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HEINLEIN: The Man, The Myth, The Whack Job

I've promised a couple of people already a long, rambling monologue on Heinlein, inspired by some of the material I've found on James Gifford's pretty excellent Heinlein fansite. So I suppose I may as well get started.

I've long wished I knew other Heinlein fans, or at least one other Heinlein fan, someone who was even close to as well read in Heinlein's work and as generally interested in social nuance, characterization, the art and science of creating fiction, etc, etc, as I am, so I could have at least infrequent bullshit sessions about Heinlein with them, or him, or perhaps even her. (That last pronoun is the most wishful of wishful thinking. I've known a few female Heinlein fans, and invariably, they're always obsessed with the really godawful Heinlein fiction, like To Sail Beyond The Sunset, for which RAH should really have been slapped quite hard at some point before he died, and they hate all the really good Heinlein fiction, like Puppet Masters, or even Friday, because, as one of them once put it, "Friday acts like a guy with boobs", which I'd take as a damning indictment indeed, except this particular woman thinks Chris Claremont is an amazing feminist writer whose female characterizations are the most credible and powerful ever done in superhero comic books, so, you see what I'm dealing with here.)

But, I don't. (Know any other Heinlein fans at present, personally. Come on. I know itís hard, but try to keep up.) In fact, I know very few actual science fiction fans these days; they just seem to be thin on the ground around here. And I have to admit, I tend to deliberately avoid all real world gathering places for SF fans, because SF fans are geeks, and while I myself am also an avowed and freely admitted member of the geek tribe, that doesn't mean I like my fellow geeks all that much, especially when numbers of them are gathered in any one place at one time, wearing Xena t-shirts and chanting strange things about the instability of the Ringworld.

So, I have all this Heinlein stuff percolating around in my brain, because I'm an avid reader of his work, and I'm a wannabe professional SF writer myself, and Heinlein is one of my largest literary influences (and all my other influences were influenced by Heinlein, so there you go) and I'm very analytical, and I have no outlet for it at all. So... having read a lot of the material on the website sited above, I think I'll use some of it as a jumping off point for my own rambling and pointless commentary on much of the work of Robert A. Heinlein.

So, let's talk about Starship Troopers since two of the articles I read on this site were about that particularly controversial Heinlein near-juvenile.

James Gifford, in excellently written and quite lucid prose, exhaustively and comprehensively makes the case that in Troopers, the 'Federal Service' that people sign up for and serve in so that they may gain the franchise and become a full Class A citizen of Heinlein's hypothetical ideal society in the future, is an entirely military service. Gifford's approach is cogent and irrefutable, except for the fact, as he notes, that Robert A. Heinlein himself says he's all wet. Gifford's response to this is unequivocal: Heinlein, when speaking about a book he wrote himself, is simply wrong.

Gifford is, in addition to being a skilled writer and cogent analyst, an extraordinarily confident man. This shows itself most uninhibitedly in the passage where he also indicates categorically that every single instance of past life recollection has been completely and utterly debunked and is just plain rubbish and that Heinleinís defense of the Bridey Murphy case was clearly erroneous, doubtless caused by Heinlein drinking too much cough syrup that morning, and is undoubtedly something Heinlein would have disavowed, given a chance before his statement in that regard was set in type.

As with my one-time date who believes Friday to be a man with boobs yet Colleen Wing, Misty Knight, and Dark Phoenix to be completely three dimensional and utterly convincing portrayals of femininity, I can only goggle with bemusement at this. And not simply for the obvious reasons, namely, that not having been personally present at every occurrence where supposed past life memories have been recalled by hypnosis, and really having no idea as to the credentials, backgrounds, and/or agendas of the people doing the recollecting, the hypnotists doing the regression, or the folks who are writing the articles doing the utter and comprehensive debunking of same, I would never venture an opinion on such a thing, much less a completely, flatly, totally unequivocal and utterly authoritative one such as Gifford sets forth.

Similarly, there are many things I would do before I would flatly state that any author was simply and completely in error about his or her own work, and some of them involve snake handling, and I really hate snakes.

