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View Diary: Sci-Fi/Fantasy Club: The Moon is a Harsh Mistress (part 1) (216 comments)

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  •  Tip Jar (82+ / 0-)

    Once again, it took longer than intended to finish this episode.  I really am trying to condense my synopsis, but I also want to spell out the important points of plot, character and theme.  I've probably given short shift to the last, and hope we will expand more on them in the comments

    "All the World's a Stage and Everyone's a Critic." -- Mervyn Alquist

    by quarkstomper on Sun Jul 31, 2011 at 06:56:44 PM PDT

    •  Been years since I read this. (25+ / 0-)

      Thanks for a break from the debt ceiling insanity.

      Wyoh was one of my early favorite female characters. I may have to pick this up and reread it.

      If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am not for others, what am I? And if not now, when? Rabbi Hillel

      by AndyT on Sun Jul 31, 2011 at 07:11:51 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  May need to repost later (12+ / 0-)

      The news has us all bummed out and it's rather late. Might be more commentary tomorrow. Many kossacks read love/hate Heinlein--this should be a popular thread. Might just be bad timing.

      "Shared pain is pain lessened; shared joy is joy increased."--Spider Robinson

      by Maggie Pax on Sun Jul 31, 2011 at 07:43:40 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Not anymore ;) (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Maggie Pax, Ahianne, quarkstomper, ER Doc

        If the future's looking dark, we're the ones who have to shine... Though we live in trying times we're the ones who have to try

        by Purple Priestess on Mon Aug 01, 2011 at 12:36:31 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  Not a bit! Love Heinlein And Very Happy... (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Maggie Pax, quarkstomper

        ...to see him discussed. Loved TMiaHM when I re-read it 5 years ago maybe. Heinlein's style of unrolling a story in front of you is as good as Steinbeck in speaking plain English, beautifully.

        Two other authors I'd suggest hitting would be (my personal favorite) Jack Vance and Philip K. Dick. Ample grounds in both and all as different as possible.

        "Always remember this: They fight with money and we resist with time, and they’re going to run out of money before we run out of time." -Utah Philips

        by TerryDarc on Mon Aug 01, 2011 at 03:16:56 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  I had forgotten this book and all I remembered (16+ / 0-)

      of his works from high school and early college days were books like the awful one called Farnham's Freehold which I thought was racist, and Stranger. Like you, I didn't like it and I was completely turned off by the religious zeal it seemed to inspire in some of my more off-the-wall friends (they were the same ones who later were attracted to Scientology).  
      I also remember that the old guy character you mention, the one he uses to represent himself in his books (which I totally agree with), often ends up with the sexy young thing.  As a high school student I found that disgusting and as a post-60 year old, I still do!
      But I remember after reading your summary that I liked this book.  Maybe I'll reread it.  Thanks!
      And as another commenter said, this was a great relief from debt ceiling depression.

      If, in our efforts to win, we become as dishonest as our opponents on the right, we don't deserve to triumph.

      by Tamar on Sun Jul 31, 2011 at 08:34:19 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Farnham's Freehold (8+ / 0-)

        I didn't much care for Farnham's Freehold much myself; chiefly because I found all the characters to be unsympathetic.  As for the big deal about Blacks being the dominant race and the Whites being a despised minority, on one level it made logical sense; (Russia, Europe and America have been destroyed in the Atomic War and so now the former Third World nations are dominant); but the way he presented it... let's just say he could have done it better.

        "All the World's a Stage and Everyone's a Critic." -- Mervyn Alquist

        by quarkstomper on Sun Jul 31, 2011 at 08:52:27 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  he made them cannibals. In other words, his (8+ / 0-)

          supposition was that if Blacks were in charge of the world, they'd be cannibals.  that's pretty damn racist.  (and what about them castrating all the white males -- I think Heinlein might have had an itty bitty hangup about Black men....).
          Yep, you're right -- he could have done better.

          If, in our efforts to win, we become as dishonest as our opponents on the right, we don't deserve to triumph.

          by Tamar on Sun Jul 31, 2011 at 09:04:12 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Actually (19+ / 0-)

            Heinlein was profoundly anti-racist; he was one of the first sf writers to feature black characters in a positive light, even as protagonists in his juveniles.

            That said, many people have problems with Farnham's. Again, remember the time it was written, at the height of the cold war. The modern civil rights movement was beginning in the 1950's. He was living in Colorado Springs and building his own bomb shelter while writing FH. He had also recently come off of a difficult divorce (his second wife, Leslyn was alcoholic and had mental health issues). So there's a lot of autobiography in the bones of the story.

