Hoyt On Heinlein - A Forest Of Jungian* Knives

As some of you know I got to read Learning Curve by William Patterson in Advanced Reading Copy format, and I was dissatisfied - through my own fault - with my blogging about it at Tor.com. (I was NOT dissatisfied with the book, which I think every Heinlein fan should read.) Not blaming anyone save myself, because I tend to get emotional when it comes to Heinlein. Frankly more so than I would expect. And one of the ways I fit the stereotype of the Latin female is that I am... excitable. At least that's what my husband says.

I will start the serious Heinlein blogging next week, and hopefully do one post a week.

This one is sort of a general Heinlein blogging thing.

If you're in Colorado Springs, and even if you're not, you probably know that Cosine, the local con, has a panel on Heinlein every year. This is actually not unusual. I always get put on these panels - no, I'm not complaining - because sometimes I think I should be shown at fairs, sideshows and museums as "the woman who loves Heinlein." (More ranting on this coming later, you don't want to get me started this early on. no, truly, you don't. Winding up the Sarah might be funny, but it's also dangerous.)

This year's panel started badly for me. Despite appearances (Grin) I hate and despise being late for panels, but first my computer acted up while I was trying to do a post (which is why Sunday ended up without a post.) Second, as I was running late, my cats knocked over the clean-clothes baskets I hadn't had time to sort, and I ended up trying to find my pants in a big mess.

The end result was our getting to the panel 15 minutes late which in retrospect was probably a good thing.

You see, I missed the annual declaration of virtue for "people who dare admit they are Heinlein fans in the current climate." These people must exonerate themselves by making sure we - and everyone - know that they are only funs of the juveniles, but not of the later ones, with all their politics and sex.

This is where I'm a double freak. At least if they're telling the truth and not stealthing it. (Who knows? We've become a masked ball, where everyone hides behind the face they find safe. You need to be a little mad and a lot reckless to tell the truth most of the time. Yeah, I'm both.)

You see, the only juveniles I read - in Portugal, as a kid - were Have Spacesuit and The Door Into Summer. (And the second is not a juvenile, IMHO.) I didn't encounter his earlier work until I was married and living in the US. Actually I didn't encounter his earlier work until we were living in Manitou, fourteen years ago, so I was thirty four. And may I say, though the most mediocre of Heinlein's work can beat the best work of all of today's writers (save perhaps Terry Pratchett) all hollow, that the juveniles failed to impress this raving fan of his later works?

They're not bad books, mind. And of course, by the time I read them I was so far off their target audience as to be almost from another planet. But the important thing is that they are relatively simple and relatively... defanged when compared to his later work. And two of them I could never get into on language "cadence" alone (yeah, that's a weirdness of mine. Some ways of assembling words make it impossible for me to read the book. It's like nails on the chalkboard): The Star Beast and The Rolling Stones. (Curiously, the later I listened to in audio and that was easier than reading it. Still not one of my favorites.)

But I loved his later works. Granted my favorite is The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, but I LOVED The Number Of The Beast and while just now Time Enough For Love gets on my nerves, I remember liking it when it first came out, and I probably will like it again. (Right now it feels too "unstructured" for my mind.)

Yes, his later books have sex and politics. Well, my dears, as you get older you tend to have sharper political opinions. Part of it is that you see what doesn't work. This sometimes causes you to change your political opinions drastically - something we'll go into later. Also, as you get older, you become more and more yourself - we'll also go into this later. As for the sex... Well, look... I'm not saying he handled all of it perfectly. Even Heinlein - I have it on good authority - was human. At least his wife said he was, and I'll take her opinion on this.

And the way he was handling sex and what he was doing with it was monumentally difficult. Oh, part of it might have been the old feeling that people his generation (and younger!) had that every taboo had to be broken down before the future could be built. Except sometimes the taboos are there to protect people who can't think their way out of drowning in the rain... but that is a common failing. However, more importantly, what he was trying to do with sex was what he tried to do with everything else - i.e., extrapolate how technology will change people.

Though I'm not saying we're not completely capable of mucking it up - oh, we are, trust me - we are on the threshold of two huge steps he foresaw: life extension and divorcing sex from reproduction. Part of this work is already underway - we're living longer lives, and yeah, the pill started the process of separating those two processes. But right now the life extension is mostly extension of our aged years; and the pill is a negative separation of reproduction and sex. i.e. we can now have sex without risking babies. However, if this goes on (grin) we could be looking at 200 years healthy "middle age" and sexless reproduction (the later arguably sort of happens now fairly easily, but not in the array that will doubtless soon be possible.) These changes, more than even space travel and/or computers have the potential for striking at the heart of what it means to be human.

In this as in everything else, Heinlein had made it his mission to "prepare the future" - i.e. to make it easier for us to deal rationally with the changes. Hence all the sex and weird relationships in his later books. He was trying to extrapolate a "new morality" for new ways of being human. (Which is part of the reason my futures tend to involve biology and engineered humans.)

Do I agree with everything he extrapolated? Oh, heavens, no. He raised me better than that. He raised me to think for myself and to use my own life-experience and knowledge. BUT I do think he's one of few, very few authors who even tried to deal with the subject. On the courage alone one has to admire him. And if he failed to be perfectly predictive, he still created books that can be enjoyed if you realize you're reading spec-fic and not hymnals and stop getting offended every two pages.

(BTW, may I say I find it rich that most of the people who complain about sex in later Heinlein are boomers - aka the generation that ushered in New Wave, which brought in, among other things, a lot of sex (and a more inward looking plot) to SF? Yeah, I have a lot of boomer friends, but at least they're not HYPOCRITES. You know the "it's not the crime, it's the coverup?" In this case, what gets on my nerves "is not the criticism, it's the hypocrisy.")

