March 30, 2011

"Robert A. Heinlein: In Dialogue with His Century"

From my review of a new biography of Robert A. Heinlein in Taki's Magazine:
The rise of the nerds to mainstream dominance is one of popular culture’s most important developments over the last generation. Consider the gulf in sensibility between old Hollywood blockbusters such as Gone with the Wind and characteristic 21st-century tent poles such as Avatar, Lord of the Rings, and The Dark Knight.
A central figure in the evolution of obsessive geeks into a self-aware, self-confident community was science-fiction author Robert A. Heinlein (1907-1988). For many of the mid-20th century’s lonely youths, discovering Heinlein stories in pulp sci-fi magazines or at the public library was a you-are-not-alone moment.

Yet a massive new Heinlein biography by William H. Patterson, Jr. illustrates a paradox: Heinlein himself wasn’t a nerd. Weighing in at 624 fact-crammed pages, Robert A. Heinlein: In Dialogue with His Century: Volume I, 1907-1948: Learning Curve> (whew…) is redolent of the Aspergery culture that Heinlein helped call forth. ...

Ironically, the urbane Heinlein preached the virtues of being an all-arounder.

Read the whole thing there.

78 comments:

Le Sigh said...

Yet a massive new Heinlein biography by William H. Patterson, Jr. illustrates a paradox: Heinlein himself wasn’t a nerd.

The best sci-fi writers don't tend to be. Stanislaw Lem for example.

You need emotional intelligence and a social understanding of your fellow human beings to write good literature in any genre.

Without it, you get that unreadable 'hard science fiction' crap. Long, boring elegies to technologies and female characters so poorly written you start to wonder if the author has ever met a real-life woman before.

Like I said, read Stanislaw Lem for real science fiction. Especially Solaris and His Master's Voice.

none of the above said...

Steve:

What do you mean by nerd? Heinlein was the kind of guy who found nerdy things interesting (thinking about space colonization or political philosophy or how societies work), but had significant social skills. This isn't that rare--my coworkers are overwhelmingly like this--smart people who will chat about technical subjects over lunch, be reading a book about British naval history in their free time, but still have a happy marriage and kids, get along with the neighbors, be able to make small talk at a party, etc.

Lack of social skills isn't a qualification for techie fields, it's just less of a hinderance for them than for something like being a salesman or manager. And enjoyment of SF or fantasy stories is likewise not only for people with lousy social skills, though fandom provides one (of many) relatively forgiving communities for people who'll never be socially smooth.

Drawbacks said...

By the way, Nick Currie aka Momus claims authorship of "everyone will be famous for 15 people".

Tanstaafl said...

The Puppet Masters

America is in the grip of invaders from another planet. They are landing at key points throughout the nation and taking over communications centers, industry, and government organizations.

Washington and the super-secret security services have tried to stop the invasion but to no avail. The monsters have the upper hand. They can take control of a person's mind--and direct his thoughts and actions.

Copyright 1951, Robert A. Heinlein

Topiary Utopia said...

Jack Vance > Heinlein.

Heinlein's later works are all terrible, but "The Number of the Beast" takes the cake. It's not merely bad, it displays an asphyxiating solipsism which I found positively unpleasant. I think it's the only book I want to forget having read.

"The best sci-fi writers don't tend to be. Stanislaw Lem for example.

You need emotional intelligence and a social understanding of your fellow human beings to write good literature in any genre."

Ah yes, who could ever forget Lem's many memorable characters, like... *scratches head*

Luke Lea said...

Guess I missed the nerd boat. How come most of my Internet friends are nerds but few of my personal ones? Is this a widespread phenomenon?

Anonymous said...

"Andy Warhol is still famous for saying 43 years ago that in the future everyone will be famous for 15 minutes. It’s more likely that in the future everyone will be famous to 15 people."

EPIC WIN FOR SAILER.

beowulf said...

That sounds like an interesting book. I'd forgotten that, like Buckminster Fuller and L. Ron Hubbard, he was a US Navy officer.

Ray Sawhill said...

Great piece.

John Craig said...

In your analysis of how Heinlein's various books each gained different cult followings, you left out one important category: "Time Enough For Love" appeals to romantics.

Anonymous said...

Heinlein was a great story teller but his characters were oversexed nut-cases who would tear up about cute little kittens one minute and then kill someone for cutting into the supermarket line.

I think Michael Moorcock described his characters as being "Neanderthals"

Thrasymachus said...

The only Heinlein book I read was "Starship Trooper". Its ideal- the warrior-philosopher- is a myth, and this myth has been taken apart by the two long guerrilla wars the US has fought. The Army supports a few intellectuals, but it supports liberals too, being the weakest in military spirit of all the services. The strongest in military spirit, the Marines, despises intellectuals.

