Heinlein and Science-Fiction

7 Apr

Oviously, this is the first draft.  Comments welcome.

Chapter One: Heinlein and Science-Fiction


If there is any one man who deserves to be called the grandfather of science-fiction, it is Robert Anson Heinlein.

His importance to the field simply cannot be underestimated. Heinlein was the first writer to come up with a number of ideas – and tropes – that are so common today that we cannot understand how revolutionary they were at the time. Heinlein dreamed of a future that was both fantastic and within our grasp, Heinlein asked questions that needed to be asked, Heinlein – above all – made his characters truly human. He was the first science-fiction writer to mix the pulp genre with genuine literature, giving his works a staying power that many other writers of his time lacked. Heinlein’s works may seem dated now – Heinlein got as much wrong as he got right – but Heinlein touched upon timeless truths that continue to resonate to this day.

Compared to Edward (EE ‘Doc’) Smith or Isaac Asimov, it is clear that Heinlein was the superior writer. Doc Smith wrote stories of heroes who were effectively superhuman, stories that were dominated by super-technology; Asimov wrote stories that often relied on clever resolutions and smart thinking (or sometimes doing nothing), while putting the human race in the care of a guardian race of psychic robots. One may argue, for example, that the central question of the Foundation and later Robot books is how mankind should be governed; Heinlein, by contrast, insists that man should govern himself.

Heinlein: A (Very) Brief Bio

Robert Anson Heinlein was born in Missouri, 1907. Growing up in Kansas City, Heinlein went to the US Naval Academy in Annapolis and graduated in 1929, moving swiftly to take up a post on the aircraft carrier USS Lexington (where he would serve under the later Admiral Ernest King) and see the changes wrought on warfare by modern technology. He then served on the USS Roper, a destroyer. Unfortunately for Heinlein, his naval career came to an end in 1934, when he was discharged from the Navy because of pulmonary tuberculosis.

After a brief and ultimately unsuccessful attempt to enter business and politics, Heinlein turned to writing and produced his first published story (Life-Line, printed in Astounding Science Fiction) in 1939. Others followed, including a rewrite of a story first written by John Campbell (Sixth Column), before the Second World War intervened. Heinlein was unable to return to active service, something that plagued him in later years, but he was able to secure a job doing aeronautical engineering for the Navy at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard in Pennsylvania. In hindsight, it is clear that Heinlein’s post-naval career provided fodder for many stories, even if Heinlein himself found the period more than a little frustrating.

The end of the war brought a number of changes to Heinlein’s career. He wrote a number of short stories that helped science-fiction become a genre in its own right, as well as starting a series of juvenile novels for Charles Scribner (1947 to 1959) and a movie script entitled Destination Moon. (It won an award for special effects). However, he was also growing increasingly aware of the danger posed by the Soviet Union and the need to maintain a strong defence. His response to a suggestion that President Eisenhower should unilaterally stop nuclear tests was to urge the President to keep going, as well as standing up to the Communists in all fields. Starship Troopers was written to make it clear, I believe, that freedom is not (and never was) free. Scribner refused to publish it, ending their relationship with Heinlein.

It may have been a blessing in disguise. Heinlein had long chafed under editorial requirements and he welcomed the chance to strike out on his own. Once he had found a new publisher, he started work on books that pushed the limits as far as they would go; Stranger in a Strange Land, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and Time Enough for Love. Despite failing health, Heinlein would be involved in matters such as blood donations and Star Wars – the missile defence plan, not the movies – until his death in 1988.

Heinlein was married three times in his life. The first marriage, to Elinor Curry in 1929, lasted about a year and ended in divorce. His second marriage, to Leslyn MacDonald, lasted for fifteen years before Leslyn fell into alcoholism and the couple filed for divorce. His third wife, Virginia Heinlein (one of the first female engineers in America), outlived him.

