Quotulatiousness

April 18, 2017

Examples of the “Paranoid Thriller” genre

Filed under: Books, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

In the latest Libertarian Enterprise, J. Neil Schulman discusses a type of book that he characterizes as the Paranoid Thriller:

It’s probably no surprise to anyone who’s read my books, but I’m a long-time fan of what might best be called the Paranoid Thriller.

“Paranoid Thriller” isn’t a book publishing category. You won’t find such a classification in the Library of Congress, or in the shelving system of Barnes and Noble. Amazon.com has the most cross-referenced indexing system of any bookseller I can think of and even it doesn’t seem to have that as a sub-category of fiction.

Technically — because these stories are often set in the “near future” or “the day after tomorrow” or sometimes in an alternate history — the Paranoid Thriller is a sub-genre of science fiction. But usually, beyond the element of political speculation, there are none of the usual tropes of science fiction — extraterrestrials, space, time, or dimensional travel, artificial intelligence, biological engineering, new inventions, scientists as action heroes, virtual realities, and so forth.

I’m sure even this list shows how outdated I am when it comes to what’s being published as science-fiction these days, which within the publishing genre has abandoned all those cardinal literary virtues of clarity, kindness to the reader, and just good storytelling in favor of all those fractal fetishes that previously made much of “mainstream” fiction garbage unworthy of reading: dysfunctional characters, an overwhelming sense of helplessness and despair, and of course hatred of anything ever accomplished to better the entire human race by old dead European-extraction white men.

[…]

The Paranoid Thriller is step-brother to the Dystopian novel, such as Yvgeny Zamyatin’s We, Ayn Rand’s Anthem, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, and George Orwell’s Nineteen-eighty-four, and brother to the espionage novel — everything from Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels to John Le Carre and Tom Clancy’s spy novels; and at least kissing cousin to alternate history thrillers like Brad Linaweaver’s 1988 Prometheus Award-winning novel, Moon of Ice, about a Cold War not between the United States and the Soviet Union but between a non-interventionist libertarian United States and a victorious Nazi Germany.

Some examples of the Paranoid Thriller:

In books, let’s start with Sinclair Lewis’s 1935 novel It Can’t Happen Here, the story of an American president who rises to power by enforcing a Mussolini-type fascism in America, published three years after the movie Gabriel Over the White House enthusiastically endorsed such a presidency, well into the presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt who did it for real, and a year after Adolf Hitler became the Führer of Germany.

Three years before Jack Finney’s novel The Body Snatchers was serialized in Colliers, Robert A. Heinlein’s 1951 Doubleday hardcover novel, The Puppet Masters crossed genre between futuristic science-fiction and the Paranoid Thriller — in effect creating an entire new genre of Paranoid Science-Fiction Horror — in which unlike H.G. Wells’ invaders from Mars in The War of the Worlds who had the decency to exterminate you, the alien invaders instead jumped onto your back and controlled your brain making you their zombie.

But then again, Heinlein had already created the Ultimate Paranoid Thrillers in his 1941 short story “They” and 1942 novella “The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag” — over a-half-century before The Wachowski Brothers’ 1999 movie The Matrix — in which the entire world is a vast conspiracy to convince one man of its reality.

Jumping two decades forward I’ll use as my next example Ayn Rand’s 1957 epic Atlas Shrugged, in which the Soviet- refugee author warned how the United States — by following the path of a kindler, gentler socialism — could end up as the fetid garbage dump that had devolved from her once European-bound Mother Russia.

March 22, 2017

A check-in from the “libertarian writers’ mafia”

Filed under: Liberty, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

In the most recent issue of the Libertarian Enterprise, J. Neil Schulman talks about “rational security”:

Two of my favorite authors — Robert A Heinlein and Ayn Rand — favored a limited government that would provide an effective national defense against foreign invaders and foreign spies. Rand died March 6, 1982; Heinlein on May 8, 1988 — both of them well before domestic terrorism by foreign nationals or immigrants was a major political issue.

Both Heinlein and Rand, however, were aware of domestic political violence, industrial sabotage, and foreign espionage by both foreigners and immigrants, going back before their own births — Rand February 2, 1905, Heinlein July 7, 1907.

Both Heinlein and Rand wrote futuristic novels portraying totalitarianism (including expansive government spying on its own citizens) within the United States. Both authors also portrayed in their fiction writing and discussed in their nonfiction writing the chaos caused by capricious government control over individual lives and private property.

In their tradition, I’ve done quite a bit of that, also, in my own fiction and nonfiction.

So has my libertarian friend author Brad Linaweaver, whose writings I try never to miss an opportunity to plug.

