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At the LA Times, Brian Doherty looks at the prescience of Robert Heinlein.

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  1. pintero lives!

    nice piece. “stranger” was one of the true great american novels. how about an analysis of how goofy his stuff got after the stroke?

  2. edna,

    What? No love for time-travel incest deus ex machina?

  3. not only time-travel incest, but transsexual time-travel incest.

  4. An article about Robert Heinlein as libertarian, and no mention of The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress. That’s just wrong.

  5. Brian, I live in Hollywood on Franklin blvd, near the scientology building.
    Where did Robert Hienlien live in Hollywood?
    Thanks

  6. “mistress,” though a nice, well-crafted read, didn’t need to be written- it was ground he’d covered many times before. otoh, “the sound of his wings” very much needed to be done (heinlein disagreed, but that was post-stroke anyway).

  7. Terry–He lived up on Lookout Mtn road, up in the laurel canyon area.

    Warren–this article is not, in fact, about Robt Heinlein as libertarian–it’s about Heinlein as the bard of Southern California, written for SoCal’s biggest paper the LA TIMES.

    I wrote a longer, different article about Heinlein that is also not JUST about Heinlein as libertarian, but does mention MOON, and it’s in the Aug-Sept issue of your and my fave mag, Reason. It’s not online yet, tho.

  8. Ah, my bad.

  9. Randolph,

    You know, the mom sex doesn’t bother me as much as the Time Enough For Love bit where he marries his adopted daughter. Sleazy. Or the bit in Sunset where the dad gives his own daughter a pelvic exam. I love RAH, but plop him on a psychiatrist’s couch and most would go screaming out their offices.

  10. Yeah, I remember reading Time Enough For Love, and about 3/4 of the way through thinking, “wait, why am I reading this again?”

    That said, the idea of a ship’s personality being downloaded into a person is pretty cool.

  11. That said, the idea of a ship’s personality being downloaded into a person is pretty cool.

    I liked that part too until I realize pretty much the only reason they did it was so they could have sex with her. 😉

  12. Sugarfree, you’re probably right. The man in a woman’s body bit from “I Will Fear No Evil” comes to mind.

  13. “You know, the mom sex doesn’t bother me as much as the Time Enough For Love bit where he marries his adopted daughter. Sleazy”

    I thought it was inspirational!

  14. yeah, I feel like he was only interested in strange and new ways to have sex with sentient intelligences, human or otherwise. Not that there’s anything wrong with that…

  15. TrickyVic,

    You also got the race angle in it as well. Probably my least favorite, although the deus ex machina movable feast that is The Cat Who Walks Through Walks is hot on its heels. Well, and the crime that CWWTW is the only (?) glimpse of the future of Mistress‘s storyline he ever affords us. (I can’t remember if we get a look at that in Number of the Beast or not.)

    Once an author starts tying all his books together through a navigable multiverse, his loved ones should quietly force him to give up the pen. A literary intervention… “Now Bob, were all here because we love you…”

  16. sug, how does “farnham’s freehold” fit into that idea. poorly, i suppose. god, what an awful book, but one could say that about just about all of his later output.

  17. Well, Farnham does end up sleeping with his daughter-in-law… that’s sort of incesty. And there’s time travel. And there’s a pretty good deus ex machina to let them live when they go back in time at the end of the book. And he leaves his wife and son to die in an nuclear holocaust because they are “weak.”

    Pretty reprehensible work that could fuel dozens of thesis on race relations in 1960s California.

  18. The novel is the story of a messiah from Mars who tells us that “thou are God” and preaches non-jealous free love and communal property ownership. The book provided a model for countercultural living that many young people adopted as the ’60s went on, especially in California.

    You didn’t mention “grok?”

    Any time you talk about Starship Troopers it’s mandatory to spit on the movie version.

    There’s also Heinlein’s juvenile stories, several for Scouting’s Boy’s Life and more than a dozen standalone.

    Red Planet raised the same question in the 1960s that The Patriot bumped into in 2000, kids with guns.

    I still remember reading The Rolling Stones shortly after it was published, mainly because I told my father about it and he asked, “What else has this Heinlein fellow written?” That was how I learned about the Author catalogue card file.

    Thanks for the memories. Now I’ll have to go reread a couple.

  19. I’m surprised the article didn’t mention “For Us, the Living,” an early Heinlein novel (not published in his lifetime) describing a future society based on the “Social Credit” teachings of the utopian monetary reformer C.H. Douglas. Douglas had a large following in the late 1930’s, especially in Canada, where Alberta actually elected a Social Credit Party to office.

    http://www.cbc.ca/arts/features/heinlein/

    I admit I haven’t read the book (it sounds as heavyhanded as any 19th century utopian novel), but I don’t suppose anyone out there has?