It is difficult to exaggerate how much change Heinlein saw in his life. The world of his childhood, one he would later evoke in Time Enough for Love and To Sail Beyond the Sunset, was a world of horse-drawn carriages, primitive medicine, poor communications, institutionalised racism and sexism; he saw both world wars and the Great Depression, the collapse of the European Empires, the aggression of the Soviet Union (which invaded Poland in 1921 and Finland in 1939), the Civil Rights Era and so much more. He learned the importance of keeping one’s powder dry from a very early age, as well as the value of civilisation … a civilisation he saw as being under threat. And, to a very large extent, he was right. His experiences – and those of his country and world – shaped his development, as surely as my experiences shaped mine. Heinlein grew up in a profoundly unsafe world, where – eventually – the threat of nuclear annihilation arose to promise the destruction of everything he held dear; his critics grew to adulthood as the world stabilised – for a while – and the prospect of imminent death and destruction faded into the background. Heinlein never knew the safety (and immense comforts) we used to take for granted – and, in many ways, his harsh view of the universe was more practical than anything put forward today.

It was Heinlein’s great blessing, I think, that he could and did look ahead of the world of his birth. And it is his great curse that his critics are often unable to understand the world that surrounded him when he wrote. Many of Heinlein’s modern-day critics are far younger: Nora Jemisin, who insisted that Heinlein was a racist, was born in 1972 and would have been sixteen when Heinlein died.

In his early years, for example, Heinlein had less creative freedom than one might expect. He was often forced to argue with his editors, who insisted on changes that ranged from the sensible – in line with the issues of the day – to the thoroughly absurd. It was a great deal harder for him to get concepts past such eagle eyes; the stranded characters of Tunnel in the Sky, pairing up as they come to realise they may never be rescued, make a big song and dance about getting married. Later, as he became a name, Heinlein enjoyed more creative freedom, openly including sex, characters of colour and even homosexuality. Even so, by modern standards, Heinlein’s more adult books – To Sail Beyond the Sunset, in particular – are ridiculously clean. Sex is rarely, if ever, acknowledged in any of his juvenile books. Babies appear to come from nowhere.

Heinlein, going by some accounts, was far from perfect. He was grumpy and opinionated at times and often, depending on which account you believe, enjoyed making people pay for his favours. He liked his privacy, as Alexi Panshin discovered; I suspect he was grimly aware of the difference between his world, as he presented it, and his real life. And yet, like just about every great man in history, Heinlein is not brought down by his flaws. Instead, he rises above them.

Heinlein’s Books

The vast majority of Heinlein’s works can be comfortably divided into juvenile (we would probably call them Young Adult today) and adult books. The former were written specifically for teenagers (mainly teenage boys, although by the time The Rolling Stones was written it was clear that a number of teenage girls were reading them too) while the latter were more literarily in scope, asking questions about the rights and duties to one’s country (Starship Troopers), making observations about the impact of religion on society (Stranger in a Strange Land) and challenging the comfortable beliefs of his readers (Farnham’s Freehold.)

Indeed, the majority of Heinlein’s books straddled the line between pulp (adventure) fiction and literary fiction (big ideas). Where John Ringo’s A Hymn Before Battle confidently fits into the pulp category, and Arthur C. Clarke’s Rendezvous with Rama fits neatly into the literary category, many of Heinlein’s works – particularly his juvenile books – comfortably fit into both. Thus Starman Jones is a tale of a young man who goes to space (pulp), but also an observation on both the dangers of locking talented youngsters out of a guild and the difficulties in making the super-privileged realise just how privileged they actually are.

Heinlein’s genus lay in making the two categories work together. Rendezvous with Rama is not a character-based story, not in any real sense. The true star of the book is the mysterious alien ship. Naomi Alderman’s The Power is focused on a world-changing event, not a handful of characters. Both books would not be that different if the characters were different; indeed, the events of the book overwhelm the characters. Most pulp books, certainly the ones written in Heinlein’s era, rarely asked any genuinely big questions. Doc Smith’s adventure novels were exciting, with a giant arms race that ended with entire planets being thrown around like rocks, but they never asked us to reflect on human nature. Heinlein, on the other hand, rarely lost sight of his characters. Sixth Column is SF pulp in the truest sense of the word – super-technology used to defeat a vastly more numerous enemy force – but it is driven by its characters, not by its world.

It is this, I think, that accounts for Heinlein’s continued popularity amongst SF readers. He serves as an excellent entry into the genre, even if his juvenile books seem very dated today; young readers can read them without an adult’s sceptical eye. Older readers can admire the amount of thought that goes into his juvenile works, the moral lessons he tries to impart and, perhaps, the limitations that made it harder for him to say what needed to be said. (He had trouble with his editors when he wanted to include characters who were not straight white males, to the point where he was compelled to only hint at Rod Walker’s skin colour (black) in Tunnel in the Sky.)