Brad, like myself, writes in the tradition of Heinlein and Rand — more so even than I do, since Brad also favors limited government while I am an anarchist. Nonetheless I am capable of making political observations and analysis from a non-anarchist viewpoint.

We come to this day in which Brad and I find ourselves without the comfort and living wisdom of Robert A. Heinlein and Ayn Rand. We are now both in our sixties, old enough to be libertarian literary elders.

Oh, we’re not the only ones. L. Neil Smith still writes libertarian novels and opines on his own The Libertarian Enterprise. There are others of our “libertarian writers’ mafia” still living and writing, but none as politically focused as we are — and often, in our opinion, not as good at keeping their eyes on the ball.

February 16, 2017

QotD: The imperfectability of man

Filed under: Quotations, Religion — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

And then you get to things like City or some of the Heinlein juveniles, where you’re assured that the UN brought rationality to the world, one world government is wonderful and, as superabundance set in, humans shed religion as unneeded, and went forward to be perfect angels.

I’m not sure what caused this blindness that affected smart men in the fifties and sixties, and still affects academics, idiots and Marxists today, but I read that and I think “Okay, I can see how you thought this was plausible if what you looked at was the intellectual portions of middle America where religion was a social thing, and where the whole “brotherhood of man” was a believed fable. But can you imagine making Islam just “wither away” without major persecution, war and executions? Oh, heck, even Catholicism in the more traditional regions.

[…]

And then there’s tribalism. Perhaps the EU has made the Portuguese and the Spanish live in peace with each other (I think they’re biding their time, but that’s something else) what about the myriad little tribes in Africa, or even racial/tribal minorities in Asia.

How could they think the nature of man would pass away so completely?

I attribute it to lack of contact with other lands. I mean, the US is a huge country, and back then the industrial-news complex had absolute primacy. You really only got the other countries filtered through the lens of your colleagues in the media. And you only got even other segments of your own country filtered that way.

This was not malice, either. I’m here to tell you that understanding another culture — or even understanding that another culture really exists, and they’re not just sort of playing at it — is REALLY hard. Humans are very good at absorbing the conditions they’re born into and internalizing them as THE conditions, i.e. the only true ones, and then thinking of everything else as a bizarre variation.

Sarah A. Hoyt, “Time Zones”, According to Hoyt, 2015-06-23.

November 2, 2016

QotD: Pournelle versus Bujold

Filed under: Books, Media, Politics, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

[In Jerry Pournelle’s books,] Falkenberg’s men are paragons compared to the soldiers in David Drake’s military fiction. In the Hammer’s Slammers books and elsewhere we get violence with no politico-ethical nuances attached to it all. “Carnography” is the word for this stuff, pure-quill violence porn that goes straight for the thalamus. There’s boatloads of it out there, too; the Starfist sequence by Sherman and Cragg is a recent example. Jim Baen sells a lot of it (and, thankfully, uses the profits to subsidize reprinting the Golden Age midlist).

The best-written military SF, on the other hand, tends to be more like Heinlein’s — the fact that it addresses ethical questions about organized violence (and tries to come up with answers one might actually be more willing to live with than Pournelle’s quasi-fascism or Drake’s brutal anomie) is part of its appeal. Often (as in Heinlein’s Space Cadet or the early volumes in Lois Bujold’s superb Miles Vorkosigan novels) such stories include elements of bildungsroman.

[…] Bujold winds up making the same point in a subtler way; the temptations of power and arrogance are a constant, soul-draining strain on Miles’s father Aral, and Miles eventually destroys his own career through one of those temptations

Heinlein, a U.S naval officer who loved the military and seems to have always remembered his time at Annapolis as the best years of his life, fully understood that the highest duty of a soldier may be not merely to give his life but to reject all the claims of military culture and loyalty. His elegiac “The Long Watch” makes this point very clear. You’ll seek an equivalent in vain anywhere in Pournelle or Drake or their many imitators — but consider Bujold’s The Vor Game, in which Miles’s resistance to General Metzov’s orders for a massacre is the pivotal moment at which he becomes a man.

Bujold’s point is stronger because, unlike Ezra Dahlquist in “The Long Watch” or the citizen-soldiers in Starship Troopers, Miles is not a civilian serving a hitch. He is the Emperor’s cousin, a member of a military caste; his place in Barrayaran society is defined by the expectations of military service. What gives his moment of decision its power is that in refusing to commit an atrocity, he is not merely risking his life but giving up his dreams.

Falkenberg and Admiral Lermontov have a dream, too. The difference is that where Ezra Dahlquist and Miles Vorkosigan sacrifice themselves for what they believe, Pournelle’s “heroes” sacrifice others. Miles’s and Dahlquist’s futures are defined by refusal of an order to do evil, Falkenberg’s by the slaughter of untermenschen.