            Heinlein noted at other times and places (both in Stranger and in The Cat Who Walks Through Walls) that cannibalism is found in all cultures. I read it as a metaphor in the spirit of Swift: the powerful feeding off of the weak. In that sense, it isn't racist, just realism. The racial inversion is one (perhaps clumsy) way to show that racial oppression of any sort is wrong. Thus the point of the story is that any government that does not treat all races as equal is equally corrupt, because the only way to live is a free, autonomous human being.

            The book may not work for you; it doesn't work for many people. But Heinlein was trying to make a very progressive point.

            "Shared pain is pain lessened; shared joy is joy increased."--Spider Robinson

            by Maggie Pax on Sun Jul 31, 2011 at 09:34:09 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Interesting point of view. and maybe that (3+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              yaque, Prof Haley, sphealey

              was his intention, but I think his subconscious got the best of him.
              Also, the notion of a guy who sets up a place free of all interference from government has a bit of an Ayn Rand feel to it -- I didn't know much about her when I read it, but it just felt wrong to me.
              However, what you said about his wife and the divorce makes the whole business with the main character's awful wife make much more sense.
              Thanks for the info.

              If, in our efforts to win, we become as dishonest as our opponents on the right, we don't deserve to triumph.

              by Tamar on Sun Jul 31, 2011 at 09:47:41 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  He wasn't as much of a pioneer (6+ / 0-)

                As Andre Norton, who had a LOT of non-white (and non-male, and non-human) characters, especially leads, in her books, and did it earlier.  And continued to do it throughout her career.

                OTOH, Heinlein deserves credit for Johnny Rico.  I like to think that Farnham's Freehold was a blip, not a reflection of his actual beliefs.

                •  Perhaps his beliefs changed over time. Possibly (1+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  quarkstomper

                  not in a simple straight line.  I agree with Tamar that whatever Heinlein's intentions, in Farnham's Freehold his underlying assumptions showed black people "naturally" producing a barbaric culture, even if they had a high level of technology.

                  An early fantasy, Magic, Inc., is set in a parallel US where magic works.  MC (main character) is having problems with witchcraft (negative magic) and calls in an expert, a witch-sniffer, to help him locate the source.  The expert is well-recommended, and over the phone MC is struck by his cultured Oxford accent.  When he arrives, and MC opens the door, he sees an imposing, dark-skinned African.  He's flustered, and tries not to show it, because he hates people who make a big deal of that kind of surprise. "There's no reason he shouldn't be black.  I just wasn't expecting it."

                  Later, as the witch-sniffer is working, MC feels he is seeing a glimpse of an ancient, powerful culture, different from Western culture, with an implacable standard of justice that he isn't sure he would want to face.  In this passage, Heinlein is reflecting both an anti-racist stance and a valuing of non-Western culture.

                  In Double Star, the main character works to establish good relations between humans and native Martians, and remarks that humans must never repeat the terrible errors made by Europeans in dealing with other cultures on Earth.  The parallel between racism and disrespect of alien species is clear.

                  In Stranger, Heinlein made a point of some of the waterbrothers being Jewish.  In Starship Trooper, as you mentioned, the main character is Juan Rico -- an unusual choice for a white writer in 1959.  Whatever was going on in Farnham's Freehold, in other books Heinlein was taking a stance for inclusion and respect.

                  His later writing -- I don't know.  I admit that books like Time Enough for Love and I Will Fear No Evil have blurred badly in my mind. But I remember them as essentially portraying humanity as all white, and I remember one passage in which the MC says basically that humanity is spreading throughout our part of the galaxy, and anybody else better get out of the way, because we're the toughest ones on the block.  

                  It was a wierdly strident "might makes right" kind of statement, and if felt like a direct repudiation of the elements of diversity and respect that I'd liked in his earlier books.

                  As I said, my memory may be incomplete.  I'm interested in whether others had similary or different reactions to his later books.  OT in terms of The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, I know, but still of interest.

                  •  His Beliefs Did Change (2+ / 0-)
                    Recommended by:
                    Ellid, EclecticCrafter

                    Early in his career he worked for Upton Sinclair's campaign as a socialist; but over time he became more conservative in his views.  I've read the opinion that he started to skew rightward after he married his third wife, Virginia.  Personally, I suspect that what happened was as his writing made him more affluent, he began to empathize more with the concerns of affluence.