His adult books were more literary than pulp, to the point that my twelve-year-old self discarded Starship Troopers fairly quickly after discovering it was not particularly exciting compared to some of his older novels. Heinlein would raise big ideas – he was perhaps the first serious author to write about a gender-swapping character – and invite us to challenge our perceptions. He would discuss, often at length, how the world worked (or at least how he saw the world working.) And he was clever enough at getting his ideas across that he opened a number of minds. I can honestly say that it was Heinlein, not anyone more modern, who convinced me to take microaggressions seriously.

Part of this, I think, was that Heinlein was careful to make us like his characters before showing us the roadblocks in their path. Rico of Starship Troopers, for example, is given a chance to grow on us before Heinlein casually reveals that he’s Filipino. Tunnel in the Sky has Rod Walker, but it also has Jackie … whom Rod assumes to be male until she proves her competence (bonus points for Rod repeating what, to a teenage boy, would have seemed the height of wisdom about girls … and putting his foot firmly in his mouth.) The Rolling Stones has Hazel Stone, who faced discrimination from male engineers; Farnham’s Freehold has Joe, who is perhaps the most likable character in the book. He gets a chance to give a breaking speech to Hugh Farnham, who thoroughly deserves it.

It’s sad, but true that we empathise more with likable people than people we consider unlikable. A character who happens to be stridently tilting at windmills – Lisa Simpson or Hermione Granger, for example – is more likely to become the butt of various jokes than hailed as a hero. Whining and moaning is not seen as heroic; professional victims, however defined, are rarely liked, no matter how much lip service is paid to their words. The man who overcomes his weaknesses and strides triumphantly into the future is seen as more heroic than the man who lets bitterness overcome him. Heinlein understood that, I think. His characters had weaknesses and flaws, very human weaknesses and flaws. Not all of his successors have the same understanding.

Heinlein in the Modern World

Heinlein is not (and never was) above criticism. His works have drawn a great deal of fire over the years, most notably Starship Troopers (which had to endure the indignity of a truly terrible movie named after it.) Yet, in recent years, Heinlein’s legacy has come under attack from SF readers and writers who really should know better.

Part of this, I suspect, is because Heinlein was (and is) such a towering and polarising figure in the field. A person who tries to attack or defend Heinlein will take fire from people who want to defend or attack Heinlein. He is such an important personage that many authors, myself included, have drawn inspiration from Heinlein’s work and, in many ways, consider him something of a father-figure. An attack on Heinlein is an attack on the foundations of our house and should not – must not – be tolerated. But this makes it difficult for people to assess Heinlein in the context of his times and, worse, gives ammunition to those who want to tear Heinlein down. It is easy to shout ‘racist’ or ‘fascist’ at a Heinlein supporter, which does absolutely nothing for the tone of the debate. Heinlein was neither, as I will demonstrate, and his supporters aren’t either.

Indeed, like it or not, we have reached a point where we must hail someone as an unquestionable hero who must not be criticised (Nelson Mandela, for example) or insist that one flaw in their otherwise saintly appearance demands that we declare them to be completely beyond the pale. The question of precisely what we do with the works of great creators who have sinned has become more pressing in recent years, with the revelations about Jimmy Savile, Harvey Weinstein and, in the science-fiction and fantasy field, Marion Zimmer Bradley. Heinlein was nothing like these abusers, but – as a man of his times – he sometimes wrote things that would be considered problematic today. But is this enough to condemn him?

I say no, for both logical and emotional reasons. Heinlein cannot be fairly judged by the standards of our time; he must be judged by the standards of his time. It is neither fair nor logical to hold him to account by standards that simply didn’t exist in his world. But emotionally, Heinlein is very much the grandfather of science-fiction. I can recognise his flaws, and I will be discussing them later in the book, but I can no more reject him than I can reject my biological father. Nor does the fact that Heinlein said or did something automatically invalidate it.