Last but not least, either of the two bizarrely incredible activities above become wildly likely choices for me, compared to the odds of me ever taking it on myself to state, on behalf of any other human being, that, since I admire that human being and that human being has just made a statement I myself consider to be ridiculous, therefore, I am absolutely certain that this human being I admire didnít really mean it, and must have been suffering from a concussion, and would have taken it back, if only the meanies at Baen Books hadnít rushed his patently absurd statement into print before he could.

I am, of course, paraphrasing Mr. Gifford all over the place, not merely to make a point, but to get cheap laughs, as wellÖ a literary conceit I am very aware has never won me friends or admirers in the past and ain't really likely to start doing so now. Yet, the fact remains: there may be others in the world who feel comfortable stating their opinions as if they were actual physical laws of the universe. I simply am not one of them, and even if I were, I think I would have to draw the line at making such comprehensively dismissive statements about something I know very little about (like a large body of past life memory recall work) or cannot possibly claim to be an authority on (like another human beingís innermost thoughts and feelings).

But, you know, that's me. And just because Gifford's comprehensive and thorough and remarkably well written article makes me instantly think of Colin Wilson's musing that he wishes he was as certain of anything as James Randall is of everything, nonetheless, the fact remains that I, personally, don't really CARE whether or not the Federal Service depicted in Starship Troopers in entirely military or not, and, swear to God, fellas, I find it difficult to understand why anyone else cares, either. If there's a civil service, non-military aspect to Federal Service, does it make Starship Troopers a better or worse book? I don't think so.

But this does bring up something Iíve longed to sit down and type up and then put in the ear of every other Heinlein fan I have ever met, so Iíll take the opportunity to do so now. But first, let me explicate a little further.

Giffordís very well written and quite exhaustive argument over what is, actually, an extremely minor and bafflingly inconsequential point, as well as Heinleinís later insistence on something that Gifford himself makes a very persuasive argument is simply wrong, on the face of it, based on the published text Heinlein himself wrote and submitted and then, was later commenting on, brings up something that has always troubled me, on the occasions in the past when I have spoken with other Heinlein fans:

It never ceases to amaze me... hmmm... yes, that's true, really, it never does... when someone just simply assumes that, because they like the creative product of a certain talented person, therefore, that talented person must be some infallible godlike being whose every aspect of existence is perfect and wonderful and completely worthy of the most abject and unfailing worship.

Yet, most people seem to do this. People love professional athletes, and when the professional athlete gets drunk in a bar and punches someone out, or has sex with someone he isn't married to, people simply go ballistic. People love a certain actor or actress, and they'll actually go out and buy a product that the actor or actress goes on TV and states that they think is spiffy, just because they love that actor or actress. Beautiful women want to have sex with Rush Limbaugh, and not just because theyíre obviously addle headed dimbulb conservative bimbos without a brain in their head, as seems obvious, but also because they genuinely and deeply seem to find that vast sack of wind and cellulite sexually arousing. And, in the case of certain writers like Heinlein, people love Heinlein's writing, so they simply assume that Heinlein himself is this astonishing superhuman entity and all his opinions and viewpoints must be absolutely correct and irrefutable.

In short, Heinlein fans, other than me, seem to worship Heinlein himself, rather than simply admiring his brilliant and nearly always supremely entertaining writing.

Itís odd. Stephen King is the most massively popular writer in the history of the human race, and yet, in all the conversations Iíve had with even the most moronic of Stephen King fans, none of them have expressed any belief that as a person, King is anything much more than a big goofy fella who drinks a lot of beer and gets his wifeís bad novels published.

And yet, HeinleinÖ well, my God. (Indeed, in fact, Ďmy Godí seems to be the appropriate phrase to set after Heinlein, in the eyes of every other Heinlein fan in the world.) ĎThis is Heinleiní is the phrase that rings like a church bell through nearly every passage of Larry Nivenís always interesting and entertaining time travel story, ďThe Return of William ProxmireĒ, in which a crazy politician funds the building of a time machine, for the sole purpose of traveling back to the early part of Heinleinís life and curing his consumption, which will, of course, completely alter our history and make the world a utopia. I love this story, and itís obviously a story thatís a labor of love as well, and itís also, obviously, completely deranged. But this is how Heinlein fans feel about himÖ this is not just a great science fiction writer, this, this fella right here, this guy, heís a pivotal point in human history.

