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« Coming To Grips With Nietzsche, Part III | Main | Sexy Movies, Episode One Million »

December 18, 2003


Dear Friedrich --

A few of the things I've learned from hanging out online:

  • How many people identify themselves as libertarians.
  • How many people have gone through serious Ayn Rand phases.
  • How many bright people read and enjoy sci-fi as adults.
  • The immense cultural importance of Robert Heinlein.

I think I've managed to semi-understand the first three of those phenomena. The fourth still eludes me.

As you know, I'm largely incapable of reading sci-fi -- off we swoop into other lands, dimensions and times, and some toggle in my brain I've got no control over switches to "off." So I've read almost no Heinlein, only "Starship Troopers," which I was curious about because I loved the Verhoeven movie based on it. Have you seen the film? I found it a riot -- an irreverent, midnight-movie-ish, satirical, borderline-porn bash that happened to get produced on an A-movie budget.

But I understand true Heinlein fans don't approve of the movie. I can see why --- when I read the novel I was surprised to find it straight-ahead and earnest in its concerns, though (the toggle in my brain having switched to "off") I can no longer recall what those concerns were.

I seem to remember that you were a fan many decades ago. Can you explain what it is Heinlein means to many people?



posted by Michael at December 18, 2003


Heinlein created a revolution in S.F. around 1940. He turned the genre from something along the lines of "Buck Rogers" into a vehicle for commenting on politics, religion, sociology, etc. His most influential stuff (on the development of S.F.) was his early work, which all fit together into a coherent view of about 200 years of 'future history.' His writing style owes quite a bit to hard-boiled detective fiction, but without the pessimistic social vision; several of his first person heros sound an awful lot like Archie Goodwin of the Nero Wolfe stories. So much for his place in 'literary' history.

I like him because he seemed to come from the world of pre-Depression America: self-confident, can-do attitude, big believer in free markets and the necessity for kicking ass now and then. I read him all the time at Our Lousy Ivy University as an antidote to Marxism, feminism, identity politics, and political correctness generally. One quote, obviously written in response to the expansion of 'rights' and 'entitlements' during the 60s and 70, sort of sums him up in my mind: "Nobody really has any rights, but everybody has plenty of opportunities."

I don't know if he ever heard of sociobiology, but he would have been a big fan. I recall that he was a big believer in heredity and masculinity at the exact moment that all right-thinking people disparaged them. A number of his books for teenagers show an intelligent, capable, hard-working kid facing an oppressive social situation and figuring a way to get out from under. They seemed intended for smart kids who hadn't found their place in the world yet; they were intended to empower, and they did.

Many of his later novels in the 60s and 70s are rather shrill, and thus not as good as his earlier stuff: this definitely includes Starship Troopers. His time-travel stories, like "The Door into Summer", were clearly the inspiration for the first Terminator. His evil mind-controlling aliens from outer space novel, "The Puppet Masters" was ripped off for "The Body Snatchers." Both of those are far more entertaining than Starship Troopers. But I suspect if you didn't encounter Heinlein as a teenager, he'll never make much sense to you.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on December 18, 2003 1:25 PM


Unlike Michael, I am a Science Fiction/Fantasy fan. But unlike you, I was never able to "get" Heinlein. Admittedly, I only tried Stranger In a Strange Land (supposedly his best work?) and I was just 16. I found it devoid of action and couldn't see why it was found so thought provoking by most.

Your posting inspires me to correct what I suspect is my mistaken judgement. Can you recommend another "entry" book to Heinlein? (That's a topic for debate in itself. What I mean by an entry book is the one that gives the new reader the most representative experience of the author. As such it might not be the authors best work, but maybe something that helps you gain entry to his worldview, hopefully beckoning you onward. Conversely, a well chosen entry book should allow a reader who isn't and will never be a fan of the author to quickly and accurately assess this allowing him to move on without wondering whether they're being unfair to the author.)

Posted by: Robert Holzbach on December 18, 2003 2:00 PM

I read a lot of speculative fiction, as it is sometimes called to include fantasy as well as science fiction—the Usenet group rec.arts.sf.composition includes writers of both both persuasions (Patricia Wrede, Mary Gentle, Charlie Stross, Pamela Dean) and is a good place to start if you want to see how pros and beginners think about the work.

I never really liked Heinlein, either, except for Glory Road, which is as close to sword and sorcery as he ever got. It's also the least earnest of his books, and is actually quite funny. The hero defeats one largish monster by stuffing its feet into its mouth and pushing until there's nothing but a little grease in his palm.