But the other part of the problem is that Heinlein did not have the advantage of drawing on the works of countless older authors. He was breaking new ground; sometimes taking old tropes and transferring them to outer space, sometimes making his ideas up out of whole cloth. To newer readers, Heinlein sometimes reads as a horrendously outdated writer from the stone age, as one commenter put it. His works are sometimes strikingly idealistic, as if they and their writer came from a more trusting age. Heinlein’s works evolved as Heinlein himself evolved. The simple truths of his early writings gave way to admitting the complexity of the world around him.

It is often suggested, most notably by John Wright, that Heinlein could not win a Hugo Award today. There may be some truth in this. On one hand, science-fiction has evolved and fandom has expanded in many different directions. (More people bought a copy of my latest book than voted in the 2017 Hugo Awards.) And, on the other hand, conventions and fan associations have developed a terrible habit of excluding people for having the wrong political beliefs (i.e. conservative) or saying the wrong things or generally refusing to toe the party line. Heinlein, in his later life, saw no reason to kowtow to ideologues and, I suspect, would probably have been ejected from numerous conventions.

But success is not measured in awards, but books sold. And, by that standard, Heinlein’s legacy is alive and well. Why might this be so?

There is a section in Marvel Comics Civil War: Front Line where Sally Floyd chews Captain America out for not keeping up with modern life and uses this as an argument to prove that Cap is out of touch. Cap is shamed into silenced (or too stunned at her stupidity to tell her she’s being stupid) and Sally thinks she’s won the debate. But consider this:

A teenage boy and a teenage girl live in adjoining houses. The boy wants to spy on the girl as she undresses every night. In 1900, he drills a hole through the wall and peeps through; in 2000 he hacks her webcam and watches through it; in 2100 he uses a microscopic nanocam; in 2200 he uses a zero-width wormhole. But in all four time zones, the boy is a pervert spying on the girl without her knowledge or consent. There is a timeless principle that one does not play the voyeur. And most of Heinlein’s works hum with timeless principles.

And that, I think, is why Heinlein is still popular today.


21 Responses to “Heinlein and Science-Fiction”

  1. Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard April 7, 2018 at 8:29 pm #

    In Second Foundation, Asimov told the reader that the Secret Masters who wanted to mind-control humanity were the “Good Guys”.

    In later Foundation Novels, he dropped that idea but replace it with worse ideas. 😦

  2. George Phillies April 7, 2018 at 8:37 pm #

    The early chapters of Starship Troopers include Rico in a classroom, being exposed to his instructor to a series of “refutations of communism”. The difficulty with this, though I read Marx’s Capital or part of it at some years separation, is that the “refutations” appeared somewhat similar to the straw men that Marx erected in an early chapter of his book. Assuming I was remembering correctly, is the message:
    If you are a real Communist who has read Marx, you realize that Heinlein is not arguing with you
    Heinlein needed some arguments against Marx, and these are cheap shots showing that Heinlein had read Marx first
    The instructor had the submerged lesson ‘if you consult the primary sources, you discover that your teachers can mislead you, so you should not believe everything you are told.
    The current earth government is run by militarists who are not very bright,.

  3. George Phillies April 7, 2018 at 8:41 pm #

    AS an aside, some years ago there was a book publishing firm that decided to publish the totally definitive annotated set of all of Heinlein’s works, with permission from the estate. They were as sure of success as were the people who produced the John Carter movie, because of course all SF fans have read ER Burroughs. My recollection is that both ventures ended less than well, though I could be wrong.

    • chrishanger April 15, 2018 at 8:02 am #

      I suspect there wasn’t enough interest, although I wouldn’t have minded a copy myself.


  4. Ian Birchenough April 7, 2018 at 9:33 pm #

    Arthur C Clarke?

  5. MishaBurnett April 7, 2018 at 10:11 pm #

    In the first sentence of your second paragraph, I think you mean that his importance can not be overestimated, because it can be underestimated. I’d lose the phrase entirely, though, it’s very cliche.

  6. William Ameling April 8, 2018 at 7:16 am #

    There are so ideas about the future that he DID get RIGHT. A simple example: how many SF authors would have suggested in the early 1960s that women could serve as surrogate mothers for hire, to carry other women’s babies in their wombs (The Moon is a Harsh Mistress)? this was at least 20 to 30 years in advance of real life.

