Reviews by Evelyn C. Leeper

Reviews by Evelyn C. Leeper

All reviews copyright 2003-2018 Evelyn C. Leeper.


BEYOND THIS HORIZON by Robert A. Heinlein:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 04/27/2018]

BEYOND THIS HORIZON by Anson MacDonald (Robert A. Heinlein) (Astounding Science Fiction, April & May 1942): Heinlein was so prolific in some months in the 1940s that he adopted several pennames to avoid having his name dominate the tables of contents of magazines issued in those months. He also used specific names for specific types of stories. (A more recent example would that "Iain Banks" wrote mainstream works, but "Iain M. Banks" wrote science fiction.)

"The police of a state should never be stronger or better armed than the citizenry. An armed citizenry, willing to fight, is the foundation of civil freedom." Here clearly "the police of a state" is not referring to the state troopers, but to the military of a nation. Maybe when he wrote this in 1942 it seemed to make sense (although in the middle of World War II, I would not have thought so), but certainly now it is totally unrealistic. Given that nations must prepare to defend against other nations, is it reasonable to say that nations should not have ships, or planes, or heavy artillery? Or should individual citizens be the ones who have ships, or planes, or heavy artillery? And just how are they going to buy them? There have been many cases in the past in which an armed resistance has proved ineffective against a more heavily armed state,

"An armed society is a polite society." This very famous Heinlein comes from this novel. It has been discussed at length elsewhere, so I will summarize. This is true only when there is a reasonable level of government authority to maintain order, in which case one might be polite anyway. In a weak or dysfunctional state, one may see a lots of guns, but not much politeness. And as far as people like the Las Vegas shooter, the number of armed citizens will not affect their politeness--or deadliness.

Also apparently Heinlein thinks this arming of the citizenry should extend only to men. While occasionally a woman might be armed this is considered an anomaly and somehow "unnatural" (sort of like women wearing trousers was at the time).

The book is also structured oddly, with an attempted revolution in the middle (so much for politeness), and the last part covering some ill-defined philosophical project, and also possible telepathy. Oh, and there's a man from the past who has somehow traveled forward in time.

To order Beyond This Horizon from amazon.com, click here.


"Blowups Happen" by Robert A. Heinlein:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 07/15/2016]

"Blowups Happen" by Robert A. Heinlein (Astounding Science-Fiction, Sept 1940): This is the last published of the five "Future History" stories that Heinlein has nominated on this ballot, though the second in internal chronology. Unfortunately, Heinlein "updated" it in 1946 (e.g., he added a reference to "a thousand Hiroshimas") for its inclusion in Groff Conklin's THE BEST OF SCIENCE FICTION and that updated version was also used in THE PAST THROUGH TOMORROW. Not until the publication of EXPANDED UNIVERSE in 1980 was the original version restored, and my guess is most people will be reading it from either the Conklin or THE PAST THROUGH TOMORROW.

One of the things updated was the idea that you would need a large mass of uranium to generate power by fission. (In the updated version, Heinlein changes the large mass of uranium to "a large power plant.") This is the same mistake Heisenberg made in his atomic research for the Germans during the war, and which is discussed in detail in Michael Frayn's play COPENHAGEN.

After a while all these Heinlein stories start to wear on one. This one also has an African-American speaking in either dialect or every thick accent, which doesn't help.

To order "Blowups Happen" in The Past Through Tomorrow from amazon.com, click here.


CITIZEN OF THE GALAXY by Robert A. Heinlein:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 08/05/2005]

While in Los Angeles--or more specifically, in Los Angeles traffic--we listened to Robert A. Heinlein's CITIZEN OF THE GALAXY on audiobook (ISBN 0-786-18479-5, paperback ISBN 1-416-50552-0). It is typical Heinlein, with a lot of lecturing about societal mores, and a juvenile hero amazingly naive and clueless for someone raised as a slave and a street beggar. (Not only he is clueless about girls/women, but at age eighteen or nineteen, he's not even interested in them. And, no, he's not gay.)

To order Citizen of the Galaxy from amazon.com in audiobook, click here.
To order Citizen of the Galaxy from amazon.com in paperback, click here.


