his books well into my 20s and 30s, so captivated by those aspects (and my teenage love for them), I continued to overlook the flaws for a really long time. Indeed, I think it was a Metafilter post 5 or 10 years ago that really got me to thinking, and now (with the exception of Friday, which I love for really no good reason, and still re-read from time to time) I can't stand Heinlein. And this is one author I never have (and never will!) suggest to my teen-age daughters.
posted by Frayed Knot at 7:52 AM on November 15, 2014 [5 favorites]


Man, whoever wrote that Rolling Stones fanfic had Heinlein's style down pat.
posted by MartinWisse at 7:56 AM on November 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


As a young lad a long, long time ago I loved these books, maybe because they were the best I could get my hands on. They may have been the only Science Fiction I could get at my middle school library.
Even then I wished they were better. But they, in some ways, were great.

But going back and reading many of the SF books I loved in middle and high school is very, very painful.
posted by cccorlew at 7:57 AM on November 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


John Scalzi's 2003 (!) piece Lessons From Heinlein is interesting here.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 8:06 AM on November 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


And yet MeFi will argue that it's okay to overlook some heinous belief or behaviour of a musician, so long as one really enjoys their music. Now, I suppose heinous ideas are less expressed through musical notes than words — nonetheless, it seems a little like a double standard to me.

The guy was a contemporary of your great-great (possibly 3x-great) grandparents. One might as well diss Shakespeare or Chaucer or Ovid.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:25 AM on November 15, 2014 [6 favorites]


Heinlein is being dissed here to the extent that people are dissing Shakespeare when they point out that The Merchant of Venice is anti-Semitic or that The Taming of the Shrew is misogynistic. If that is fair cultural criticism, so is talking about Heinlein's weird women issues.

Besides which, my favorite part of the links was them pointing out how bad the physics was in all this "hard sf".
posted by Elementary Penguin at 8:40 AM on November 15, 2014 [10 favorites]


We've done (something like) this a few times before; I'll just link to my earlier take on Heinlein's difficulty with women.

Those familiar with my contributions to this site, such as they are, know that my views can be a bit regressive at times. That even one such as I, and even as a sociopathic-by-definition teenager, could recognize the recurrent theme of poorly-rendered female characters in Heinlein's books is good evidence of how pervasive that problem was.

You know what it reminds me of? That seminal moment in nearly every male-gaze porn movie ambitious enough to have a plot in which the woman, lacking sufficient funds to tip the pizza delivery driver (or whatever other cliched scenario springs to mind), removes her clothes as the boom-chicka-bow-wow music starts to play.

It's actually a little worse than this, however, because while Heinlein's treatment of his female characters may be somewhat more nuanced than your average porno, there is also little to be found in any of his works I've read to suggest his depiction is meant to be anything other than serious.
posted by The Confessor at 8:41 AM on November 15, 2014 [3 favorites]


I wrote about the Heinlein juveniles recently, as in, I have a teenage daughter and a couple of years ago I gave her Starman Jones to read to see what she thought of it. She politely read a couple of chapters, determined it wasn't for her, and hasn't been back to check out any of the rest of them.

Which didn't really surprise me. Heinlein's juveniles were already dated when I first read them more than 30 years ago, and the social changes in the last 30 years are pretty substantial. Also, of course, there's a lot of YA science fiction more recently published that speaks to her more -- and as a bonus many of the current writers of YA SF are as good as (or better than) Heinlein and his cohort were back in the day. You don't have to go back to Heinlein to get good science fiction aimed at young readers -- and if you did, that would say very sad things about the state of science fiction.

I don't think it's a surprise to anyone here that I'm a really big Heinlein fan, but being a fan doesn't mean being blind to his flaws and shortcomings as a writer, or denying that his writing (and he) were products of their time, and as a result substantial chunks of it haven't aged well into the current era. It also means that I'm okay when my fifteen year old daughter doesn't find the work he aimed at her age group half a century ago to be all that entertaining.

(I'll note that she's less than enthused about many of the MG/YA books I loved at her age, and for the same reason that she passes on the Heinlein. So much of YA simply doesn't age well, so her interest in it is minimal, especially when there is so much good contemporary YA work for her to read.)

I've been enjoying reading James' reviews of the juvies; he's more critical of them than I suspect I would be, but I don't think he's as much of a fan of them (or Heinlein) as I am, or as willing to put up with the author's foibles.

Also, for anyone who's curious, my favorite of the juvies are (in order): Citizen of the Galaxy, Starman Jones, The Star Beast, Farmer in the Sky and then everything else.
posted by jscalzi at 8:59 AM on November 15, 2014 [11 favorites]


Perhaps Heinlein books are not that re-readable now, but they provided an enormous amount of entertainment then, the then being fifty plus years ago. And the heroines of his stories? Compared to the way females were characterized in other pulp fiction, romances (M. Delly anyone?), even general fiction then, Heinlein's girls are strong and capable.
posted by francesca too at 9:21 AM on November 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


My ex was a huge Heinlein fan and I ... am not. He kept trying to find the book that I would like, as if there were some mysterious button in my psyche and the right book would press it and then I would understand how great these books really were. But I started with Number of the Beast, and things didn't really go uphill from there for me. Friday, sure, as long as you can get over her enjoying her rape, the dude-oriented lesbian sex (teehee), and giving up being Jane Bond for BABIES! (spoiler: I couldn't). Stranger in a Strange Land is great for someone interested in early neopaganism, but really my pagan interests when I went through that period were more Goddess-oriented and less CAW. And let's not talk about I Will Fear No Evil. To the very end of our marriage, my ex was insisting that if I just read Job, I would Get It somehow; Job was where I'd put my foot down, feeling that if Stranger left me a little cold, another book about Christianity and paganism wouldn't improve on it.

I did read some of the juvies, though I missed out on Podkayne, which my ex thought would be a loser for me. I can see how the SCIENCE! people really get into him, because he has that mid-century Love Of Science and faith in it that so many of my Gen X age cohort just don't share. My ex was a tail-end boomer and had a successful life dream of working at NASA and being a rocket scientist even if he was really just a guy who worked on the computerized accounting systems. I'm glad for him that he got his success, but to me, the special sauce in Heinlein was always other people's privilege.

It makes me sad sometimes that part of the SF genre model (which is for sales, yes, but it's how books get sold) is hewing to the sorts of unwritten boundaries that men like Heinlein set up. I would love to read SF and feel about it the way I did as a child. This year I read Ancillary Justice and really enjoyed it; part of it was the language: the writing didn't make me feel second class because I was a woman. Heinlein can have all the craft in the world, but unfortunately nobody can get rid of the cruft that makes him feel like a chore for me to read.
posted by immlass at 9:23 AM on November 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


then being fifty plus years ago.

Well, and this is the thing: people are still actively pushing them as great reads and saying that you can't understand the genre without having read them even now. (I was getting them pushed hard to me in the 90s and that only stopped because reader, I left him.) Very few early genre books in other literary genres are expected to be read for enjoyment fifty to a hundred years on. How many early novels have people read for entertainment and not school assignments?

Part of the "Heinlein problem" is basically that Heinlein's most vocal advocates can't get over the fact that his work is vintage and some of it is getting toward antique, and that doesn't suit the young modern reader, or even this middle-aged modern reader, who was born in the middle of Heinlein's middle period. Seriously, I turn 47 next week and all the juveniles are older than I am. It's okay for SF to let them and Asimov and some of the other mid-century writers age into historical canon and out of active reading. For me this also ties to other controversies in SF, and honestly it's the folks on the other side of those controversies who are writing the SF books that I'm now exploring after decades of dismissing SF as a genre because it wasn't doing anything for me.
posted by immlass at 9:34 AM on November 15, 2014 [8 favorites]


MY DAUGHTER SHALL READ GENE WOLFE AND SHE WILL LIKE IT DAMMIT
posted by Potomac Avenue at 9:36 AM on November 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


(she's 6 months old and so far the only scifi she enjoys is Goodnight Moon but she'll come around eventually)
posted by Potomac Avenue at 9:37 AM on November 15, 2014 [4 favorites]


I'm fairly sure that the first non-picture book I ever read was "Between Planets" - I know this because I didn't know what a Geiger counter was when I first read it (I was... 5?) but then I read it again a few years later, and ran into it again and by then I knew.