The "all-arounder" was always a myth, even back when the world was much simpler; it's kind of a silly idea of the American elite, and survives only because of its role in elite college admissions. Now more than ever we live in an age of specialists. It's good to have a few interests outside your work but as a practical matter they probably won't be far from your main strength.

Anonymous said...

"...silver-mine owner as the front man for the Pendergast Kansas City political machine..."

That reminded me: it was stated in a PBS documentary on Harry Truman that after meeting Stalin for the first time Truman compared him to boss Pendergast, for whom he had once worked. He thought these two had similar personalities and styles.

And as for nerds' "I'm not alone" moments, I'm sure that those have been happening for millenia. When Isaac Newton first traveled to Cambridge from his village, what else could he have thought about it? If a nerdy guy from ancient Samos suddenly got hired by the Alexandrian Library, what would have been his most likely reaction? And so on.

Anonymous said...

There are plenty of other myths that you could be usefully debunking ...

For example:

All those but kicking babes in HollyWank would get their asses handed to them ...

All those world-changing female hackers don't exist

and the list goes on.

Richard Sharpe said...

Heh, well you also find, when you read things like "The Moon is a harsh Mistress" that he did not really know much about real human behavior and seems to have simply absorbed a lot of the shit that Margaret Mead and Boas purveyed.

Anonymous said...

I remember hating STARSHIP TROOPERS the movie, but someone told me the book is real good, but I couldn't get past the first chapter.

My other encounter with Heinleinism was the anime AIM FOR THE TOP: GUNBUSTER, which begins ludicrously but gets better and better, with the last two episodes(out of six)being really top-notch.

I suppose lots of sci-fi movies--Matrix, Cameron movies, etc--owe something to Heinlein.

I was never much of a reader of sci-fi, though I suppose I should read some more Lem and Dick.

http://www.depauw.edu/sfs/backissues/5/lem5art.htm

I read some Bradbury as a kid, and I still like MARTIAN CHRONICLES--and the first few episodes of the TV adaptation--and Truffaut's FAHRENHEIT 451, but he's someone you outgrow.
Asimov had some great ideas and could write, but he added too much silly crap to the narrative. FOUNDATION has a great premise but too much trite genre stuff and stock characters. I stopped halfway.
I never got into Arthur C. Clark. 2001 the movie blew me away. It is about awesome mystery. I suppose it wasn't Clark's fault that you can't do with words what images can do with the stargate sequence. But Clark tries to explain too much. I couldn't get through the book. As for the sequels, watching 2010 was enough. Terrible.

The leftist(but sometimes profound)former film critic of the Chicago Reader said Olaf Stapledon's STARMAKER is probably the greatest sci-fi book ever. I'm reading that now. Though it's anti-fascism is heavy-handed, it is a fascinating book.

http://www.jonathanrosenbaum.com/?p=23993

Anonymous said...

More Rosenbaum on Stapledon.

http://www.movingimagesource.us/articles/lines-and-circles-20101203

"Complicating 2001’s recurring notion of physical liberation is Kubrick and his co-writer Arthur C. Clarke’s pessimistic and deterministic view of mankind’s destiny being both shaped and circumscribed by a superior race of beings represented by the mysterious monolith. In contrast to the more populist and left-wing orientation of Olaf Stapledon—the English SF visionary who was clearly one of Clarke and Kubrick’s main inspirations (as he was on Clarke’s best novel, Childhood’s End), above all for his essayistic novels Last and First Men (1930, a “history” of mankind over the next two billion years and 18 successive human species) and Star Maker (1937, described on Wikipedia as “an outline history of the Universe”)—2001 arguably posits mankind in far needier terms."

Steve Sailer said...

Yeah, I was real pleased with coming up with that famous to 15 people line, but after sending it off I realized somebody somewhere must have come up with before.

Anonymous said...

Even though it's called 'science fiction', most science fiction is about fantasy about technology(cars that travel at light speed, etc)than about science.
And even ones that deal with science are more about significance of science/technology on our lives, thoughts, and values than about science/technology itself. For example, we don't know how the robot works in AI. It's a given that creatures such as he exists, and that's that. The real question is philosophical and/or psychological: 'what does it mean to be human?' Maybe, it should be called psycience fiction, or psy-fi.

2001 may be the ONLY sci-fi film that pays attention to the details of science in the future. Though we don't learn about the mechanics of spaceships or the inner workigs of Hal, Kubrick obeyed rules of gravity and stuff like 'no sound in space'(except for Strauss), which is violated in just about every sic-fi movie.