"Coventry" by Robert A. Heinlein:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 07/15/2016]

"Coventry" by Robert A. Heinlein (Astounding Science-Fiction, July 1940): This is the fourth published of the five "Future History" stories that Heinlein has nominated on this ballot, though the last in internal chronology.

It is difficult to pin down Heinlein's political views, particularly as they changed over his lifetime. In "Coventry" he has a character unhappy with the way the state controls his emotions. He wants to be more independent. In effect, he is objecting to the "nanny state." So he is sent off to Coventry, which he thinks of as a place where people can live free and self-reliant, without interference from the government. Well, it is clear he is not at all self-reliant, but more a "wannabe rugged individualist." And he soon discovers that in a place where the government has sent a bunch of people who want to be free of the government, they soon start forming their own government(s) which may be even worse. The problem is that it is not clear what Heinlein is trying to say. Is it that over-protective governments are bad? Or that they just seem bad except when presented with the alternatives: corrupt oligarchy, absolute dictatorship, or religious theocracy?

The one thing he touches on briefly but never explores is the validity of the Covenant itself. The judge says, "The Covenant is ... a simple temporal contract entered into by [our grandfathers] for pragmatic reasons. They wished to insure the maximum possible liberty for every person." But it was a contract entered into by their grandfathers. Did they have the right, or authority, to enter their children and other descendents into a contract? Can you sign your two-year-old son to a ten-year contract to work for General Mining when he is twenty-one? Can you and your best friend sign a marriage contract between your daughter and his son? So why do we assume that one generation can make a "social contract"--that is, form a government--that binds future generations to it conditions? These are issues brought up by Thomas Paine (*) but rarely addressed.

Unfortunately, Heinlein does not address the interesting issues, and what he has written seems unfocused and confusing.

(*) "There never did, there never will, there never can, exist a Parliament, or any description of men, or any generation of men, in any country, possessed of the right or the power of binding and controlling posterity to the 'end of time,' or commanding for ever how the world shall be governed, or who shall govern it...." [Rights of Man, Part 1]

To order "Coventry" in The Past Through Tomorrow from amazon.com, click here.


FOR US, THE LIVING by Robert A. Heinlein:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 01/16/2004]

I read Robert A. Heinlein's FOR US, THE LIVING, and I can report that my initial comments still hold. To recap, it was apparently written in 1938, at the time of Heinlein's involvement with social reform campaigns in California. And, yes, it is probably only for Heinlein completists. As I commented to one, "If I wanted a course in economics, I'd sign up for one at Brookdale Community College."

The book is written in the tradition of Edward Bellamy and other Utopian writers. As with many of those, the protagonist falls asleep/is overcome by gas/passes through a time warp/has a curse put on him--oh, sorry, I got carried away there. Anyway, the protagonist is in a car crash in 1938 and through some hand-waving ends up in a body in 2086. (The explanation is even less convincing than that of being overcome by gas.) Naturally he gets found by a beautiful woman, who decides to take him in and provide various teachers who explain at great length how the country's economic and political system has evolved since 1938. As with much of Heinlein's work, everything works because he stacks the deck so that it works. For example, everyone is given enough money to live on, but people continue to work because they want to. This is made at least slightly plausible only because he postulates that all the tedious jobs are done by machine. After all, why would someone take a job cleaning bathrooms if they didn't have to? Heinlein also sets up a situation in which the United States can effectively ignore the rest of the world.

One can certainly see the beginnings of many of Heinlein's ideas here, and for followers of Utopian fiction it has its place, but there is nothing compelling enough to warrant reading this if all you are looking for is a good science fiction novel.

To order For Us, the Living from amazon.com, click here.


"Goldfish Bowl" by Robert A. Heinlein:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 05/18/2018]

"Goldfish Bowl", by Anson MacDonald (Robert A. Heinlein): (Astounding Science Fiction, March 1942): Alexei Panshin describes this as "lacking in significance and importance." Robert Wilfred Franson says that it is "a philosophical or theological story, told in a clear style and straightforward treatment to present its awesome subject manner in full force." Clearly, there is disagreement over this story. My feeling is that it is based on an intriguing idea but that parts of it seem to have been padded out and the delivery is not subtle. Still, Eisenberg's final message has become one of the classic lines of science fiction.