(It seems strange to remember the pre-Google world of 1967 where you might be interested in what a Geiger counter is and have no practical way to find out! I could have searched in an encyclopedia the next time I was in the library, but I was too young to think that, and I'd have forgotten anyway...)

I've read every one of these - though I'd forgotten the existence of Podkayne of Mars, and I still remember only one thing from it (she has learned to say "Thank you" in a large number of languages simply because it makes other people smile... this is a part of the reason I speak a bunch of languages.)

I'm sure it's a pretty bad book, and many of these might not hold up, but I personally learned a huge amount from reading the Heinlein juveniles as a small child:

* I learned that you can solve real-world problems and analyze real-world systems with mathematics and physics.

* I learned a rare contrarian lesson - that being a generalist is still a good thing. My father (who AFAIK never read Heinlein) also taught me that. I might have had a more stellar career had I focused on one thing, but I've done well, and I just like being a polymath (a word I learned from John Brunner's writing).

* From his discussion of Samuel Renshaw, I learned that if you pay great interest and attention to the world around you, you can remember almost everything you see, and it makes for a richer experience. I have no idea about the actual work of Renshaw - I just got the takeaway that "focused attention is good" and this has made my life richer too.

The political aspect of Heinlein's writing isn't really so important, even though today I am (something like) a social democrat (i.e. very far from Heinlein's likely political views). It really doesn't intrude in the juveniles.

And incidentally, read these two paragraphs about Heinlein by Philip K. Dick.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 9:37 AM on November 15, 2014 [4 favorites]


immlass:

"It's okay for SF to let them and Asimov and some of the other mid-century writers age into historical canon and out of active reading."

That's already happening. No amount of pounding on the table and demanding that Heinlein or any other golden age sf author is still relevant will keep them so if people don't buy the books. Heinlein will always be part of the background radiation of the genre, and I don't think that's a bad thing. But outside of school-assigned work, there's not a lot of mid-century lit that still sells, and SF/F is not an exception to that.
posted by jscalzi at 9:50 AM on November 15, 2014 [4 favorites]


For those of you who read somewhat less-inspired books like "The Number of the Beast..." or somewhat dated books like "Stranger", let me offer you a few timeless Heinleins that you are much more likely to enjoy.

The collection "The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag" (released in the US as 6XH) has two of the all-time greatest SF stories ever written - the title story and "--All You Zombies--".

(The other four are a mixed bag of brilliancies - one super-sentimental, one super-paranoid, the original 4-d house story, and one hard-to-categorize story about, er, city politics? but they are likely at least somewhat "period pieces".)

There is only a small amount of science fiction about religion, and mostly written by religious people. "Job: A Comedy of Errors" is simply perfect. The first time I read it, it made angry. The second time, I laughed all the way through it.

I read "Double Star" when I was about 12, and it taught me a very great deal about acting. Later I got a chance to put it into practice and it astonishingly worked. It doesn't have the world-sweeping scope of the other books, but it's still a little gem that has dated very well.

And "Glory Road" - which today reads as a détournement of the conventions of heroic fantasy, except it was written in 1964. I haven't read it in - 20 years? - but I still remember huge chunks of it almost verbatim (see "Renshawing" above) (and I just checked my recollection against Google books...) when so many other books have come and gone.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 9:59 AM on November 15, 2014 [3 favorites]


I remember reading the Podkayne series as a tween and being impressed, nay, delighted with her, um, tablet? I think it was, that faithfully wrote (typed?) whatever she dictated, using whatever font and "ink" color she chose. That was the best part of Heinlein and rather prescient, wouldn't you say? Oh and my all time-Heinlein in popular culture meme: David Crosby referencing Stranger in his CSN song "Triad" ("some of you may know about 'water brothers'"). And as jscalzi said, Citizen of the Galaxy. Best takeaway book from the whole Heinlein catalog, imho.
posted by Lynsey at 10:01 AM on November 15, 2014


jscalzi: It does seem to be an in-genre controversy at this late date. I don't see a lot of Heinlein on the shelves at my local B&N (the local Half Price is a different story) and I don't know people who are casually interested in SF, particularly through TV and film, who care much one way or another. The folks who are most vocal about Heinlein right now as far as I can tell can't pound genre consensus or sales figures to demonstrate he's a must-read, so they're pounding the table instead. Which is not to say that I think they're deliberately misleading anybody when they pronounce that everyone needs to understand Heinlein to properly partake of the genre--just that they have a limited focus on what the genre is or could/should be.
posted by immlass at 10:02 AM on November 15, 2014


Some of the Golden Age will be with us for a long time.

Assuming civilization survives, people will still be reading "The Martian Chronicles" long after man lives on Mars.

A few writers like Fritz Leiber might not be household names but I feel will be idiosyncratic and timeless voices still be appreciated far in the future - stories like "Catch That Zeppelin", "When the Changewinds Blow" and "Last" read as well as ever after fifty years.

Most of it will not. Sentimentality aside, Asimov is hard to read these days, ditto Clarke. Brunner's and Pohl's style does stand up, but the hard SF universes they are set in gradually diverge from the present to the point that in 50 years it will be alien. People will still be reading "The Marching Morons" in 50 years, but again, that's a story set in an indeterminate future, and one that's sharp like a knife in the ribs.

And most of Heinlein will be unreadable - except perhaps those few I wrote about above.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 10:07 AM on November 15, 2014


> [it isn't the case that] everyone needs to understand Heinlein to properly partake of the genre

Of course not - but if you are interested in SF the genre itself, you can't really understand it without knowing something about Heinlein, like Hitchcock to film...
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 10:15 AM on November 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


He's also not much of a scientist or a fiction writer. Let's stop caring about him and talk about all the great unsung geniuses of sci-fi instead.

You do know he was the inventor of the modern waterbed, was a trained engineer, his designs for the spacesuit actually went into space and he received the NASA Distinguished Public Service Medal, right? He'd also listed as an influence by nearly every SF writer to come since, and has one every major critic and fan SF award and the Science Fiction Writers of America named him their first "Grandmaster."

To say he's not much of a scientist or a fiction writer is choosing to live in an entirely different reality than the really real world. You don't have to like him, but there is an objective standard for these things and I think it's impossible to say he didn't achieve both.

Seriously, just check out the wikipedia page and you'll see he changed the world. Not bad for a hack.
posted by cjorgensen at 10:45 AM on November 15, 2014 [10 favorites]


Heinlein occupies a weird space for me, in that I read and loved his books at 12 and 13, but now find most of them enraging and consequently never reread them. I haven't reread his juveniles, except for Podkayne and Starship Trooper, as an adult, because I still remember them fondly and don't want the reality of the books to ruin the memory of 12 year old me's enjoyment of them.

When I immigrated to the US, I had to pare my belongings down to two suitcases (what I was allowed to bring across the border), and whatever I could afford to keep in storage, which was very little. I ended up selling a huge library after taking out the five boxes of books I just couldn't live without. I owned everything Heinlein had ever published. The only Heinlein that made the cut was The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, which I still enjoy (despite some cardboard women - at least Hazel Stone and Wyoh Knott have some agency).
posted by joannemerriam at 10:51 AM on November 15, 2014


I think that I enjoyed his future history short fiction from the forties better than any of his novels. I'm pretty sure that I still have a copy of The Past Through Tomorrow around somewhere, I should dig it up to see if they're still worth reading.
posted by octothorpe at 11:21 AM on November 15, 2014


"Job: A Comedy of Errors" is simply perfect.