This is a difference that makes a difference.

Eric S. Raymond, “The Charms and Terrors of Military SF”, Armed and Dangerous, 2002-11-13.

August 1, 2016

QotD: Heinlein versus Pournelle

Filed under: Books, Media, Military, Politics, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

I took some heat recently for describing some of Jerry Pournelle’s SF as “conservative/militarist power fantasies”. Pournelle uttered a rather sniffy comment about this on his blog; the only substance I could extract from it was that Pournelle thought his lifelong friend Robert Heinlein was caught between a developing libertarian philosophy and his patriotic instincts. I can hardly argue that point, since I completely agree with it; that tension is a central issue in almost everything Heinlein ever wrote.

The differences between Heinlein’s and Pournelle’s military SF are not trivial — they are both esthetically and morally important. More generally, the soldiers in military SF express a wide range of different theories about the relationship between soldier, society, and citizen. These theories reward some examination.

First, let’s consider representative examples: Jerry Pournelle’s novels of Falkenberg’s Legion, on the one hand, and Heinlein’s Starship Troopers on the other.

The difference between Heinlein and Pournelle starts with the fact that Pournelle could write about a cold-blooded mass murder of human beings by human beings, performed in the name of political order, approvingly — and did.

But the massacre was only possible because Falkenberg’s Legion and Heinlein’s Mobile Infantry have very different relationships with the society around them. Heinlein’s troops are integrated with the society in which they live. They study history and moral philosophy; they are citizen-soldiers. Johnnie Rico has doubts, hesitations, humanity. One can’t imagine giving him orders to open fire on a stadium-full of civilians as does Falkenberg.

Pournelle’s soldiers, on the other hand, have no society but their unit and no moral direction other than that of the men on horseback who lead them. Falkenberg is a perfect embodiment of military Führerprinzip, remote even from his own men, a creepy and opaque character who is not successfully humanized by an implausible romance near the end of the sequence. The Falkenberg books end with his men elevating an emperor, Prince Lysander who we are all supposed to trust because he is such a beau ideal. Two thousand years of hard-won lessons about the maintenance of liberty are thrown away like so much trash.

In fact, the underlying message here is pretty close to that of classical fascism. It, too, responds to social decay with a cult of the redeeming absolute leader. To be fair, the Falkenberg novels probably do not depict Pournelle’s idea of an ideal society, but they are hardly less damning if we consider them as a cautionary tale. “Straighten up, kids, or the hero-soldiers in Nemourlon are going to have to get medieval on your buttocks and install a Glorious Leader.” Pournelle’s values are revealed by the way that he repeatedly posits situations in which the truncheon of authority is the only solution. All tyrants plead necessity.

Eric S. Raymond, “The Charms and Terrors of Military SF”, Armed and Dangerous, 2002-11-13.

March 26, 2016

QotD: The “Futurians” – the rise of the “New Wave” in science fiction

Filed under: Books, History, Media, Quotations — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Hard SF was an art form that made stringent demands on both author and reader. Stories could be, and were, mercilessly slammed because the author had calculated an orbit or gotten a detail of physics or biology wrong. The Campbellian demand was that SF work both as story and as science, with only a bare minimum of McGuffins like FTL star drives permitted; hard SF demanded that the science be consistent both internally and with known science about the real world.

The New Wave rejected all this for reasons that were partly aesthetic and partly political. For there was a political tradition that went with the hard-SF style, one exemplified by its chief theoretician (Campbell himself) and his right-hand man Robert Heinlein, the inventor of modern SF’s characteristic technique of exposition by indirection. That tradition was of ornery and insistent individualism, veneration of the competent man, an instinctive distrust of coercive social engineering and a rock-ribbed objectivism that that valued knowing how things work and treated all political ideologizing with suspicion.

[…]

The New Wave was both a stylistic revolt and a political one. Its inventors (notably Michael Moorcock, J.G. Ballard and Brian Aldiss) were British socialists and Marxists who rejected individualism, linear exposition, happy endings, scientific rigor and the U.S.’s cultural hegemony over the SF field in one fell swoop. The New Wave’s later American exponents were strongly associated with the New Left and opposition to the Vietnam War, leading to some rancorous public disputes in which politics was tangled together with definitional questions about the nature of SF and the direction of the field.

But the New Wave was not, in fact, the first revolt against hard SF. In the 1950s, a group of young writers centered around Frederik Pohl and the Futurians fan club in New York had invented sociological S.F. (exemplified by the Pohl/Kornbluth collaboration The Space Merchants). Not until decades later did the participants admit that many of the key Futurians were then ideological Communists or fellow travellers, but their work was half-understood at the time to be strong criticism of the consumer capitalism and smugness of the post-World-War-II era.