    A later chapter in your analysis of Heinlein should reflect how VERY often he used a training or school environment to get across his ideas while his characters were growing up from teenagers into an adult world. Also while his characters were likeable, many of them were young and extremely intelligent, which gave those many intelligent readers some hope of what they could grow up to do, that their more normal compatriots were not interested in. I can remember so MANY times in my Senior English class when the teacher said “Bill and Chuck (another book worm who was in a wheelchair) put your hands down and some one else please answer some questions” (about the books we reading for the class) even though the entire class room was in the college prep track which was only about 1/4th of the total number of students in that grade (about some 460). I read “Stranger in a Strange Land” that year, and “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress” a year or two earlier. By 6th grade I was starting to get into the adult science fiction books (what FEW of them there were: two shelves about 3 to 4 feet long). After that I started buying paperback books back when they were only $0.50 each at the beginning of 7th grade. I read Lord of the Rings at the end of 7th grade. I graduated from High School in 1971.

    I was the only math/science/physics nerd in my high school class, all of the other really smart kids were the english, humanities, and speech team types. I was the ONLY student in my class who placed out either first year college calculus or physics, and my High School did not offer the classes, I did it on my own with books from the library. Yet even though I was a Math Science Nerd who got 800s (perfect score) on the SAT Math, and Math Achievement Tests, along with a 782 on the Physics Achievement Test (BEFORE I took High School physics), I ALSO got a 763 on the ENGLISH SAT because I was a book worm who loved to read (Science Fiction as well as science and math books). Heinlein, along with Andre Norton, Asimov, and a few others made me a science fiction fan and a book worm who also read non fiction books too. I did not discover E E Smith until I was in high school. How many 10 and 11th graders buy Calculus and College physics books (cheap reprints from Dover Books) to read and study. I took a two year (1st and 2nd year) College Physics text book (that uses calculus) from the public library and read the entire book in 8 weeks during the summer following my 10th grade. Being a book worm who loved to read and who was interested in math and science came partly out of love of science fiction (of course I loved science fiction because it was about science as well)( the two reinforced each other). I did read a few sailing and submarine stories. Luckily I had band and orchestra to keep me from being a total social recluse. They were some of the few things that challenged me in high school.

    I did not discover CS Lewis and the Narnia books until 12th grade, because I skipped over the kiddie section of the public library, and started in the juveniles. Most of the books I did read from the public library, I read multiple times because there were so few of them, only a fraction of Heinlein’s and Andre Norton’s books for instance. I had about 300 paperbacks by the end of High School, i.e. I bought about 50 a year for 6 years, or one book a week on average. I can read fairly fast because of all the practice, e.g. I read the last two Harry Potter books in about 6 to 7 hours each. So many kids ( I substitute taught for a few years) today can NOT read very well because they do not get very much practice, because they do not read for pleasure, only for homework. Not many kids are book worms. Most of my Heinlein and Andre Norton books were read from paperbacks not the public library. I eventually bought just about all of them by my college years.

    I know things above are a little out of order, but that is how I thought of them while writing this. Science Fiction and Heinlein helped make me a book worm. Heinlein was the one that opened my mind most to ideas about how societies could be or were organized, particularly through his stories that included training and class room environments.

  7. randallberger April 8, 2018 at 11:53 am #

    Rico is a Filipino? I thought he was from Argentina. That’s why they all freaked out when the bugs dropped a meteor in Buenos Aeres.

    I think one of Heinlein’s greatest books is ORPHANS OF THE SKY, two combined novellas about a generational ship. One of a kind. would make a great film with modern CGI …

    Another all time favourite series is WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE and AFTER WORLDS COLLIDE … 1932 … co-written by Philip Wylie and Edwin Balmer. … the 1950s George Pal movie of the first book was a bit corny, but true to the book. Could stand to be made again as a 2 film series.

    Another I reread once and a while is MOCKINGBIRD, a 1980 book by Walter Trevis … kind of sci fi and dystopian … would also make a great film.

    I also graduated from high school in the US in 1971 and gorged myself on Heinlein, Norton, Clarke and LeGuin.

    • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard April 8, 2018 at 2:08 pm #

      Rico’s mother was visiting Buenos Aires and was killed there. Rico’s “birth language” was Tagalog which is a language of the Philippines.