This may be the first time this sentence has ever been uttered in the English language. (But if you like Job so much, have you read James Branch Cabell's Jurgen? Might as well go to the source, rather than the ripoff.)
posted by asterix at 11:29 AM on November 15, 2014 [3 favorites]


You do know he was the inventor of the modern waterbed, was a trained engineer, his designs for the spacesuit actually went into space and he received the NASA Distinguished Public Service Medal, right?

That's somewhat over egging the pudding with regards to both the spacesuit and the waterbed and typical of the overzealous claims of Heinlein fanboys of him as a suupergenius. Heinlein invented the concept of the waterbed, not so much how these were made practical and nothing he did matter overtly much in the way actual spacesuits were designed and made.

There's no denying the man was an influence on sf readers and scientists both, but the same claim can be made for so many other early sf writers.
posted by MartinWisse at 11:34 AM on November 15, 2014 [3 favorites]


That's somewhat over egging the pudding with regards to both the spacesuit and the waterbed and typical of the overzealous claims of Heinlein fanboys of him as a suupergenius.

At least he didn't say "inventor of the think tank".

Oh yeah, and describing Heinlein as any kind of a scientist would, in fact, be ridiculous. Engineering != science. (And best not to mention the word "relativity".)
posted by asterix at 11:41 AM on November 15, 2014


> But if you like Job so much, have you read James Branch Cabell's Jurgen? Might as well go to the source, rather than the ripoff.

Job reads to me like a deliberate parody or rebuttal of Jurgen, down to the title. But it's much funnier.

Generally, religious fiction is pretty lacking-in-funny, and when it comes down to it, they're generally advertisements for the writer's religious viewpoint. Charles Williams or C. S. Lewis are good reads once... (well, I still like the Narnia books, but the religious part is not front-and-center.)

I wrote a paragraph of exegesis of Job here, but I realize that it was loaded with spoilers. Suffice it to say that the first time I read it, I was a long way through the book before I realized that it was a comedy, despite the title.

It's very likely that I love it because it's the direct lineal descendant of "Captain Stormfield's Visit To Heaven" but nastier and perhaps funnier overall (though the opening ten pages of "Captain Stormfield" are exceedingly funny...)
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 12:13 PM on November 15, 2014


if you are interested in SF the genre itself

But a lot of people aren't. I don't care about the origins of the genre beyond what I already know; I want to read some fun books, not plod through the genre version of a high-school reading list.
posted by immlass at 12:13 PM on November 15, 2014 [3 favorites]


The political aspect of Heinlein's writing isn't really so important, even though today I am (something like) a social democrat (i.e. very far from Heinlein's likely political views). It really doesn't intrude in the juveniles.

I think a lot of people would disagree with you on the importance of Heinlein's political views, considering how they affected his writing, and Nicoll's essays make a strong case that Heinlein's politics were definitely present in the juveniles, although not as overtly info-dump-ish and lecturing as they would be in later works.

And incidentally, read these two paragraphs about Heinlein by Philip K. Dick.

It's not at all uncommon that people who have political & social beliefs that we find abhorrent or disturbing can also be very kind individuals, one on one. People are messy. Whether Heinlein's personal kindness and charity towards Dick outweighs his problematic political and social philosophies expressed in his writing is a decision that each individual reader will have to make for themselves.
posted by soundguy99 at 1:01 PM on November 15, 2014


And thanks for posting this, MartinWisse. I liked the essays both individually and taken as a series.
posted by soundguy99 at 1:03 PM on November 15, 2014


And yet MeFi will argue that it's okay to overlook some heinous belief or behaviour of a musician, so long as one really enjoys their music. Now, I suppose heinous ideas are less expressed through musical notes than words — nonetheless, it seems a little like a double standard to me.

I don't see it as a double standard at all. Literature is nothing but words or, if you like, ideas expressed through words, but to me that seems redundant. Music with lyrics, on the other hand, is melody, tone, pitch, rhythm + words that may or may not add up to ideas. (I defy anyone to argue that "In-A-Gadda-da-Vida" includes ideas.) This is why, as a feminist female person, I can enjoy, say, Guns N' Roses and loathe Heinlein. GNR rocks despite everything. Heinlein has no rock to spite everything.
posted by scratch at 1:23 PM on November 15, 2014


Maybe no Heinlein books are perfect, and many are bad, as seen from today's perspective, but as I said last time this came up:
Stranger in a Strange Land would have less impact today not because it is too transgressive, but for the exact opposite reason. Much of what was shocking when Stranger came out is accepted and commonplace today. In the case of Starship Troopers, we’re talking about a pro-military polemic that addressed a war-fatigued nation questioning the value of its military institutions. In that sense, it seems very topical, though the military concerns of the present are not the military concerns of the early 60s and I suspect Starship Troopers released today would simply seem out of touch and missing the point.

But Double Star and The Moon is a Harsh Mistress? If either of those appeared on the 2014 ballot for Best Novel, I would bet my last dollar on Heinlein taking home [a Hugo], even with the handicap of having been written half a century ago.
I really enjoyed every single Heinlein juvenile when I was of an age to read them, including Podkayne, but I would probably not recommend them to anyone today. That said, I have no more reservation recommending The Moon is A Harsh Mistress (due to anti-feminist themes) than I have recommending Moby Dick (due to racist themes). Heinlein wrote some great books. The fact that society has gotten better since he wrote them doesn't make them any worse.

If one of your main criteria for literature is that it promotes the same enlightened politics that you subscribe to, I think you are really doing yourself a disservice as a reader.
posted by 256 at 1:26 PM on November 15, 2014 [7 favorites]


I don't see it as a double standard at all. Literature is nothing but words or, if you like, ideas expressed through words, but to me that seems redundant. Music with lyrics, on the other hand, is melody, tone, pitch, rhythm + words that may or may not add up to ideas.

I disagree with the premise that literature is nothing more than the expression of ideas. Literature encompasses prosody (cadence, rhythm, rhyme, alliteration, assonance, all that good stuff), tone, plot, characterization, world-building, and a great many other things. "Ideas" can be pretty far down the list. The analogy to music holds up.
posted by Shmuel510 at 1:35 PM on November 15, 2014


It's weird that this just came up, because just two days ago some of us over in the MST3K Club on FanFare watched a Mystery Science Theater movie written by Heinlein, Project Moonbase (FanFare). Produced in 1953, it tells of mankind's first landing on the moon.

I've described this in full no less than three times lately, but, one final time as we leave this movie behind us: While it does feature a woman president and a woman Colonel in the US space force SPACOM, it's pretty disgusting in other ways. Heinlein uses the names of the female characters to belittle them: the Colonel is Briteis but everyone calls her "Bright Eyes", and a woman reporter is called Polly Prattles. (Many of the names are alliterative. Polly Prattles, Major Moore, General Greene, Commodore Carlson, Captain Carmody.)

Further, General Greene threatens to spank Briteis if she doesn't follow an order, and when she threatens to scream he reminds her that the room is soundproof. And later, the President (and apparently the American people), when they find out that Briteis and former paramour Major Bill Moore are stranded on the moon and will be treated as Moonbase One and resupplied until rescued, demand that two single young people cannot be allowed to cohabit on a small space craft on the lunar surface unless married, and Briteis demands that Moore be promoted so he outranks her as a condition.

Just, icky.
posted by JHarris at 1:42 PM on November 15, 2014 [3 favorites]


SPUNG
posted by RakDaddy at 1:44 PM on November 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


Somehow, I never comprehended the existence of YA or juvies, even as I was reading them (back in the 70s/80s). I paid no attention to chronology, or what the publishing history was, or even the age of the protagonists. Heinlein was probably the first adult fiction I read, and I don't regret it, even if I don't particularly want to revisit it.