[…]

The new hard SF of the 1980s returned to Golden Age themes and images, if not quite with the linear simplicity of Golden Age technique. It also reverted to the libertarian/individualist values traditional in the field. This time around, with libertarian thinking twenty years more developed, the split between order-worshiping conservatism and the libertarian impulse was more explicit. At one extreme, some SF (such as that of L. Neil Smith) assumed the character of radical libertarian propaganda. At the other extreme, a subgenre of SF that could fairly be described as conservative/militarist power fantasies emerged, notably in the writing of Jerry Pournelle and David Drake.

Tension between these groups sometimes flared into public animosity. Both laid claims to Robert Heinlein’s legacy. Heinlein himself maintained friendly relationships with conservatives but counted himself a libertarian for more than a decade before his death in 1988.

Heinlein’s evolution from Goldwater conservative to anti-statist radical both led and reflected larger trends. By 1989 depictions of explicitly anarcho-libertarian future societies were beginning to filter into mainstream SF work like Joe Haldeman’s Buying Time. Haldeman’s Conch Republic and Novysibirsk were all the more convincing for not being subjects of polemic.

Eric S. Raymond, “Libertarianism and the Hard SF Renaissance”, Armed and Dangerous, 2002-11-09.

February 25, 2016

QotD: Elements of dramatic storytelling

Filed under: Books, Media, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

To be a satisfying drama, certain basic elements must be present, either in large or in small:

  1. A protagonist with a goal or dream or need or mission, who is facing…
  2. An obstacle (it can be a person, as an evil villain, or a situation, as life in an evil village) presenting a real challenge, perhaps an overwhelming challenge, blocking the protagonist’s achievement of this goal. Facing this challenge initiates…
  3. Rising action, perhaps with unexpected yet logical plot-turns to astonish the reader’s expectations, leading to…
  4. A climax, a crescendo or catharsis, which in turn brings about…
  5. A resolution that not only…
    1. Makes intellectual sense, with no plot threads forgotten and no plot holes showing but also…
    2. Makes moral and emotional sense, it shows the cosmos the way it is or the way it should be, but also…
    3. Makes thematic sense, such that it can be used as an example, or a model, or a reflection of life or some aspect of life.

Other aspects of storytelling (such as ornamental language or proper pacing, or the use of humor, pathos, satire, insight into human nature, or character development) are needed at least in some degree, but this varies so greatly from genre to genre and tale to tale that it cannot be simplified to a general rule.

There are five dimensions to any story: plot, characters, setting, style, and theme. Philosopher and theologian Peter Kreeft, writing about the philosophy in Tolkein’s LORD OF THE RINGS, re-words these five as dimensions into work, workers, world, words, and wisdom.

The plot is the work to be done, and a dramatic story gains stature if the work is hard, the cost is high, and the reward immense. This is why Robert Heinlein listed only three basic types of stories 1. Boy-meets-girl 2. The Little Tailor 3. The Man Who Learns Better.

What is at stake in a boy-meets-girl story is the future happiness of the couple; nothing is more immense than love. Stories involving any deep emotional relationship fall into this category, not exclusively romance. Stories of this type are about people and passions, honor and attachment: the boy is changed because he falls in love.

The Little Tailor (if I may remind any reader who don’t read fairy stories) tells of a man whose boast of swatting flies gives him a reputation as a giant killer. Then a real giant shows up. Stories of this type are about people and challenges. Facing the giant changes the tailor. What is at stake here is life and death.

Man Learns Better is an inverse of the second plot. The Man finds his fixed ideas or his innate character, when played out, leads to ruin, and this leaves him sadder but wiser, or humbler but wiser. He changes because he learns and grows. If learning your lesson carries a heavy price, the drama is greater. What is at stake here is the man’s soul.

If the hero fails, he loses his heart, or his life, or his soul.

From these three all basic variations of plots can spring: the chase, the quest, the competition, the sacrifice, or tales of revenge, escape, enlightenment, victory and defeat, but in order for the plot to be a plot something has to be at stake and it has to be meaningful to you and to your readers. The work must be a great work.

John C. Wright, “Supermanity and Dehumanity (Complete)”, John C. Wright’s Journal, 2014-12-13.

December 19, 2015

Comparing Starship Troopers to Starship Troopers

Filed under: Books, Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Jason Fuesting compares Robert Heinlein’s novel with Paul Verhoeven’s movie “adaptation” (scare quotes here because Verhoeven never read more than the first two chapters of the book). I’ve never seen the movie, but the book is one of my favourites.