So much so, in fact, that an obviously completely devoted Heinlein fan like Mr. Gifford will spend thousands of words and god knows how many man hours arguing a minor and essentially trivial point about the nature of an entirely fictional social aspect of an entirely fictional future society in one rather short book.

So much so that these fans will hound and hound and hound Heinlein over this same entirely trivial point until, in utter exasperation, he gives a flatly unequivocal statement that anyone without the hubris of a god themselves would simply have to accept is, indeed, the final authority on the matter, except for the curious fact, as Mr. Gifford points out exhaustively and at length, that this unequivocal, flatly authoritative and irrefutable statement can, in fact, be refuted, and is, in fact, refuted by the published text of the book itself. Often.

Now, again, I donít care if the Federal Service in Starship Troopers is entirely military or primarily military with a few non-military civil service jobs tossed into the mix or is, as Heinlein tries to convince everyone a long time after Troopersí publication, 95% non-military civil service and only 5% military. Doesnít matter to me. I still like the book, and I wonít like it any more or less whichever way it comes out, and quite frankly, I'm quite capable of believing that the published text clearly states that the service is entirely military, but in point of fact, the published text is wrong and Heinlein is right, because Heinlein wrote a military novel about a militarily minded protagonist who lives in a military fantasy reality tunnel and who only interacts with others who dwell in the same reality tunnel, and therefore, there could easily be a lot of non-military civil type Federal Service positions for those who canít qualify for the military, itís just that military personnel donít talk about those, because if you want one of those positions, you go in a different door at the Federal Service sign up building.

Actually, what I suspect even more is that Federal Service is 95% civil service/5% military service, in peace time. However, the proportions rather switch around in war time, and Starship Troopers is written in war time. And thatís probably the simplest explanation to reconcile the text of the book, which is a book about war written in a time of war, and Heinleinís statement, which is a much after the fact, retrospective, and generalized one about the overall society itself.

However, thatís not whatís interesting to me. Whatís interesting to me is that all this argument and obfuscation comes out of one clear, simple impulse that we can see writ large through everything Iíve sited previously to thisÖ Giffordís own essay, in which Heinlein makes a statement Gifford finds embarrassing and stupid about past life memory recall, so he effectively disavows it from his hero/godís actual thinking; Nivenís short story, in which Heinlein is seen as the fulcrum about which human destiny pivots, and the perceived need Heinlein felt, in response to probably decades of hounding by his worshipful fans to PLEASE clarify that heís not the kind of nutball who honestly believes the ideal society could only be run by military veterans, to actually clarify that, and say, yes, yes, yes, youíre right, that would be nuts, and thatís not what I meant, now please for the love of God shut up about it.

Heinleinís fans seem to think that they have to agree with every single opinion voiced by Heinlein.

Me, I happen to think Heinlein was an ornery, rather dotty political extremist who, it just so happens, was also one of the finest writers of the 20th Century, at least, of the kind of fast paced, hard hitting, heroic adventure fiction I like to read. He had a great imagination and was capable of extrapolating from current social and technological trends in ways that were always interesting and entertaining. He was also an intelligent and often insightful social commentator. And, he was also craaaaaaazy as a loon in many, many ways. Heinleinís undeniable nuttiness did not make his good books any less good, although, unfortunately, it did make all his bad books spectacularly bad.

Now, I went through my own stage of believing that I had to agree with every single nutball opinion or viewpoint that came out of every single nutball Robert A. Heinlein alpha male (or, later on, alpha female) larynx. Joe Gilead would make a commentary about how all cops were necessarily crooked, I would nod my head like a little bobble head doll and make a note for the futureÖ all cops are necessarily crooked, Keep Bribe Money Handy. Lazarus Long would give some long winded speech about how a real human being should be able to do any of 75 different ridiculous things nobody but a 2,000 year old super genius would have the time or native talent to learn or even remotely want to do, and Iíd go, ďgeez, I better go stick my head in the oven right now because I'm never gonna learn all that shitĒ. Potiphar Breen would comment on the two greatest pleasures in life being killing a man and having a woman, and Iíd think, ďhey, thatís deeply sociopathicÖ no, wait, HEINLEIN wrote itÖ goshÖ it must be true, guess Iíll go kill somebody and then have me his wifeĒ. And yet, I never did that last thing, because right around there, after spending most of my adolescence and early adulthood reading Heinlein, it occurred to me that Heinlein was a brilliantly talented whack job, and I didnít have to take his social or philosophical assertions any more seriously than I had to take, say, Jerry Pournelleís.