Another thing. It's interesting that Heinlein may have seen the cult potential of science fiction, and of course L. Ron. Hubbard did much with it.
This raises a question. How much of science fiction is about spirituality than science? Though stories like 2001, ZARDOZ, AI, STARMAKER, FOUNDATION, MARTIAN CHRONICLES, SOLARIS, and STALKER deal with 'scientific' matters such as ultra-technology, galactic travel, futurism, pollution, and/or ecology, they also seek a grander mystery, 'spirituality' hidden behind materiality. The final image of THX 1138 is near-spiritualist, not least because of the use of Bach. Some of this spiritualism is quasi-transcendental(as in 2001), but some of it's neo-pagan: Roy Batty vs Tyrell in THE BLADE RUNNER is like Siegfried vs Wotan in Nibelungen; and ZARDOZ owes a lot to Arthurian legends.

I think Buddhism may have been a major influence on Clarke. And maybe Vonnegut too, though some might say Vonnegut was a satirist than a sci-fi writer. I suppose, generally speaking, a satirist--Huxley, Orwell, etc--use elements of sci-fi to delve into questions of philosophy and politics whereas most sci-fi writers do the opposite. But then, there are writers somewhere in between, who are neither so 'serious'(or literary)or sci-fi(or genre oriented). Lem might be one of them.

In a way, the term 'science fiction' is an oxymoron. The purpose of science is to use facts to prove theories in the search of truth. Fiction is to creatively speculate and make things up in search of psychological, social, or spiritual meaning. What goes by 'science fiction'--at least at the higher end--is more like spiritualist-futurism. There is even a death wish for materialism in science fiction, a desire to meet some higher force or power that transcends the best of human science and technology, a desire to meet the ultimate maker. Lang's METROPOLIS, for example, features two Marias: the spiritualist one of the heart, and the mechanical one of cold power.

Anonymous said...

"Yeah, I was real pleased with coming up with that famous to 15 people line, but after sending it off I realized somebody somewhere must have come up with before."

This the bummer about the internet. In the era of BI--before internet--, you could believe you were the first or only person to have coined a term or arrived at some clever insight, but with instant searching, more often than not, you find out you were the last.

Anonymous said...

"The only Heinlein book I read was 'Starship Trooper'. Its ideal- the warrior-philosopher- is a myth, and this myth has been taken apart by the two long guerrilla wars the US has fought."

It is certainly a myth is a consumerist-democracy such as ours. But then, it turned out to be a myth in Nazi Germany as well.
But amongst primitive tribes, there may indeed be sage-warriors, which may be Colonel Kurtz in APOCALYPSE NOW decided to go native. Was Heinlein like a cross between Milius and Kesey who liked machines a lot?

Anonymous said...

Heinlein wrote juvenile SciFi - and when I was a juvenile I read it and loved it. Later when I lived among the hippies (Haight-Ashbury in the Summer of Love) everyone was reading Stranger in a Strange Land. I felt I had a head start on Heinlein but it was of course a different Heinlein - not at all the tough minded realist I expected.

I tried to buy some old Heinlein novels for my Kindle. Alas (the Jerry Pournelle word) all his books were expensive. I expected them to be $0.99.

So I bought a couple A.E. Van Vogh stories instead. Van Vogh didn't lead cults so much as join them. He was into Dianetics and Scientology of course and General Semantics but my favorite was the Bateson Eye Method. I actually knew someone who wore those opaque glasses with the little holes in them. Van Vogh wrote a story once about a nearsighted man who strengthens his eyes so much he can see and enter other dimensions.

For me Van Vogh was always the dean of SF, not Heinlein.

Albertosaurus

Anonymous said...

There's a saying, 'you can't judge a book by its cover'. Well, 99% of the time, you can, and most sci-fi books are as awful as their covers.
Sci-fi movies in general may be even worse.

Anonymous said...

Was that his real name? How come most sci-fi writers have such cool names? Ray Bradbury. Isaac Asimov. Stanislaw Lem. Arthur C. Clarke.

Anonymous said...

How come no Joe Smith?

Anonymous said...

"Consider the gulf in sensibility between old Hollywood blockbusters such as Gone with the Wind and characteristic 21st-century tent poles such as Avatar, Lord of the Rings, and The Dark Knight."

Nerds are plenty violent.

Anonymous said...

Has anyone read Canticles of Lebowitz? I remember back in high school, a whole bunch of Jewish kids thought it was the greatest thing since the reuben sandwich.

Anonymous said...

It seems many real scientists are fans of science fiction. I think Richard Dawkins is a big fan of Dr. Who and even married a woman who was associated with it. Carl Sagan read science fiction all his life, and even wrote a sci-fi book, CONTACT, which was made into a so-so movie.

This is interesting since a history professor once told me that most history professors never read historical novels or fiction. I wonder why that is.

Baloo said...

Vance>damn near everybody. Wyst: Alastor 1716 tells the reader more about socialism than Heinlein and Rand put together. Vance is THE anthropology-as-science science-fiction author. You can read every scrap of his stuff and not find a trace of PC trendiness. Heinlein was a mix of occasional insights and a lot of narcissistic damn foolishness. In many ways, he was PC before it was popular. A society as bollixed-up sexually as his Lunar one would blow itself to pieces in short order. As for Lem, how can you not remember Trurl and Klapaucius?