I had pretty much read everything he'd written to date when the big new release of Number of the Beast came out. It was exciting! There was buzz! He hadn't put out a book in years! I read it immediately. I hated it! I discussed it with one of my (slightly) older friends and it was out of that discussion that I discovered that
1: I didn't have to like all of an author's work if I liked some of it.
2: There was a reason I hadn't reread Farnham's Freehold and Glory Road.

It seems to me that I like Heinlein's writing in proportion to the length of it: His short stories work well for me, I remember some of his juvies with nostalgia (which might not stand up to scrutiny), and his adult novels fall between flat and enraging.

I can't say why this is, maybe it's I like the voice he started with rather than the voice he ended with, maybe he was better when he couldn't demand not to be edited, maybe he didn't have as much room in the short stories to lose the plot and go philosophizing.

The Heinlein-related work I'm currently most excited about is Predestination, starring Ethan Hawke.
posted by Mad_Carew at 2:16 PM on November 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


If one of your main criteria for literature is that it promotes the same enlightened politics that you subscribe to, I think you are really doing yourself a disservice as a reader.

I think that's a really uncharitable interpretation of what people are saying.

I don't enjoy any of the Heinlein I've read because a badly written character can ruin a story for me, and I consider a large portion of his characters badly written. I mean, you could swap out almost any female character in Time Enough For Love with almost any female character in Stranger in a Strange Land with only a negligible difference to the story. The same thing that bugged me about the women he wrote bugged me to a lesser extent (because it was less pronounced) about Lazarus Long and Harshaw.

I'm not sure how applying the same standards to female and male characters is political.
posted by Gygesringtone at 3:07 PM on November 15, 2014 [4 favorites]


Yeah we're not arguing about whether Shakespeare or Wagner can be appreciated despite furthering an archaic political agenda in their work in one case and being odious in their personal views in the other. We're saying that Heinlein's political views were not only extreme for his time, but that they are a large glowing sign that he was an immature second-rate hack. I don't give a crap if he flew space missions himself, his ridiculous stereotypes in lieu of characterization, stilted Ed Wood dialogue, and lack of scientific imagination represent everything that MFA types are correct to make fun of science fiction about. There is lots of great mid-century SF that we should rescue from the budget bin (like Tiptree, like Vance) or continue to trumpet as both definitive and subtle and literary (like Herbert, like Bradbury). Let's do that, and leave the supposed innovators who poisoned the genre for decades with their schlock behind. It's 2014 y'all.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 3:38 PM on November 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


That may have sounded harsher than I intended. I guess it's because I don't want all science fiction pre-1980 to be remembered as Heinlein's Button Bustin Babes and nothing else. I feel like it's unfair to all the great writers out there writing at the same time who weren't writing that kinda stuff.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 3:43 PM on November 15, 2014


Speaking as someone who's been reading a lot of mid-century literature lately, some parts of this thread seem dizzyingly bizarre. I actually think there's stuff to like and stuff to dislike about Heinlein, but saying it is impossible to expect better because of when he wrote is a really lousy defence. The idea that mid-century writing is almost entirely dated and sexist would be news to readers of Angela Carter, Barbara Comyns, Nancy Mitford, Edna O'Brien, Hope Mirlees ...
posted by kyrademon at 4:06 PM on November 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


The Rolling Stones is not exactly tightly-plotted, but the prose and dialogue is drum fucking tight. It's got banter to make Whedon go green with envy (in fact, it suddenly occurs to me that Firefly is basically a Heinlein Juvie for grownups). It talks about orbital mechanics and mountain bikes on Mars. There's a whole subplot about the family collectively workshopping the TV episodes their dad is on the hook to write. It's good stuff.

Agreed. I loved that book; don't remember much about the other juveniles-- if they were first person male narratives I would probably not have been felt much interest-- though I do recall my dismay when Podkayne looks in the mirror and sees that her body is built for essentially nothing more than having children. And I'd really liked the idea of freezing embryos for career reasons, too.

Stranger in a Strange Land was one of the books that I felt a visceral loathing for when I was 16 (the other was Even Cowgirls Get the Blues). But The Rolling Stones left me in tears of laughter on more than one occasion, and today I find the dialogue is as sharp as ever and the writing as economical.
posted by jokeefe at 4:27 PM on November 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


There is lots of great mid-century SF that we should rescue from the budget bin (like Tiptree

Tiptree and Heinlein aren't contemporaries in a meaningful way. Sure, Tiptree overlaps the end of Heinlein's career but almost everybody did since Heinlein published for 40 years. But Heinlein's first publication was in 1947! Tiptree wasn't publishing until the mid 70's. She's his contemporary in the same way that U2 and Elvis Presley are contemporary musicians.

In any case Heinlein can never really be replaced in terms of historical significance to the genre. It would be like replacing Tolkien for fantasy. But, yeah, a lot of his stuff is pretty dated.

The same could be said for Vance, though.
posted by Justinian at 5:05 PM on November 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


lupus_yonderboy: Generally, religious fiction is pretty lacking-in-funny

If you're lookig for funny religious fiction, I can not recommend Lamb by Chrisopher Moore hard enough. Not SF at all, but the funniest damn religious fiction book I've ever read.
posted by Frayed Knot at 6:05 PM on November 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


Bradbury, Clarke and Asimov all have a shot at being sci-fi's Tolkien. We'll see in 100 years who we're still reading. There are plenty of contemporaries of Tolkien that have been tossed into the sea of obscurity too.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 6:13 PM on November 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


Quick, name something written by Herman Melville other than Moby Dick!

When they become classics authors tend to be remembered for a couple of their greatest works, with the rest read only by devoted scholars.

For Bradbury it will be Farenheit 451 and, possibly, Martian Chronicles, but the latter only probably in advanced courses by folks who've already read 451. People who are whatever passes for Goth will also read Something Wicked This Way Comes.

For Clarke it will be Nine Billion Names of God, possibly The Sentinel because of its pivotal role for the 2001 movie, and Rendezvous with Rama. I'd personally favor The Fountains of Paradise, but the novel will be Rama just because of popularity, accessibility, and influence.

For Asimov it will be Foundation in the second year but the short story Nightfall and one of the early robot stories that everyone has to read going in. He wrote a lot and my personal favorite would be The Gods Themselves but nobody's going to remember that.

Things like Lord of the Rings don't age well, because they do age, and they're very time consuming and difficult to get through if you're having to do a cultural translation to understand them. One of the most popular works of the 18th century was Samuel Richardson's serial novel Pamela. Ever read it? No, I didn't think so. He's at least remembered for his effort, as I'm sure Tolken will be.

Philip K. Dick will turn out to be the Verne slash Wells of our age who remains widely read because his stuff was so clipped and surreal even for its own day, and the questions that obsessed him were timeless. Also pink beams and dog food, always romantic favorites.
posted by localroger at 6:46 PM on November 15, 2014 [5 favorites]


The guy was a contemporary of your great-great (possibly 3x-great) grandparents. One might as well diss Shakespeare or Chaucer or Ovid.

Huh? I'll admit that I'm at least a generation older than many Mefites but he was exactly my grandparents age. And unless you're 5 years old, he's at most your great-grandparent's age.
posted by octothorpe at 6:49 PM on November 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


My grandparents on my Dad's side were born in the 1800s . ¯\(°_o)/¯
posted by Potomac Avenue at 6:55 PM on November 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


Localroger:

"Bartleby the Scrivener."

And yes, I did that off the top of my head.
posted by jscalzi at 8:03 PM on November 15, 2014 [8 favorites]


I was going to say what jscalzi said, but I would prefer not to.