Which was, believe me, a huge relief.

And yet, most Heinlein fans never seem to get to that point; all of them, in fact, that Iíve encountered seem to spend an inordinate amount of time expounding all the Heinlein opinions and viewpoints they themselves fervently agree with, while the more thoughtful among them spend an equal amount of time trying to tinker with, analyze, rationalize, justify, and if necessary, refute, explain away, and apologize for, the truly nutball and utterly whacked out statements their hero has made that they cannot, as rational human beings of any philosophical stripe, agree with or reconcile with anything remotely resembling sanity.

And having said all that, let me say this: Heinlein had a great deal to say about stuff in general, and he said it for the most part through his fiction. A lot of my favorite writers do this; John D. MacDonald called this Ďthe mini-sermoní, and Heinlein did it more than nearly anybody. Often times he did it well, mortaring his own social commentary and philosophy into various books that were still so generally entertaining and fast moving and action packed and stuffed to the gunwales with interesting characterizations and memorable, Clemensesque dialogue that you just really didnít notice that for the entire length of this particular novel youíd been being beaten about the head and shoulders with a clarion call for the absolute and unrestricted right of the private individual to bear arms as well as a chilling depiction of the utter depraved evil that must follow upon any attempts by any authority to remove said right or said arms from said private individuals in any way, shape or form, ever, at all, the end.

Starship Troopers is, in my opinion, one of the books he did this philosophical camouflage trick very well in, but that seems to only be my opinion, since other people have been arguing over the social and philosophical viewpoints and opinions in this book for thirty or forty goddam years now. Me, I just think itís an excellent and brilliantly written military fiction action/adventure, and I donít much worry about the fact that I believe that at the point Heinlein wrote it, in the high state of emotional piss off he was doubtless suffering from, he no doubt was of the fervent non-intellectual belief that a society entirely run by military veterans was the only hope the human race had of survival and prosperity.

I wouldnít worry about it even if I didnít know Heinlein had calmed down and come back to something more closely approaching sanity after Troopers was published, and the reason I wouldnít worry about it is simple: Heinleinís personal opinions on stuff donít trouble me, I just like reading his writing.

And, honestly, I donít think that last point can be emphasized enough. The subtext of FARMER IN THE SKY is rabidly anti-United Nations; I donít care. The social context of STARMAN JONES is droolingly anti-union; I shrug and watch Max and Ellie struggle to get free of the evil centauroids. Dear addled chesty Friday rants and raves about how all civil service workers are greedy, worthless, inherently corrupt subhumans; I, a civil service worker for metropolitan government for several years now, think to myself ďBLOW me, living artifact bitchĒ, and continue enjoying Heinleinís excellent prose style while really wishing there were pictures in the book of Friday and Janet in the shower together.

Heinlein was just a (massively talented, brilliantly gifted) human being. He was highly opinionated, like many of us, and he put a lot of his most deeply cherished personal beliefs into his writing. Some of them, like his unswerving love for individual liberty and freedom of expression and thought and belief and speech, I and nearly everyone I know can agree with. Others of them, like most of those Iíve detailed above, I heartily disagree with. And yet, none of the opinions evidenced in Heinleinís various books keep me from enjoying the good ones.

In fact, a really good example of how I simply donít much care about the subtext even when itís just plain frickin nuts, is The Puppet Masters. I love The Puppet Masters, especially the stripped down, streamlined, intelligently edited, rather more slender version of the book that was the only one in print for decades prior to Heinleinís death and the post mortem Ďrestorationí of the Ďuneditedí ms. that is whatís available on the stands today. That first version is an insanely hyperkinetic blunt trauma absolute good vs. absolute evil blood chilling horror/SF novel that moves with the accelerating velocity of a ballistic missile and that is, in every way and on every level, a deeply satisfying read. I have read and reread it probably a hundred times and if I live another forty years I will read and reread it a hundred more. I love that novel, and it doesnít even remotely trouble me that Sam is a violent psychotic, Mary is a deeply and irrevocably damaged neurotic, the Old Man is a sociopath, and the central romantic relationship is one of the most deeply twisted dom/sub sado-masochistic freak shows I have ever seen presented in supposed mainstream fiction.