      • chrishanger April 15, 2018 at 8:04 am #

        Yep. And Heinlein casually tells us this as if it’s perfectly normal.


  8. Shrekgrinch April 8, 2018 at 8:07 pm #

    His first book written (in 1938) was also his last published (after his death). I refer to “For Us, The Living: A Comedy of Customs”. He was really big into Social Credit back in those days and the novel was about that.

    Supposedly, the only copy of it was found in a garage then published in 2003.


  9. William Ameling April 8, 2018 at 8:30 pm #

    When Worlds Collide and After Worlds Collide are very interesting SF books from the early 1930s, that are worth reading. The books were written by someone (two authors) that knew a lot about astronomy in the 1930s. The big difference from the movie, was that a lot of the story took place between the first pass of Earth by the gas giant, which took out the Moon, and the second pass that destroyed the Earth. After Worlds Collide took place on a inhabitable planet that was a satellite of the gas giant and which achieved an independent orbit (very eccentric) from the gas giant in the solar system after the Earth was destroyed. The gas giant then continued on out of the solar system back to interstellar space. A number of separate colonizing refugee rockets from different countries on the Earth reached that inhabitable former moon/satellite just after the Earth was destroyed nearby. The main story is about two rockets from the USA. That world had been inhabited by another advanced technological Race, a very long time ago, before that gas giant and moon had been ripped (ejected) from their native stellar system. All that was left of that Race was some enclosed cities that the human refugees took over. (I am trying to not give away too many Spoilers for those who might want to read them. I remember the stories pretty well).

    I did not remember or understand the Tagalog reference in Star Ship Troopers. I did remember the reference to a city in South America where his mother died when it was destroyed, so I also assumed he was Spanish in origin, which would have some validity for the Phillipines as well, which was colonized by Spain and was taken by the USA in the Spanish American War in the 1890s (when the USA acquired Puerto Rico also), and then freed by the USA after World War 2.

  10. William Ameling April 8, 2018 at 10:25 pm #

    Clarke and Le Guin I read from paperbacks not from the local library, along with Edgar Rice Burroughs, John W Campbell and many others.

    If you like Fantasy, the Adult Fantasy Series that Lin Carter edited (published by Ballantine Books, who were/are the USA paperback publishers for Lord of The Rings) reprinted a lot of Fantasy novels from the 1800s and first half of the 1900s, that are pretty good. Once Lord of the Rings and a few other books established that there was a paperback market for good Fantasy, Lin Carter reprinted a lot of old titles and then introduced a few new authors, in particular, Kathryn Kurtz ( I am not sure a spelled that name right) with the first Deryni Series Books.

  11. equestriaverse April 8, 2018 at 11:07 pm #

    For all of Robert Heinlien’s sins, there are many things about the author that recommend him to this day.

    He always thought through the consequences of the worlds he created.
    The few, rare times he talked down to a reader, there was a reason.
    While his techological and scientific predictions never really came to pass, he invested enough understanding of his creations to make it that they could be an alternate history, not a future history.
    He always created his characters as people-and made sure that virtues and vices were the character’s choice, not their history or race or sex.

  12. William Ameling April 8, 2018 at 11:32 pm #

    Back in the 1960s various publishers, Ace Books in particular, as well as Ballantine Books, reprinted a lot of old SF books/stories from the 1920s, 1930s, and even 1940s. As well as E E Smith etc. and including a lot of Edgar Rice Burroughs and authors similiar to Burroughs, and even all of the Robert Howard Conan related material (Lin Carter helped with this as well). Some of Robert Howard’s stories rewritten to turn them into Conan stories. The quality of the stories varies but a lot of them are fairly good to pretty good. A lot of Andre Norton and Marion Zimmer Bradley were published by Ace, before DAW Books got started. Plus of course Heinlein, Asimov, etc.

  13. PhilippeO April 9, 2018 at 10:23 am #

    I think you write two confusing principle 1) Heinlein is not (and never was) above criticism. 2) An attack on Heinlein is an attack on the foundations of our house and should not – must not – be tolerated.

    Heinlein as person is man of his time, But his work and his fans exist in present. They can, should, and must be criticized. There is nothing wrong with that.