"If This Goes On..." by Robert A. Heinlein:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 07/15/2016]

"If This Goes On..." by Robert A. Heinlein (Astounding Science-Fiction, Feb 1940): This is the second published of the five "Future History" stories that Heinlein has nominated on this ballot, though the fourth in internal chronology. But why is "If This Goes On--" classified as a novella when it is 57,000 words long? Even minus 20%, that's 45,600 words--well over the cut-off. (The argument that only the first half of the serialization was nominated cuts no mustard with me, because it was never intended as a stand-alone. At least the T. H. White was initially published separately.)

[Actually checking around seems to indicate that the original version--which is pretty much unavailable unless the Packet includes it specifically--was 33,000 words. My guess is that most people will end up voting on the extended version. There are similar problems with the two de Camp/Pratt novellas and the Williamson novelette, but those at least have their original forms available on-line.]

(Two years ago, the Jack Williamson was only about 35,000 words, hence within that 20% margin, and counted as a novel rather than a novella. See below for comments on relocating Dramatic Presentations. I really think the 20% margin is too big, and invoked too frequently, especially for Retro Hugo works. For current works, the author can protest the relocation of a story, but for the Retro Hugos, a Ouija board would be needed. As for availability, that same year an unavailable Clifford Simak not only got nominated, but won a Retro Hugo.)

To order "If This Goes On..." in The Past Through Tomorrow from amazon.com, click here.


"Magic, Inc." by Robert A. Heinlein:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 07/15/2016]

"Magic, Inc." by Robert A. Heinlein (Unknown, Sept 1940): One problem is that this is full of stereotypes: the Sicilian gangster, the Jewish agent, even the magical Negro. Another is that while there is a lot about magic couched in terms of rules and such--that is, magic as science--this is still basically a story about special interests, lobbying, politicians, and so on. And, as with so many of the stories, I do not think the versions commonly available are the original texts. The version in Damon Knight's THE GOLDEN ROAD refers to "fifty states", but looking back at the original magazine publication, it says, "forty-eight states." Who knows what else has been changed? Still, it's enjoyable enough, I suppose.

To order "Magic, Inc." in Waldo & Magic, Inc. from amazon.com, click here.


THE PUPPET MASTERS by Robert A. Heinlein:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 12/17/2010]

This is particularly timely, because I had just been mentioning THE PUPPET MASTERS by Robert A. Heinlein (ISBN 978-1-439-13376-7) in connection with recent events:

"'Schedule Bare Back' was to be the first phase of 'Operation Parasite.' The idea was that everybody--everybody--was to peel to the waist and stay peeled, until all titans were spotted and killed. Oh, women could have halter strings across their backs; a parasite could not hide under a bra string." [Chapter XIII]

"We were complying with Schedule Bare Back; we had not heard of 'Schedule Sun Tan.' Two cops stopped us as we got out. 'Stand Still!' one of them ordered. 'Don't make any sudden moves. ... Now ... off with those pants, buddy.' I did not move quickly enough. He barked, 'Make it snappy! Two have been shot trying to escape already today; you may be the third.'" [Chapter XXIII]

To order The Puppet Masters from amazon.com, click here.


RED PLANET by Robert A. Heinlein:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 10/09/2009]

RED PLANET by Robert A. Heinlein (ISBN-13 978-0-345-49318-7, ISBN-10 0-345-49318-4) was first published in 1949 in a heavily edited form. This edition is a reprint of the 1992 publication of Heinlein's original manuscript (sans typos, etc.) and in the introduction William H. Patterson, Jr., says, "The restored RED PLANET--the one you have in your hands now--is the real RED PLANET: the one Heinlein intended." This may be yet another example of why editors are important.

I am not going to go through the whole book, just Chapter 2 ("South Colony, Mars").

Not surprisingly, the first edit in this chapter was in Heinlein's description of Jim's mother: "She was wearing a costume that a terrestrial lady might choose for sunbathing or gardening and was a very pretty sight, although Jim was certainly not aware of it." (Clearly, the Heinlein in which Jim would be aware of it was yet to come.)