  20. “I admit I haven’t read the book (it sounds as heavyhanded as any 19th century utopian novel), but I don’t suppose anyone out there has?”

    i have. horrible, heavy handed, sort of mack reynolds on a bad day (and he never had any good days). rah was smart enough to recognize this and wisely kept it buried. now the heirs and assigns are picking the bones… he should have burned the ms.

  21. BRIAN DOHERTY: I wrote a longer, different article about Heinlein that is also not JUST about Heinlein as libertarian, but does mention MOON, and it’s in the Aug-Sept issue of your and my fave mag, Reason. It’s not online yet, tho.

    I recently received that issue. Good article! I am a longtime Heinlein fan, who once hobbnobbed with more-knowledgeable Heinlein fans at the old Heinlein Forum of the Prodigy BBS, I own a sizable if incomplete collection of Heinlen books (including the literally half-baked reissue of Take Back Your Government), and even made a pilgrimage to the Heinlein library in Butler, Missouri — and I still learned a lot of things from that article that I hadn’t known before.

    That whole issue is even better than usual. Another standout that springs to mind is the Bettie Page article. The only thing that would have made that piece better would have been more photos. Lots and lots of photos.

  22. Heinlein’s Stranger was in some ways a flipside to his Revolt in 2100 stories – If This Goes On…, Coventry and Misfit. The first is set in a U.S.A. under the thumb of a religious dictatorship, while the latter ones take place in a secular society established after a revolt against that regime. I never read them as especially Californian, as radio and TV preachers aren’t unique to the Southland. But SoCal did have at least two (in)famous practitioners of that particular grift: Amiee Semple McPherson and Herbert Armstrong. I read Revolt in the late 1960s or early 1970s, and imagined Nehemiah Scudder to be a cross between Billy Sunday and Herbert’s son, Garner Ted.

    Kevin

  23. I loved “Stranger in a Strange Land,” not because of any of the hippie bullshit, but because of Jubal Harshaw, in my opinion the ideal of what open-mindedness is all about.

    – Rick

  24. I’m surprised he didn’t make reference to the California Confederacy in Friday, one of his last novels. I took it as a shot at the direct democracy made possible by the proposition system.

  25. RSDavis,

    Hasn’t Jubal been accused of being a homophobe in recent times? He did refuse to kiss Mike, after all… 😉

  26. I’m still trying to wrap my head around Social Credit, because RAH really made it sound like a good idea.

  27. I don’t know Butchie instead.

  28. A couple of things:

    First, Heinlein was a fun science fiction writer, but he was a LOUSY prophet. All of the guys who wrote about space travel have egg on their faces in the prophecy department. They didn’t anticipate the fact that the rest of humanity wouldn’t give a shit about space. The areas in Stranger that are prophetic seem almost accidental, when you line them up among the sheer volume of stuff where he was dead wrong.

    Second, I’ve never bought the argument that Farnham is racist. It seems to me to be a pretty straight role-reversal exercise. That’s a standard science fiction trope. Take members of a dominant group and make them subordinate to the group they now dominate. It’s no more racist than Black Like Me. I think the argument that it’s racist comes from some sort of “black exceptionalism” that thinks that Africans could never be as savage a group of masters as Europeans were, so a story where blacks are cruel slave masters must be racist.

    Face it, based on his quasi-libertarian politics there was a host of people waiting for an opportunity to accuse him of racism, so they pounced on an anti-racist morality play as evidence of what they wanted to find.

  29. Fluffy,

    I’m not going to call Farnham racist, but I think it goes a little further than role reversal. White on black cannibalism was not common in the American South and the “human livestock” view of slavery never included royal slaughterhouses. I think that’s were most of the cries come from. That and the fact that he actually had a rather enlightened (or modern) view of race and gender in the juveniles and most of the early adult novels.

    And I don’t think that it was his libertarianism in particular that led people to jump at the chance to call him racist. There is a whole cultural industry in America scrutinizing everything in hopes they can point their finger and scream “RACIST!” There a brisk side business in “SEXIST!” as well. Given that SF is largely the domain of whitehetmales before the 1970s, all of it gets written on as sub-literate trash if it’s not mildly Marxist. (Hell, dig up some “feminist” critique of the cyberpunk movement. You’d come away thinking Gibson was the literary equivalent of Howard Stern.)

    —–

    Sadly the only juvenile I didn’t manage to read before the age of 13 was Tunnel In The Sky. It is my favorite one and I didn’t get to until my 20s. (With Have Spacesuit, Will Travel and Red Planet following hard upon.)

  30. “That’s a standard science fiction trope.”

    precisely. it was a hack job of a book. not racist, just formulaic and lame. heinlein authored one of my favorite quotes, “the most beautiful words in the english language are ‘pay to the order of…'”

    in this case, it showed.

  31. I disagree with most of you, it seems, in my ranking of Heinlein’s oeuvre. Stranger I thought was relatively weak, and on average I like his post-stroke and peri-stroke pieces even better than the earlier ones. So many Heinlein fans seem like fuddy-duddies in their criticism of the sex & whatnot that I wonder what ever attracted him to his stuff in the 1st place.

