November 12, 2018, 11:09:06 PM

Author Topic: Discussion of R. A. Heinlein  (Read 231 times)

Offline Dark Squiggle

Discussion of R. A. Heinlein
« on: March 29, 2018, 05:08:41 PM »
I've been reading some Heinlein, and wanted to discuss his work. So far I've read Time enough for Love, and 1/2 each of To sail Beyond the Sunset and Stranger in a strange Land, but the main point is Heinlein, not the individual books, and I'm not scared of spoilers. Feel free to add your own topics, but here are some to start with.

I think Lazarus Long has a lot in common with Jean Valjean (Les Miserables, Victor Hugo), as both are:
1) Long-lived, incredibly powerful, benign, help out the other characters,
2)More angelic as time goes on.
3)Never have a relationship of any sort with someone they consider an equal.
4)Are very loving and loved, but don't love themselves.
5)Never have a anything in any way similar to a marriage, even pushing sex away when it is shoved on their laps.
6)Live by some strange, self-made "unbreakable" code.
7)Attempt suicide. J. Valjean successfully, L. Long unsuccessfully, when they feel their job in life is finished.

I feel that Heinlein is a rather entrenched misogynist, in spite of his constant Feminist talk, because:
1) His 'leader' characters always seem to be male, even when there are women under them who completely outgun them.
2)Any time he has characters have an important conversation, unless it is between sexual partners, all the women suddenly disappear.
3)His flagship (not the main character, but the 'smart' and 'competent' one, I don't know the word for it.) character is always a very sexist male, and excuses himself by coming from the "Bible Belt" as if that somehow changes things.
4) His women are all wanting to do things for the men they like all the time.

I find that his books seem to devolve into a string of sexual encounters at some point. Is trying to impress his audience by how open he is?

If his idea of sex is "getting closer" (his words), why do almost all of his characters have sex with strangers and then forget about them?

Why are all his AI computers female? And why do they all (except Dora, who is eternally 9 years old) want to be human?

Why do all of his characters want to have sex with their very close relatives?

Why, if they are so loose with sex, are none of his characters gay or lesbian?

Offline The Gem Cutter

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Re: Discussion of R. A. Heinlein
« Reply #1 on: March 29, 2018, 11:48:29 PM »
I am puzzled - how can the topic be the man and not the books when all you are talking about are his books?
I've read deep analyses of authors, and although they do get into the books, they also devote a lot of research into their backgrounds and education, with an eye to their period and region.

I think you are (mis)judging someone from another time period, applying values that didn't exist then as they do now. He died 30 years ago. Like 95% of successful authors, his works adhered to the norms of his times. For someone who was born in 1939, his ideas and approaches were, relative to many of his contemporaries, fairly progressive. Some of your negative points are, ironically, items that in their day were somewhat progressive, too, such as having sex with people and it not being tied to matrimony, etc.

Consider, even Hemingway, with his Nobel Prize and everything, had to deftly camouflage his lesbian relationship/bi-sexual character in For Whom the Bell Tolls, to the extent that suspicions were not confirmed until relatively recently (2010?) when his notes were found in Cuba. No one depicted gays or lesbians in the mainstream, as a rule until about 10 minutes ago. You didn't see mainstream TV feature gays until 10 years after Heinlein died, and even then, not everyone embraced Will & Grace.

Regardless, to adopt a judging tone for a particular mainstream author for adhering to the conventions of the mainstream is ... nonsensical? I mean, you're not technically wrong calling Heinlein a misogynist, I guess, but it's something of a waste of everyone's time - like calling a particular slave owner in 1855 a racist. It was a period of rampant racism ... and works from that period are littered with it.
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"Each time, there is the same problem: do I dare? And then if you do dare, the dangers are there, and the help also, and the fulfillment or the fiasco. There's always the possibility of a fiasco. But there's also the possibility of bliss." - Joseph Campbell

Offline Dark Squiggle

Re: Discussion of R. A. Heinlein
« Reply #2 on: March 30, 2018, 01:24:37 AM »
I should clarify, I meant all his books, not just the ones I read.
I see. You are right abut my living in 2017, looking at someone writing in the 1940's-90's.
The thing is, Victor Hugo, Gore Vidal, Dickens and Oscar Wilde.all wrote far more 'feminist' stuff (bad sample, I know, random things I've read lately) and none of them claimed to be Feminist in their books as Heinlein does.

Offline The Gem Cutter

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Re: Discussion of R. A. Heinlein
« Reply #3 on: March 30, 2018, 02:09:42 AM »
Not having seen any claims made by the man himself, I'll have to shrug. They didn't show up obviously in Google. He died in 1988, with latest non-posthumous fiction published in 1987. As for claims from others, here's a woman with a contrary opinion:

"At 8, when I first read "Starship Troopers," its controversial aspects went right over my head. I did, however, notice something remarkable in it -- something that moved and inspired me. Something that, given the values in my arch-Republican, Roman Catholic aerospace family, seemed as preposterous as time travel: Heinlein's portrayal of women. Unlike the female characters in other science fiction of the time, such as the stories of Arthur C. Clarke, Heinlein's women were not invisible or grossly subservient to men. Nor were they less technologically competent. The hero of "Starship Troopers" follows a woman he admires into the military. But because she is sharper than he, she gains admission to the prestigious pilot corps, and he winds up stuck in the infantry."

Perhaps not groundbreaking today, but pretty remarkable for 1959! The first on-screen black-white kiss was a decade away. There were no female astronauts or even female pilots, to speak of (those flying in WWII had been sent home, for the most part). The Female Firsts had begun, but were still a trickle. Don't get me wrong; I am not saying the man was a flag-waving feminist responsible for massive social change. I am saying that, in the grand scheme of things, he made more progress than most in his day. For my part, I forgive him that he did it in small ways, here and there, over a career that spanned the beginning of a major shift that continues today.

I found the woman's article compelling. The rest is here:

https://www.nytimes.com/2005/10/02/books/review/heinleins-female-troubles.html
The Gem Cutter
"Each time, there is the same problem: do I dare? And then if you do dare, the dangers are there, and the help also, and the fulfillment or the fiasco. There's always the possibility of a fiasco. But there's also the possibility of bliss." - Joseph Campbell

Offline Skip

Re: Discussion of R. A. Heinlein
« Reply #4 on: March 30, 2018, 06:02:45 AM »
Heinlein was hotly debated twenty or thirty years ago. I'm not sure where all that stands now.

He was one of my heroes growing up. He remains so, even as I recognize and acknowledge the critiques of his work. I'll make a couple of specific observations.

One, you are reading his later work (Stranger is sort of mid-career). Take a look at his earlier work, too.

Two, I'm unaware of any place where he claims he is a feminist. My gut says he would shy away from the term, if not outright scorn it. He was skeptical of most ideological movements.

Three, I don't believe misogynist is the right word. I see no evidence that he hated women. A chauvinist, without a doubt, but not a misogynist.

I do agree that saying he lived such-and-so many years ago neither excuses nor explains. He was who he was, and both the man and his work are well worth study. BTW, his early life was nearly as colorful as his stories.
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