The next change is bigger. Jim has left his gun where the baby could get at it, but he manages to grab it in time, just as his father gets home. When Mr. Marlowe asks what the ruckus is, his wife says, "Nothing, darling." In the edited version, that's that. In the original version, he asks again, and apparently gets an answer, because he then comes into Jim's room and gives him a lecture on gun safety, including the following: "You are proud of being a licensed gun wearer, aren't you? ... And I'm proud to have you be one. It means you are a responsible, trusted adult. But when I sponsored you before the Council and stood up with you when you took your oath, I guaranteed that you would obey the regulations and follow the code, wholeheartedly and all the time--not just most of the time." Heinlein's original had no such speech, and in fact, it does not even make sense. If being a licensed gun wearer means Jim is an adult, how can (or why should) his father guarantee his behavior?

(According to GRUMBLES FROM THE GRAVE, this explanation of gun licensing was added in response to a specific request by Dalgliesh.)

In Heinlein's version, the gun incident is followed by Jim's younger sister Phyllis asking for a pistol of her own. (If Jim is fifteen, she is about thirteen.) Her father pretty much agrees to take her and see if city hall will license her, which makes Doctor MacRae say he wants to move to another planet: "Sir, it is not the natural limitations of this globe that I object to; it is the pantywiast nincompoops who rule it-- These ridiculous regulations offend me. That a free citizen should have to go before a committee, hat in hand, and pray for permission to bear arms--fantastic! Arm you daughter, sir, and pay no attention to petty bureaucrats. ... The swarming beehives back on Earth have similar childish rules; the fat clerks that decide these things cannot imagine any other conditions. This is a frontier community; it should be free of such."

Well, clearly Heinlein had some definite opinions on this, and equally clearly his editor at Charles Scribner's Sons, Alice Dalgliesh, did as well, at least in terms of what was suitable for what we now call a young adult novel. I have to say that I can see her point, now even more than in 1949. One can certainly argue that the widespread availability of guns to teenagers has not been as benign as it always seems to be in Heinlein's novels. Heinlein would finally break with Scribner's (or more accurately Scribner's would break with Heinlein) in 1959, when they rejected STARSHIP TROOPERS altogether. (Reading the letters in GRUMBLES FROM THE GRAVE, one gets the impression that they came very close to rejecting RED PLANET completely, and possibly only Heinlein's insistence on payment for time spent made them willing to accept it with edits.)

Oh, and one parting editorial shot: Doctor MacRae at one point acknowledges that he has "a taste for gossip," then adds, "I like also eavesdropping and window peeping." In the edited version, needless to say, the "window peeping" is gone.

I did not read both versions through the whole book, so I cannot say precisely what else has changed. But it is clear that Heinlein had intended this book--and presumably his other YA novels--to be more polemical than his editor would allow.

To order Red Planet from amazon.com, click here.


"Requiem" by Robert A. Heinlein:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 07/22/2016]

"Requiem" by Robert A. Heinlein (Astounding Science-Fiction, Jan 1940): This is the first published of the five "Future History" stories that Heinlein has nominated on this ballot, though the third in internal chronology. It shows its age in small ways: a reference to Verne and Wells and Smith (E. E. Smith was big in 1940, but not now exactly the household name that Verne or Wells is), the use of the term "darktown", the idea of barnstorming rockets, and of course the whole concept of how we would get to the moon. And Heinlein's tendency to preach is already in full flower: "It's neither your business, nor the business of this damn paternalistic government, to tell a man not to risk his life doing what he really wants to do." Alas, there is not much story here; what there is will be familiar to those who have seen the film SPACE COWBOYS.

To order "Requiem" in The Past Through Tomorrow from amazon.com, click here.


"The Roads Must Roll" by Robert A. Heinlein:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 07/15/2016]

"The Roads Must Roll" by Robert A. Heinlein (Astounding Science-Fiction, June 1940): This is the third published of the five "Future History" stories that Heinlein has nominated on this ballot, though the first in internal chronology. It is fairly prescient in some things. "In 1955 Federal Highway #66 from Los Angeles to Chicago ... was transformed into a superhighway for motor vehicles with an underspeed limit of sixty miles per hour." That pretty well describes the interstate highway system, begun in 1956, and did in fact incorporate some stretches of the old Route 66. And oil (and gasoline) rationing during World War II was mentioned, as well as the implied entrance of the United States into that war. (The term "World War II" was used in Time Magazine in September 1939, so no prescience was needed here.)