Posted by: Mike Snider on December 18, 2003 2:42 PM

I thought that said 'librarians' at first, not 'libertarians', but even so it only seemed a slightly odd claim. I can't answer your question about Heinlein - I read and enjoyed four or five of his books as a 14/15-year-old, but am not at all tempted to revisit them now.

Posted by: misteraitch on December 18, 2003 3:15 PM

"Nobody really has any rights, but everybody has plenty of opportunities." Do you think Heinlein spent a lot of time at your Lousy Ivy University? Do you really think some students didn't have more rights than others? Maybe "some people have more rights, but everybody has opportunities" would have jived more with my experienced reality.

Clearly he was targetting a particular audience...

Posted by: annette on December 18, 2003 3:45 PM

"Can you recommend another "entry" book to Heinlein? (That's a topic for debate in itself. What I mean by an entry book is the one that gives the new reader the most representative experience of the author. As such it might not be the authors best work, but maybe something that helps you gain entry to his worldview, hopefully beckoning you onward."

Well, if you want his worldview spelled out in essay form, interspersed with some of his short stories, pick up "Expanded Universe".

You can also look at "Time Enough For Love", where you get more philosophy from his apparent alter-ego Lazarus Long interspersed with some engrossing short stories.

For history the way it should have been, look in "The Past Through Tomorrow", and pay attention to everything between "The Man Who Sold The Moon" and "If This Goes On". It's definitely sobering reading through that in this day and age, 30+ years after Apollo.

"Stranger in a Strange Land" is not his best work. It's okay, but he's definitely done better.

Posted by: Ken on December 18, 2003 4:16 PM

Personally, I have come to the conclusion that I am morally offended by anyone who holds a strong position on Ayn Rand (one way or the other). The only morally appropriate stance on her works is mild ambivalence.

Posted by: Rv. Agnos on December 18, 2003 4:39 PM

Heinlein has many ideal entry points, none of them his most famous works. The best way is to start with two or three off the following list:

Citizen of the Galaxy
The Rolling Stones
Have Spacesuit, Will Travel
Double Star

as well as the aforementioned The Puppet Masters and The Door Into Summer.

If any of those click, try Stranger, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, the Future History stories, or Friday.

As you can tell, I am a huge Heinlein fan.

Posted by: Ian on December 18, 2003 5:01 PM

Michael, I am curious about what "immense cultural importance" means. Could you expand upon that a bit? I am skeptical about the word "immense."

However, since I havent read Heinlein since I was 16 and primarily see him as a author for nerdy kids in high school, which pretty well describes myself and the kids I hung with, perhaps I missed something.

I think the same thing about Ayn Rand as well, BTW.

Posted by: Deb on December 18, 2003 5:01 PM

Thanks to all for the tips and info. It's a whole cultural universe I've got zero knowledge or experience of. Never went through a teenaged sci-fi period, for instance. I wonder what the hell I was reading as a teen, come to think of it. I do remember being a reader. But what of?

Rv. Agnos -- I like your idea of "mild ambivalence" towards Rand. Seems wise and mature.

Deb -- I'm hoping "immense cultural significance" has a light frosting of wide-eyed irony on it. Webheads seem to be a semi-specific demographic, and among them libertarianism, Rand, Heinlein, and sci-fi seem to be much more popular than they are among the general population, or at least my usual in-person crowd. Which isn't to put anyone down -- I like hanging out with webheads, even if I'm still getting used to their cultural tastes. Fascinating to learn how much people like Rand and Heinlein have meant to a lot of people, don't you find? Given that I've got no taste or instinct for either, I tend to need to have their significance spelled out.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on December 18, 2003 5:09 PM

I too recently realized the prevalence of libertarians on blogs, but I can't figure out the connection between the two. Any ideas? If I continue blogging, will I become a libertarian? It's bad enough that buying a house turned me into a property-rights type, yelling, "hey you kids, get off my lawn!"

Posted by: Dente on December 18, 2003 6:11 PM

As a Heinlein starter book, I'd vote for The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. Glory Road is atypical, but quite a lot of fun.

I liked Heinlein as a nerdy teenager; I like Heinlein now. He can spin a damn-fine yarn, which is generally what I'm after.