Taken in a vacuum, the film itself is passable for its time. Despite being released in November, the film clearly fits the summer action film niche and summer action films are not frequently known for in-depth intellectual dialog or for exceptional acting. Verhoeven’s work does not disappoint that expectation in the least. What effort is evident in the film remains focused primarily on either the fight scenes, particularly in special effects and explosions, or in finding ways to justify having the actresses expose some amount of skin in some form or fashion as frequently as possible. As such, Verhoeven’s film comes off not too dissimilarly from what one might expect of a Michael Bay film, except less subtle in every way.

Cinematography, editing, and score were not exceptional, but quite passable. The film remained fast paced and for multiple scenes camera placement complimented the special effects and other elements quite well. The effects themselves were as I remembered, great for the time period. As far as the individual components of the film in terms of film making are concerned, outside of the acting, the film is quite well done. As for the acting, what I remembered as campy and otherwise forgettable as a teen turned out to be far worse than I remembered.

When one steps back out of the vacuum, the film ultimately falls apart entirely on writing. Many would likely ponder how a summer action movie that has managed to succeed on the other points could ultimately be deemed a failure based solely off a feature movies of its kind almost universally ignore. For Heinlein fans, the film is unequivocally a thumb in the eye. From that perspective, the director took the author’s creation, fed just enough of it through a sausage grinder to get the flavor out, mixed in his own recipe of inanity, and laid out the resulting abomination in precisely the exact opposite direction. For those not particularly attached to Heinlein’s novel but still fans of decent writing, a multitude of plot holes and grave inconsistency errors abound, all of which were introduced by the writers meddling in Heinlein’s construct like children run amok.

Amok is sadly an understatement. The film and the book are two wholly different entities. A Joking comment along the lines of the script used by Verhoeven being the result of the soulless Hollywood machine itself parodied in Robert Altman’s 1992 film The Player might be closer to the truth. Simply put, Verhoeven’s script shares names with the book.

[…]

Ultimately, the book’s message is one that stresses responsibility, personal, to one’s family, and to one’s nation. Heinlein repeatedly highlights how military service is not easy, that life is a lot harder than we think it is when we’re young, how war is not the cool thing most children believe. Verhoeven steadfastly ignores every bit of that and takes every point Heinlein made and twisting it to its opposite: war is great, service is so easy any idiot can do it, the military is filled with unthinking robotic idiots and evil right-wing fascists, and the only people who are held responsible are the ones who get caught without an excuse. Instead of a story that is more or less a post-hoc biography of a soldier, complete with his regrets, Verhoeven’s adaptation is little more than modern actors in remade Nazi uniforms acting out nonsense between scenes further adapted from Nazi propaganda films. Verhoeven is so over-the-top in his use of Nazi imagery and defacing the concept of patriotism that his attempted smear against the right-wing gets lost in the noise.

The film is offensive on multiple levels. First, as a veteran, the book is easily realistic science-fiction that carries multiple very pertinent messages and warnings, especially in today’s society. Many of these were messages I needed to hear when I was younger, but I had neither the maturity nor the experience to truly understand at the time. Second, as an author, I am utterly horrified at the wholesale gutting the film makers and their writers gleefully engaged in and the complete mockery of their creation. The idea that one of my prospective works could receive similar treatment sickens me. Third, as a Conservative leaning libertarian, Verhoeven’s film lampoons ideas central to the survival of any state, left leaning or right, and does so in such a poor fashion that it fails at being even amateur-level propaganda. Admittedly, hyperbole is a valid tool; however, when using hyperbole one must ensure both that one’s point is valid and that the use of hyperbole does not destroy your message. Verhoeven fails on both accounts.

Update, 20 December: Just realized I hadn’t included the original link to this review. My belated apologies to Jason Fuesting and Cedar Sanderson for the oversight.

August 30, 2015

The nature, faults, and virtues of Science Fiction according to Robert Heinlein

Filed under: History, Media, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 03:00

The Library of America posted Robert Heinlein’s comments from a lecture series in 1957:

First let us decide what we mean by the term “science fiction” — or at least what we will mean by it here. Anyone wishing a scholarly discussion of the etymology of the term will find one by Sam Moskowitz in the February, 1957 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. I shan’t repeat what he has said so well but will summarize for our immediate purposes. The field has existed throughout the history of literature but it used to be called by several names: speculative romance, pseudo-scientific romance (a term that sets a science fiction writer’s teeth on edge), utopian literature, fantasy — or, more frequently, given no name, simply lumped in with all other fiction.

But the term “science fiction” is now part of the language, as common as the neologism “guided missile.” We are stuck with it and I will use it … although personally I prefer the term “speculative fiction” as being more descriptive. I will use these two terms interchangeably, one being the common handle, the other being one that aids me in thinking — but with the same referent in each case.