But prescient or not, what it boils down to is a story about a strike in a critical sector of the economy. The rolling roads are just calling a six-gun a blaster and a rustler a space pirate. [The reference is to the back covers of Galaxy Magazine in 1950.] (And does it even make sense to put a restaurant on a moving belt? Trying to go to dinner there would involve some mighty tricky calculations, and a long trip at either the beginning, the end, or both.

To order "The Roads Must Roll" in The Past Through Tomorrow from amazon.com, click here.


SPACE CADET by Robert A. Heinlein:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 09/01/2006]

SPACE CADET by Robert A. Heinlein (ISBN 0-765-31450-9) is very much a mixed bag. Written in 1948, it swings between being perceptive and being way off-base, being liberal and being reactionary. On the one hand, Heinlein seems to have foreseen microwave ovens when he has the cadets heat something with "high-frequency waves." On the other, he seems to think that learning will be done by a combination of injections and hypnosis--which does make it easier to fill his book with more interesting things than having his cadets sitting in class for hours on end. On the one hand, he has an important black character, at a time when the military had just been integrated, and equal treatment of blacks was almost unheard of. (Actually, when he wrote the book, the military was probably still segregated.) On the other hand, all his main characters are male and have either Anglo-Saxon or French names and backgrounds, even when they come from Venus or Ganymede. The lack of women, Asians, or even eastern or southern European cadets seems very obvious today.

To order Space Cadet from amazon.com, click here.


STAR BEAST by Robert A. Heinlein:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 10/27/2017]

On our recent trip, we listened to the audio recording of STAR BEAST by Robert A. Heinlein (full cast audio, ISBN 978-1-933-32247-2). It was surprising how topical it was, with people complaining about robot cars, politicians making outrageous, uninformed statements, citizens complaining about aliens on Earth and starting "humans first" movements, and so on. It was also surprisingly dated, with people smoking every other time you turned around and amazingly sexist comments from both male and female characters. The protagonist's girlfriend is shown as very clever, but his mother is merely domineering. (It is pretty obvious that this is aimed at a male teenaged audience.)

To order Star Beastamazon.com, click here.


STARSHIP TROOPERS by Robert A. Heinlein:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 02/20/2009]

STARSHIP TROOPERS by Robert A. Heinlein (ISBN-13 978-0-441-78358-8, ISBN-10 0-441-78358-9) was chosen for the science fiction book-to-movie discussion group this month. The novel is known for its didactic style, but I had forgotten just how awkward they are. For example, on page 6, the sergeant says, "You're supposed to know the plan. But some of you ain't got any minds to hypnotize so I'll sketch it out." And then he does, even though the chances that the military would keep non-hypnotizable people if hypnosis is how they brief you for a mission is, well, zero.

On page 7 (and various times later, Heinlein makes a big deal of how everyone fights--"the chaplain and the cook and the Old Man's writer." That sounds great for morale, but terrible for efficiency. Even if one has civilians doing most of the support work (as seems to be the case later), having specially trained personnel fight as ordinary infantry seems like a waste of the specialized training.

On page 143 is Heinlein's defense of the entire society he has set up. Why is having the franchise given only to discharged veterans the best way to structure a society? Well, the basic claim seems to be "Under our system every voter and officeholder is a man who has demonstrated through voluntary and difficult service that he places the welfare of the group ahead of personal advantage." (Oh, and "our system works quite well. Many complain, but none rebel; personal freedom for all is [the] greatest in history, laws are few, taxes are low, living standards are as high as productivity permits, crime is at its lowest web." In other words, proof by assertion--or perhaps by intimidation.)

Anyway, after having a few years of an "all-volunteer" army which turns out to be filled based on economic conditions--people enlist when they are poor and see the military as their only option--I would contend that we do not have a lot of evidence to support Heinlein's theory. Yes, his military weeds people out more strongly, and he seems to imply that there is no economic pressure to join, but I definitely would need more evidence before I thought that Heinlein had something. Add to this Rico's thinking, "I wished I were back in the drop room of the 'Rog', with not too many chevrons and an after-chow bull session in full swing. There was a lot to be said for the job of assistant section leader--when you come right to it, it's a lot easier to die than it is to use your head." Given that the majority of discharged veterans will be enlisted personnel, not officers, the electorate will be mostly people trained to follow orders rather than to "use their heads."

