Sunday, March 04, 2007

Robert Heinlein On Socialisation

I read a lot of science fiction in my youth - starting with Asimov and Brian Aldiss, whose Hothouse fascinated me. Never really got into Heinlein - not being interested in intergalactic battle-cruisers and space warfare, preferring stories where 'universal' and timeless human characteristics were refracted, viewed at a different angle, so to speak, by some futuristic social setting.

At BNPAndMe, a report on a criminal act and a long quote from Heinlein's Starship Troopers. The criminal tale is depressingly familiar, the quote ? I'm not sure I'd go for Mr Dubois philosophy entire of itself, but I've always liked novels (1984 and Brave New World leap to mind) where the refraction illuminates a truth, or even a part of a truth, of today's world - as viewed from a future one.

21 comments:

Dave said...

Good, I agree with what it said. Although do think people have some degree of innate behaviour, personality, indeed its been proved by studying identical twins seperated at birth.

P. Froward said...

I'm guessing you never read any Heinlein at all? Because "stories where 'universal' and timeless human characteristics were refracted, viewed at a different angle, so to speak, by some futuristic social setting" describes everything he wrote.

"Intergalactic battle-cruisers and space warfare" describes the "futuristic social setting" of Starship Troopers, but as you've noticed, it's really about timeless-human-etc. I can't think of another Heinlein novel offhand that's about the military.

Where on Earth did you get the notion that Heinlein wrote space opera?

victor.meldrew said...

Indeed. Farnham's Freehold is a remarkable book involving the 'universal and timeless human characteristics' of which you speak. Read it.

V

Anonymous said...

"The Moon is a harsh Mistress" is about a revolution/war albeit not directly about the military.

P. Froward said...

Right, TMIaHM (cf. rasfw LOLBBQ) is about a revolution. It's also about how and why an apolitical protagonist and his apolitical family get involved in the leadership of the revolution. It's also about life in the very peculiar culture in which these folks live, and how and why that set of customs and attitudes developed as an adaptation to the peculiar circumstances of life in a prison colony on the moon.

Surprisingly, shockingly even, the good guys are all... wait for it... polygamous hyper-libertarians! Who'd'a thunk it, from Heinlein?!

But seriously, it's a good book, arguably his best. Standard pre-late-'60s Heinlein: Speculative anthropology leavened with gunfire, ballistics, and Patrick Henry.

P. Froward said...

Oh, wait -- your actual point, anon, was simply that yeah, it's kinda military. Which, yes, it absolutely is. You weren't saying it isn't any other particular thing. So, mea culpa. The Word Verification is "jergok"; in my last comment I perhaps behaved like one.

james higham said...

Ray Bradbury - no one mentions him. Was he non-U?

alex zeka said...

I haven't yet read ST, but I did see the film, which alas skimped on the sociological detail somewhat.

While I can only agree with your assessment of 1984, I have to disagree about BNW. Infact, I wonder if you paid attention when reading it: Huxley was far from sure if what he was writing was a dystopia or utopia, and it shows in the disjointed quality of the book. Indeed, he later wished to give his protagonists the choice of living in a society (quoting from memory) which was "decentralised in its economics, mystical in its religion, anarchist in its politics". Is that really a viable alternative to the tribal, primitive anarchy of the reservations or the totalitarianistically controlled social anarchy of his BNW?

I suggest you read his later work The Island to see how primitivist enthusiasm can in practice end up advocating precisely the sort of society it wishes to oppose. Tribal mysticism and libertine technocracy: twins sepurated at birth and unable to stand the sight of each other, like a savage repulsed by his own image reflected in a lake.

alex zeka said...

I apologise for derailing the discussion onto BNW and primitivism as an alternative to libertinism.

Anonymous said...

in my last comment I perhaps behaved like one.

No you didn't, and I didn't think I was correcting you so much as thinking out loud.

I think that Laban (and most other people) get the idea of space cruisers not from the novels themselves but from the chintzy cover art that was chosen from the 1960s onwards.

At home I have an Asimov novel called "The Gods Themselves" with a picture of a space cruiser on the cover. The story is not about space wars.

I also agree that TMIaHM may be his best work or maybe Stranger In a Strange Land.

WTF does rasfw LOLBBQ mean: "laugh out loud barbeque" perhaps?

Guessedworker said...

Heinlein's doggy allusion was wrong. A dog bred for aggression - a Doberman Pinscher or a Pitbull, say - will, if mistreated, have different potentials from a dog bred for hunting or companionship.

Just so with humans. In their respective racial aggregates they are "trained by" - that is, adapted to - climate and environment, within which range of genetically-determined possibilities individuals emerge as social (-ised) actors.

And, in fact, although I wrote above "just so with humans", Henry Harpending is saying here:-

http://isteve.blogspot.com/2007/03/important-human-genetics-papers.html

... that human races are MORE differentiated than animal breds.

Guessedworker said...

The Sailer is not working. Here it is again:-

http://isteve.blogspot.com/2007/03/important-human-genetics-papers.html

Guessedworker said...

Wierd. Let's try this.

James said...

This has just inspired me to check it out from the library.

But Heinlein does have a little to answer to in making that bar bet with another sci-fi author about which one of them could invent a religion and make it catch on. (Although his Church of All Worlds does have a small following, but not as much as that other guy's.)

British National Party member said...

Ooh!

What religions are they, and what is the other author? that's interesting!

JuliaM said...

I suspect the other author is none other than Mr L Ron Hubbard, creator of Scientology...

P. Froward said...

Anon,

"rasfw" is rec.arts.sf.written, the old USENET SF newsgroup. That and "LOLBBQ" were just an over-nerdy way of making fun of myself abbreviating "TMIaHM".


JuliaM,

Right, it was L. Ron Hubbard. I think some people claim the bet story is apocryphal, but RAH and LRH were friends in the old days.

Anonymous said...

In 'Inferno', Larry Niven & Jerry Pournele have some jokey reference to writers who found their own religions ending up in hell.

Lurker

Anonymous said...

Thats Pournelle of course.

James said...

BNP Member/Julia M,
That is correct.

According to the story, Heinlein started/inspired the Church of All Worlds (which is treated, I believe, as an offshoot of Wicca) and Hubbard came up with Scientology.

(I'm a little bit wary of coming into their lawyers's scopes, though. They have been abusing libel laws throughout the Western World to get people to shut up about things that call their religion into question.)

Laban said...

In a conversation with Aleister Crowley back in the 20s or 30s, Hubbard said that if you really wanted to be rich, don't start a business, start a religion.