Sunday, December 18, 2022

On Heinlein

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Oh, just for general reference ...

Robert A. Heinlein was not a fascist. He was not a libertarian. He was not a misogynist.

At best, he was science fiction's own literary Rorschach test.

Reading his works, in context, you will see that he was, for most of his career, a forward-thinking idealist. He was a pragmatic man who admired competency. And he did his research. A lot of it. He was a remarkable man, well-deserving of the respect of the field.

Did he sometimes faceplant? Yes. Did he learn from those faceplants? I can point to the evidence that he did.

But those who dismiss him so casually — as one very immature commentator recently wrote — are mostly demonstrating that they have not really understood who Heinlein was and what he was up to.

I think Stranger In A Strange Land is fatally flawed, but it's a brilliant and ambitious book despite that. I think The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress is incomplete. (The revolution was economically unnecessary, but politically important.) The juveniles set a standard that has rarely been matched — especially Have Spacesuit, Will Travel and Tunnel In The Sky and Time For The Stars.

And of course, Starship Troopers. It is about the responsibility of a citizen — those who benefit from a civilized society have a corresponding obligation to contribute to the success and survival of that society. That's probably the single most important ideal that Heinlein ever expressed.

Are there blind spots in Heinlein's world view? Yes, I don't think he ever understood parenting, except as a theoretical ideal. And based on the comments of some of my female acquaintances, his portrayals of women characters could be ... um, uneven. (That's a whole other discussion, for another time and place — and one that requires more input from women than men.)

But for who he was, what he wrote, and the time in which he published his stories — he set a standard. He gave us broad shoulders to stand on and that is the real success of Robert A. Heinlein.  

- David Gerrold

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