                    "All the World's a Stage and Everyone's a Critic." -- Mervyn Alquist

                    by quarkstomper on Mon Aug 01, 2011 at 06:18:13 PM PDT

                    [ Parent ]

                    •  Thanks for the background, especially re (0+ / 0-)

                      Upton Sinclair's campaign.  My, my, that's a surprise.

                      •  Didn't he try to hide his early political beliefs? (0+ / 0-)

                        Because they sure didn't make it into his essays, or the letters that were collected in Grumbles from the Grave or John W. Campbell, Jr.'s, correspondence.

                        Speaking of which...there's a letter in the Campbell correspondence where Heinlein is basically yelling at Campbell for supposedly being a bad influence on L. Ron Hubbard over WWII.  Heinlein's point was that he, as a Naval Academy graduate, knew enough about the military and about war that he was immune to whatever pacifist/isolationist beliefs Campbell had, but that Hubbard wasn't and was thus vulnerable to being demoralized and washing out of the service.  

                        Of course Heinlein never actually saw combat due to being cashiered for tuberculosis, although he tried very hard to have his commission reactivated after Pearl Harbor....

                        •  Not really. (0+ / 0-)

                          The letters published in Grumbles were carefully selected and edited--and were a bare fraction of what was available. His earliest "essays" were speeches that he gave at early sf cons, and they are chock full of politics. Many of those have since been collected in Expanded Universe. He has, for example, a series of "world-saving" articles that he wrote just after WWII. And his "Who are the Heirs of Patrick Henry?" also generated a lot of controversy.

                          Lots of politics in the early stories: "If This Goes On"; "Coventry" (about as anti-Randian as you can get); "A Bathroom of Her Own"; "Three Brave Men"; "The Long Watch": his guide to politics Take Back Your Government!" (first published 1993, but written in 1946); then novels Space Cadet, Red Planet--all written before 1950.

                          Politics was always a major interest for Heinlein. He explored many different types of government in different works, but the interest in politics was always there.

                          "Shared pain is pain lessened; shared joy is joy increased."--Spider Robinson

                          by Maggie Pax on Tue Aug 02, 2011 at 09:24:16 AM PDT

                          [ Parent ]

                          •  The Only Game (2+ / 0-)
                            Recommended by:
                            Fiona West, Maggie Pax

                            Mannie, in Mistress, has a dim view of politics, viewing it as the provinence of yammerheads; but Wyoh sees it as a challenge and Prof openly enjoys it.

                            In Double Star, which is almost entirely about Politics in Space, the hero, repulsed by the dirty tricks of their opponents, complains that "Politics is a dirty game."  Another character corrects him; (quoting from memory here): "Politics is the only game for grown-ups.  All the rest are kid stuff."

                            Which links back to the underlying theme I find in a lot of Heinlein's work; that the Individual, no matter how ruggedly independent he may be, also has a Responsibility to the Community he lives in.

                            "All the World's a Stage and Everyone's a Critic." -- Mervyn Alquist

                            by quarkstomper on Tue Aug 02, 2011 at 12:24:56 PM PDT

                            [ Parent ]

                          •  Exactly (1+ / 0-)
                            Recommended by:
                            quarkstomper

                            And that is what make Heinlein NOT a Randian. He assumes ultimate personal responsibility, but is still committed to helping his greater community.

                            "Shared pain is pain lessened; shared joy is joy increased."--Spider Robinson

                            by Maggie Pax on Tue Aug 02, 2011 at 04:19:04 PM PDT

                            [ Parent ]

                          •  I meant his early interest in liberalism (1+ / 0-)
                            Recommended by:
                            quarkstomper

                            I knew about the above...and the Patrick Henry Brigade sounded a lot like some of the current tea party hysteria, I'm afraid.

                            I also don't recall much political content in Space Cadet. There was a culture clash between Matt and his family once he came back from basic training, but politics?  

                    •  Parties and politics changed (1+ / 0-)
                      Recommended by:
                      quarkstomper

                      Just think about how our own sense of what it means to be a democrat has changed in the last week. Or what it means to be a Republican. Eisenhower was a pretty good guy, at least in retrospect.

                      The main factor in his "change" was the atomic bomb. The thought of global thermonuclear war scared him. So he worked on gold for Goldwater. He also supported SDI for the same reason. He was very anti-communist. He also continually stressed the need for us to develop self-sustaining colonies off-planet.