I gave a condensed version of my musings above at the Heinlein panel, (but stopped short of remarking that I grew up in the seventies and read most people who came into the field in the sixties and seventies - and whom people ten to twenty years older than I still adore - and I read more bad sex in Science Fiction than you could get in a year of attending clinics for sexual dysfunctions. The generation that wrote all that - and note I'm not complaining. I read it. No one forced me to - has no room to complain about excessive sex in Heinlein.) And I was going to add what comes next. I didn't because as I was speaking I heard this weird "vibrato" in my voice. It came out of nowhere, without my realizing I was particularly upset. Unfortunately, I've learned to recognize that vibrato...

It is a sign I'm becoming too emotional. Mind you, I didn't feel emotional, but often I hear it before I know I'm becoming such.

However, if I COULD have trusted myself, this is what I'd like all the Heinlein critics - particularly those who haven't actually read him but 'know' he was guilty of all sorts of thought crimes - to think about:

Robert A. Heinlein has been dead for about 22 years. We're still arguing about him and discussing him everywhere. (Someone noted this, but not the following:)

WHO of the current writers has that sort of influence? Take the most popular of current writers, particularly in science fiction - do you see any of them influencing an entire generation, let alone the two or three Heinlein managed? Do you see anyone in the future - children from OTHER countries and cultures, mind - calling themselves "so and so"'s children?

Look, I adore Pratchett. I think he's the greatest living writer in any genre. But as much as I love him, and as much as some of his insight has helped shape me (and the kids) I don't think his influence will be half that of Heinlein's.

As a writer, as a futurist, as a thinker, Heinlein still looms on the horizon of our thoughts, dwarfing all the younger generations.

And thereby, I think, hangs the problem. I've never felt a great urge to topple giants. I prefer to stand on their shoulders. But it is a known impulse of mankind to sacrifice the king and to murder the hero.

I think most of my colleagues who seethe in revolt against Heinlein are prey to that most ancient of urges. Heinlein raised them. And Heinlein is a mythical father, so large, so powerful, that they can only become themselves and feel good about themselves by virtually murdering him/his memory.

Of course it doesn't work. Even if they succeeded (and so far they are less than successful) they would regret it immediately after. And then they'd find some way of deifying him - which would probably upset him even more, if he knew.

So, ladies and gentlemen, let's admit that on a good day, to a benevolent reader, we might be able to reach sort of to Heinlein's ankles. Let's discuss him without rancor. And let's consider him as the human he was, not the god we both rage against him for being and still wish he were.

Let's put away the Jungian* knives, shall we?

*Technically this should be called A Forest of Freudian knives, since Totem and Taboo was Freud's book, not Jung's. However calling this "A Forest of Freudian Knives" would give entirely the wrong idea  (Also, I KNOW who you are, and what you'd say!) And besides, I (and a lot of other people) associate mythical situations with Jung, not Freud, and when it comes to Heinlein, you have to agree it has all gone "myffic."

(And, oh, yeah, let the Heinlein flame wars begin! For those of you who don't know what I'm talking about, coff, the best scientists, coff, having analyzed the internet have determined that the non-porn part is fifty percent cute cat pictures and fifty percent Heinlein flame wars.)

*Crossposted at According To Hoyt*

posted by Sarah on 01.25.11 at 12:51 AM


Great author & my all-time fave, but his last few novels in the "Pantheistic Solipsism" set was way too much for me. I'd much rather remember him for Stranger, Mistress, the short stories of that era, and "Time Enough".

Captain Ned   ·  January 25, 2011 1:22 AM

I've met a few rabid Heinlein-haters. The most striking thing was that it quickly became clear that none of them had actually ever read the books they were so incensed with. Yet they hated him with a fanaticism that was frightening to behold.

When he was good, he was very, very good. And when he was bad, he was a favorite of adolescent boys everywhere.
IMO, the flamewars surrounding him are an attempt to control myth, with both sides trying to build him up into something he wasn't (be it angel or demon).

Luke   ·  January 25, 2011 10:51 AM

Neal Stephenson has the potential, but he doesn't write enough.

Phelps   ·  January 25, 2011 5:45 PM

Oddly, the first Heinlein I ever read was "Glory Road" (and yes, I was rather too young to completely get it at the time). But it still remains one of my favorites.

And I didn't read most of his juveniles until I was an adult, but I liked them anyway. Like Captain Ned, I was a bit less than thrilled with the "Pantheistic Solipsism" stuff. Though I still found it readable. Just not re-readable.

Kathy Kinsley   ·  January 25, 2011 7:41 PM

"WHO of the current writers has that sort of influence?
Take the most popular of current writers, particularly in science fiction - do you see any of them influencing an entire generation, let alone the two or three Heinlein managed?

Do you see anyone in the future - children from OTHER countries and cultures, mind - calling themselves "so and so"'s children?"

Taking those 3 in reverse order:



Lois McMaster Bujold.

POUNCER   ·  January 25, 2011 7:51 PM


I hate to disagree, but I don't think so. Don't get me wrong, Lois is a good author and she has a number of fans. But I don't see her, decades after her death being the center of discussions like this. I most certainly don't see her being the flashpoint Heinlein often is.

Amanda   ·  January 25, 2011 11:12 PM


Don't get me wrong, I *like* Lois McMaster Bujold. She's a good author who writes stories that I enjoy reading. But I'm afraid I can't agree that she'll have a pronounced influence on this generation, much less two or three of them.

Or to apply a different perspective, Heinlein changed the genre on a fundamental level. Bujold hasn't, and looks unlikely to do so. (Which is no way a knock on her.)

Luke   ·  January 26, 2011 1:13 PM

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