Posted by: Will Duquette on December 18, 2003 7:33 PM

Mr. Holzbach:

I would definitely agree with Ian that "Have Spacesuit, Will Travel," is an excellent place to start with Heinlein. Or, for a somewhat more adult story, I'd go for "The Door Into Summer" unless you like really sci-fi types of sci-fi, and then you should consider "The Puppet Masters." If you don't like any of those, forget the rest of 'em.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on December 18, 2003 8:37 PM

Heinlein wrote a lot of Juvies that appealed to my "voracious" reading phase as a, well, juvenile. These are can-do, everything's possible kinds of books, but they also don't let human nature off easy. They all have a strong twist of personal responsibility and "actions have consequences" plot lines. I liked them a lot when I was a teenager, but then I liked anything that had a plot back then. :-) I'm still fond of them, though.
I find the "Heinlein core" books cool even today because Heinlein was a realistic libertarian at heart. In his books, laws, social customs and mores, are all just practical helpers to organize people, and are to be fixed or ditched when they become counter-productive. But he's not an idealist - Heinlein had a firm grasp of human nature, including the not-so-good parts - and made it clear that we have to deal and live with those parts of ourselves if we want a working society, and that ultimately we are responsible for ourselves, and can't blame society or evil rulers or fate for the outcome. At the time he wrote these books, that was highly politically incorrect (it was "great society" time). Come to think of it, it's still highly politically incorrect today.
If I should finger one (consistent) aspect of his books that appeals to me, it is a conviction that reality is something to be dealt with as practical reality, not "interpreted" or "deconstructed". Prototypical Heinleinian heroes and heroines don't engage in systematic self-delusion or self-deceit, and they don't take such things kindly from others.
As for entry points, try a Juvie like "Double Star", then "Glory Road", then the "adult" novels in time order until you get bored (towards the end, Famous Author Syndrome got him and his book didn't get edited nearly enough).

-- perry

P.S.: Note that "Stranger in a Strange Land" literally sat in his closet, unpublishable, for several decades before it finally hit the public. That's why it feels a bit, well, odd.

Posted by: Perry The Cynic on December 18, 2003 8:42 PM

Perhaps I will go browse my winsome, geeky son's bookshelf and pick up some Heinlein again. He has it all there.

I suspect that the experience will be the same as when I tried to reread Thomas Wolfe's "You Cant Go Home Again" after 30 years and wondered why I could have possibly found so much in the book when I was 16.

BTW, sci fi is not necessarily only enjoyed by folks with a technical orientation to life. Most of the middle aged women in my knitting group who have met monthly for some 12 years now are huge sci fi/fantasy fans. To look at us, you'd peg us for the cookbook/romance novel crowd knitting away. All the while, we are talking about the finer plot points in the latest Bujold book-will there be another Miles Vorkosigan book?-- or whether Ursula LeGuin's books are getting better as she ages etc.

Posted by: Deb on December 18, 2003 10:57 PM

One thing about Heinlein that doesn't get much mention is that much of his production before World War II is equal in quality to his postwar writing. From 1938-1940 he introduced his major themes, concerns and styles, and never progressed much beyond that point. As the decades passed his writing became more long-winded and solipsistic, but that prewar period of creativity always formed the kernel of his work.

I appreciate Heinlein (at least up to the early 60s) because he can spin an engrossing yarn with economical language. But I quickly get tired of his militarism and hectoring social darwinism. It's easy to see why many people don't respond to him at all.

Posted by: Laurence Aurbach on December 18, 2003 11:08 PM

How did all you Heinlein fans react to the movie "Starship Troopers"? Too irreverent?

Come to think of it, has there been an adaptation (TV or movie) of Heinlein that the fans approve of?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on December 18, 2003 11:36 PM

A note first.

A lot of the themes and concerns Heinlein dealt with in his early days came from the Late John Campbell, then editor of Astounding. Later -after Bob's service in the war- the two men grew apart and more of Heinlein's own thinking on various matters came through in his work.

For an anodyne to the juveniles of the 1950s I recommend his Job, A Comedy of Justice. A social/political/religious satire of a world where Christian Fundamentalists are right. (Jesus as a petulent brat. No thanks, I'll take the moral ambivalence of this world.)

Posted by: Alan Kellogg on December 18, 2003 11:58 PM

I'll second (or third?) the suggestion to read Expanded Universe, and also concur with FvB's point that if you missed out on reading him as a teenager, don't bother with much of his novels, especially the juveniles and his later stuff (Famous Author Syndrome indeed! Those last 3 or 4 books could have been boiled down into 2 for all the recycled plots!)

