Adventures In Military SF!

One of the reasons I prefer reading SF in contemporary groupings is because comparison often yields a better understanding of (and possibly appreciation for) works within their respective eras, so I’m not just assessing them based on my own contemporary value vacuum. Things feel less dated this way, and I’m better able to construe time-relevant cringe from anachronistic Heinlein throat-clearing creeperdom. I also just like reading lists.

My latest experiment is to read in canonization groupings, this time the Military SF canon. Canon doesn’t always mean the best or most worthy, but it usually means The Most Famous, though we’ll leave the chicken/egg discussion for another day. However, because these books are The Most Famous, sometimes they talk to each other, sort of like the way pop stars subtweet bitchy comments and block each other, which adds another element of fun while trudging through books I wouldn’t normally choose to read.

So, Fall-In!, About-Face!, and snap those shiny heels together! Here are The Most Famous Military SF novels this side of nationalistic superiority! Ten-Hut! Continue reading

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The Moon is a Harsh Mansplainer (1966) by Robert A. Heinlein

TheMoonisAHarshMistress1The famous refrain: TANSTAAFL – There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch.

More like…

TANSTAAFL – There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Fair Libertarian.

TANSTAAFH – There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Feminist Heinlein.

TANSTAAHM – There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Heinlein Masterwork.

TANSTAAHWBED – There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Heinlein Without Boring, Expository Dialogue.

TANSTAAHFPPTDSLEOHFPP – There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Heinlein First-Person Protag That Doesn’t Sound Like Every Other Heinlein First-Person Protag.

 


 

This is what I hear in my head when I read a book by Bob Heinlein: Continue reading

Job: A Comedy of Justice (1984) by Robert A. Heinlein

JobAComedyofJustice

Leave it to Bob to ruin a good blasphemy story. All the parts are there: a science fiction Job, manipulated by frivolous gods who shuffle him from universe to universe, job to job, with his savvy, pagan girlfriend in tow. But Heinlein’s old-fashioned, fuddy-duddy chauvinism coats this tale with dust, making it not nearly as biting or progressive as true religious criticism should be.

But let’s admit it: even Joan Rivers ain’t got nothin’ on Bob Heinlein’s grasp of female fashion. Continue reading

Time Enough for Love (1973) by Robert A. Heinlein

This is what I’m dealing with here…Time_Enough_For_Love_1st

The long-lived galactic playboy and entrepreneur (who is generally good at everything without having to work too hard) Lazarus Long (a. k. a. Woodrow Wilson and a ton of other names) is having a conversation with his adopted daughter Dora, who he rescued from a fire that killed her parents when she was a young child: Continue reading

Glory Road (1963) by Robert H. Heinlein

GloryRoad_1st_ed“ARE YOU A COWARD? This is not for you…”

After a Heinleinesque sojourn with my last read, I felt compelled to pick up a real Heinlein novel. Having read a couple of his earlier scifi novels, which were okay and a bit bizarre, I’ve been intrigued by his mid-career forays into the fantasy subgenre. Fantasy is already filled with enough heaving breasts and rigid codpieces, Heinlein’s sexism should have a field day. I wondered what that would look like. Continue reading

Double Star (1956) by Robert A. Heinlein

Like the hero of Heinlein’s 1956 novel Double Star, Robert Heinlein is the master of dual identities.Doublestar

At least in my mind.

Robert Heinlein is the reason I avoided vintage SF for so long. His reputation as a writer of nerd-boy wet dreams was broadcast loud enough to hear over the grunge music blasting in my bedroom while I read quest-obsessed novels. I don’t know where I gleaned this bias against good ol’ boy Bob, but it’s accurate. His gruffness, his male chauvinism, his homophobia… I see it every day in my Texas town. Why would I want to read about it? Continue reading

Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein (or, if Alyosha Karamazov started a Martian sex cult)

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Stranger in a Strange Land starts out in 1960’s cheese-style but evolves to read like Dostoevsky…, if Dostoevsky had been alive for that painfully confused decade between the ignorant and intolerant past and the self-absorbed, yet more worldly future. That decade was like an adolescent, striving to define itself through new experiences, yet not self-aware enough to shake all of those ingrained, deep-rooted beliefs that had shaped prior generations.