Don't get me wrong. I like Heinlein. I just think he's overrated. He's the John Wayne of SF. Good, certainly, but not as good as Jimmy Stewart, Gary Cooper, etc. And Heinlein isn't as good as Poul Anderson, Keith Laumer, or Larry Niven.

Anonymous said...

'Best' sci-fi isn't necessarily
the best. Of the PLANET OF THE APES series, the best ones are the pts 1, 3, and 4, while the least are 2 and 5, but 2(BENEATH)is by far the most interesting. The rest are easy to 'get'. Part 1 is essentially our world turned upside down where apes rule over humans. ESCAPE is the reverse, where the talking apes are the hunted ones. Parts 4 and 5 are essentially ape-centric versions of revolution and race war.

But part 2, BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES, is zany-insane, like the movie OMEGA MAN.
It begins simply enough, with militarist gorillas attempting a military coup, but then the story gets weirder and weirder, with all sorts of cultish spiritual material about mutants with telepathic powers who worship the Bomb. The scene where the mutants project a vision of gorillas being crucified upside down in a vat of fire has to be among the most whacked out images in all of cinema. It's less like POTA movie than a pulpy adaptation of Huxley's APE AND ESSENCE.

Anonymous said...

Ayn Rand was a "lesser novelist"???

Hmmm, let's see. She sold many more books than Heinlein, sparked a major philosophical and political movement, and continues to be a subject of mainstream discussion and thought.

What is it with Ayn Rand haters that they feel the need to denigrate her achievements with cheap shots and ignorant assessments?

eh said...

OT (sorry)

Some updated info on Social Security.

It's an ugly picture that will only get a lot uglier.

Anonymous said...

Heinlein provided young women with pretty much the only reproductively successful role models available in popular culture. There is no other accessible art that presents female fertility and intelligent motherhood as desirable qualities of serious adult human beings. I honestly doubt I would have had children if I hadn't been a giant Heinlein fan starting around 12. If you know any females socially, which if you're reading this you probably don't, check their attitude towards Heinlein and I guarantee you it will correlate with their fecundity. I should probably name my next one Robert.

Dog of Justice said...

Re: science fiction, any of you read David Brin? His books have a better track record than most when it comes to predicting stuff that will actually happen in our world.

Anonymous said...

"What do you mean by nerd? Heinlein was the kind of guy who found nerdy things interesting (thinking about space colonization or political philosophy or how societies work), but had significant social skills. This isn't that rare--my coworkers are overwhelmingly like this--smart people who will chat about technical subjects over lunch, be reading a book about British naval history in their free time, but still have a happy marriage and kids, get along with the neighbors, be able to make small talk at a party, etc. "

Yep. This is real American manhood. The dumb jocks/hapless nerds model derives from the extremely artificial and hothouse environment of the 1950s-present public high school. Unfortunately the model has metastasized as the rest of our culture has become more adolescent.

-osvaldo m.

Anonymous said...

How much of science fiction is about spirituality than science?

Science fiction is imaginative fiction about modern myths, like 'technology, f*** yeah!"

-Osvald M.

Anonymous said...

A.E. Van Vogt, surely.

Anonymous said...

Come on, man- geeks and nerds are not synonymous. Geeks are socially oriented and frequently oversexed (polyamory is big with geeks) whereas a wildly disproportionate amount of nerds are involuntarily chaste pedophiles. Geeks gravitate towards neopagan religions and nerds are usually hardcore atheists. Nerds may like some hard sci-fi, but hate the stuff like Star Wars, Star Trek etc for promoting bad science and acting as a backdoor for religion.

agnostic said...

"but after sending it off I realized somebody somewhere must have come up with before."

Hey it's the fame that matters, and that doesn't necessarily go to the original originator. It's to whoever makes it spread. Nobody mentions Dryden when they talk about the Noble Savage, for example. And Bob Dylan may as well never have recorded "Mr. Tambourine Man."

Think of it in genetic terms. The same mutation for lactase persistence probably popped up several times but went extinct because of chance. Nobody will remember those -- only when the Indo-European hordes fanned out over the earth did that mutation achieve undying glory.

none of the above said...

Anonymous:

You ought to try written SF, instead of movie/TV SF. There is a lot of hard SF, including Heinlein's early work, which goes to a lot of trouble to follow known science as closely as possible, while adding in speculative bits about future technology--AI or faster-than-light travel or ramscoops or nanotechnology. Good SF, from my perspective anyway, takes those speculative bits and extrapolates what they mean--what does it look like when you produce a computer that's smarter than a human and has its own drives? What does it look like when you send a hundred people on a one-way trip to colonize mars? And so on.

Anonymous said...

The "all-arounder" was always a myth, even back when the world was much simpler


Socrates was not only a philosopher, he fought in the Athenian army, and did so when fighting in the army was a rather more serious business then today.