But that was in his decline...The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is excellent, but I've not reread many of his novels that I liked as a teenager, as the few times I've tried I've been disappointed.

Here's my (and many others') favorite Heinlein quote, which sums up much of his philosophy in a nice package:

"A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects."
- Robert Heinlein, Time Enough for Love

Posted by: David Mercer on December 19, 2003 4:08 AM

I reread Heinlein's books every four years. To my taste, he was the most interesting sociological novelist of the 20th Century, but he was not a literary artist. He had a serviceable style, influenced by the best stuff of 1939, the year he started publishing: Raymond Chandler and screwball comedy dialogue. But he never let artistry slow down the flow of analysis of How The World Works.

Tom Clancy is his best known modern disciple. The team of Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle are probably his most sympatico heirs in hard sci-fi.

Heinlein means different things to different people in large part because he published three major cult novels between 1959 and 1966, each of which appeals to a completely different cult. Starship Trooper is the first book on the official U.S. Marine Corps reading list. Stranger in a Strange Land was extremely popular with the 1960s drug crowd. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is a favorite of libertarians.

Many would argue, however, that the core of his achievement was his 1950s juvenile novels, perhaps culminating in "Have Space Suit, Will Travel."

Others would point to his astonishing burst of creativity from 1939-1941. For example, his 1940 short story "Solution Unsatisfactory" was the farthest anyone thought through the strategic implications of atomic weapons (which would not exist for another five years) until the later 1940s. In this pulp magazine story, the U.S. brings WWII to an end in 1945 by use of atomic weapons, then quickly falls into a global struggle with Russia. After WWIII, which lasts 4-days, world government is tried, but that quickly turns into a dictatorship run by the man in charge of the atomic weapons. The story ends in despair.

Others might like his bestsellers from the 1970s after his major illness, although some may feel he was past his peak.

His 1964 fantasy novel Glory Road is not recommended. Heinlein had an immensely practical mind and really couldn't take the genre seriously.

Posted by: Steve Sailer on December 19, 2003 4:11 AM

Meh. I liked Asimov better. All of Heinlein's women were the same (because they were all based on his wife), and he was kind of a facist. The world in "Starship Troopers" (the novel) represents what he considered to be an ideal system (barring the bug attacks), and I just wouldn't want to live in that world. I think Asimov had more impact and more relevance. His robot stuff - the short stories and the original Elijah Baley mysteries - are some of the best sci-fi ever penned, imvho.

Posted by: Yahmdallah on December 19, 2003 11:04 AM

Damn, I ran that through the spell checker three times! "Fascist"

Posted by: Yahmdallah on December 19, 2003 11:12 AM

For a Heinlein starter novel, my vote goes to The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress. I'm pretty sure I've read other Heinlein (I *think* I'm pretty sure I read Have Spacesuit) but as should be obvious it didn't make a lasting impression. But Harsh Mistress is one of the very few Sci-fi novels that have stayed with me through the years. So start with that one, but I'm afraid if I returned to it now it would seem embarassingly facile, and you may too.

A big Heinlein theme is that of a kind of optimistic cynicism toward authority. Governments may set up whatever system of law and control they like; meanwhile, we the people cheerfully ignore the law, and with our profusion of competing interests sort things out to most everyone's reasonable satisfaction--and in the process only a few bad people that no one cares about get hurt.

Posted by: Bleauhard de Chardin on December 19, 2003 11:39 AM

"Heinlein created a revolution in S.F. around 1940." Fried - is this your theory or a widely held belief? What about, for instance, A.E. Van Voygt (Sp?), and Alan K's comments on John Campbell and that whole crew? That's the more in tune with the story I've been told by the home-brewing, cat-owning Star Trek fans who claim to know about these things.

Of course, I cannot stand Heinlein and will even confuse him with Asimov which, as you can imagine, drives certain people around the bend.

Heinlein (like Asimov) has no imiganation, no sense of fun.

Posted by: j.c. on December 19, 2003 2:28 PM

It's fascinating to note how contradictory the comments upon Heinlein are, not just in matters of taste (which is to be expected), but also the attempts at more factual statements about what his worldview was: He was a fascist! He was an anarchist! He was a hippie! etc. etc. They read like the blind men feeling the four parts of the elephant.

In reality, Heinlein was a protean thinker. He was the utter opposite of Ayn Rand in that he didn't attempt to build a systematic ideology. He dramatized ideas, sometimes ones that contradicted the last ones he had, and invited you to come along for the adventure.