    Farnham is really great satire. Time Enough for Love fleshes Lazarus Long out from what’d previously been a sketchy characteriz’n into a really interesting one.

    If Heinlein had attempted to take on issues of race & sex directly, you’d’ve found it boring, heavy handed, and unrealistic, even with Heinlein writing it. The guy appreciated subtlety and knew how to deliver it. I’ve only recently read some of his final works, and I marvel at the ambiguity and indirection he was able to weave in.

  32. Edna –

    Yeah, I will agree with you there. I was actually more interested in hearing the story of what came AFTER the final scene than I was in the story in the book itself.

    There was one little bit of something interesting near the beginning – when they’re living out of the bomb shelter in what they don’t realize is a royal game reserve and Farnham realizes that he’s never been happier. I thought it was amusing that the end of the world could make the protagonist happy. The book completely shifts gears in that very moment, however, and I just didn’t find the future slave society all that interesting, when all was said and done.

  33. Even though I didn’t like the book, I named my first pet cat “Pixel”

    “Time Enough For Love” FTW

  34. “So many Heinlein fans seem like fuddy-duddies in their criticism of the sex & whatnot…”

    i love sex & whatnot, it’s just that those are shitty books.

  35. Heinlein hasn’t aged well, in my opinion. His views of “the future” now look like paleo-future exercises; his fears of communism and internal subversion sound irrational from hindsight; and his sexual obsessions feel a bit creepy. Maybe Heinlein practiced polyamory or swinging with consenting adults during his life, which provided material for the sexual fantasies in his novels. But then did he also seek sexual relationships with underage girls, another theme in his writings?

    Heinlein, who to the best of my knowledge never had children, also could never get his world view straight regarding human reproduction. He assumes Malthusian catastrophes in many of his novels (which makes his appeal to libertarians all the more puzzling), yet he also says things to the effect that humans have nothing better to do with their lives than make babies. Apparently he didn’t see the cognitive dissonance there.

    As the real 21st Century continues to diverge from Heinlein’s imaginary views of “the future,” I suspect his work will fall into relative obscurity. Heinlein may have anticipated trends in the Anglo Southern California of the latter 20th Century, but he clearly didn’t foresee the Southern California of the Reconquista.

  36. “He assumes Malthusian catastrophes in many of his novels (which makes his appeal to libertarians all the more puzzling), yet he also says things to the effect that humans have nothing better to do with their lives than make babies. Apparently he didn’t see the cognitive dissonance there.”

    That’s not contradiction, that’s corollary.

  37. (Hell, dig up some “feminist” critique of the cyberpunk movement. You’d come away thinking Gibson was the literary equivalent of Howard Stern.)

    The real Howard Stern, or the “sexist” one that exists in the imaginations of certain feminists…?

  38. You’ve missed the most important factor, one which I was to enjoy as I grew up in the Southern California of the 1960s and ’70s.

    Heinlein’s characters were “normal people” of both sexes and all races, creeds and colors (except where the storyline required otherwise). You could read “Starship Troopers” without ever realizing that Johnny Rico was Filipino — it was only mentioned in a single, short reference (but, as Rex Navarette notes, “who better to destroy big-ass roaches than a Filipino?”). And how about Carolyn Jones (“she pronounced it Hone-ace”), the Amazon from “Tunnel in the Sky”? Where was she from? RAH gave us strong female characters from his first published story through the last, and even when race (not always HUMAN race) was part of the story, individualism shone through (such as the greatest hero in “Sixth Column”).

    As a result of reading RAH as a kid, and having friends whose parents came from all over the world (and out of the intermnent camps at Manzanar and Topaz), I have been fortunate enough to see people as people, not as skin colors or national origins.

    The colorblind society that was my part of California in 1970 only lasted another decade at most, before the race lords started shredding it for their own power and profit. But to those of us who call ourselves “Heinlein’s Children,” all of those friends that we grew up with are still there, from Woody Smith to the Mother Thing to Mycroft Holmes, telling us that what we outwardly seem to be is rarely what we are.

  39. Terry:

    He gives a very strong hint in “. . .And He Built a Crooked House” (this was an injoke for decades afterward in the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society).

  40. It is nice article. Most of the scientific fiction writers do some extra things. Imagination with little bit things here and there, without which it is difficult to kill the time just by reading the stuff. it is an art of how complicated ones life is, and also shows how criminal is the present world with all the politics and other paraphernilia like mafia gangs and misinterpretations of the religious texts etc. It only shows that how we are all dependant on extraterrestrial life to settle our problems. It is unfartunate that our leading people like Presidents and Priministers and other religious leaders are totally useless to settle the problems, which are hindering the progress of the mankind.

  41. StevoDarkly–

    The Heinlein Forum is still around. And looking for new voices all the time.

    best,

    JusTin

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