“Science fiction” means different things to different people. “When I make a word do a lot of work like that,” said Humpty Dumpty, “I always pay it extra” — in which case the term science fiction has piled up a lot of expensive overtime. Damon Knight, a distinguished critic in this field, argues that there is no clear distinction between fantasy and science fiction, in which opinion August Derleth seems to agree. I cannot forcefully disagree with their lines of reasoning — but I wonder if they have made their definitions so broad as to include practically all fiction? To define is to limit: a definition cannot be useful unless it limits. Certainly Mickey Spillane’s murder stories could easily be classed as fantasies, as can many or most of the love stories appearing in the big slick magazines. But I feel sure that Mr. Knight and Mr. Derleth did not intend their definitions to be quite that unbounded and in any case my difference of opinion with them is merely a matter of taste and personal convenience.

Theodore Sturgeon, a giant in this field, defines a science fiction story as one in which the story would not exist if it were not for the scientific element — an admirably sharp delimitation but one which seems to me perhaps as uncomfortably tight as the one above seems to me unusefully roomy. It would exclude from the category “science fiction” much of Mr. Sturgeon’s best work, stories which are to my mind speculative rather than fantastic. There are many stories that are lumped into the class “science fiction” in the minds of most people (and in mine) which contain only a detectable trace, or none, of science — for example, Sinclair Lewis’ It Can’t Happen Here, Fritz Leiber’s great short story “Coming Attraction,” Thomas F. Tweed’s novel Gabriel Over the White House. All three stories are of manners and morals; any science in them is merely parsley trimming, not the meat. Yet each is major speculation, not fantasy, and each must be classed as science fiction as the term is commonly used.

Reginald Bretnor, author, editor and acute critic of this field, gives what is to me the most thoughtful, best reasoned, and most useful definition of science fiction. He sees it as a field of literature much broader than that most often termed “main-stream” literature — or “non-science fiction,” if you please — science fiction being that sort in which the author shows awareness of the nature and importance of the human activity known as the scientific method, shows equal awareness of the great body of human knowledge already collected through that activity, and takes into account in his stories the effects and possible future effects on human beings of scientific method and scientific fact. This indispensable three-fold awareness does not limit the science fiction author to stories about science — he need not write a gadget story; indeed a gadget story would not be science fiction under this definition if the author failed in this three-fold awareness. Any subject can be used in a science fiction story under this definition, provided (and indispensably required) that the author has the attitude comprised by the three-fold awareness and further provided that he has and uses appropriately that body of knowledge pertinent to the scope of his story. I have paraphrased in summary Mr. Bretnor’s comments and I hope he will forgive me.

Mr. Bretnor’s definition gives the science fiction author almost unlimited freedom in subject matter while requiring of him high, rigorous, and mature standards in execution.

In contrast to science fiction thus defined, non-science fiction — all other fiction including the most highly acclaimed “literary” novels — at most shows awareness of the by-products of scientific method already in existence. Non-science fiction admits the existence of the automobile, radar, polio vaccine, H-bombs, etc., but refuses to countenance starships and other such frivolities. That is to say, non-science fiction will concede that water is running down hill but refuses to admit that it might ever reach the bottom … or could ever be pumped up again. It is a static attitude, an assumption that what is now forever shall be.

July 22, 2015

QotD: The Heinleins and the Goldwater campaign

Filed under: Politics, Quotations, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Ginny probably had agreed to the change because she had taken up a new political cause, and the spasms of pain that came on at night interfered with her fund-raising activities for the Barry Goldwater presidential campaign. Heinlein approved of Goldwater, both personally and politically — a New Deal liberal who had evolved in a sensible way, responding to the actual political realities the country had found itself in after World War II.

Ginny was setting up a “Gold for Goldwater” fund-raising campaign with five other field workers — a grassroots organization, outside the somewhat hidebound local Republican hierarchy. “Spend what you think we can afford,” he told Ginny. He had been disillusioned with party politics for nearly a decade, but this was a campaign worth fighting.

William H. Patterson Jr., Robert A. Heinlein, In Dialogue with His Century Volume 2: The Man Who Learned Better, 2014.

July 10, 2015

QotD: Robert Heinlein’s support for the Barry Goldwater campaign

Filed under: History, Politics, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

I don’t know whether Goldwater can be elected or not — or whether he can change things if elected. But I would like to see the United States make a radical change away from its present course. I’m sick of bailing out Kremlin murderers with wheat sold to them on credit and at tax-subsidized prices, I’m sick of giving F-86’s and Sherman tanks and money to communists, I’m sick of undeclared wars rigged out not to be won — I’m sick of conscripting American boys to die in such wars — I’m sick of having American servicemen rotting in communist prisons for eleven long years and of presidents (including that slimy faker Eisenhower!) who smilingly ignore the fact and do nothing. I’m sick of confiscatory taxes for the benefit of socialist countries and of inflation that makes saving a mockery, I’m sick of signing treaties with scoundrels who boast of their own dishonesty and who have never been known to keep a treaty, I’m sick of laws that make loafing more attractive than honest work.