If I had to sum Heinlein up in one word, though, I'd use: "engineer." In the 20th Century, American engineers revolutionized the world, but they almost never show up in works of art because of the radical personality/consciousness disconnects between engineers and artists.

Heinlein was the poet laureate of the engineers.

Posted by: Steve Sailer on December 19, 2003 7:44 PM

Frankly Scarlet, I don’t give a damn what I think of Heinlein upon re-reading him as an adult. Whatever I think now is completely irrelevant. It is the impression he made on me when I read him (as a teenager) that counts. I really don’t care about his literary skills, his plot/character development etc, so much as his enduring philosophy about human nature. His message of “think for yourself/trust in yourself/figure it out for yourself” had the pure ring of truth then, and its resonance has not subsided over the intervening years.

Having read him as a teenager, I subconsciously incorporated his philosophy, and quite frankly it has served me well in the intervening years, and it serves me still. I’m not such a fanboy that I can quote chapter and verse, nor discuss his literary attributes, but I continue to trust his overall view of the world. So much so that now a person’s overall attitude towards Heinlein forms (for me) a quick litmus test for assessing their overall character. Frankly, I would never completely trust a person who does not “get” Starship Troopers (the book, not the movie. And if one cannot discern the vast gap between the two, ever the more so). Whether they disagree with Heinlein's philosophy or politics is meaningless. I simply would not fully trust such as person in a situation where my life or freedom (or that of my family/country/society) depended upon them and them alone.

I don’t care if this is seen as a fanaticism comparable to the most rabid Ayn Rand ideologue. I find most critics of Ayn Rand spend most of their time objecting to the dedication of her fans, or her literary style, or her plot structure, or her rigid philosophy. Whatever. They never seem to get around to pointing out how her seminal ideas, or that of Heinlein's, were fundamentally flawed. In the same way, the criticism of Heinlein always seems to float at the more superficial levels.

Sauve qui peux. The rest be damned.

Posted by: Biased Observer on December 19, 2003 8:48 PM

For Steve Sailer re "the poet laureate of the engineers".

"He was a practical electrician, but fond of whisky, a heavy red-haired brute with irregular teeth. He doubted the existence of the deity, but accepted Carnot's cycle, and he had read Shakespeare and found him weak in chemistry."

Lord of the Dynamo
H.G. Wells

Posted by: Biased Observer on December 19, 2003 9:03 PM

The movie that Heinlein approved of was the one he co-wrote: "Destination Moon." It won the 1950 Academy Award for special effects.

Posted by: Laurence Aurbach on December 19, 2003 9:37 PM

One of the many things y'all have got me realizing is that I've never been any good at enjoying idea-driven fiction, of any sort. Another failing!

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on December 20, 2003 2:13 AM

I was introduced to Robert Heinlein's work when I was in the 4th grade by a librarian (not a libertarian as far as I know) at the Solano County Library. Up until that time I had confined myself to such non-fiction as effected the homework the good Sisters of the Holy Faith piled on. My exposure to "Starship Troopers" was the single most subversive and revolutionary act of my young life. Here I found ideas and people set into a completely consistent universe - which was one of the strengths of Heinlein's craft. Once I discovered the Fiction section of the public library I moved on to poetry and other literature but I always return to that special shelf holding Heinlein's books.

Many of the ideas he developed through his characters and plot lines informed the rest of my life. Be that as it may it should be noted that Heinlein was a writer first and last, and his intention was to sell his work to keep the wolf from the door. He wrote juvenile fiction, like "Starship Troopers" because there was a market for that genre. His later work like "Stranger In a Strange Land" with it's exposition of free love and the godhood of self were written (remember this was the 60's), in Heinlein's words, because they would sell. The old grump could write and advance ideas - but only because they would sell. If you don't understand that, you simply don't "grok" Heinlein.

Because you asked I'll also add that "Starship Troopers - the Movie" was IMO a steaming pile of horseshit and I'll tell you why. Director Paul Vanderhoeven had no respect for the story or the author. On it's own merits "ST - the Movie" is a b-minus teen-frat-party-in-space movie, but in a smarmy sophomoric way (which in Hollywood passes for cleverness) he mocked the coming of age story of Johnny Rico and the obviously idealized role of the military in a free society. On one level it no doubt expresses the trendy anti-war and anti-military politics of Vanderhoeven's dutch roots, but my sense of it is he didn't have the talent or smarts to handle the material he was given. I'm sure Heinlein would have been disgusted - but would have been laughing all the way to the bank.