    > Indeed, like it or not, we have reached a point where we must hail someone as an unquestionable hero who must not be criticised

    I think its the reverse, modern society no longer accept hagiography. Everybody have Flaw, and that flaw must be acknowledged and accepted. Not mentioning flaw in biography become suspect, modern society no longer accept hero worship.

    > It’s sad, but true that we empathise more with likable people than people we consider unlikable. A character who happens to be stridently tilting at windmills – Lisa Simpson or Hermione Granger, for example – is more likely to become the butt of various jokes than hailed as a hero.

    Lisa and Hermione fulfill criteria of competent (wo)man more than any other character in their stories. Several Heinlein female character is also as competent as this two, Wyoh Knot Davis ? or Carmen Ibanez ? . And unlikable is questionable considering these two popularity, They practically favorite for young female fans. Only limited number of people find them unlikable. Considering that Simpson and Potter is marketed to BOTH young man and young woman, such happening is inevitable. Popular work could no longer marketed only to young man, such work still exist and popular, but considered niche.

  14. Anarchymedes April 9, 2018 at 12:06 pm #

    Well, I cannot argue about who is the ‘grandfather’ of sci-fi: suffice it to say that my entry into this genre involved (and I only list the English-language writers here) Ray Bradbury, Alfred Bester, Roger Zelazny, and a number of other short-story writers (yes, I take a bit of an offence at the term ‘pulp’ : some of it is about as serious a literature as it gets). It did not involve Heinlein: I read his Stranger in a Strange Land long after my bitter disillusionment with hippies/sectants/neo-this-and-neo-that/lovey-dovey-sad-and-lonely bunch (yes, I’m quoting Marylin Manson here: you get the drift 🙂 ).
    Still, a few lines above have caught my eye.
    First is this: ‘as a man of his times [–] he sometimes wrote things that would be considered problematic today’. If any artist can be blamed for being a product of his or her time, it speaks more about us than about them. Besides, is there anything that’s not ‘problematic’ today, for one minority group or another? It’s a miracle Shakespear is not banned yet.
    Next, ‘Heinlein was careful to make us like his characters before showing us the roadblocks in their path. Rico of Starship Troopers, for example, is given a chance to grow on us before Heinlein casually reveals that he’s Filipino.’ WTF? Since when being a Philippino is a ‘roadblock?’ And to whom? Sounds like it’s not Heinlein who should sometimes watch out for ‘problematic’ stuff…
    ‘But in all four time zones, the boy is a pervert spying on the girl without her knowledge or consent. There is a timeless principle that one does not play the voyeur. And most of Heinlein’s works hum with timeless principles.’ Now that I believe – because this is what makes sci-fi a form of art. The keyword is ‘fi’, not ‘sci’ (yes, pedantic nerdy wannabe critics, I’m aiming at you. Star Wars don’t even smell like science, and neither does The Matrix, or the Hunger Games, if it comes to that. So what? The more boring, unimaginative, and emotionally insecure the reader is, the more important the ‘scientific believability’ becomes).
    And finally, ‘His works are sometimes strikingly idealistic, as if they and their writer came from a more trusting age.’ Well, I’m not his fan, but I still say it’s probably because he hoped that a more trusting age lies ahead. Otherwise, we might as well become totally pragmatic, safe, and rational, shrink this Yin-yang to an indistinguishable dot with no good and no evil, no love and no hatred, and then hand ourselves over to an AI to rule us wisely – because by then we will have become an AI: Absent Intelligence. Humans will become more stupid than computers: how’s that for a dystopia?

  15. dichroic April 12, 2018 at 7:26 pm #

    I keep wondering if you’ve read Spider Robinson’s essay about Heinlein, “Rah, Rah, RAH!” Some of what’s here is very similar, other parts are interesting to compare in light of 20 or so years between the two pieces. What I particularly appreciated about Spider’s piece, though, was the praise for Heinlein from someone who was (presumably still is) on the liberal/hippie end of the political and social spectrum.

    • chrishanger April 15, 2018 at 8:08 am #

      I haven’t, but I’ll look it up


  16. sam57l0 April 14, 2018 at 1:49 am #

    Have you read “Tramp Royale”, his book about the Heinleins’ trip around the world.? As I recall, he enjoyed South America. And South Africa. Australia he thought was 20 years behind the US, and New Zealand 30 years behind.

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