liv: Bookshelf labelled: Caution. Hungry bookworm (bookies)
[personal profile] liv
Recently read: Between planets by Robert A Heinlein. (c) 1951 McCall Corporation and Robert A Heinlein, Pub 1968 Gollancz. [livejournal.com profile] ghoti lent it to me as a book she liked when she was a kid, and indeed, it's just the sort of book to appeal to my inner 12-year-old: a fun adventure story that feels sciencey and doesn't benefit from too much thinking.

I have read a lot of internet debates about whether it's absolutely essential to read Heinlein if you're into SF at all, or whether Heinlein is old-fashioned if not actually regressive and totally skippable. And clearly this is minor Heinlein, it's hardly one of the classics that everybody goes on about. I can imagine loving it if I grew up in the 50s when almost all children's books were fantasy or mimetic with relatively little SF; it's basically a standard boys' adventure story only set in the near future when humans have colonized the solar system. I liked the military bits, and the biologically implausible but endearing "dragons" native to Venus.

I kind of disliked the heavy-handed analogy between Venus' declaration of independence from Earth and the US War of Independence, but mainly because it was heavy-handed. And there's some language choices that are really jarring to a modern reader, but I think that's just because language has changed rather than because Heinlein was intending to be randomly racist against Native Americans.

I could see elements of the stuff that people argue about regarding Heinlein, the treatment of the only female character particularly, she's clearly challenging what would might have been stereotypes of young women at the time, but also she marries the hero for no reason and there's random annoying comments about how "girls" are more alien than aliens. The characterization of Don is absolutely typical of all the boys' adventure stories of the mid-twentieth century, a bit clueless while physically brave. I've never met a real human who acts like the hero of boys' stories, but having that type makes a certain kind of adventure tale possible in a way that a more plausible protagonist wouldn't.

Currently reading: In theory, The Dervish House by Ian McDonald, in reality I just haven't touched it in two months. I don't know why, I don't have anything negative to say about the book, it just somehow doesn't have momentum.

Up next: I'm somewhat tempted by Chocolat by Joanne Harris, another present from [livejournal.com profile] ghoti.

(no subject)

Date: 2016-01-13 06:46 pm (UTC)
davidgillon: A pair of crutches, hanging from coat hooks, reflected in a mirror (Default)
From: [personal profile] davidgillon
The characterization of Don is absolutely typical of all the boys' adventure stories of the mid-twentieth century, a bit clueless while physically brave. I've never met a real human who acts like the hero of boys' stories,

My old work-partner came close. Very brash, very physical, also had an ADHD diagnosis and was continually bouncing from one interest to the next. Our mutual boss remarked one day "He's the kind of person you drop behind enemy lines in wartime to cause massive damage before dying heroically' and that kind of summed him up perfectly.

WRT Heinlein, I think you need to be aware of him to understand what people are talking about when they argue over him, but there are a lot of corrosive attitudes buried in there that horrify now-me, but which either skimmed-over or wormed-into teenage me.

(no subject)

Date: 2016-01-13 11:50 pm (UTC)
davidgillon: A pair of crutches, hanging from coat hooks, reflected in a mirror (Default)
From: [personal profile] davidgillon
I'm not convinced you need to have read him widely, the issues tend to be fairly well known, the problem is that the debates may find you, rather than you finding the debates!

(no subject)

Date: 2016-01-13 07:09 pm (UTC)
jack: (Default)
From: [personal profile] jack
It was explained to me that early-Heinlein was generally exemplary of fun space adventure, and late Heinlein was full of questionable rants, and in the middle were some that had interesting political ideas. But I don't know how accurate that is. I definitely want to read one of the early Heinlein.

(no subject)

Date: 2016-01-13 07:31 pm (UTC)
davidgillon: A pair of crutches, hanging from coat hooks, reflected in a mirror (Default)
From: [personal profile] davidgillon
I have fond memories of 'Citizen of the Galaxy' as early, fun space adventure, though that may only be because of not having re-read it in 30 years!

The one that truly horrifies me is 'Starship Troopers', which is really middle rather than late, the Heinlein fans loathe the film, but I think its interpretation of Heinlein's most prominent creation as a fascist state is entirely fair. (And there's some appalling disablism buried in the text).

I've probably read more of the late period than middle or early, there's still some fun SF buried in there, but VERY proto-libertarian and with some serious plot issues for modern liberal perspectives.

(no subject)

Date: 2016-01-13 09:27 pm (UTC)
rysmiel: (Default)
From: [personal profile] rysmiel
Starship Troopers can entirely be read fascist if you think Heinlein intended Johnny Rico as sympathetic. Immersed in that book alone it's possible to read it that way, but read in close proximity to Moon is a Harsh Mistress and Stranger in a Strange Land, for example, I think it's hard to make Johnny Rico stand up as Heinlein pushing a worldview rather than experimenting with characters across a range of opinions.

(Not that Heinlein's own opinions as they appear to show through in the senile-period books when he lost the facility to edit his own work aren't horrendous in many ways, and not that the commonalities in even his earlier work aren't unpleasant. A lot of it is unpleasant in a "was being progressive for its time but couldn't imagine what genuine progress in some of these directions would look like" way, though. The which I am a little leery of being too hard on for fear of how anything I write might look across a similar span of time in ways I can't predict from here.)
Edited Date: 2016-01-13 09:28 pm (UTC)

(no subject)

Date: 2016-01-13 11:53 pm (UTC)
davidgillon: A pair of crutches, hanging from coat hooks, reflected in a mirror (Default)
From: [personal profile] davidgillon
Starship Troopers can entirely be read fascist if you think Heinlein intended Johnny Rico as sympathetic.