                      But throughout his career, he wrote on the same themes: duty, honor, courage, politics, sex, religion, sex, family, and sex. Even his earliest short stories ("Let there Be Light") feature a scientist who is smart, sexy, and female. Certainly societal mores changed so that he could be more explicit, but the fundamental themes of his work remain the same.

                      He grew up very poor. He never forgot the value of hard work. Again, I urge people to read Patterson's exhaustive biography, now available in paperback.

                      Heinlein was born July 7, 1907. He died in 1988. Think about how much the world changed in those 80 years. He was on the cutting edge most of that time. If he seems flawed in our eyes, we have to remember that he helped give us many of the progressive ideas that we take for granted.

                      I think the fact that he still pisses people off after all this time means that his writing touches something deep in the human psyche. No writer can hope to do more.

                      "Shared pain is pain lessened; shared joy is joy increased."--Spider Robinson

                      by Maggie Pax on Mon Aug 01, 2011 at 07:02:23 PM PDT

                      [ Parent ]

                    •  Interesting. A different class of writer, but the (2+ / 0-)
                      Recommended by:
                      Maggie Pax, quarkstomper

                      same trajectory -- John Steinbeck.  His Grapes of Wrath is a big contrast to his work in later years.

                      If, in our efforts to win, we become as dishonest as our opponents on the right, we don't deserve to triumph.

                      by Tamar on Mon Aug 01, 2011 at 08:07:19 PM PDT

                      [ Parent ]

                  •  I didn't read Starship Trooper, but saw the (1+ / 0-)
                    Recommended by:
                    quarkstomper

                    movie and it was so openly fascistic that at first I thought it was a satire (and it was pretty funny until I realized it wasn't meant to be).
                    Was the book like that also?

                    If, in our efforts to win, we become as dishonest as our opponents on the right, we don't deserve to triumph.

                    by Tamar on Mon Aug 01, 2011 at 08:02:57 PM PDT

                    [ Parent ]

                    •  No (1+ / 0-)
                      Recommended by:
                      quarkstomper

                      The movie bore no relationship to the book. The movie was one of the suckiest adaptations I have ever been horrified to experience. The only good thing about the movie is that books sales went up.

                      The book is a serious exploration of why we need a military. That is itself a radical notion these days, but it is an honest exploration focusing on honor, duty, and leadership. It is idealized to a degree, in that Heinlein is describing an ideal fighting force. Remember, he had planned on spending his life career Navy, until TB got him, and he served with some outstanding officers. He firmly believed that the height of duty was to place your body between your "beloved home and the war's desolation."

                      In Starship Troopers (the novel), aliens attack Earth, so this is a fight for the survival of humanity. Notable points include women serving in the space navy (as officer pilots, specifically). Several chapters are nothing but philosophical argument.

                      This book is one of his most controversial, naturally. But the movie was a travesty of everything Heinlein was trying to say.

                      Read the book. It may piss you off, but it will make you think.

                      "Shared pain is pain lessened; shared joy is joy increased."--Spider Robinson

                      by Maggie Pax on Mon Aug 01, 2011 at 08:35:41 PM PDT

                      [ Parent ]

                    •  From What I Understand... (1+ / 0-)
                      Recommended by:
                      Maggie Pax

                      ...The maker of the movie started off with a superficial reading of the book and the conviction that it was fascist and then proceeded to play up the fascist elements he saw in it as much as possible.  

                      "All the World's a Stage and Everyone's a Critic." -- Mervyn Alquist

                      by quarkstomper on Mon Aug 01, 2011 at 08:49:23 PM PDT

                      [ Parent ]

        •  Farnham's - Thumbs Down (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          quarkstomper

          Read FF long ago and it made my skin crawl.  Clumsy was indeed to show that racial injustice was independent of actual particular color of one's own skin.

          I just thought that blacks came out bad, very bad and worse than any Europeans (thinking pre-apartheid Afrikaners here) would have dared do, simply bestial in nature.

          My least favorite Heinlein although I've only read his early stuff, up to say, Stranger and tried but failed on one of the Lazarus Long novels, forget which one. Interminably dull from a guy who was, in my mind, the best story teller in SF.

          "Always remember this: They fight with money and we resist with time, and they’re going to run out of money before we run out of time." -Utah Philips

          by TerryDarc on Mon Aug 01, 2011 at 03:23:12 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  Think You're Doing Great! (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      ER Doc, Angie in WA State

      Readers & Book Lovers Pull up a chair! You're never too old to be a Meta Groupie

      by Limelite on Mon Aug 01, 2011 at 08:36:30 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

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