Nor do all the various very subtle little social details of the particularly nightmarish future society Heinlein depicts in that book trouble me overly, either. The Federal government has permanent addresses for all its citizenry on file, that can be called up with a thumbprint? I donít care. The President has a top secret intelligence agency that spies on all his other intelligence agencies and that has satellite surveillance over the entire United States? I shrug. The most powerful men in our government are not overly concerned with international law and perfectly willing to launch an attack on other countries because of an alien invasion? Apathy is my watchword. Itís a great book, a vastly entertaining story, and honestly, thatís what I paid my money for. The philosophical notations and insights of Robert A. Heinlein come as a little extra added bonus, and sometimes I find them interesting, but they do not, to me, make any particular difference in whether or not a really good Heinlein book is good or not.

Now, having gotten this far and pretty much utterly alienated every other Heinlein fan in the world (or at least those few who will ever read this) let me go on to make them all absolutely determined to take down their rifles (all Heinlein fans own rifles except me) and come hunting me here where the streets have no nameÖ (actually, my street has a name, I just needed a good, memorable phrase there for cadence and style)Ö by listing all of what I consider to be the Ďbadí Heinlein books.

Iíve done this at a few other points in the past, and it always manages to infuriate at least one person out there in whatever audience I have at the time. I suppose that shouldnít surprise me, and honestly, a difference of opinion never surprises me, but what always does take me a little aback is that itís not simply that on this list there is some book that somebody out there absolutely treasures. That I can understand. Iíve spoken with SF fans who simply do not like, for random example, Roger Zelazneyís Lord of Light , and that always baffles me, and there are a lot of people out there who read everything Piers Anthony has ever written and seem to genuinely adore every word, and that perplexes me, too. But whatís kind of appalling about the reaction I get to this list of Bad Heinlein Books is not that itís simply people saying ďyouíre crazy, Farnhamís Freehold is truly great science fictionĒ, which would only make me think the writer of such a sentiment stupid but not deranged, but itís usually people absolutely screaming at me that Heinlein did not write any bad books and if I donít like any of Heinleinís books then clearly I am subhuman scum, I do not possess actual sentience, and when I come before the Judgement Seat, Heinlein is gonna beat me with his cane and then cast me into hell for all eternity for my intolerable impertinence.

But, quailing before what I know must now come, I hereby present my list of Bad (actually, Really Rotten and Lousy) Heinlein Books:

Rocket Ship Galileo
I Will Fear No Evil
Farnhamís Freehold
The Number of the Beast
The Cat Who Walks Through Walls
To Sail Beyond The Sunset

To this list, I will also add a few others I consider to be bad, or at least, unsuccessful, SF novels, in that in these efforts, in my opinion, Heinlein loses his perpetual battle to disguise his social and philosophical musing within the context of an engaging story, and instead, ends up producing interesting satirical tracts rather than good, solid adventure stories:

Stranger In A Strange Land
Beyond This Horizon
Glory Road

Out of 34 independent Heinlein works (not counting the Campbell plotted Sixth Column), these are the half a dozen I think are simply out and out, undeniable stinkers. Thatís a little more than 1/6th of Heinleinís output, which I think, for a very prolific writer who produced work over the course of three or four decades of his life, is a pretty good score. Zelazney has tossed off quite a few more genuine clunkers proportionally than Heinlein has, and, in fact, I canít think of a prolific author in any field who hasnít excreted some real literary loads on occasion.

And yet, if ten other Heinlein fans ever read this article, 9 of them will want me dead, not because I included one of their all time childhood favorite SF novels in the universe on the shit list, but because I had the sheer effrontery to even CREATE a shit list from Heinleinís divinely inspired body of work.

