September 14, 2010
Hoyt On Heinlein - My Heart Belongs to Daddy
In July Tor.com invited me to participate in a blog event to launch the first volume - Learning Curve - of William Patterson's Heinlein biography.
(For those who aren't science fiction fans, this sporadic and irregular series of posts will all be called "Hoyt on Heinlein" with the added subtitle. So if you wish to scroll on past, that's fine.)
After hesitating for a long time because the man's influence in my life made this seem akin to reading about your father when he was young and stupid, I read the book through twice and marked all the interesting places I'd like to talk about. In a way Heinlein's history was the history of the 20th century in America, at least for that subset of the population that was interested in speculation and intellectual work. In a more precise way, it was the history of science fiction at the time. And because science fiction is the way we think about the future, it provides fascinating material for exploration.
I made all my final notes on it on the way from NASFIC in August and wrote out some questions I'd like to explore. Then I wrote an introductory, opening post.
And that was the last thing that went according to plan.
At this point I'm tempted to say "It wasn't the site, or the other bloggers, or even the commenters, it was me." To an extent that is true. As some of you who have read me here have probably gleaned, I can be somewhat excitable. I hate to live up to the stereotype of the excitable Iberian woman (or is that a stereotype here?) but stereotypes have a base in reality. In things I care deeply about, I can get very hot under the collar, and dish hot sarcasm freely left and right. (Quite literally.)
But there was more to it than that. No, it wasn't the site or the other bloggers, or even the commenters. But it was Heinlein.
Heinlein discussions and panels, in cons, over dinner, and in blogs, always make me think of the Biblical injunction "I come not to bring peace, but a sword."
There are people like that. People the mere mention of whose name divides the most peaceable assembly into two camps at each other's throats. In Heinlein's case, this is perhaps only true within science fiction where some of us grew up reading him and consider him our Alma Pater, who molded us as much or more than our biological parents. "Heinlein's Children" is the name we have proudly arrogated and we try very hard to live up to daddy's expectations. (I count it as a very high point in my life when, some years before she died, Mrs. Heinlein reassured that Robert would be proud of having me for a daughter. No award, no accolade - not even, I suspect, Roman style deification, were that available - would be considered comparable to that.)
And then there are the Heinlein haters. There are people who read a line or two of Heinlein and hate him, there are people who read all his works and hate him and there are - bafflingly - a multitude of people who have never read him and who hate him with a burning passion. I'd like to believe those last are in the majority, (because I have trouble in all his work, people don't find something to like) but I don't know of course.
Most of the people who hate him without ever having read him have heard he is racist, sexist, fascist or any other "ist" they care to call him. And in most cases this relies on such a distorted view of his writings it would be perfect for Myth Busters.
My theory is that a lot of movements who want their members' complete unthinking obedience are very afraid one of them will slip up and read Heinlein - because to read Heinlein is to think and question more than anything else.
Now, I'm not saying the man was perfect. No more than I am, with my er... excitability. No, he was rather a man of strong opinions (but able to change them) who therefore offended large portions of people at any given time. Which is what makes him so important. And what makes him so polarizing in an age of "I have the right not to be offended."
So, my blogging at Tor.com got derailed. A co-blogger decided to complain about the lack of gay people (!), blacks, women, etc. in leading roles in his books - which at this point cover up to about the 40s when editors had trouble with such 'minorities' as Italian and Irish -- and I lost my head, and I'm afraid allowed it to destroy my train of thought. There were other factors, including the fact that I was battling something physical, but that's irrelevant. A reason, but not an excuse.
At any rate, I did not do my best work, and it bothers me, because Patterson's own work is masterful and deserves a better analysis. And because those of you who have read me have probably spotted I will set three or four books or three or four stories in the space era/space. This is because I hate to waste research. And here, I have ALL these notes and the book marked up, and didn't get into any of the topics I planned to cover.
So, I propose to do a series of blogs here. Eric said it was fine, even though - as someone said on my facebook - the internet consists mostly of Heinlein flamewars and porn. (He forgot cute cat pictures and stories, which are a good quarter of the net, but correct in the essentials.)
Because of my somewhat excitable nature (kind of like Vikings - who did raid the region I come from - were a little bit violent) I'm going to exert something I learned from the book, what Heinlein apparently called "a semantic pause". It's not that I'm going to ignore comments, but I might not go back and answer (those that interest me) until I have the whole series out. Since the series will be fitted in around my fiction-writing commitments, it might take a while.
People are, of course, welcome to engage in arguments in the comments, but if I do wade in, it will sidetrack my entire thought process again. Sorry - I do this in full knowledge of my limitations and character defects. Trust me, the blogging will be better for my not getting into hair pulling.
And now, fasten your seatbelts and put on the fire-proof suits. Hopefully I'll be able to make the way ahead interesting and worthy of the subject.
posted by Sarah on 09.14.10 at 11:11 PM
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