Anonymous said...

I tried to read some Olaf Stapledon based on the blub about what an important sci-fi writer he was.

It's rare that I fail to finish a book. I'm patient enough to read the users manual for my car. But "Last and First Men" was unreadable. Stapledon may (or may not) have had some interesting ideas but he was a terrible writer.

Svigor said...

I think Michael Moorcock described his characters as being "Neanderthals"

And we give a shit because...? I'd like to get back the brain cells now carrying what little of his Elric books I still remember.

Anonymous said...

How about Harald of Norway? Composer of poetry, would-be conqueror of Saxon England.

Svigor said...

All those but kicking babes in HollyWank would get their asses handed to them ...

One thing I find interesting about this is how it seems more masturbatory for nerds than empowering for women. If they really wanted to empower women, they would emphasize guns, and how dependent women are on them for any butt-kicking they do. And how important mental preparation is to self-defense, especially for women. Instead they seem to do the opposite. And it's not like Hollyweird has jumped on the guns for gals bandwagon, either.

Mac said...

Did anyone here read Glory Road? That's the one Heinlein book I've started to read read that I couldn't finish. Just crap in my opinion.
My favorite Heinlein work is Starship Troopers. I enjoyed Stranger in a Strange Land, but felt The Moon is a Harsh Mistress to be overrated.
Heinlein's one of my favorite authors,but his sermonizing was a bit heavy handed at times.

Anonymous said...

I haven't read any Heinlein and am more fond of sci-fi in movie form than as a novel. What little I've read, Lem and Gaiman, have, however, left me thinking about the images and ideas conveyed long after the fact.

No one mentions Gaiman here but he's supposed to be linked to scientology in the UK. I've only read American Gods but am frequently surprised that thoughts of it come to mind over 5 years after the one reading I gave it.

I've also come to see Stephen King as more sci-fi than horror because of how some of the novels and short stories describe the nature of human thought about issues personal, political and religious.

Anonymous said...

Both the "all-round" and the "jocks/nerds" idiocies are the results of educrats and their divide-and-conquer schemes.

Anonymous said...

"Ayn Rand was a "lesser novelist"???"

Yes. "Crap novelist" would be even more to the point.

"Hmmm, let's see. She sold many more books than Heinlein,"

So what? Quantity has nothing to do with quality. I could name plenty of writers who sold more books than Rand did, but that is not how a rational person would evaluate their qualities as novelists.

"sparked a major philosophical and political movement,"

Sparked a very minor political cult and personality cult, you mean. And anyone who thinks that Ayn Rand was a "philosopher" is too simple minded to be let out of doors without a leash.

"and continues to be a subject of mainstream discussion and thought."

You are delusional. There is no "mainstream" discussion of Ayn Rand: it is a specialist study at best. Only the members of the Rand Cult think there is anything significant or "mainstream" going on in the little, self-delusional world of "Objectivism".

"What is it with Ayn Rand haters that they feel the need to denigrate her achievements with cheap shots and ignorant assessments?"

She was a crap novelist who wrote boring, didactic novels with card-board, lifeless characters impersonating "ideals" of Rand's dogmatic "philosophy". This is the sort of garbage that impresses 14-year old teenage girls who don't actually know what a well written novel actually is yet.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous, it's 'A Canticle For Liebowitz.'

Svigor said...

What is it with Ayn Rand haters that they feel the need to denigrate her achievements with cheap shots and ignorant assessments?

I dunno - quid pro quo?

Svigor said...

Heinlein was a mix of occasional insights and a lot of narcissistic damn foolishness.

I've never read any Heinlein (or any Sci-Fi I can recall ATM, for that matter), but I read a discussion about him recently and one fan put forward the explanation that Heinlein really does just try out ideas in his work, rather than only his pet theories. Then he throws them in the trash and tries another.

Svigor said...

This is interesting since a history professor once told me that most history professors never read historical novels or fiction. I wonder why that is.

History is the greatest story ever told. No need to gussy it up I suppose.

Svigor said...

No, wait, I did read Contact.

SFG said...

"Yep. This is real American manhood. The dumb jocks/hapless nerds model derives from the extremely artificial and hothouse environment of the 1950s-present public high school. Unfortunately the model has metastasized as the rest of our culture has become more adolescent."

Could be. Of course, Aristotle did have that whole bit about how slaves were more physically powerful but less intelligent, so intellectuals have probably been resenting alpha males for a while. The point is that most societies need warriors, so being able to write philosophy or solve math problems usually takes second place.

"Come on, man- geeks and nerds are not synonymous. Geeks are socially oriented and frequently oversexed (polyamory is big with geeks) whereas a wildly disproportionate amount of nerds are involuntarily chaste pedophiles. Geeks gravitate towards neopagan religions and nerds are usually hardcore atheists. Nerds may like some hard sci-fi, but hate the stuff like Star Wars, Star Trek etc for promoting bad science and acting as a backdoor for religion."

