Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Square Peg, Round Ideology: The Left Keeps Hammering Heinlein

     Somehow, a free-love, limited-government SF writer who wrote glowingly of bureaucrats[1], altruism[2], attaining social justice through the court system[3] and championed competent women in his fiction[4] and who has been dead  for 26 years is still a bete noir for the political Left.  He's not dead enough -- and probably won't be until the last copy of The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress goes into the fire.

     Witness New Republic's histrionically-titled review of the second volume of William H. Patterson's biography of Robert A. Heinlein: "A Famous Science Fiction Writer's Descent Into Libertarian Madness."  Yes, without a huge big nanny-government (but not one run by anyone to the Right of FDR) there'd be madness!  Dogs and cats living together...! 

     If it was a well-researched hatchet piece, it might be of interest.  Sadly, it appears the writer hasn't read much (if any) of the source material; by the second paragraph, he has mischaracterized Starship Troopers as, "a gung-ho shout-out for organized belligerence as the key to human survival," and goes on to sniff at it as, "A thoroughly authoritarian book," presumably since the culture uses corporal and capital punishment and only veterans get to vote (no one actively serving gets to vote and qualifying service is not only military service -- the narrator makes it clear that in peacetime, the vast majority of such "service" is in areas of government-run exploration, research, and public works of the sort one might expect would gladden the heart of a New Republic reviewer).  Things go even farther off the rails from there on, reaching a peak of political pique with "Later in life, as a libertarian, he would rail against 'loafers' and the welfare state but in his leftist days he knew how much he depended on the government," which misses the point: Heinlein was never himself a "loafer" and his characters are not opposed to charity, only to idlers; it is possible to be both poor and hard-working, on the dole and yet industrious, and the astute reader enounters such persons often in Heinlein -- Max Jones[5] is a good example.

     It's a review by someone who dislikes Heinlein and didn't care to plow through 643+ pages on the second half of his life (omitting bibliography) for a chance to stick pins in him, most clearly shown by this howler: "...in I Will Fear No Evil (1970) a 94-year-old billionaire first has his brain implanted in the body of a 28-year-old black woman..."  Really?  African-American, was she, and you're sure about that?  Patterson, Vol. 2, pg. 305, in re that novel: "His female protagonist, Eunice Branca, was to be racially ambiguous, so he took clippings from two magazines -- a sunny blonde and a stunning black woman, and posted them on the ledge over his typewriter, alternating looking at them, so he wouldn't unconsciously drift into stereotyped language."   It does appear there has been some unconscious drifting into stereotypes here, but it wasn't by Heinlein.

     There's plenty in Heinlein to criticize, to take a second look at and there's plenty about Patterson's biography to delve into as well.  But you're not going to get it from the New Republic's review; the verdict had been decided before the book ever arrived.
Footnotes, from memory:
1. The Star Beast
2. "Gulf," among others.
3. "Jerry Was A Man," for example.
4. Radio tech G. Brooks McNye in "Delilah and the Space-Rigger," engineer, politician and SF screenwriter Hazel Meade Stone in The Rolling Stones, Friday in the eponymous novel, (arguably) mathematician Libby Long, Maureen Long, et al.
5. Starman Jones


Sport Pilot said...

Far to many people idolize RAH as someone far more then he actually was. W/O any doubt the best thing that happened to him was meeting and later marrying Virginia. She was one of the few people surrounding him who wasn't bat shit crazy. Heck he was bat shit crazy too but who cared the man could write.

Fuzzy Curmudgeon said...

I enjoyed your Facebook responses. I've always thought that anyone who couldn't finish a Heinlein book had something fundamentally wrong with them, and you just helped him prove it.

Fuzzy Curmudgeon said...

(Can you imagine what that clown would have done, confronted with a stack of H. Beam Piper?)

Roberta X said...

Well, I got banned for Wrongthink over it, so keep me posted.

Fuzzy Curmudgeon said...

I just saw that. That's the Progressive way to have a civilized argument -- ban the people who have cogent arguments proving that you are a complete idiot!

I'm not a member of that group (thank goodness), I only saw it because Facebook thought I should know that you posted in that group. Thanks, Facebook! :) So it will slide down the timeline and disappear from my view eventually...

Anonymous said...

Last sentence should be corrected to read "before the book was ever written".
Ideologues tend to forget that writers, like most sorts of people, are complicated and therefore produce complicated books and complicated lives.

Bob said...


Blackwing1 said...

Have you ever read Spider Robinson's "Rah, rah, R.A.H."? Here's a link:


A quick excerpt on the topic of his "personal failings" with regard to female characters:

"(2) “Heinlein is a male chauvinist.” This is the second most common charge these days. That's right, Heinlein populates his books with dumb, weak, incompetent women. Like Sister Maggie in “If This Goes On—”; Dr. Mary Lou Martin in “Let There Be Light”; Mary Sperling in Methuselah's Children; Grace Cormet in “—We Also Walk Dogs”; Longcourt Phyllis in Beyond This Horizon; Cynthia Craig in “The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag”; Karen in “Gulf”; Gloria McNye in “Delilah and the Space-Rigger”; Allucquere in The Puppet Masters; Hazel and Edith Stone in The Rolling Stones; Betty in The Star Beast; all the women in Tunnel in the Sky; Penny in Double Star; Pee Wee and the Mother Thing in Have Space Suit—Will Travel; Jill Boardman, Becky Vesant, Patty Paiwonski, Anne, Miriam and Dorcas in Stranger in a Strange Land; Star, the Empress of Twenty Universes, in Glory Road; Wyoh, Mimi, Sidris and Gospazha Michelle Holmes in The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress; Eunice and Joan Eunice in I Will Fear No Evil; Ishtar, Tamara, Minerva, Hamadryad, Dora, Helen Mayberry, Llita, Laz, Lor and Maureen Smith in Time Enough For Love; and Dejah Thoris, Hilda Corners, Gay Deceiver and Elizabeth Long in “The Number of the Beast—. “[1]

Brainless cupcakes all, eh? (Virtually every one of them is a world-class expert in at least one demanding and competitive field; the exceptions plainly will be as soon as they grow up. Madame Curie would have enjoyed chatting with any one of them.) Helpless housewives! (Any one of them could take Wonder Woman three falls out of three, and polish off Jirel of Joiry for dessert.)

I think one could perhaps make an excellent case for Heinlein as a female chauvinist. He has repeatedly insisted that women average smarter, more practical and more courageous than men. He consistently underscores their biological and emotional superiority. He married a woman he proudly described to me as “smarter, better educated and more sensible than I am.” In his latest book, Expanded Universe—the immediate occasion for this article—he suggests without the slightest visible trace of irony that the franchise be taken away from men and given exclusively to women. He consistently created strong, intelligent, capable, independent, sexually aggressive women characters for a quarter of a century before it was made a requirement, right down to his supporting casts.

Clearly we are still in the area of delusions which can be cured simply by reading Heinlein while awake."

Sorry for the length of the quote, but I just thought I'd round out your list. Robinson probably couldn't be farther away from Heinlein, politically speaking, but obviously considers him to be one of (if not the) best SF writers that ever lived.

Of course, it helps for me that the first full-length book I ever read at age 5 was "Have Spacesuit, Will Travel".

Roberta X said...

Yesm the Robinson essay is a classic. I really liked his early work.