Heinlein is a thorn in the side of every YA sci-fi writer I know. Probably because every single time we're on a panel at a sci-fi con we get some mansplainer complaining that kids don't read the juveniles anymore and that's really all any teenager needs. "Any teenager" is assumed to be a boy, of course--though there is plenty of great modern YA with boy appeal. Still, I find it difficult to imagine the modern female teenager who would prefer Podkayne of Mars to Divergent, The Hunger Games, Across the Universe, Glow, and a host of other books, which actually speak somewhat accurately to the female experience.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:16 PM on November 15, 2014 [7 favorites]


"Quick, name something written by Herman Melville other than Moby Dick!"

Billy Budd, and I remain traumatized about it.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:18 PM on November 15, 2014 [3 favorites]


The thing about Heinlein, really, is that I'm willing to read them (and I did read several of his best-known, with varying degrees of interest and enjoyment) and say, "Wow, these are interesting foundational books in science fiction literature that are profoundly flawed but really important to the development of the genre." But for true-believing Heinlein fans, THAT IS NOT ENOUGH. If they're not changing your life, you are READING THEM WRONG. And they will now explain to you, at length, with subheads, The Ways In Which You Are Misunderstanding Heinlein.

They're like Randroids -- well, frequently they ARE Randroids too -- but with more opinions about sex.

You know, the subset of people whose attitude is, "If you're not excited about what I'm excited about, I must have done a poor job explaining it, so let me start over ..." There seem to be a lot of those among Heinlein's fans.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:28 PM on November 15, 2014 [5 favorites]


The guy was a contemporary of your great-great (possibly 3x-great) grandparents. One might as well diss Shakespeare or Chaucer or Ovid.

I missed this when it was originally said, but fwiw Heinlein was born in 1907, ten years before my dad.
posted by immlass at 9:21 PM on November 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


difficult to get through if you're having to do a cultural translation to understand them

Honestly, and while I don't want to overstress this as a problem, but it's interesting that over in FanFare where we're discussing Star Trek -- you know, the progressive sf TV series from the 1960s -- this sort of translation seems to be something some posters are struggling with. And I may be doing a bit too much 60splaining at times, but that's partly because it's the first time I've really encountered this.

There was an anecdote fairly recently about longtime James Bond fans at a screening finding the young audience laughing at Bond, like they're watching Our Man Flint or another of the parodies, and quite possibly having had their experience of early Bond after their experience of Austin Powers. Just another data point: the past is another country.

READING THEM WRONG

I personally reached this point with Number of the Beast, which I probably never finished. I was so frustrated that my first reaction was that I was approaching it wrong, but I did eventually conclude that he really, really needed an editor to mine whatever value there was in that work. If he wanted to be the crotchety male Xaviera Hollander he probably ought to have just gone and done that but he only knew how to write Marty Stu sci-fi, at least anymore, and so that's how it came out.

Anyway, I think the point is that he's not without value, but the idea of pushing him on people really doesn't make sense to me. He belongs to a different era, and in that era he was in some ways necessary, because the juvenile novels in particular are something that just wasn't being done with that combination of both space adventure and some measure of hard sf. In a lot of ways I miss that we never really got a great series of movies out of COTG or HSSWT (or a few of the others), just smashing great adventures with solid unembarrassing special effects and so forth, a hard-sf equivalent to the space fantasy world of Star Wars. When you look at the devotion of fans to the handful of decent TV shows that owe something to Heinlein, in particular Space: Above and Beyond, Firefly, and Farscape, it just seems like something that should have happened. (There was an AskMe recently about why there weren't more spaceship shows, wasn't there?) Maybe the BG reboot also shows the weaknesses there, in that there are only so many space dogfights you can stage. What I'm getting at, I guess, is that one quality that distinguishes Heinlein is the continuum of work from the juveniles into more challenging material like Harsh Mistress. It helped and probably encouraged readers to grow into the broader adult genre.

But yeah, we don't have to slap people silly with his paperbacks just because they meant a lot to us. And I do question anyone who is a lot younger than me saying they mean a lot to them today.
posted by dhartung at 9:42 PM on November 15, 2014


I loved Heinlein when I was a teenager. I just overlooked the flawed parts of the female characters as I did with pretty much every other author I read (like Hesse, with whom I was also obsessed.)

I can't read too much Heinlein now, except I pick up The Moon is a Harsh Mistress every few years- it takes about an hour to read- but Heinlein in general was a formative author for me, especially Stranger in a Strange Land. (I was raised fundamentalist, partly.) He's really from another era, and from a demographic that was peculiar even in that era I think- reading his things is like reading things from ancient mythology or something, which is what let me take what I liked and ignore the rest.

Compare him to Raymond Chandler, for instance. Chandler wrote in the 1930s and yet his female characters are far more well-rounded. They aren't more powerful though, because they were limited by contemporary society. Heinlein didn't seem to understand any humans, particularly not women, PLUS was trying to guess what their behavior would be like in societal norms that were very different.

I'm not sure what I'm trying to say here except that I read Chandler for humans and Heinlein for ... something else.

Am I really the only person here who's read Pamela?
posted by small_ruminant at 10:51 PM on November 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


Also, Stranger in a Strange Land was hugely culturally significant for a lot of the counter culture in the 1960s. Outsizedly so.

I have a friend (of that generation) who swears that every male in his circle could be considered a Stranger in a Strange Land adherent OR a Lord of the Rings adherent.

As templates upon which to base one's life and values, they both leave a hell of a lot to be desired.
posted by small_ruminant at 10:54 PM on November 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


Quick, name something written by Herman Melville other than Moby Dick!

Omoo! (Thanks, crossword puzzles.)
posted by JHarris at 11:28 PM on November 15, 2014 [3 favorites]


I have a pretty comprehensive Heinlein collection sitting in boxes in my car right now - just couldn't bring myself to donate them - yet. I even have a first edition Puppet Masters [red scare lit, yo]. I am locked in a mental battle with my pre-teen self.
posted by j_curiouser at 12:29 AM on November 16, 2014


> "Omoo ..."

And don't forget Typee!
posted by kyrademon at 2:52 AM on November 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


> "Tiptree and Heinlein aren't contemporaries in a meaningful way."

Heinlein wasn't locked in an iron box during the 60's. He was aware of the concept of feminism and in some ways clearly trying to *be* feminist, even if he mostly failed. I understand the argument that writers must be viewed within the context of their time, but saying that it is unfair to judge an author who was publishing in the 60's and 70's BY THE STANDARDS OF THE 60'S AND 70'S is a bit much.

Also, Heinlein was born around the same time as John Steinbeck, Langston Hughes, Richard Wright, Daphne du Maurier ... He wasn't writing in Middle English, for god's sake. I don't need a codex to puzzle out the arcane culture of a guy who had new books I was reading in my late teens.
posted by kyrademon at 3:38 AM on November 16, 2014 [6 favorites]


And don't forget Typee!

I didn't, but I haven't seen Typee in nearly as many crossword puzzles. A professor back in college was researching Typee, and it's stuck in the memory ever since. I literally thought of both of those before Bartleby, if you can believe that, and I hardly can myself.
posted by JHarris at 3:44 AM on November 16, 2014


Heinlein didn't seem to understand any humans, particularly not women, PLUS was trying to guess what their behavior would be like in societal norms that were very different.

I think the comparison to Chandler is interesting (and one I wish I had thought to make).

I've been having a hard time with the part in the essay that was linked to earlier where Scalzi said that Heinlein made his characters human. I mean, everyone in the books reads to me like how Heinlein thinks humans SHOULD be, not how they actually are. It's sort of like praising Chandler's dialogue for being ultra realistic. As much as I love the dialogue in those books, to be honest, I think Chandler wrote how people wished they talked instead of how they actually do. Maybe that's why Chandler has aged better, people still want to have razor sharp wit and engage in cool, sophisticated banter.

