Saturday, July 28, 2007

The Politics of Sci-Fi


"""""The positions (Heinlein's characters) espouse are often justified by appeals to rationality (Heinlein is a rationalist supreme). Too often the radical freaks seem to lack rationality (perhaps they don’t understand it—too long a diet of non-sequiturs out of little red books maybe) and respond much more at the gut level, the level of feeling, a close attraction to the superficialities and surface gloss. I can find no other explanation for the vast popularity that Heinlein’s books enjoy among people who really should be burning and banning them. I’m not immune to it myself. I don’t know how many times I’ve read Starship Troopers. It swings. (It also sucks.) I hate and love the book at the same time (could that be the attraction of it?). I suspect that it may be the closest thing he has produced to a work of art. It seems to push so many buttons simultaneously in so many people that he must have stumbled on some universally applicable symbols to clothe his message in."""""

Yes, sir: "too long a diet of non-sequiturs"--that describes the usual American narcissist who takes the sci-fi of Heinlein as gospel, his Galaxiad. Some might question labelling RAH as "Rationalist," however. Starship Troopers was, at the very least, fascist-lite; and Dubois, assuming he is Heinlein speaking to some degree, offers endless Patton-like truisms--Nietzsche, RAH was not. But the writer overlooks the other problem with RAH-Speak: C'est tres sauvvage. It's not so much RAH's militaristic message (there are some interesting fascist writers, say Celine--), but his manner of presenting the message--. The diction rarely matches the sophistication of the prose of an average urban sportswriter. Mickey Spillane with a few derivatives: that's RAH. There may be a few interesting scientific allusions (not as many as some of the RAH-heads believe), but even then the science seems rather outdated and Newtonian. But yeah it's a free country, more or less. You're free to view Heinlein as the Lord Tennyson of space epics, or think J. P. Sousa to be the greatest musician who ever lived.

""""..... It was interestingly argued and a fun story, but opposition to the ideas was squashed by fiat—if Heinlein said it was true, then it was true. Full stop, no argument. That was unfair and infuriating, an underhand debating tactic. There were so many times that I wanted to take the hero’s History and Moral Philosophy teacher by the scruff of the neck and shake him that I often feared for my blood pressure when reading the book. Apoplexy rules. So I’d finish reading it and then immediately go and read Harry Harrison’s Bill, the Galactic Hero which is a wonderful satire on Starship Troopers and which never fails to make me laugh out loud. That always made me feel better.""""

We here at Contingencies agree: the clever comic strips of Harrison are themselves superior to Herr Heinlein's Nixonian schtick, his cyber-Caliban barks. AS are Vonnegut's day-glo montages (and Kurt, while not some visionary, never stumped for the hard-right), and many other "postmodernist" writers. But then a few decent histories of WWII--even Shirer's pulp masterpiece, the Rise and Fall of the Third Reich--reduce nearly all fiction, sci-fi or trad., to meaninglessness.

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