But, so I donít get accused of simply making emotional and unfounded statements (not that it will matter, if I fully support my statements, Iíll simply be accused of being a worthless geek-troll, but what the hell), letís discuss each entry on the Shit List for at least a paragraph so I can detail exactly why I didnít like each of these novels:

Rocket Ship Galileo

While this wasnít Heinleinís first novel (that was "If This Goes On Ė", a much, much better book) it reads as if it was. Heinlein was obviously finding his way here, and it should be noted that this was, very much, his first novel written in the third person, which, as a somewhat experienced if unpublished novelist myself, I know is hard to write inÖ much harder than writing first person. Heinlein also seems to very much have simply written RSG to meet a deadline and get a paycheck. It seems to me like a very unimaginative attempt by someone other than Heinlein to write a Heinlein juvenile; almost as if Heinlein didnít realize he could write books to order and still say what he wanted to say and tell an interesting, intelligent story. Beyond those notes, Iíll just say ďNazis on the moon!!Ē and leave it at that.

I Will Fear No Evil

Honestly, I hate this book, and itís hard to sort out just why I hate it so much, since I hate it so much. Heinlein has this tendency to separate Ďjuvenileí from Ďadultí by whether or not he can put sex in his story, and I think his best novels (Puppet Masters, Podkayne of Mars, The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, Double Star, and The Door Into Summer) come out of Heinlein forgetting that momentarily and simply writing novels for grown ups that are paced and plotted as if he were writing a juvenile for Scribner & Sons. Often times, his worst novels seem to be driven almost entirely by Heinleinís realization that, hey, he can put sex in this one, so what the hell, letís put a lot of sex in it. Since Heinleinís attitudes towards sex strike me as being pretty clearly those of someone who grew up in a viciously repressed society and who probably, in six or seven decades of adulthood, never once got laid really, really well (and Iím right there with you, buddy), I think his books with a lot of sex in them are always kind of embarrassing and uncomfortable. IWFNE is, unfortunately, pretty much entirely about sexÖ the kind of sex Heinlein seems to wistfully wish he could have had at some point in his life, instead ofÖ wellÖ letís not go there. Anyway, IWFNE has its fans who call it a brilliant exploration of social and sexual mores and roles in a society gradually giving way from repressiveness to decadence, and thatís all well and good. I think itís just a long, frustrated porn novel with all the really good sex scenes deleted. Beyond that, I hate every character in the book, loathe the society depicted in the book, and wish to God the book had a plot, or at the very least that, at any point within the narrative, some evil aliens had showed up so Joan Eunice could lift her head out of Winnie or Jakeís lap for a moment and shoot them with a blaster, just to, for one brief transitory second, have something actually happen I or anyone else would remotely enjoy reading about.

Farnhamís Freehold

I have had several Heinlein fans expound to me for lengthy periods about why this isnít a racist book, and theyíre just doing what all Heinlein fans but me doÖ desperately trying to keep from believing that their hero-god had any actual human flaws. Look, folksÖ Heinlein was born in a deeply racist society. Like most of us white guys who were born and raised in 20th Century America, he was a racist. We canít help it. He took admirable steps to get over it, like many of us have. But he was a racist, and this is a racist book, and beyond being a racist book, itís a bad book. Hugh Farnham is without a doubt Heinleinís most loathsome male character, his concubine Barbara is the most brainlessly dependent and useless Heinlein female that RAH ever attempted to portray in a positive manner, the future world they find themselves hurled into along with their utterly vile and noxious cast of co-dependents is, in and of itself, the most simultaneously stupid and horribly bigoted future society Heinlein (or any other non-card carrying Illinois Neo Nazi) has ever created, and, honest to God, this is just a really really bad book. Its plot is stupid and essentially pointless. You cannot possibly care about any of its characters. The only really interesting and memorable image in the book comes at the very end, when Hugh and Barb have set up their trading post in bomb shattered America; if Heinlein had written that book, it might have been as good as, I donít know, Alas, Babylon or Systemic Shock, and ranked up there with great nuclear Armageddon fiction throughout the ages. But he didnít; instead he wrote this virulently racist tract in which the evil darkies take over the world and start eating all the white people like cattle. Itís a deranged xenophobic nightmare worthy of any Klan Kleagle, and even if it werenít, this would still be a lousy excuse for an SF adventure.

The Number of the Beast
The Cat Who Walks Through Walls
To Sail Beyond The Sunset

Ah, the World as Myth conceptÖ living proof that Heinlein really was losing some of the dots off his dominoes as he got older. Yes, he managed to get the shreds of his sanity back together long enough to produce two good books during this period (Friday and Job), but after each of them heíd promptly dive back off the deep end of utter self indulgent lunacy that was represented by these monstrous wastes of paper and ink.