On the other hand, the stuff that Heinlein wanted for humanity has a much more narrow appeal. I think if I had read it when I was younger, I probably would have loved the characters, and might be one of the people looking back with nostalgia, because at that point in my life, those things would have appealed to me.

It probably would've also helped not to start with Time Enough for Love.
posted by Gygesringtone at 6:34 AM on November 16, 2014


Gygesringtone:

"Scalzi said that Heinlein made his characters human."

Well, I said that two of the lessons are to make characters speak like people speak, and act like people act. But implicit in this -- and something that, were I to write the piece now, i would probably note more directly -- is that characters aren't real people, and dialogue isn't real speech. Both are signifiers. I think Heinlein did a pretty good job in making those signifiers naturalistic, in the context of when/where/for whom he was writing; that said, my opinion here is eminently debatable.

And, yes, TEFL would not be my pick for Heinlein 101.
posted by jscalzi at 8:24 AM on November 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


What Heinlein really pioneered helped pioneer was the way that characters generally talked as if they lived in the world that he created. People in his books were way less explainy than typical in science fiction up to that time and talked in the jargon of their character.
posted by octothorpe at 8:37 AM on November 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


I always think of Heinlein as 2 periods: up to Friday and everything after that. In the first period, here are the things he got right: pacing, tight writing, a lot of interesting ideas floating around, range, genuine respect and fascination with science, technology and social structures, never had lazy writing (always did the necessary legwork). Compare works like citizen of the galaxy, starbeast, tunnel in the sky, ST, Stranger in a strangeland, Friday, Door into summer.

I don't think you'll see a range like this in either Asimov or Clarke. I think it's the interesection between the amount of works, their range, and entertaining value, that is quite unique.

As far as his sexism I think it was a matter of him pushing against the real boundaries within his time and genre. In other words, he worked in the space where readers of popular SF actually were at that time, and to have a real dialogue with his readers he had to meet them at the boundaries of where their mind-space was. In other words, he wasn't Flaubert or Conrad or Melville, he was a popular SF author and when you criticize him you have to be clear if you criticize his choice of that space OR what he wrote once he made that choice.

Again, this applies to pre-Friday books, I couldn't really finish much of what came after.
posted by rainy at 1:19 PM on November 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


And, by the way, that's where any comparisons to Ayn Rand really break down. Neither the range, pacing, craft, amount of works, respect for rigour and science, are anywhere close. I can only see it as a concealed insult.
posted by rainy at 1:41 PM on November 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


Am I really the only person here who's read Pamela?

•waves hand•

And Joseph Andrews! Also my grandparents were also born in the 1800's.

I like retrograde scifi from the fifties but I can't read Heinlen. He was so smug it makes it unenjoyable.
posted by winna at 5:05 PM on November 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


To say that Robert Heinlein is shit is to say that Mark Twain is shit. But that's just my opinion. I like Coke, but I'm not a big fan of Pepsi. But I'll drink Pepsi if that's all there is.

I think Heinlein said you "Can't railroad until there's a steam engine."

My son hates old James Bond films. They're too slow, and there's lots of goofy, misogynist shit that he's not fond of. Imagine that. Those movies are older than he is. His favorite was Goldeneye, because he was 13 when he first saw it.

He honestly thinks Prometheus is better than Alien.

My daughter asked me why Catcher in The Rye was supposed to be such hot shit, and I had to try to explain to her that when that book was printed it was the only one of it's kind. Nobody had ever done that before.

I wrote for the local newspaper and there was this younger writer who wrote about music, and he was really quick to dismiss any music that was older than him. His quip was "anything you like in this century?"

I just finished reading William Gibson's newest, and guess what? There's some Bob Heinlein DNA kicking around in that book. So, all you folks who hate Bob, here's Bill.

AVClub printed a pretty bad review of Gibson's The Peripheral, and I thought it was a pretty poor review, in that the guy who read it and wrote about it really was the wrong guy to write a review of that particular book. It was bad review. It's a great book.

Gibson's new book was pretty good, I thought. The thing that got me, was reading Pattern Recognition after the Bridge trilogy, I was like, "I want more old school cyberpunk Bill."

Now that he's reversed himself, I'm like "I want more Pattern Recognition, middle-school Bill."

Funny, that.

Anyway, you can hate Bob all you want. But not me. I love Bob. And I love Bill. And I know there would be no Bill without Bob.
posted by valkane at 10:07 PM on November 16, 2014


Also, thanks for posting these reviews, it was like reading all those books again in like 45 minutes, and that was a lot of fun! Cheers!
posted by valkane at 10:13 PM on November 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


He honestly thinks Prometheus is better than Alien.

Statistically, out of six billion people, there had to be one.
(I do kid, I saw, and loved Laser Blast as a young kid. Having watched the MST3K version I have no idea what I was thinking.)

I don't mind some Heinlein. I think TMIAHM is pretty solid, but "Stranger" was pretty awful and I could not see why people loved it.

I've been recommended to hit the juvies (somehow I missed them as a kid) and this post will help me work out which ones, so there is that).
posted by Mezentian at 12:26 AM on November 17, 2014


Potomac Avenue: "Life's too short to spend brain space on this crud, I'm sayin. These reviews are neat but like, man, did we read and review all the other books already?"

People paid him money to review them.
posted by Chrysostom at 7:02 AM on November 17, 2014 [1 favorite]


The guy was a contemporary of your great-great (possibly 3x-great) grandparents.

I this overstates the antiquity case; from my perspective he was born five to eight years after my grandparents (to provide a mefite data point). Yet my late-elementary-school-age self raised an eyebrow or two at aspects of these books/characters when churning through them in the early 70s. (Note I certainly raised a similar eyebrow at other "Golden Age" sf novels, notably Asimov's, as well.) Still, for all his books' flaws, characters like Pewee and Podkayne did probably help set the stage for women in later books by Delany, Russ, and LeGuin a few years later.

Too facile a criticism of Heinlein seems like a flattening of history, where art or literature is evaluated out of context, and intermediate steps in moving toward the (relative) contemporary openness or enlightenment we expect in our entertainment is quickly slapped with FAIL and discarded out of hand.
posted by aught at 8:13 AM on November 17, 2014


107 years ago is five generations when historically, people popped out kids at around age twenty. I'm hitting a half-century age soon, and 1907 dates to my nephew's 4x great grandmother.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:25 AM on November 17, 2014


> "And, by the way, that's where any comparisons to Ayn Rand really break down ... I can only see it as a concealed insult."

Well, I think Heinlein is a much better and much more varied writer than Rand. However, I don't think it's ridiculous to attempt to draw parallels between two fiction writers who were born in the same decade and died in the same decade both of whom were known for writing books which idealized hypercapitalist technocratic societies in which self-reliant individuals succeed by throwing off the shackles of constraint imposed by government or society and intelligent successful women adore being dominated by more intelligent more successful men.
posted by kyrademon at 10:33 AM on November 17, 2014 [2 favorites]


kyrademon: except that doesn't sound like the Heinlein I've read and I've read all of his works up to Friday (included). In nearly all his juveniles, it's a young cadet-type hero who succeeds in some sort of a non-Randian way. In Citizen of the Galaxy the hero inherits a multinational and finds it was involved in slave trading, and stops it. In Door into Summer a businessman-engineer builds iRoombas and finds success only to lose it not due to government but because of some personal backstabbing. In Moon is a Harsh Mistress it's the colony vs. metropolis scenario that plays out, similar to the war of Independence in the US.

It's not ridiculous to draw a parallel as long as you are fair, and being fair you can't come away without a conclusion that there is no parallel.
posted by rainy at 12:02 PM on November 17, 2014


five fresh fish: The guy was a contemporary of your great-great (possibly 3x-great) grandparents. One might as well diss Shakespeare or Chaucer or Ovid.

