Monday, December 12, 2005

Random Thoughts From Reading Several Minor Heinlein Books

Once again, trying to keep up with the post-a-day pace, I dig into my vast archives of blather, and find this, which was originally posted to rec.arts.sf.written 9/7/03:

These will probably get me flamed six ways from Sunday, but, having recently read the non-fictional bits of Expanded Universe, the rediscovered For Us, The Living and the minor, oh-my-God-look-out-for-that-Brain-Eater novel Glory Road a few things keep jumping into my mind. These are wild generalizations, and probably apply much more to Heinlein's bad books to his good ones.

a) To stop a Heinlein character from talking, one must first stab the character in the heart with a sharpened stake. Then remove the head with a silver knife and stuff the mouth with garlic. Dismember the body and bury each piece at a separate crossroad at midnight on a moonless night. Burn the head while chanting incantations to Shub-Niggurath. If that doesn't work, try the tactical nukes.

b) And yet, Heinlein characters talk around things instead of actually conversing with each other. They pontificate, they blather, they stand on their own authority, they stress their interlocutor's youth/inexperience/other-cultural biases, they change the subject. Straight questions are rarely asked, and straight answers never given. After two pages of dialogue, the reader is expected to have forgotten this.

c) Related to the above, I suspect Heinlein was not one to do much research. He tends to use metaphors and indirection rather than having his characters explain how their SFnal devices and settings work, and he relies heavily on "general knowledge." (And then has the know-it-alls say things like "You're sure?" or "Our scientists thought that way as well -- a thousand years ago" with heavy sarcasm.)

d) Heinlein men all seem to be talking around the matchstick in one corner of their mouths.

e) Heinlein women are amazingly likely to be pneumatic sex kittens who are willing to sleep with the hero immediately and swear undying monogamy to him by the next morning, even after they talk at great length (but not exactly explain -- see b), above) about how such a relationship is rare, unnatural, and bizarre. And even exceptionally powerful and able women will be not only cowed, but sexually excited and thrilled at being threatened with a spanking. Not that spankings and such seem to feature much in their sexplay, mind you, but that Heinlein men use threats of violence to keep their women in line, and those women honestly think those guys are just wonderfully masculine and desirable. (To be fair, I suspect much of this is Heinlein bumping up against the limits of what his editors would allow -- but there's something going on with those dumb men and their smart forelock-tugging sex kittens.)

f) Heinlein himself had the amazing ability to turn his opinion on a subject from A to Not-A like a switch, as necessary, without ever, at any point, entertaining any doubts about that opinion, any related opinion, or any of his other views on the world. This really popped out at me in Expanded Universe, where he spends one essay explaining how nuclear weapons (once they are invented) will have to -- have to -- be controlled by a world-wide super-governmental agency with extraordinary powers, because otherwise the world would inevitably be destroyed by radioactive dust bombs. The next essay is about how the UN, or any extra-national agency, cannot be allowed to dictate any US policy of any kind, especially those relating to nuclear weapons, and that we should bomb flat anyone who suggest otherwise.

g) Heinlein (or his characters, be fair) was very fond of violence, particularly sudden death, as the solution to problems. Murder often seems to be a minor offense in his works, much less important than such high crimes as annoying the protagonist or proposing a solution to a problem that Heinlein or his characters oppose. (Again, to be fair, there's a lot more talking about how such people are or should be killed than actual assassinations, so this could just be a wish.)

h) If I had a dollar for every time Heinlein, or one of his characters, wrote or said that something "has to -- has to" happen, due to rules of the universe known only to that person and fuzzily alluded to, I would never have to work again.

I'm not sure how people will follow this up, but I'm sure it will be interesting...just had to get that off my chest.

(This is, in part, from the frustration I felt from starting Glory Road being very happy with the narrator's voice and settling in for a fun adventure romp, and then having Em-bloody-press Star of the Twenty-damn-Galaxies chatter on endless through most of the book without ever explaining how things actually work or ever giving that poor stupid schmoe a straight answer on anything. Of course, he also misunderstood the few things she did tell him, so she might have just given up on him.)

1 comment:

Paul said...


This really popped out at me in Expanded Universe, where he spends one essay explaining how nuclear weapons (once they are invented) will have to -- have to -- be controlled by a world-wide super-governmental agency with extraordinary powers, because otherwise the world would inevitably be destroyed by radioactive dust bombs.



Actually, as far as I remember, that's not an essay at all, but that was a short story. "Solution Unsatisfactory." Expanded Universe is a hodgepodge of fiction and non fiction, and, for various reasons, including those that you illuminate, its sometimes difficult to tell the difference.

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