Or, maybe that’s just Heinlein, demonstrating his enlightenment through his characters, but missing some of those cobwebby corners of old-fashioned machismo.

I compare Heinlein to Dostoevsky because, like Dostoevsky, Heinlein’s stories aren’t just stories. For both writers, the story is just the backdrop for the author to expound on all things philosophical. You get a sense from both writers that they aren’t really sure of their own convictions (which is likely feigned), so their characters represent varying viewpoints on a spectrum of issues and explore those viewpoints throughout the story. In Stranger, not many events occur, yet Heinlein explores a variety of issues, including male/female relations, organized religion and atheism, politics, monogamy, sex, and family.

What’s funny to me is that, aside from all of the issues he spends time on, the most driving philosophical issues in the entire story were:
1. the ethics and implications of removing a human being from it’s adoptive, alien culture, and
2. the implications of introducing our society to more powerful alien intelligences,– those who have mastered telekinesis and ESP to a point where they can manipulate human behavior and vanish people out of existence with their minds.

But, to my disappointment, neither issue is explicitly addressed, (although you can argue that they are, considering the falsifiably happy ending). Maybe because by 1962, those issues had already been explored in SF/F and Heinlein wanted to directly cover more taboo ground? I really don’t know, but I expected a completely different story. (I mean, people disappeared. Were those disappearances never investigated? Where was Dragnet?)

And onward with the Dostoevsky comparison…

The main character of Stranger, Michael Valentine Smith, is much like Alexei (Alyosha) from The Brother’s Karamazov. Both men are young, intelligent, curious, and sensitive. Although they are outsiders of their own culture (Alyosha is a novice monk in 19th century Russia, and Michael is a human from Mars in 1960’s America), they are portrayed as the heroes of the story, shaped by their grumpy old father figures, yet shining with optimism and compassion. We see both young men mature as the story progresses, and that maturity affects the people around them. The two men share messages of hope and love at the end of both stories.

Ultimately, though, Stranger in a Strange Land, is really about a sheltered human teen discovering sex as he grows up. And, because he is a particularly exceptional teenage boy, with Martian powers and charismatic pull (as well as loads of dough and important friends), he gets all the sex he wants and eventually starts his own sex cult that is based on a combination of Martian teachings and the pleasures of sex. His cult attracts beautiful women who love to share him and share themselves with others, including other women, although the men don’t dare explore that wayward sort of sexuality with other men. (We’re talking sexy taboos here– not craziness!)

It is such a blindly hypocritical view of sex, yet Heinlein never even winks at it. All that professing about the beauty of the polarity of men and (multiple) women, I almost expected Mike’s cult to start chanting, “It’s Adam and Eve, and Anna and Eve, but not Adam and Steve, although Steve can join in– but not with Adam!” Can you preach about free-love and open-sex and bigamy and polyamory, and not even invite the possibility of gay male love into your polyamorous sex cult? C’mon, Bob.

Besides that, I still feel icky from all the potential STD’s that must be floating around that disgusting “nest,” Regardless of how powerful that Martian boy is at sterilizing his people from disease, that place must be filthy. And how is this not rape? At a few points in the story, characters hint that they suspect Micheal can control other people’s emotions. How far do his manipulations go? Is it a Martian-style roofie? If he can control the sniffles and genital warts outbreaks among his followers, is it too far-reaching to assume that he can also control a woman’s willingness to get sexy with multiple partners, and without feeling the slightest bit uncomfortable?

Have all the free-love you want, but let’s make sure it’s consensually consensual.

Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein is an engaging read, but it could have been so much more, and it left a bad taste in my mouth. The women are total twits, the guys are total asses, and that speaks more for the author than anything else.

Heinlein just isn’t my guy.