On pages 153 through 156, Heinlein recounts events from the June 1813 battle between the Chesapeake and the Shannon: "... there were four officers in the chain of command above [William Sitgreaves Cox]. When the battle started his commanding officer was wounded. The kid picked him up and carried him out of the line of fire. ... But he did it without being ordered to leave his post. The other officers all bought it while he was doing this and he was tried for 'deserting his post of duty as commanding officer in the presence of the enemy. Convicted. Cashiered."

The problem with this is it is wrong. When Cox "deserted" his post in this description, he was not the commanding officer. He became the commanding officer during the time he was taking the wounded man out of fire, and during that time he couldn't desert his post because he was never at it. The true description seems to be, however, that the other officers had already been hit before he left his post, but that in the tumult of battle, he did not know that.

Heinlein also said, "This boy's family tried for a century and a half to get his conviction reversed. No luck, of course." This really is wrong. They did get his conviction reversed--in 1952, less than a century and a half later, and before Heinlein wrote STARSHIP TROOPERS. Clearly Heinlein heard this story back in the Naval Academy in the 1920s and it made quite an impression on him, but he did not do any follow-up research before including it in the novel in 1959.

And once again, I will note, this just emphasizes that what one learns in the military is blind obedience to orders, and regulations enforced to the letter--which may be fine for the military, but don't strike me as what you want in your electorate.

For that matter, the recruiting sergeant in STARSHIP TROOPERS says, "But if you want to serve and I can't talk you out of it, then we have to take you, because that's your constitutional right. It says that everybody, male or female, shall have his born right to pay his service and assume full citizenship--but the facts are that we are getting hard pushed to find things for all the volunteers to do that aren't just glorified K.P." Given that, there are probably lots of people who would sign up, knowing that they would never qualify for anything risky.

"If you came in here in a wheel chair and blind in both eyes and were silly enough to insist on enrolling, they would find something silly enough to match." But why silly? Heinlein seems to have decided that really only able-bodied people should be allowed to vote, and for disable people to want to is just silly.

And speaking of the right to vote, I've been reading the Federalist and anti-Federalist papers recently, and ran across this where James Madison recommends not "confining the right of suffrage to freeholders, and to such as hold an equivalent property, convertible of course into freeholds. The objection to this regulation is obvious. It violates the vital principle of Government that those who are to be bound by laws, ought to have a voice in making them." [Madison's note number 2, 1820s]

Unless it was Madison's intention that women (or slaves) were not to be bound by laws, this seems amazingly obtuse.

Having nit-picked the book STARSHIP TROOPERS, I will now proceed to the movie. First, they dumbed down the lectures. Where the book gives Carthage as an example where violence settled something, the movie uses Hiroshima. But Carthage was completely destroyed (and sown with salt to keep it that way), while Hiroshima was only partially destroyed, and rather quickly rebuilt.

The screenwriter doesn't seem to know the difference between arachnids and insects, using the terms interchangeably. I would let him get away with "bugs" for both, but not the two other terms as being the same.

In the movie, the recruits are constantly saying "Sir" to their sergeants. One does not say "Sir" to a sergeant--if one does, one is immediately told, "Don't call me sir--I work for a living!" One says "Sir" only to officers.

Carmen does not shave her head in the movie. Then again, the ships she is flying appear to have artificial gravity.

And can you really set off a nuclear bomb a few hundred feet away and not suffer any ill effects?

To order Starship Troopers from amazon.com, click here.


STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND by Robert A. Heinlein:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 02/21/2003]