You're actually describing a generation gap within the geek community, I think. The older ones still hold to 1950s values. The younger ones finally got hit by the counterculture and are into being bisexual (the girls at least; female nerds naturally tend to be a bit masculine), polyamorous (not enough women to go around), sadomasochistic (nice well-defined rules for your relationships), and pagan (all the Dungeons and Dragons and World of Warcraft, I think).

I thought this was a random coincidence based on a few engineers I knew, but then I saw:

http://community.livejournal.com/bipolypagangeek

They both like science fiction, of course. Come on, it's got cool machines. You think people interested in technology would like stories about technology?

charlotte said...

"All those world-changing female hackers don't exist ... "

I think they might be less non-existant than black hackers. After all, there was Grace Hopper. Now she didn't hack, to my knowledge. But I'm sure she could have.

Some sci-fi writers do so have social skills. Arthur C. Clark was a very skilled pedophile.
However, the objects of his attention were old enough to leave school by British standards.

Anonymous said...

Led Zeppelin, LotR nerds?

OK then.

charlotte said...

"There's a saying, 'you can't judge a book by its cover'. Well, 99% of the time, you can, and most sci-fi books are as awful as their covers.
Sci-fi movies in general may be even worse."

You know, that's true. That's why cover-designers are attributed. Their skill is not just drawing hte image, but distilling the essence of the contents into it. Especially with kid-oriented books, the cover is half the experience.

Svigor said...

I knew I was forgetting something. The Chtorran series is sci-fi, and I ate that up. In fact, a friend recommended it to me because I told him I'd never read any sci-fi. I don't recommend it though, Gerrold quit writing 2/3s of the way through, putz that he is.

Anonymous said...

1. "There is no other accessible art that presents female fertility and intelligent motherhood as desirable qualities of serious adult human beings. "

2. "Sparked a very minor political cult and personality cult, you mean. And anyone who thinks that Ayn Rand was a "philosopher" is too simple minded to be let out of doors without a leash."

WRT these very different comments. I've never taken Rand seriously because her novels suggest there is an elite of near perfect people. Ha! The cult of objectivism comes across as a selfish, egocentric and limiting strategy in which the Head Narcissist in Charge as the embodiment of human perfection (alpha) surrounds him/herself with lesser alphas who in turn make followers of even lesser alphas.

These two comments caused me to think back and link heroine of Pearl S. Buck's THE GODDESS ABIDES with the women in a Taylor Caldwell novel I read, but can't name, years and years ago. I think the Buck "Goddess" may have had one high IQ son but overall such writers equated fecundity with a loss of status that also squanders their talents. It definitely seems that in the era preceding the sexual revolution women and perhaps men (interacting w/ men who came of age in the 50's has given me this impression) were being taught to equate motherhood with servitude or even cast the unwitting female in the role of brood mare.

I've also come to the conclusion that these ideas were spread with some other aim than the empowerment of women. That the decades of upper middle class status seekers who preceded us were unwittingly bringing about their own demise seems evident but for what reason and for whose benefit.

Baloo said...

We're getting warmer — it's Leibowitz with an 'ei.' Fantastic book. An interesting SEQUEL appeared many years later.

And Heinlein lovers would probably like L. Neil Smith. Disclosure: I collaborated with him on a graphic novel.

kurt9 said...

"Time Enough for Love" was Heinlein's best novel. At least its my favorite Heinlein novel. "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" was probably his second best. I agree the stuff he wrote in the 80's (before his death) was not his best work.

Heinlein also popularized the strong female character in his novels.

Heinlein's political worldview fluctuated between socialism, fascism, and libertarianism and, like Ronald Reagan, seemed to be related to the woman he was married to at the time (at least Asimov claimed this).

There is one theme that did remain constant through out his writing career and one that I identify with strongly. This is the notion that freedom and competence are integrally bound to each other. A free society requires a populace consisting of competent people.

Competence is the basis of everything.

Mr. Anon said...

"Anonymous said...

Even though it's called 'science fiction', most science fiction is about fantasy about technology(cars that travel at light speed, etc)than about science.
And even ones that deal with science are more about significance of science/technology on our lives, thoughts, and values than about science/technology itself."

You are quite right. Science Fiction barely deserves the name. The classic example was Star Trek, which - for the most part - was just Gene Roddenberry's way of marketing his JFK cold-war liberalism dressed up in the guise of science-fiction.

The impression I get of Heinlein, as indeed of most of those older science fiction writers, is that they were mostly wannabes - guys who couldn't make it as scientists and engineers, and compensated for it by writing about imaginary scientists and engineers. This is not to say that some of what they wrote wasn't pretty inventive and even rather good - it was.