But most of all I am sick of going abroad and finding that any citizen of any two-bit, county-sized country in the world doesn’t hesitate to insult the United States loudly and publicly while demanding still more “aid” and of course “with no strings attached” from the pockets of you and me. I don’t give a hoot whether the United States is “loved” and I care nothing for “World Opinion” as represented by the yaps of “uncommitted nations” made up of illiterate savages — but I would like to see the United States respected once again (or even feared!) … [sic] and I think and hope that the Senator from Arizona is the sort of tough hombre who can bring it about.

I hope —

But it’s a forlorn hope at best! I’m much afraid that this country has gone too far down the road of bread and circuses to change its domestic course (who “shoots Santa Claus”?) and is too far committed to peace-at-any-price to reverse its foreign policy.

Robert A. Heinlein, letter to Larry and Caryl Heinlein 1964-07-19 (quoted in William H. Patterson Jr’s Robert A. Heinlein, In Dialogue with His Century Volume 2: The Man Who Learned Better, 2014).

July 8, 2015

QotD: The “voice of command”

Filed under: Media, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Heinlein had, over the years, developed his own version of Captain — Admiral — King’s “voice of command”:

    The “voice of command” somehow carries with it to the hearer the subconscious knowledge that its owner is used to being obeyed, has the power to require obedience, expects to be obeyed, and does not encompass any possibility of not being obeyed.

With Heinlein it was something more inward, which George Scithers characterized as “quiet persistence and presence of command”. Scithers related an incident he saw at a lunch counter, possibly at this very convention. Heinlein sat down nearby, and there was a paper at the other end he wanted; the waitress didn’t seem inclined to put herself out to get it, but by the time Heinlein was finished with the contest of wills, she got the paper for him — and he tipped her accordingly. It was more attitude than technique, something that came from inside. There was something primal about Heinlein that the fans wanted from him — they came to warm themselves at his fire.

Robert A. Heinlein, letter to Theodore Cogswell 1959-12-04, quoted in William H. Patterson Jr., Robert A. Heinlein, In Dialogue with His Century Volume 2: The Man Who Learned Better, 2014).

June 17, 2015

QotD: Heinlein’s alleged misogyny

Filed under: Media, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

My friend Cedar, today, posted about one of those lies that “everybody knows” and that are absolutely not true. Not only not true, but risible on their face. The lie is that Heinlein was a misogynist, which is not only a lie but a whole construct, an artifact of lies. And one that humans, nonetheless seem to buy wholesale.

I’m not going to repeat the argument. Cedar made it. But I’m going to quote what she said:

    When the woman who had first made the titular accusation was questioned by multiple voices in startlement, she finally admitted that she knew it to be so, because she had read it in Asimov’s biography. Wait a minute, was my reply, you mean that man that Eric Leif Davin in his recent book Partners in Wonder wrote this about?” Isaac Asimov is on record for stating that male fans didn’t want females invading their space. According to the letter columns of the time, it seems that the only fan who held that opinion was… Isaac Asimov. A number of males fans welcomed their female counterparts. As did the editors, something Davin goes to great lengths to document.” (You can read more on the women that other women ignore here at Keith West’s blog) So this woman has taken a known misogynist’s claim that another man is a misogynist without questioning and swallowed it whole.

I run into this again and again. In a panel, once, questioning accusations of misogyny directed at Heinlein I got back “Well, obviously he was. His women wear aprons.” I then got really cold and explained that in Portugal, growing up, when clothes were expensive (how expensive. People stole the wash from the line. Imagine that happening here. People stealing clothes. Just clothes. Not designers, not leather, just clothes, including much-washed-and-mended pajamas.) we always wore aprons in the kitchen. And Heinlein was writing when clothes were way more expensive, relatively. (I buy my clothes at thrift stores. So unless it’s a favorite pair of jeans or something, I don’t wear aprons.) The difference is not “putting women in their place.” The difference is the cost of clothes.

And this is why I don’t get put on the “Heinlein, threat or menace” panels any more.

But 90% of the women who make the accusation that Heinlein hated women or couldn’t write women have never read him. They’ve just heard it repeated by people with “authority.” The cool kids. And so they can’t be reasoned out of this assumption, because it’s not an assumption. It’s glamor. (The other ten percent, usually, were primed to think he was a misogynist and read the beginning of a book and didn’t “get” some inside joke. Like, you know, the getting married after a tango. Which was pure fan fodder. They wouldn’t have thought anything of it if they hadn’t been primed. But they’d been primed. They were under a glamor to see what wasn’t there.)