My grandmother was born 10 years before Heinlein, on a farm in rural North Carolina. She put herself through medical school in the 1920s, then practiced through the Depression, adopting two children from patients along the way and settling down with her (female) lover. When her lover died, she married his cousin and had three more children. She continued her practice throughout this, under her maiden name thank you very much, until she was in her early eighties; her achievements included founding the first hospital in the county where I was born. Along the way she visited every continent in the world apart from Antarctica.

The endless excusing of Heinlein’s sexism because he was just so oooooold is ridiculous. He was a creepy sexist who though that the only lasting value women had was as companions to men and producers of their children. Plenty of his contemporaries and elders did better.
posted by tavella at 12:20 PM on November 17, 2014 [2 favorites]


> "It's not ridiculous to draw a parallel as long as you are fair, and being fair you can't come away without a conclusion that there is no parallel."

You can disagree if you like, but my description is a fairly noncontroversial view of a good chunk of his output, especially from about 1957 on. For example, your position that The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress is simply a colony vs. metropolis scenario ignores the lunar society's revulsion against the idea of a welfare state to the point that even air has been commodified.

Here's a quote from an interview Heinlein gave:

"I would say my position is not too far from that of Ayn Rand's; that I would like to see government reduced to no more than internal police and cohorts, external armed forces - with other matters handled otherwise."

Here are some quotes from his books:

“Under what circumstances may the State justly place its welfare above that of a citizen?”
“Prof, as I see, [there] are no circumstances under which [the] State is justified in placing its welfare ahead of mine.”

"Gratitude: An imaginary emotion that rewards an imaginary behavior, altruism. Both imaginaries are false faces for selfishness, which is a real and honest emotion."

“A rational anarchist believes that such concepts as ‘state’ and ‘society’ and ‘government’ have no existence save as physically exemplified in the acts of self-responsible individuals."

"... no amount of force can control a free man, a man whose mind is free. No, not the rack, not fission bombs, - not anything - you can't conquer a free man; the most you can do is kill him."

“Comrades, I beg you – do not resort to compulsory taxation. There is no worse tyranny than to force a man to pay for what he does not want merely because you think it would be good for him.”

Seriously, we're not making it up.
posted by kyrademon at 2:33 PM on November 17, 2014 [3 favorites]


I disagree that these quotes make him comparable to Rand, I don't know if it's controversial or not, but if it's not, it probably should be.

“Under what circumstances may the State justly place its welfare above that of a citizen?”
“Prof, as I see, [there] are no circumstances under which [the] State is justified in placing its welfare ahead of mine.”


I would tend to agree about TMIAHM, it stands out as one of the preachiest books of his, and Prof. La Paz is the most annoying and smug character not only for Heinlein but probably in all of the SF I've read (and Mike character is annoying and awful as well). However, that's just one book out of ~20? up to Friday.

100% of Rand is hamfisted barely coherent proclamations of selfishness and the most extreme flavor of libertarianism.

In Heinlein, TMIAHM, his libertarian leaning shows up stronger than in other works, to the detriment of the book (probably his least entertaining novel). Even so, libertarian motifs through the book are fairly sparse and disconnected from the narrative. It's much more about lifting the yoke of the Metropolis from their backs, the colony being mismanaged and ignored because there's no representation (therefore there should be no taxation). It's more apt to compare it to DC voters not having representation, which is hardly a rallying cry for today's libertarians, or did I miss it?

For Rand, TMIAHM would be an excuse to go into the "and that's how we build a new society with no government and it will be heaven", for Heinlein, IIRC (I haven't reread the book in a long time because as I mentioned it's one of his most boring), the reaction of the settlers is that, finally, we got rid of the colonial administration.. It's very similar to the state of affairs after the Independence war, except that there is no slaves.

The question of rationed air is more of a Heinlein's streak of connecting unique technological situations to their effect on societies. Food was not free in any socialist state, even though it's essential for life. Here Heinlein is using it as a plot device to scandalize the reader and upturn his expectations - it's Heinlein-engineer, not Heinlein libertarian speaking: food is expensive and precious, so is water, and just so you know you're not on Earth anymore, so is air.

"Gratitude: An imaginary emotion that rewards an imaginary behavior, altruism. Both imaginaries are false faces for selfishness, which is a real and honest emotion."


I haven't read this book because it's post-Friday, but depending on context it might read as more of an Ambrose Bierce quote than Rand quote. It may be a direct reference to Rand, though.

I don't wish to defend his post-Friday books, because, frankly, they were quite bad. I don't know if being libertarian screeds were part of their badness, but it doesn't make much difference to me: the advice is still the same - don't read them.
posted by rainy at 3:40 PM on November 17, 2014


(P.S. I should clarify that food is not free in socialist states in sense that air is free -- there are some barriers and controls over distribution to people in need, Heinlein is drawing attention to the fact that air in the colony becomes like a costly commodity and has to be treated as such even if it seems odd. If it were a socialist colony they would still have metering and controls over who gets air and how much and whether they get free air or can pay for it.)
posted by rainy at 3:52 PM on November 17, 2014


"... no amount of force can control a free man, a man whose mind is free. No, not the rack, not fission bombs, - not anything - you can't conquer a free man; the most you can do is kill him."

Ah, but the full quote (which I can't copy paste from google books) concerns freedom of speech and of information.
posted by rainy at 4:19 PM on November 17, 2014


Look, I'm perfectly in agreement with you that Heinlein was a better author than Rand, and also that both his output and political philosophy was more varied. I would never argue that all of Heinlein's books were preachy screeds the way that Rand's were.

But the fact remains that Heinlein was not only an avowed admirer of Rand with similar political ideas, but a guy who was known for putting his political ideas in fictional form in his books. While The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress may be the most obvious example of these beliefs ending up in his novels, similar ideas show up in a lot of his work.

It's just not hard to look at Heinlein and find Rand-style businessmen who buck the system and the haters and the government to Get Stuff Done -- The Man Who Sold The Moon, for example (and Destination Moon as well.) The anti-unionism of The Roads Must Roll is pretty blatant. Friday is full of rants against big government. And so on and so forth.

To deny that these things are there, you have to ignore a lot of what's in his works. The "buying air" bit in The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress is explicitly NOT just about scarcity and value; it's presented in the context that There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch (TANSTAAFL) is the entire basis of lunar ideology -- i.e., that almost all human transactions should be commodified and the government has no business helping anyone with anything.

If I wanted to write a paper entitled "A Comparison of the Political Philosophy Found in the Work of Ayn Rand and Robert A. Heinlein", it would be easy. That doesn't mean they are identical, of course they weren't. Or that Heinlein never said anything Rand would detest, of course he did. But it is perfectly reasonable to compare them, as two authors who put very similar ideas in their work.

The difference is that it's the unbending basis of ALL of Rand's work, because she was kind of a one-track ideologue, while in Heinlein it's in a chunk of his work but not all of it and ranges from ambiguous to "this would be a good idea" to occasional outright Rand-esque ranting, because Heinlein wasn't a one-note writer.
posted by kyrademon at 5:11 PM on November 17, 2014 [1 favorite]


Look, I'm perfectly in agreement with you that Heinlein was a better author than Rand, and also that both his output and political philosophy was more varied. I would never argue that all of Heinlein's books were preachy screeds the way that Rand's were.

Yeah, more like none of his books were preachy screeds, and some of them (out of a huge total output) had some preachy bits, which were not central to the plot, and he was coming at them from a distinctly different angle, as I note about the metered air.

It's just not hard to look at Heinlein and find Rand-style businessmen who buck the system and the haters and the government to Get Stuff Done -- The Man Who Sold The Moon, for example (and Destination Moon as well.) The anti-unionism of The Roads Must Roll is pretty blatant. Friday is full of rants against big government. And so on and so forth.