But if Heinlein really believed in that well-rounded guff that Steve quotes him as saying, well, then he is deluded at best. The only person who could do all of those things is the sort of person who would do none of them well.

It's interesting that someone mentioned Buckminister Fuller in the context of those golden era science fiction writers. Because Fuller is a classic example of a big ball of nothin' - a (poorly) self-educated self-promoter, whose schemes amount to nothing, and who slathers his speech with a bunch of self-invented, high-falutin' sounding gibberish that means nothing. Fuller well deserves to stand in the company of people like L. Ron Hubbard.

none of the above said...

I think Svigor's comment on Rand wins the thread. Though for sharp tongued snark, her political essays are hard to beat.

Kylie said...

"She[Ayn Rand] was a crap novelist who wrote boring, didactic novels with card-board, lifeless characters impersonating 'ideals' of Rand's dogmatic 'philosophy'. This is the sort of garbage that impresses 14-year old teenage girls who don't actually know what a well written novel actually is yet."

I read The Fountainhead at about age 14 and remember feeling distinctly "icky" about the relationship between Roark and Dominique, so much so that I have never reread the novel, as I have many others I read in childhood and adolescence.

I also felt the way Rand stacked the deck in favor of Roark and against Peter What's-His-Name was just silly and perverse for the sake of perversity.

I have nothing against the practice of authors using characters to represent and work out various philosophic stances and positions. I love Iris Murdoch, for example. But Rand is just too cartoonish, insisting on wielding a blunt instrument where a scalpel would have served both her arguments and her readers far better.

More to the point of this entry: the only thing of Heinlein's I recall reading was Stranger in a Strange Land. I found it, too, cartoonish and lacking in subtlety but more palatable than Rand's novel. The late 60s through the mid-70s were a very uncomfortable time for anyone who didn't get swept up in the touchy-feely (grokky?) ethos.

OneSTDV said...

Asperger's is the most over-used meme in this sphere. And nothing else comes close.

I've met maybe a handful of people in my entire life who suffer from it.

Anonymous said...

SFG- There's plenty of females to go around in geek circles, believe it. Women and girls are becoming majorities at conventions, which greatly annoys the predominantly asexual, closeted homosexual and/or pedophile male nerds and sending them over to the skeptic/atheist conventions. The 1950s crowd you refer to is long gone.

kurt9 said...

I knew I was forgetting something. The Chtorran series is sci-fi, and I ate that up. In fact, a friend recommended it to me because I told him I'd never read any sci-fi.

The Chtorran novels are kick-ass!

I absolutely enjoyed the Chtorran novels by David Gerrold and have the four that are written to date. I'm also disappointed that Gerrold has yet to write the final three novels.

Yes, they are Heinlein-like and can be read and enjoyed by someone who normally does not like SF.

SFG said...

"SFG- There's plenty of females to go around in geek circles, believe it. Women and girls are becoming majorities at conventions, which greatly annoys the predominantly asexual, closeted homosexual and/or pedophile male nerds and sending them over to the skeptic/atheist conventions. The 1950s crowd you refer to is long gone."

Majorities? What part of the country do you live in?

That said, the ratio seems to be evening out. I figure some of the heavier girls figure they can pretend to like scifi instead of sports and get a devoted, reasonably well-earning husband. Not every woman is a Roissyesque gold-digger, particularly once you get below a 5 or so. (Though Roissy's analysis is quite accurate for the 6-and-ups his audience aims for.)

none of the above said...

kurt9:

I've always thought that both the Chtorr novels and Enders Game were, in some sense, responses to Heinlein's Starship Troopers. In the Chtorr novels, the parallels are pretty clear, though what the author does with the idea changes a lot. (Heinlein was riffing on WW2-era military and social themes, Gerrold was riffing on 70s-ish hippie social themes, as with the TM/scientology/self-help-guru-ish cult, the ambiguously bisexual rebellious hero, etc.)

none of the above said...

I think Heinlein's books were much better when American publishers' editorial standards classified SF as young adult books, and so simply wouldn't publish anything with overt sexual content or language. Many writers would be made worse by this kind of restriction, but unleashing Heinlein's interests in these things served his readers poorly, IMO. His best work happened when he was able to push up against those limits without crossing them, like in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress or The Door Into Summer.

none of the above said...

Baloo:

At his best (say, Pallas), L Neil Smith is quite good. But he's also uneven. The Gallatin Divergence was just about unreadably bad, for example. The Probability Broach was pretty good, though the idea that a society with extensive space travel, no limits on owning any kind of weapons, and briefcase-sided fusion reactors had never dealt with attempted nuclear blackmail before didn't make any sense. (Couldn't Mr Red Baron have thought that one up himself?)

Interestingly, Smith was very heavily influenced by both Rand and Heinlein. (I was too, for what it's worth.) He put little sideline references to imagined accomplishments of both of them in the parallel universe of The Probability Broach.