Sarah Hoyt, “Glamor and Fairy Gold”, According to Hoyt, 2015-06-02.

June 3, 2015

QotD: The Heinleins, the Goldwater campaign, and racism

Filed under: Politics, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Over a dirty-tricks television ad of a girl picking daisies over a countdown to an atomic bomb that goes off in the background, Johnson supporters turned Goldwater’s campaign slogan — “In your heart you know he’s right” — against him: “In your guts, you know he’s nuts.”

Ginny stepped up her work for the campaign. Heinlein stepped up his work, too, but he was still conflicted — and at another meeting at Bob Laura’s house on August 1, he finally had more than he could take. Laura was temporizing over an offer of help Ginny had taken by telephone from a woman who identified herself as a Negro. He would take the matter up with his State Central Committee contact, Laura said, but his own reaction was: “Oh, they are free to go ahead and form their own committee.” Heinlein lost his temper for the first time in many years. He told Laura,

    They offered to stick their necks out; we should have shown instant gratitude and warmest welcome … I can’t see anything in this behavior but Jim-Crowism … you were suggesting a Jim-Crow section in the Goldwater organization.

    Mr. Goldwater would not like that. His record proves it.

    Negroes are citizens, Bob … It is particularly offensive, this year and this campaign, to suggest that Negro Goldwater supporters form their own committee…

He then ticked down a list of Laura’s administrative foul-ups, concluding:

    — these faults can easily lose the county … [sic] and with it the state […] and, conceivably, if the race is close, the Presidency itself.

    … So I’ll try to refrain hereafter from offering you advice. But I think it’s time for you either to behave like a manager, or resign.

Laura apologized for his part in the altercation.

Ginny went into field work full time, and Heinlein agreed to handle an expansion of the county office now that the nominating convention was over and the campaign was ramping up in earnest. As Laura temporized on the Jim-Crow question, he gave Heinlein a personal criticism, not the first time he had heard it: “I know you don’t believe that anyone could consider you a “yes” man. I wonder, however, if you can conceive of another’s opinion, differing though it may be, possessing any merit.”

On this issue, no: The opinion that a Negro volunteer should be treated differently from a white volunteer possessed no merit whatsoever — and if that was “intolerant” in Bob Laura’s book, so be it. “I’m one of the most intolerant men I’ve ever met,” Heinlein noted to himself. “I had thought that, simply because I had uncustomary responses as to what I liked and what I hated that I was ‘tolerant.’ I’m not. I’m not even mildly tolerant of what I despise.”

There were things more important than party unity in the Republican Party of Colorado.

William H. Patterson Jr., Robert A. Heinlein, In Dialogue with His Century Volume 2: The Man Who Learned Better, 2014).

May 12, 2015

Step aside, Sun Tzu, Heinlein’s Starship Troopers is the new guide to warfare

Filed under: Books, Military, Technology — Tags: — Nicholas @ 03:00

In Popular Mechanics, Joe Pappalardo makes the claim that Robert Heinlein’s 1959 novel Starship Troopers is replacing Sun Tzu’s Art of War due to its greater relevance to 21st century warfare:

Starship Troopers cover detail

It’s not just generals and soldiers who keep the The Art of War in print. Businessmen, coaches, and lawyers all seem to get something out of Sun Tzu’s 6th century military tome — memorizing and repeating passages that speak to the tactics and strategy of success, whether that’s on Wall Street or in a war zone.

But for all its long-lasting cultural influence, the book is limited by its lack of specifics. “Know your enemy” and “win without fighting” are all well and good, but such axioms don’t really help today’s GI prepare to deploy with a robotic squadmate or decide what information to place on a digital head’s-up display. Modern warriors, surrounded by sophisticated gear and nuanced rules of engagement, need to meditate on the balance between technology and soldier, man and machine, civilian and veteran. For that kind of wisdom, they must go to military science fiction — and one great book in particular.

Robert A. Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, published in 1959, is aging remarkably well. The tome chronicles the early military career of Johnnie Rico, who fights alien arachnids while clad in a heavily armed exoskeleton. The troopers drop from orbit one by one to wreak havoc on whatever target the Sky Marshal deems worthy of the attention. It’s a cool adventure novel with a soldier’s eye view that doubles a treatise on modern warrior culture, the limits of military technology, and the awful glories of fighting infantry. There’s a reason military academies like West Point recommend cadets read the book.

Like Sun Tzu’s masterpiece, Heinlein’s abounds with quotable axioms. You may not hear overly intense car salesman quoting from Starship Troopers anytime soon, but here are six reasons why the book is a practical guide to 21st century warfare.

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