Posted by: Ray on December 20, 2003 3:24 AM

I just read Heinlein's first "novel" (recently disentombed and published)--it's mostly a bad series of Utopian vignettes, but it reminded me of what I like about Heinlein. He thought the world is an interesting place, full of good details.

Other than that, he had a surprising amount of range--I think most people don't notice that because his prose didn't vary enough. Some of his fiction is pretty bleak. (_Time for the Stars_ is about a guy who doesn't want to go into space, but gets stuck with it anyway, and has a fairly passive job there. _Farnham's Freehold_ is about a man who only gets a happy ending because the person in charge is a racist fool--the main character's skills are *not* adequate for his situation even though he has a can-do attitude.)
Some of it is as described--I second the recommendations for _Have Spacesuit, Will Travel_, and I'll tentatively add _The Star Beast_: tentatively because I haven't reread it for a long time, and I don't know how it would look to me now.

On the emotional side, when Heinlein died I was surprised at the number of people who described him as "the father I never had". I don't share that, but it's worth noting.

I agree with whoever said that Heinlein didn't have consistant politics from one book to another--he ranged from being very trusting of authority (_Starship Troopers_ and _Space Cadet_) to sometimes you've just got to have a revolution (_Red Planet_ and _The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress_) to the whole thing is corrupt, so live as well as you can in the cracks (_Friday_).

I was reading Heinlein by the middle sixties--post-modernism and the like hadn't taken hold, but his books were still special for me. Some of it was probably the tone of certainty that I don't enjoy nearly as much any more, but the rest was that aforementioned enthusiasm for the world. And he was able to keep track of the way things are woven into each other--a spaceship isn't just there, it has a legal and economic context, and it will develop characteristic smells.

Oh--and he was smart--even in that first lousy utopian novel (1938), he predicted a second European war which ends with Hitler's defeat and suicide. It's easy to say now that it was obvious, but I don't get the impression that it was so obvious at the time.

Posted by: Nancy Lebovitz on December 20, 2003 3:46 AM

J. C.-- It isn't my theory about Heinlein; he really did change things in the Sci-Fi world, bringing an end to the Space-Opera fiction prevalent previously. In his wake, a whole series of next-generation writers, including Asimov, popped up. Most of them admitted that they wrote as they did as a result of Heinlein--Asimov, particularly, was open about his influence. You may think the pupil exceeded the master, but there's no denying who initiated the turnaround.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on December 20, 2003 12:02 PM

The best comment I've ever heard about "Starship Troopers - the Movie" is that you were actually meant to be on the side of the ants because the Starship troopers are so stupid.

Posted by: Tracy on December 21, 2003 8:40 PM

My favorite bits of Starship Troopers, The Movie, are all of the FedWorld ads. They are some of the funniest political satire I've seen in a while.

Posted by: David Mercer on December 21, 2003 8:56 PM

The director of the movie version of "Starship Troopers," Paul Verhoeven, has said he fell in love with Nazi propaganda films when he was a small child in Occupied Holland. His love of Nazi imagery certainly pops up throughout his work: RoboCop, Showgirls, Basic Instinct, and Starship Troopers. During the promo tour for Starship Troopers, he spent a lot of time claiming that all the Nazi themes in his movie -- the racism of the all blonde cast, the mindless authority worship, etc. -- were a satire on Heinlein's facism. In reality, of course, they are Verhoeven's favorite obsessions, not Heinlein's.

The coolest thing about Heinlein's book is that his narrator's ethnic identity is only revealed very slowly. Only on the next to last page do you learn he's a Tagalog-speaking Filipino from Manila. In a movie, you can't play a trick like that, but that's still no excuse for Verhoeven to cast uber-blonde Casper von Diehn as Juan Rico, and then blame his movie's Aryan-worship on Heinlein being a fascist!

Heinlein's point back in 1959 was that you can have a highly effective multiracial army, but to do it, it has to be monocultural. That has certainly been borne out in American military history since then, which is one reason the book is so popular with American soldiers.

Posted by: Steve Sailer on December 21, 2003 9:45 PM

"I would definitely agree with Ian that "Have Spacesuit, Will Travel," is an excellent place to start "

Ditto. Note that the fictional spacesuit there so lovingly detailed is still better than actual spacesuits in use today -- the constant volume finger joints in Kip's gloves for particular instance. But you have to be a peculiar sort of mental case to appreciate this sort of description... if you disliked all the mechanics in "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" or in Tom Clancy novels, then you may fail to engage with Heinlein's interests, as well.