Svigor said...

I'm also disappointed that Gerrold has yet to write the final three novels.

He's never going to write them. And if he does, they're going to suck, because that's how the world works. Either they'll be over-thought/over-worked, or he'll just be past his prime - something.

He should man up and farm it out to another writer.

Svigor said...

I've always thought that both the Chtorr novels [...] were, in some sense, responses to Heinlein's Starship Troopers.

That's the common wisdom, I think. At least, I read that every time I read something about the Chtorran series.

If so, it took Gerrold long enough to get to the point. That was all in the 4th novel, right? It all had a shark-jumping vibe to it and IIRC I skipped over a lot of that crap, or maybe I just didn't finish #4.

none of the above said...

Svigor:

The first Chtorr book has flashbacks to a class/teacher that was an echo of Johnny Rico's History and Moral Philosophy teacher. Though the US seems to have lost a bigger Vietnam-like war, and renounced militarism in public while refining it on the quiet, before the Chtorr invasion.

But yeah, the culty stuff really fires up later, with the overlap between his "good" cult classes and the evil cult leader who was leading renegades.

Svigor said...

The first Chtorr book has flashbacks to a class/teacher that was an echo of Johnny Rico's History and Moral Philosophy teacher. Though the US seems to have lost a bigger Vietnam-like war, and renounced militarism in public while refining it on the quiet, before the Chtorr invasion.

Oh yeah, totally, I see those parallels with the teacher characters. I just don't think the cult thing was that prominent a theme if he waited until the end of book 4.

But yeah, the culty stuff really fires up later, with the overlap between his "good" cult classes and the evil cult leader who was leading renegades.

Yeah, I think I put book 4 down because I don't remember any of that stuff.

kurt9 said...

The first Chtorr book has flashbacks to a class/teacher that was an echo of Johnny Rico's History and Moral Philosophy teacher.

Yes. Mean old Mr. Whitlaw is like Rico's teacher in "Starship Troopers", and Gerrold has been criticized for writing a knock-off of Starship troopers. However, I find the plot and characters significantly different that I do not accept this criticism.

Though the US seems to have lost a bigger Vietnam-like war, and renounced militarism in public while refining it on the quiet, before the Chtorr invasion.

This was one of the many sub-plots that made the series good. The U.S. lost a war and had to take responsibility for it.

But yeah, the culty stuff really fires up later, with the overlap between his "good" cult classes and the evil cult leader who was leading renegades.

The cult stuff, especially the "Mode Training" comes from Est and other 70's "self-help" stuff. Even though the novels were published in the 80's, the overall setting for the novels was very 70's like. What I really enjoyed about the novels was that the American society was depicted as being very socially liberal (drug use is legal, polyamory is common, etc.), but politically conservative (strong sense of nationalism, a turning to free-market economics). I think this depiction is spot on as description of the future.

He's never going to write them. And if he does, they're going to suck, because that's how the world works.

They will definitely be different if he finishes them. For one, the geopolitics has totally changed from that depicted in the first novel. The Soviet Union and the cold war were still on-going when the plagues broke out in 2016-2017. A lot of the economic ideas discussed in the first novel were very socialistic in the 1970's sense and have been thoroughly discredited since.

If Gerrold is to complete the series he has to make a choice. One choice is to consider them "alternative history" in the Turtledove fashion and not change any of the earlier novels to accommodate modern history. The other option is to re-write the earlier novels with an updated geopolitical and economic background. Either way is difficult.

Another point is that there was an O'niell space colony under construction at the time the plagues broke out (yes, we thought we would space colonies by now) and this is significant in the plot of several of the novels.

Also David Gerrold is significantly older than he was when he wrote these novels, especially the first two. This will affect his perspective when completing the series.

No I don't think he can "farm" it out to another writer. Gerrold definitely has unique "thought-print" that is not likely in any other writer.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of sci-fi, just saw RESIDENT EVIL AFTERLIFE. Though RS series is trashy, I love the first trilogy. Honest bare-bones bare-knuckle trash at its best.

Don't care much for AFTERLIFE though. It is way over-produced. B-movie should look like a B-movie: lean and essential, goofy and shameless in its ridiculous; in fact, the cheesiness is part of the charm.

An over-produced B-movie is like the Arch Deluxe. I mean who goes to McDonalds for gourmet food?
AFTERLIFE's effects are Matrixcessive and its tone is overly somber.

Same problem with Cameron. TERMINATOR was maybe the best B-movie action film ever. But then, Cameron took his B-movie ideas and made them epic. Terminator 2 had a great first 1/3 but it got grandiose and pompous.

And AVATAR's awfulness owes something to its being the most expensive B-movie ever made. Who wants to see a 300 million dollar Tarzan movie?

If a movie's gonna be expensive, it should be worthy of the cost and effort, like 2001 or AI.