LookÖ I understand that when a writer or artist becomes an absolute master of their art form, they are then allowed, perhaps even encouraged, to explore various different creative conceits and techniques that lesser talents simply should not even remotely attempt. And Iíve heard this argument over and over againÖ sure, in the hands of a lesser writer, the idea of the characters in a novel actually discovering that they are characters in a novel, and the very fact that they are fictional characters inhabiting a fictional artifact being woven intrinsically into the plot as a driver for otherwise inexplicable (and frankly stupid) story events, would be undeniably a bad and lousy and rotten conceptÖ but this is Heinlein. If anyone can carry off the World As Myth idea and make it workÖ if anyone can do a really good series of books based on the concept that the heroes actually are characters in a work of fiction, and they know that, and the writerís whim is a justifiable and fully acceptable explanation for otherwise utterly unexplainable plot occurrencesÖ it would be him.

Well, guess what, folksÖ I agree with you. If anyone could bring it off, it would be Heinlein, and he failed spectacularly, so no one can bring it off, so please, letís STOP TRYING, okay? And just admit, the whole idea sucks, and these were lousy books, and stop apologizing for them, already.

Oh, and when you have trouble as a writer keeping your various different crusty but lovable alpha male characters distinct because they all have essentially the same personality and voiceÖ hereís a hintÖ donít write a book where they all end up in the same room talking to each other.

I mean, please.

Now, as to Stranger In A Strange Land, Beyond This Horizon, and Glory Road, I donít think these are godawful garbage on a level with the Bad Books List above. I do think theyíre bad, or rather, failures as, novels, because I think in these books, the philosophy completely overwhelms the rather rudimentary vestiges of a plot Heinlein tries to throw in around the philosophy, to persuade us that these are actually adventure novels, rather than, you know, Swiftian satirical tracts. I think the characters tend to be rather wooden, the dialogue ainít such a much, the stories are just plain tired if not outright silly, and unlike in his better books, Heinlein simply does not hide the Ďmini-sermonsí very well. These are the illusions of a tired magician who has done too many successive matinees without a vacation; we can see the cards up the shabby tuxedo sleeves and the rabbitís whiskers are protruding through the air holes of that top hatís secret compartment.

But all these books are very much worth reading; all of them are interesting as satirical social tracts and philosophical exercises, even if the reader, like me, finds him or herself disagreeing with virtually every single point Heinlein makes about society.

Now, having gotten this far (5,921 words, not counting this parenthetical statement), I realize Iíve mentioned quite a whole lot about James Giffordís very well written and extremely cogent article on Starship Troopers, and havenít said a damned word about Christopher Weuveís equally entertaining article comparing the novel and movie versions of Starship Troopers.

However, thatís mostly because I have very little to say. I suspect itís very possible that, for example, if someone gave me three camcorders and a dozen or so gifted volunteers, I could, using only common household objects and the street grid surrounding my apartment complex, shoot a rather better and more faithful version of, say, The Puppet Masters than was put on screen a few years back.

Nonetheless, thatís not how movies get made and distributed in the real world; how movies get made and distributed in the real world is via a process which involves a great many people, many of whom will be spectacularly ignorant idiots, often pursuing their own agendas which have a lot to do with making money and getting laid and very little to do with actually creating a good movie out of a brilliant and beloved book that will in some discernible way retain some recognizable resemblance to said brilliant and beloved book.

Do I think that such people should be forbidden by law or simply prevented by heavily armed vigilante action from making movies out of Heinlein books? I do. Do I expect that to happen? I donít. Am I therefore surprised when big budget movies supposedly based on Heinlein books appear and stink like rotting seaweed from one end of the ecosphere to the other? I am not. I expect absolutely nothing of Hollywood, and therefore, am occasionally pleasantly surprised (the Lord of the Rings adaptation, at least, the first chapter, was really astonishingly good).

I will say that my biggest disappointment in Starship Troopers: The Bad Movie was not the lack of powered armor, or the bizarre substitution of violent sadism for thoughtful (if frequently insane) social philosophy, or even the fact that, as Mr. Weuve points out quite hilariously, the military tactics and strategy of the elite Mobile Infantry in this movie consist of running in big mobs towards the computer animated special effects, and then, a few minutes later, running in big mobs away from same while screaming in badly simulated terror.

