Heinlein – What Was He?

I’m a Heinlein fan.  That’s not to say I like everything he wrote.  I believe “I Will Fear No Evil” is remarkably bad.  I know of several other of his books that I don’t think very highly of.  But a lot of what he wrote, especially during his heyday was very good.  And comparing him to those writing at the time when he came on the scene it is striking how much better he was.

So why was that?  What made him so good?  First of all, I think Heinlein happened to be a very intelligent man.  Secondly, he was well educated and this included the fact that he had an upper middle-class upbringing that included good literature.  Thirdly, he had a decent work ethic.  Between these things he probably brought much more to the table than most of his peers.  And finally, I think he modelled his stories not on other science fiction authors but rather on successful authors in the wider literary world.  And I think this has been recognized for a long time.  Many years ago, I read some literary criticism that posited that Heinlein had taken Kipling’s British Raj and mapped it onto the Solar System or some such thing.  Another critic said that Heinlein created America as Science Fiction.  While I don’t think either of these premises are completely true I think they hint at the fact that Heinlein wanted to take science fiction out of its ghetto and make it interesting to the grown-ups.

And to a great extent, he succeeded.  Especially in his early future history stories, the feel is very much of a mid-twentieth-century American dynamism.  It combines wit, enthusiasm and confidence.  It belongs with such other products of the time as John Houston’s motion pictures The Maltese Falcon and Treasure of the Sierra Madre.  He has turned the American Century into the source for his characters and their ethos.  And in some of his stories like Citizen of the Galaxy and Double Star, Heinlein did borrow some of the flavor of Kipling’s British Empire.

But really all this shows is that Heinlein wanted his stories to belong to the Anglo-American tradition of storytelling.  He recognized good work and he incorporated the spirit of the best works from his time and of the literary past that he enjoyed and projected them on the future.

Some might say that he thereby lacked originality.  This may be somewhat true.  But it is also universal.  Even James Joyce when he wrote his stream of consciousness in Ulysses is using Homer for his plot basis.  And to the extent that Ulysses is original it is also a failure as literature.  Every writer borrows from the past.  He has to.  As Solomon said, there is nothing new under the sun.  The trick is making it new and making it your own.  I think Heinlein was well within fair usage.

Coming back to the question of what Heinlein was, I believe he was the right man at the right time.  He was an intelligent, literate American at just the moment in the American Century when science fiction was becoming mainstream and relevant to the culture.  Atomic bombs and space craft were crossing over from science fiction to front page headlines.  Science fiction readers were seeing their stories become respectable and even literary.  Legitimate periodicals included some of the more refined writers between the glossy covers.

Will we see his like again?  I would have to say no.  Not so much because he was some towering genius, but because the times have changed.  No one would mistake our present culture for 1930s America.  Even in the depths of the Great Depression there was an optimism and solidarity that just doesn’t exist anymore.  Authors today reflect that despair.  And maybe that is interesting to some, a sort of decline of the Roman Empire sensibility, but I don’t think it lends itself to good storytelling.  Even in the most realistic story I think you need something beyond fatalism and ennui.  Otherwise it feels like the story is not even worth your time to read.

But, of course, maybe a change is just around the corner and an American renaissance is on the horizon.  Well, if that’s the case, I better reread Green Hills of Earth.  Delilah and the Space Riggers?  Sure why not?

25APR2018 – Quote of the Day

Yeah, more Paul Simon.  What?  So sue me!

 

I am just a poor boy though my story’s seldom told

I have squandered my resistance for a pocketful of mumbles,

Such are promises, all lies and jest,

Still a man hears what he wants to hear

And disregards the rest, hmmm

In the clearing stands a boxer, and a fighter by his trade

And he carries the reminders of every glove that laid him down or cut him

‘Til he cried out in his anger and his shame

I am leaving, I am leaving, but the fighter still remains.

 

The Boxer by Paul Simon

Swamp Fatigue

I admit it.  The swamp beasts have worn me out.  There are more articles about their trials and tribulations and the comeuppances they’re gonna get than I can stand.  Yesterday I linked to this article on how the real payoff to all the investigating by the Inspector General of the DOJ would be when Andrew McCabe turned on Comey and Company to save his own neck.

https://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2018/04/23/the_hidden_bombshell_in_the_mccabe_report_136882.html

Well that does sound really cool.  But then today I read a couple of more articles about the Gang That Couldn’t Leak Straight and it just started to bore me.

https://amgreatness.com/2018/04/24/weaponizing-the-government-for-leftist-political-war/

https://amgreatness.com/2018/04/23/respect-unearned/

 

I admit it.  I just can’t read another account of how they conspired and connived and colluded and perjured themselves.  Their endless mediocre machinations have broken me.  I just don’t care.

So, going forward I am boycotting any further Justicegate (© OCF 2018) stories until someone, anyone gets indicted or subpoenaed or, at least, wedgied.  I’m not saying I don’t want this to be the avenue used to finally break the back of the Deep State.  I do.  I just don’t want to read anymore tantalizing accounts of how this incredible web of investigating is about to ensnare all the swamp critters and end their reign of terror.  Stop talking about it and just do it.

There, I feel better.  And I’ll go one step further.  I refuse to spend from now until November hyperventilating over who is ahead in East Podunk, Idahoma USA.  I really don’t care whether the Democrats are going to sweep over the Republicans in the House and Senate races.  I live in a blue state.  That’s just the every day reality.  The Republicans are simply too stupid and gutless to win except by accident.  Win, lose or draw it’s not something that can be changed by me worrying about it.  So, I won’t.

What I will do is look for interesting stories about the culture and the people who are actually trying to make things better.  And I will highlight any actual occurrences.  So, if Mueller indicts Trump or Trump fires Mueller or Justice Kennedy resigns or Hillary Clinton admits to being the spawn of Cthulhu, then I will definitely comment.  But to just whine about scary stuff or hype about the same old rumors is more than I care to do.

There, I feel better.

24APR2018 – Quote of the Day

Early to mid-career Jethro Tull was a musical favorite of mine.  But in 1979 I listened to Stormwatch and declared the end of my interest in their music.

The leaded window opened

to move the dancing candle flame.

And the first moths of summer

suicidal came

to join in the worship

of the light that never dies

in a moment’s reflection

of two moths spinning in her eyes.

 

Moths (from the album Heavy Horses)

Jethro Tull   (Ian Anderson)