Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Again, Heinlein

I just re-read Glory Road, Heinlein's only true fantasy, and in the reading I realized that it was the first of his books that I read. I was fourteen, and Jack Anderson (a friend who lived next door, not the columnist) suggested it. Jack's taste ran to Matt Helm and The Enforcer and Modesty Blaise--Heinlein was a benign, almost feminist selection, comparatively. I liked the humor and the energy of Glory Road, the fencing and the invention. I didn't see the misogyny (which was sort of a feature of a lot of SF and adventure fiction at the time); the sexual politics didn't horrify me, though I dimly recall that I thought them rather old hat. The politics-politics either went over my head or seemed utterly dismissable at the time (I don't think I connected the war that Oscar fought in with Vietnam--I think I connected it to Korea, despite the evidence of the text) and the odd spanking fetish did too. Whatever I took from the book when I was fourteen, it was enough so that I went out and found his other books and read them all, over a two or three year period.

As I remember the chronology, Glory Road came out right after Stranger in a Strange Land, a book as freewheeling in its way as Glory Road. Then came Farnum's Freehold, which is a deeply problematic book--not so much because of the sexual politics which made Heinlein's later few books so troublesome, but because it sets up a situation in which the protagonist can do every unpleasant thing it occurs to him to do because the situation "requires" it. It's a fish-shoot: put the fish in the barrel and take your best shot, you can't miss. But then, after the weird nastiness of Farnum comes my favorite Heinlein novel, The Moon's a Harsh Mistress. So everyone is entitled to an off day, or an off book. But I'm sure glad I started out with Glory Road, for all its flaws, and not with Farnum's Freehold.

3 Comments:

Anonymous L.N. Hammer said...

That The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, Heinlein's IMHO best book, was written between Farnham's Freehold and I Will Fear No Evil never ceases to amaze me.

---L.

6:50 AM  
Anonymous Marissa Doyle said...

"Weird nastiness" does sum up "Farnham's Freehold" pretty well. I love "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" but love "Job: A Comedy of Justice" at least as much. My 14 yr old son is reading Heinlein right now (the age I read almost his entire canon); we're trying to decide just what went wrong with his later books--the words 'self-indulgence' come to mind.

I have to include a fan letter here--have read both "Petty Treason" and "Point of Honour" and was mesmerized. You're a writer's writer!

2:41 PM  
Blogger Madeleine Robins said...

Why, thank you! I am (except this past week when things have gone crazy chez moi) working on books three and four in the series!

Yeah, "self-indulgence" about sums it up. A lot of it is his obsession with matters sexual--which is framed in rather quaint, "ain't I a bad boy" language (if Heinlein were really as sexually adventurous as he thought he was, there would be more than lip-service given to homosexuality). And a lot of it is his unexamined assumption that a woman may be ruler of the universe and able to do astrophysics in her sleep, but at the end of the day she really wants Her Man to give her a swat on the butt and keep her in her place...

8:09 AM  

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