"Tom Clancy is his best known modern disciple. The team of Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle are probably his most sympatico heirs in hard sci-fi."

Eh. Spider Robinson is perhaps the most deliberate of followers. A one-book wonder named David Palmer wrote a novel called "Emergence" that is very much worth your time. Charles Sheffield and James P Hogan must be on the list of engineer-authors in the Heinlein mold.

Best, there is Lois Bujold. Engineering-fiction (Heinlein) lovers should start with "Falling Free". Other sorts of lovers might start with "Cordelia's Honor".

Posted by: Pouncer on December 22, 2003 9:31 AM

Hey Pouncer, another fan of Lois McMaster Bujold and the Miles Vorkosignan series!!!!

Posted by: Deb on December 22, 2003 11:20 AM

"Meh. I liked Asimov better. All of Heinlein's women were the same (because they were all based on his wife), and he was kind of a facist."

I keep hearing him described as "fascist" over and over again, and I keep failing to find any hint of evidence of fascist tendencies in any of his writings. Perhaps some people are unclear of the meaning of the term "fascist".

"The world in "Starship Troopers" (the novel) represents what he considered to be an ideal system (barring the bug attacks), and I just wouldn't want to live in that world."

Why not? Is it the lack of a draft? The living standard being as high as productivity allows? Personal freedom being at an all-time high? The safe streets, perhaps (because any society that has safe streets must be fascist)?

Starship Troopers described an ideal free society, and proposed a mechanism for actually achieving and maintaining such a society, even in the face of a powerful alien enemy bent on destroying it. Whether that mechanism would actually produce the result described is a worthy topic of discussion; claiming that Starship Troopers extols the virtues of fascism while the society described in glowing terms in the book is the very antithesis of fascism betrays a complete lack of understanding of fascism, Starship Troopers, or both.

Anyway, Heinlein himself answered all of these charges and more in Expanded Universe. Go pick up a copy and then tell me how much Heinlein admired fascism.

Posted by: Ken on December 22, 2003 2:25 PM

I'm not convinced that the _Starship Troopers_ society would work as smoothly as Heinlein says it does. If the vote is restricted to veterans and the only way to become a veteran is to do dangerous service, then it's too easy to crank up the risk for disliked ethnic or political groups.

Posted by: Nancy Lebovitz on December 22, 2003 10:21 PM

Greetings Mr and Mrs American, all the ships at sea -- and all the Bujold Mail-listies!

Clinton-insider, blogger, Berkeley professor and Bujold-listie Brad DeLong makes a strong case for the "Starship Trooper"=glory-of-fascism meme. Brad as always is thoughtful, careful, articulate and persuasive. And, as is often but not always true, I suspect he's making his case in order to challenge the disagreeing parts of audience to think harder.

A copy of Brad's essay is buried in the maillist archives somewhere. I don't believe he's replicated it elsewhere.

Posted by: Pouncer on December 23, 2003 9:03 AM

I'm another one who read and re-read Heinlein many times as an adolescent, and took his ideas very seriously. But I don't any more. I see him as a period figure, though unfortunately still influential among Reaganites and others with 1950s world view.

(I still remember sitting at the age of 11 the night Armstrong landed on the moon watching tv. Heinlein was interviewed on one of the networks, and came out with his Darwinian stuff about humans spreading unstoppably through the universe. My dad said, "the man's a nut.")

I think his most enjoyable books are the 1950s juveniles, beginning after "Rocket Ship Galileo" (the first and weakest) and ending with whatever the last one before "Starship Troopers" was. "Have Space Suit, Will Travel" was a favourite, as were "Citizen of the Galaxy," "Starman Jones," and "Time For the Stars."

I don't like the talky novels beginning with "Stranger in a Strange Land" at all. For me, "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" is the only good book he wrote after about 1960.

Posted by: s on December 24, 2003 11:27 AM

What does DOOR INTO SUMMER have to do with "Terminator" (with the moviemaker's explicit crediting of the work of Harlan Ellison)? Von Blowhard writes that "[Heinlein's] time-travel stories, like THE DOOR INTO SUMMER, were clearly the inspiration for the first Terminator." It's not clear what this claim could even mean, unless the idea is that the concept of time travel per se--an sf notion that Heinlein hardly originated--was "the inspiration" for the movie. The tone and style of the movie are certainly closer to Ellison than to Heinlein.