No, my biggest disappointment was that, in a movie featuring Denise Richards in a leading role, and in which every single other actress found some occasion, however contrived or utterly idiotic, to show us her tits and ass, and in which Denise Richards herself had some totally ridiculous love scenes specifically inserted into the continuity apparently for no reason other than to show us her tits and ass as well, she still didnít show us her tits and ass, and frankly, I find that appalling and unacceptable and just plain darned mean.

I could blather and prattle on endlessly about Heinlein, I really could, but I think Iíve enraged my potential audience quite enough for one occasion, so Iíll just close this by reiterating: Heinlein. Great writer. Total whack job. Love his writing. Leave his opinions where you find them.


The fans respond! (Not my fans, certainly, but...) SEE what one Heinlein fan has to say about my dotty, near-senile, completely objectionable opinions about Heinlein, at BILL OF GOODS: The Words of a Heinlein Fan Much Like Every Other Heinlein Fan I've Ever Met, But More Polite. Available NOW, True Believer! Hit that link and watch me get beat up!


 
GEEK STUFF YOU WON'T LIKE UNLESS YOU'RE REALLY COOL:

Orto's Embassy

Calliope Comics presents Martian Vision

Doc Nebula's Phantasmagorical Fan Page!

THE OMNIVERSE TIMELINE

MY DAMN WRITING, SO SHUT UP ABOUT IT:

NOVELS: [* = not yet written]

Universal Maintenance

Universal Agent*

Universal Law*

Time Watch

Endgame

Earthquest

Earthgame*

Warren's World

Warlord of Erberos

Return to Erberos*

ZAP FORCE #1: ROYAL BLOOD

Memoir:

In The Early Morning Rain

Short Stories:

Positive

Good Cop, Bad Cop

Leadership

Talkin' 'bout My Girl

No Good Angel

No Time Like The Present

Pursuit of Happiness

The Last One

Pursuit of Happiness

Return To Sender

Halo

Primogenitor

Alleged Humor:

Ask A Bastard!

On The Road Again

Meeting of the Mindless

Star Drek

THE ADVENTURES OF FATHER O'BRANNIGAN

Fan Fic:

The Captain and the Queen

A Day Unlike Any Other (Iron Mike & Guardian)

DOOM Unto Others! (Iron Mike & Guardian)

Starry, Starry Night(Iron Mike & Guardian)

A Friend In Need (Blackstar & Guardian)

All The Time In The World(Blackstar)

The End of the Innocence(Iron Mike & Guardian)

And Be One Traveler(Iron Mike & Guardian)

COMICS SCRIPTS & PROPOSALS THAT WENT NOWHERE:

SERAPHIM 66

AMAZONIA by D.A. Madigan & Nancy Champion (7 pages final script)

AMAZONIA (Alternate Draft 1)

AMAZONIA (Alternate Draft 2)

AMAZONIA (World Timeline)

TEAM VENTURE by Darren Madigan and Mike Norton

FANTASTIC FOUR 2099, by D.A. Madigan!

ARTICLES OF NOTE:

DOING COMICS THE STAINLESS STEVE ENGLEHART WAY!by "John Jones" (that's me, D. Madigan), & Jeff Clem, with annotations by Steve Englehart

JOHN JONES: THREAT OR MENACE!

FUNERAL FOR A FRIENDSHIP

Why I Disliked Carol Kalish And Don't Care If Peter David Disagrees With Me

MARTIAN VISION, by John Jones, the Manhunter from Marathon, IL

CARTOONS:

DOC NEBULA'S CARTOON FUN PAGE!

DOC NEBULA'S CARTOON FUN, PAGE 2!

DOC NEBULA'S CARTOON FUN, PAGE 3!

WEIRD WAR COMICS COVER ART.

ULTRASPEED!

Help Us, Batman...

JLA Membership drive

Don't Leave Us, Batman...!

Ever wondered what happened to the World's Finest Super-team?

Two heroes meet their editor...

At the movies with some legendary Silver Age sidekicks...

What really happened to Kandor...

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A never before seen panel from the Golden Age of Comics...

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