I'm re-reading Robert A. Heinlein's STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND for our library's science fiction book discussion group. At the time (for me, 1969 or so), it seemed great. Now, I must admit, it seems awful. All of the things about Heinlein's writing that grate on one's nerves are there, as well as his (apparent) ignorance of genetics and planetology. For example, on page 177 (of the 1961 Avon edition), Jubal Harshaw (a fairly obvious autobiographical character) says, "Most do-gooding reminds me of treating hemophilia--the only real cure for hemophilia is to let hemophiliacs bleed to death...before they breed more hemophiliacs." But hemophilia is a recessive trait, so unless you kill off the hemophiliacs siblings (and first cousins, etc.) as well, you haven't decreased the quantity of the trait in the gene pool. (You have kept it from increasing, I suppose.) And on page 89, he describes the solar system as having four planets of any noticeable size, but then goes on the describe Earth and Mars as if they are two of these four. Maybe that's just bad writing, but I note that the "original uncut version" recently published says it's three of the planets, not four, which is even more wrong. (This is on page 118 of the Ace edition; the previous item is page 231 of the new edition.) As far as the longer version, I think I'd rather see a shorter version, with Harshaw eliminated entirely. (Mark observes, correctly I think, that when Heinlein wrote this, he no doubt intended that Harshaw be the focus, not Smith. However, his readers had other ideas.) Since I'm only half done, I may have further comments next week.

To order Stranger in a Strange Land from amazon.com, click here.


TUNNEL IN THE SKY by Robert A. Heinlein:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 05/06/2005]

Our science fiction discussion group discussed Robert A. Heinlein's TUNNEL IN THE SKY (ISBN 0-345-35373-0) this month. It was compared and contrasted to such works as ROBINSON CRUSOE by Daniel Defoe, SWISS FAMILY ROBINSON by Johann Wyss, THE MYSTERIOUS ISLAND by Jules Verne, and LORD OF THE FLIES by William Golding. It is worth noting that the only books listed in the "Customers who bought this book also bought" section of amazon.com were five other Heinlein juveniles and Heinlein's THE MOON IS A HARSH MISTRESS, and their "Better together" recommendation is one of the Heinlein juveniles. While there is certainly validity in those choices, TUNNEL IN THE SKY is far more closely connected to the works listed above. The science fictional content is minimal, merely a device to strand this groups of teenagers on an uninhabited world. In fact, the main character is convinced for a while that he is actually still on Earth, possibly in Africa somewhere. One thing we agreed on, though, was that Heinlein included a lot more politics than the other "survival" novels. (One on-line reviewer said, "TUNNEL IN THE SKY has variations of the themes covered in LORD OF THE FLIES." He may not have realized that TUNNEL IN THE SKY predates LORD OF THE FLIES by four years. It is even remotely possible that Golding was writing in response to Heinlein.)

To order Tunnel in the Sky from amazon.com, click here.


UNIVERSE by Robert A. Heinlein:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 07/24/2015]

UNIVERSE by Robert A. Heinlein (contained in ORPHANS OF THE SKY, ISBN 978-0-671-31845-1) was not the first "space ark" story (that was probably Laurence Manning's "The Living Galaxy"), but it was certainly the first to gain widespread attention and was extremely influential, which is why it was chosen by SFWA as one of the "greatest science fiction novellas of all time." So if AURORA represents one end of the history of the "space ark" story, UNIVERSE represents the other. As such, it is worth noting the differences.

In UNIVERSE, all names are Anglo-Saxon or at least northern European. (Admittedly, it is a very small set, but this name bias was standard in 1941.) In AURORA, the names are representative of the entire population of Earth, with a very high proportion of Asian names.

In UNIVERSE, illiteracy is standard, and a lot of knowledge seems to have been lost for some reason. (Given that pre-literate peoples manage to transmit knowledge over many generations, the reason for this is now clear.) The crew now attribute everything they do not understand to religion (one is reminded of THE MOTEL OF THE MYSTERIES).

On the other hand, Heinlein's reasoning about the mystery of the gravity makes sense--the crew has no solar system to observe orbital mechanics in, nor are there any bodies on the ship large enough to exert any substantial gravitational force. This reminds me of "Mary's Room", the philosophical puzzle of someone who has learned everything in physics, biology, etc., about the color red, but has been raised in a black-and-white room. When she finally leaves the room, will she learn something new about red, and if so, what? (One has to assume that Mary never sees any blood, so perhaps "Mario's Room" would make more sense.)

From comments made by characters, there was originally a Christian tradition (involving at least Heaven and such). One wonders what happened to it.

Heinlein has the ship's crew use the muties for population control (the muties kill off the excess crew and keep the numbers down), or at least that is the explanation given for why the muties are not exterminated. Again, in 1941 there was no really effective birth control method that could be sustained over a multi-generational period (just how many condoms would they have to carry with them?), so this may have seemed the only practical approach at the time. Now it just sounds barbaric.