Posted by: David M. Brown on December 25, 2003 2:59 AM

I think Heinelein throws people off because they can never be sure if he's being serious or just putting you on to make a point. The fact that he can sometimes be seen as neerly pro-fascist (Starship Troopers) and then turn around and be a free love mystic (Starnger in a Strange Land) just prooves that he was a great storyteller, something a lot of SF is desperately in want of.

I personally couldn't get through Starship Troopers but I did enjoy the movie because Verhoven made it so over the top and very obviously and anti-fascist satire. I've lost my fondness for Stranger though, whoich used to be on my top ten list if favorite SF. I suppose I've just become more of a cynic in my old age. However, I'm fascinated by the economic argument he came up with for Polygamy in Friday so I wouldn't give up on Old Bob yet.

Posted by: Keith on December 28, 2003 10:43 PM

I'm going to meekly venture an word of appreciation for the movie "Starship Troopers" and then get the hell out fast before too many rotten tomatoes pelt me. I saw the picture not having read the novel and knowing nothing about Heinlein, and I enjoyed the picture mainly as a hipster's satire of gung-ho youthful careerism and of the kind of plastic, gleaming imagery and iconography we'd gotten used to from movies like "Star Wars." "Eager, pumpy, uninhibited young blonde cannon fodder reporting for duty, sir!" -- I mean, there was a bit of that around at the time. So, without getting involved in a discussion about whether the movie should or shouldn't have been a balanced presentation of the novel, I think a case can be made that on its own terms (which obviously weren't those of the novel) it was naughty fun.

OK, now I'm out of here.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on December 28, 2003 11:06 PM

Heinlein. Engineers.

Hmmm. Makes sense. Makes sense of a lot of things....

speedwell (engineer groupie)

Posted by: speedwell on December 29, 2003 5:31 PM

Veering back to the Heinlein movie adaptations, there have been at least three, possibly four, made, plus a couple of TV adaptations.

"Destination Moon" - Prior to "Apollo 13" it was pretty much the most realistic space film ever made. Based very loosely on RAH's first YA book "Rocketship Galileo"

[Insert name here] - Lord, I can't remember the name of this one, but it *had* to be based on one of Heinlien's novels. Cheap black & white B Movie concerning a man & woman jetting to the Moon to beat the Ruskies, with typical RAH style male-female banter. It ended with the couple stranded (with supply rockets coming until they could be rescued), and being married over the televiewer by the female President of the US.

"Starship Troopers" (TV) - Japanese anime adaptation of the book. I've seen an untranslated version that looked pretty cool (they got the Powered Armor right at least), but I didn't see enough to see how close it hewed to the original storyline. Unreleased in the US.

"Robert Heinlein's The Puppet Masters" - Well done, if slightly cheap, adaptation of his novel. Plot veers wildly away from the book at times, but it's 'feel' is closer to his novel than Starship Troopers.

"Red Planet" (TV)- Four part animated mini-series that appeared very briefly on FOX's saturday morning schedule. More or less true to it's source, but tacks on an ecology message that might offend purists.

"Starship Troopers" - Contains all of Verhoven's subtle cinematic skills that he demonstrated in "Showgirls". Mostly notable for the appearance of Doogie Howser, SS Officer.

"Roughnecks: The Starship Troopers Chronicles" (TV) - CGI animated series that manages to pretty much ditch the book (aside from the names of the characters), but still produce a better story than the movie. At minimum they were able to include the Skinnies. Availible on DVD in the USA.

Posted by: jeriendhal on January 2, 2004 4:20 PM


A previously unpublished book by Heinlein is going to be released this year. It is his lost first novel that was written when he was a socialist.

Posted by: Carrie on January 12, 2004 2:29 PM

Starship Troopers has been identified (and defended?) in this thread as Heinlein's ideal society. Having read almost all of his fiction I find nothing to support this; Starship Troopers was one thought experiment among many. In Moon is A Harsh Mistress the thought experiment was anarcho-capitalism.

If there was one character Heinlein spoke through more than any other it would have to be Lazarus Long. Long is an individualist who seems to spend most of his very long life evading government.

Even in Starship Troopers the decisive advantage that men have over the bugs is that that men are individuals.

Posted by: John T. Kennedy on February 10, 2004 2:40 PM

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