I read it as fascist from the government structure, rather than the characterisation, though I suppose you could argue for a fairly extreme version of libertarianism.

(no subject)

Date: 2016-01-14 04:12 pm (UTC)
rysmiel: (Default)
From: [personal profile] rysmiel
Thing is, the take on the government structure there is entirely through Johnny Rico's eyes, and with Johnny Rico characterised as an average person who isn't particularly bright and is not a political scientist, his reliability as an informed viewpoint is (I think intentionally) open to question.

(no subject)

Date: 2016-01-14 04:17 pm (UTC)
davidgillon: A pair of crutches, hanging from coat hooks, reflected in a mirror (Default)
From: [personal profile] davidgillon
True, but I don't think he's likely to be wrong on basic stuff like the franchise only being open to veterans - and ISTR we actually get that point belaboured by Heinlein's mouthpiece character, the civics teacher/soldier.

(no subject)

Date: 2016-01-14 06:48 pm (UTC)
rysmiel: (Default)
From: [personal profile] rysmiel
Oh, I read that as one of the most likely places to be entirely propaganda; I am pretty sure there is something in the text subtly implying there are lots of other ways of getting the franchise by different sorts of useful service which Johnny entirely misses.

(no subject)

Date: 2016-01-15 06:44 pm (UTC)
jack: (Default)
From: [personal profile] jack
Reading a long discussion of it elsewhere, it sounded like Heinlein intended there to be other options, but had only really thought about the military one.

It sounded like, he wanted to explore a society where voting and leadership were tied to personal responsibility, which isn't what I'd say but is valid and interesting, but didn't consider that the suffrage-for-service idea was one that might tend to go horribly horribly wrong in the real world?

And he wrote a book which was really interesting about military service, which tends to make people more sympathetic to it whether the book supports that or not.

(no subject)

Date: 2016-01-13 09:20 pm (UTC)
rysmiel: (Default)
From: [personal profile] rysmiel
The rule I have had recommended and would, having experimented with it, recommend to others, is not to read any Heinlein more than an inch thick.

(no subject)

Date: 2016-01-14 04:18 pm (UTC)
davidgillon: A pair of crutches, hanging from coat hooks, reflected in a mirror (Default)
From: [personal profile] davidgillon
ROFL!

(no subject)

Date: 2016-01-13 07:46 pm (UTC)
wild_irises: (Joanna Russ)
From: [personal profile] wild_irises
For what it's worth, the female protagonist in Between Planets is one of the best female characters Heinlein ever wrote. Don't use her as a standard for his women ...

(no subject)

Date: 2016-01-13 10:41 pm (UTC)
wild_irises: (reading)
From: [personal profile] wild_irises
Exactly so. And sadly, if you compare him to the other SF writers of the time (with the notable exception of Theodore Sturgeon), he was ahead of the curve.

I would never call him a feminist; I would say that he was a man who knew that women could have brains, and even physical strength, but always, always, always thought that the reason for the existence of women was to please and support men.

(no subject)

Date: 2016-01-14 12:16 am (UTC)
davidgillon: A pair of crutches, hanging from coat hooks, reflected in a mirror (Default)
From: [personal profile] davidgillon
I would say that he was a man who knew that women could have brains, and even physical strength, but always, always, always thought that the reason for the existence of women was to please and support men.

It's a good few years since I read the biographical stuff, but ISTR his marriage(s) pretty much fell into that mould (and a lot of his female characters seem to read like a fictionalised version of his 3rd wife).

(no subject)

Date: 2016-01-14 06:56 pm (UTC)
rysmiel: (Default)
From: [personal profile] rysmiel
It feels to me more like, he really wanted to envision what women would be like in contests where there was equality, but did not have any experiential grounds to build that on; and was generalising from commonalities among some women he knew applying particular strategies to manipulate their way to slightly better situations in a context of overriding power imbalances to thinking all capable women were basically manipulative in that way and would be like that even in situations where there was equality.

Mind you, Heinlein's notion of what "strong character" means is a mess anyway, beyond the gender issues. He has this ridiculous idealisation of generalised practical competence and being able to do as many things as possible, which seems to me to come of hankering for running away to frontiers and being downright afraid of the responsibilities that come with actively contributing to civilisation (and the ensuing need for specialists); and he never seems to see beyond the mindset of "fixing the problems in front of you is the way to the best long-term result" to the notion that the best short-term solution can be the direct cause of the long-term problem (which Asimov, by contrast, understood very well.) Both of which cognitive limitations seem to me to explain much of his appeal to people who would really like to believe we live in a universe simple enough that one competent man can know enough to fix any problem that arises.
Edited Date: 2016-01-14 06:58 pm (UTC)

(no subject)

Date: 2016-01-13 08:00 pm (UTC)
seekingferret: Photo of me with my 2012 Purim beard, with stripes shaven into it. (Default)
From: [personal profile] seekingferret
I don't know why, I don't have anything negative to say about the book, it just somehow doesn't have momentum.

You know, this is the reason I've never finished a McDonald novel. I'm not quite sure why, I don't have bad things to say, I just don't get through them.

Soundbite

Miscellaneous. Eclectic. Random. Perhaps markedly literate, or at least suffering from the compulsion to read any text that presents itself, including cereal boxes.

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