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"The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag" by Robert A. Heinlein:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 05/11/2018]

"The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag", by John Riverside (Robert A. Heinlein) (Unknown Worlds, October 1942): This story used yet another Heinlein penname, one that I was previously unfamiliar with. Heinlein seemed to use these to avoid over-exposure as opposed to having different personae for different styles, since (unlike John W. Campbell) he reverted to his real name whenever anything was reprinted. So after a while, his characters all seem familiar, whether they are in "Future History" science fiction, science fantasy with unknown sciences, or straight fantasy.

In "The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag" the main characters are a private detective and his wife, who are asked by the title character to find out what he (Hoag) does during the day--when he was recently asked what his profession was, he realized he had no idea. As they do this weird things happen, and one finds oneself in a very atypical Heinlein story (Dale Darlage claims it seems more like Philip K. Dick than Heinlein). The unusual underlying premise sets this apart from most of Heinlein's other works, but whether it elevates it above them is harder to say, since the style and characters are not noticeably different. One wonders what this would have been like if the detectives were Nick and Nora Charles, or Tommy and Tuppence Beresford. (Neil Walsh does compare the to Nick and Nora, so I may be thinking of the couple as portrayed in the films.)


"Waldo" by Robert A. Heinlein:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 03/15/2013]

The film discussion group read "Waldo" by Robert A. Heinlein (ISBN 978-0-450-39730-1) in conjunction with the film SLEEP DEALER. The film deals with the idea of "telepresence," which is just a fancy name for what Heinlein called waldoes. (And not just Heinlein--the name has passed into common usage.) Published in 1942, so presumably written in 1941, it has a lot of interesting references. Everyone smokes, even in space. It mentions Bell Laboratories. Heinlein predicts that we will become a nation--or in "Waldo", a world--of people who are out of shape, who shun physical energy, and, if not a generation of stamp collectors, at least a generation of video gamers. (Of course, the reason in "Waldo" is not of the people's own choosing.) One of the main characters wants people to go back to the "better" petroleum-based energies instead of the radiant atomic power everyone is using. (The radiant energy reminds me of Nicola Tesla's conception of power distribution.) There is no World War II in Heinlein's projected future (and the narrative voice refers to "the Great War"), but there is atomic energy and something called "the United Nations". I assume that name was being bandied about in 1941 rather than that Heinlein invented that term as well, but note that Heinlein does not assume that the League of Nations is just re-energized.

Heinlein also claims that furniture in space can be very fragile because nothing has any weight, but this ignores the fact that everything has mass. It is true that a very fragile cage would hold a supply of clothing (for example) if it were placed there, but if someone with a mass of 200 pounds moving across the room at 4 miles an hour bumped into it, it would either break from the impact, or be pushed into a wall that would have the same effect.

The story also veers into fantasy, with people getting energy (and other more mystical things) from "the Other World." What exactly constitutes this "Other World" is not clear, but I am somewhat reminded of THE GODS THEMSELVES by Isaac Asimov, where they are pulling energy from another universe. In THE GODS THEMSELVES, the characters are concerned when they discover that their actions are damaging the other universe. In WALDO, Waldo does not show any concern about the effect on the Other World. (He does seem to think it is a real world, not just a conceptual one.) His unconcern is not surprising, because he clearly does not care about this world or its inhabitants either.

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 05/11/2018]

"Waldo", by Anson MacDonald (Robert A. Heinlein) (Astounding Science Fiction, August 1942): After a while, one gets tired of reading Heinlein work after Heinlein work. No matter what pseudonym he used, there is a certain sameness to the style, unlike John W. Campbell's markedly different style when he used the penname "Don A. Stuart" instead of his own. Then again, as I noted above, Campbell used different names depending on the style; while Heinlein did so mostly to avoid flooding the market.

In "Waldo", Heinlein takes so long to get to the point, you want to strangle him. After he blithely discards Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle as having been disproven in the future (where they still have polio, though), he does a lot of hand-waving to try to make magic scientific--and fails. I prefer my magic as magic, and my science as science. Oh, and his characters--you want to strangle them as well. All of them. Even Grandpa Schneider with his funny way of talking. (I assume he is supposed to sound like he is old Pennsylvania Dutch or something.)

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