Please cite some specific examples in these books, because I don't trust the compilations of quotes like the one you posted before, because once I start looking at them in context, they turn out to be a lot more ambiguous.

Re: metered air. I think you're approaching it from the preconcieved idea of Heinlein's libertarianism in his works. If you look at it from the point of view of him as a story teller and world-creator, it makes perfect sense. How would you create the most vivid impression of the colony that has to create all of the resources for itself? Even Ebenezer Scrooge wouldn't concieve of charging people for air, but here the environment itself charges the community for air. It's not imposed by political ideology but by environment itself.

If you wanted to paint a cartoonish libertarian picture of Heinlein, this would be the perfect example to use. Simply frame it in Libertarian context and drop this example, and anyone who hasn't read his works would walk away thinking he out-Rands Rand!

But it is perfectly reasonable to compare them, as two authors who put very similar ideas in their work.


I can't really agree with that, the difference in their output from the artistic and storytelling angle drowns out any similarities.

I'm really concerned that this narrative takes hold and has effect on people unfamiliar with his work may peg him as Rand in space, perhaps more varied, perhaps less preachy, but Rand-like nevertheless.

What's lost here is the fact that majority of his output doesn't have a smidgen of Libertarianism in it, the few books that do are not focused on it in any significant way, and the one example I can perhaps agree with, TMIAHM, goes at it from a distinctly different angle than Rand would, and it's still not crucial to the plot, nor takes up much space in word-count.

So, to sum up: Ayn Rand, 2 works out of 2 are full to the brim with the most naive libertarianism.

Heinlein: out of 20-25 works, just *one* that has maybe 5% of it where a distinctly different flavor of libertarianism comes from a SF, engineering, and imaginative-world building angle. (and isn't crucial to the plot)
posted by rainy at 5:56 PM on November 17, 2014


five fresh fish: "107 years ago is five generations when historically, people popped out kids at around age twenty. I'm hitting a half-century age soon, and 1907 dates to my nephew's 4x great grandmother."

Averages are average, plus you're fuzzing details a bit there (how old is your nephew? 107 years "dates to" what part of said nephew's great-great-great-great-grandmother's life?). Coincidentally, I'm in my mid-40s and 107 years ago is exactly when my grandmother was born (the grandmother who wound up being the business manager for the multi-million dollar business she and my grandfather built from scratch, and who had more than a bit of experience with sexism, both benign and overt*).

IMO, "He/she was a product of his/her times, you couldn't possibly expect better of them!" isn't persuasive. For almost any era or issue you point to (since we've had detailed-enough recorded history, I mean) there have been opposing factions. "You can't blame Civil War-era people for supporting slavery, they were products of their time!" Well, so were the abolitionists.

Saying "If we'd been born where they were born and taught what they were taught, we would believe what they believe" is well and good but doesn't fully reflect the complexity of human existence and belief. I also think it makes it entirely too easy to handwave away one's responsibility to examine one's beliefs and actions to see if they're morally and ethically supportable.

* I don't remember how old I was when Mom first taught me that it was a bad idea to sneak up on Grandma from behind; always make some noise or say something so she knew it was you. I was in my teens before Mom told me that this was because Grandma had gotten groped so many times in her life that it was reflexive at this point: if you touched her unexpectedly from behind she'd elbow you in the solar plexus and leave you gasping on the floor before she realized you were friendly. Can't say I blame her…
posted by Lexica at 6:46 PM on November 17, 2014


rainy: "Heinlein: out of 20-25 works, just *one* that has maybe 5% of it where a distinctly different flavor of libertarianism comes from a SF, engineering, and imaginative-world building angle. (and isn't crucial to the plot)"

Actually, I believe I was the one to bring up the Rand comparison, and I didn't actually compare Heinlein to Rand -- I compared Heinlein's FANS to Rand's FANS, in that if you don't grok the books like they grok the books:
Eyebrows McGee: "And they will now explain to you, at length, with subheads, The Ways In Which You Are Misunderstanding Heinlein. They're like Randroids -- well, frequently they ARE Randroids too -- but with more opinions about sex."
So I'm giggling a bit about the Q.E.D. here in that you have now explained, at length, with subheads, The Ways In Which We Are Misunderstanding Heinlein.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:07 PM on November 17, 2014 [3 favorites]


Yeah, I was about to say that all this discussion about people interrogating the text from the wrong perspective had sold me on Eyebrows McGee's comparison of fans upthread.

IMO, "He/she was a product of his/her times, you couldn't possibly expect better of them!" isn't persuasive.

It's particularly unpersuasive when what it's trying to persuade you of is that these books are a fun way to spend your leisure reading time, and moreso when the thing you don't enjoy is the characterization of people who are more like you than they are like Heinlein. (Though to be fair, I always found his Gary Stu wise old guy character just as annoying as his women characters who were all about serving men and having babies.)
posted by immlass at 7:15 PM on November 17, 2014 [3 favorites]


Eyebrows McGee: I wasn't specifically referring to your comment, but to general dismissiveness that sometimes comes up on Heinlein threads.

I didn't have any subheads, did I? So now you want to outlaw lengthy discussions and presumably do away with metafilter? Or only your approved lengthy discussions are kosher?

Edit: it was kyrademon who was putting up quite an argument that Heinlein is comparable to Rand.
posted by rainy at 8:21 PM on November 17, 2014


Lexica: I'm also 47. The nephew is in single digits. My family had a string of teen mothers.

I think y'all are forgetting that there has been immense, rapid social change in the past century. The last American slave died in 1971. The last Indian residential school closed in the late 90s. Women have had voting rights for less than a century. Gay marriage still isn't a right in the all USA. Pissing on an old, dead author for not having modern sensibilties seems dickish kinda stupid when our own culture still hasn't managed to get it together.
posted by five fresh fish at 12:20 AM on November 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


We're pissing on him because he's a terrible author that people revere out of habit. His retrograde sensibilities are merely a signpost pointing us towards his larger transgressions: being a bad writer.

Our own culture has many good writers in it. So did that ancient time period known as the 50s. That's what we're judging him against, not some rubric of ideal political opinions.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 3:46 AM on November 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


Are you sure that people revere him? 'Cause I sure don't see any evidence of that in this thread.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:43 AM on November 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


Well, the Heinlein Society at Worldcon was ironically handing out free TANSTAAFL ribbons, which you don't see happening for either of the other Big Two, Clarke and Asimov.
posted by MartinWisse at 8:59 AM on November 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


But Heinlein worship is pretty much a generational thing; the man died almost a quarter century ago after all. It's undeniable that whole generations of sf readers from the late thirties to the late eighties grew up with Heinlein and his works and lots of us worshipped him as the fount of all knowledge. That stupid quote about specialisation being for insects, that sycophantic story about how he would've made the US win the space race had he not invalided out of the navy, etc.
posted by MartinWisse at 9:03 AM on November 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


Oh god "the specialization is for insects" thing. Specialization is the reason we even have spaceships and aren't all huddled in caves covered in animal furs. Specialization is one of the great triumphs of civilization. I do what I'm good at and you do what you're good at, and we accomplish more together than if we each tried to do it all separately.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 9:33 AM on November 18, 2014 [4 favorites]


I love the specialization is for insects quote. I really believe that even if you're REALLY REALLY good at building spaceships you should be able to hold a baby, cook a meal, and a lot of other basic human life skills. People who refuse to learn how to change a tire or elbow an attacker because "they shouldn't have to" drive me up the wall.
posted by small_ruminant at 3:31 PM on November 18, 2014 [2 favorites]


That's how I feel about people who can't read cursive. Also pity.
posted by Justinian at 12:55 PM on November 19, 2014


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