Challenger Logo by Alan White   A Science Fiction Fanzine   Winter 2006

Comment

HEINLEIN'S CHILDREN: THE JUVENILES

by Joseph T. Major with an introduction by Alexei Panshin. Advent, 2006

Richard Dengrove

I know Joe Major. I find him a very enthusiastic book reviewer and his enthusiasm is infectious. That is why I really like his Alexiad. Also, as a kid, and as an adult, I have loved Heinlein's juveniles. If all his juveniles are not his best work, it is certainly true that much of Heinlein's best work are juveniles.  Also, I am sure Joe is right and the best of these were written between 1947 and 1962.

So when Joe announced that he had written Heinlein's Children: the Juveniles, I put down the arcane research I was doing and decided to read it.

Joe is big at finding relationships between things. In this case, the relationships between Heinlein's juveniles, Heinlein's views and the views of his editor. Often, an Alice Dagliesh of Scribner. Sometimes Joe brings in Heinlein's times and the science and technology of his times.

Sometimes there are too many relationships and things get confusing. That is a pitfall of Joe's enthusiasm. Joe has a strength that counterbalances this, though: his strong opinions and novel takes make him interesting. It helps with me that Joe's strong opinions lie in-between the common prejudices. Heinlein is neither a God nor a Devil, as he is with most who comment on him; but a man.

A note here. Joe says he is going to criticize Alexei Panshin, but overall he agrees with him. He claims Heinlein hated Panshin because he often found out things about Heinlein Heinlein would have preferred remained private. 

What is my own conclusion about Heinlein?  He was, as Joe says, a man.

Also, he was a man of his time who had a unique perspective on his time. Sometimes, however, he lost the battles against his time. He didn't like it that sex in his novels for young people was radically censored. The best he could do was the sex in Podkayne of Mars. Even then, one reviewer I remember reading bewailed it.

This was all part and parcel of the fact Heinlein hated all editing. He just wasn't a big enough author to avoid it.

When he became one and could, that was when his writing went down hill. Then we got massive blocks of explication and other extraneous material. I remember fifty pages on camping in one later novel. As I have often said, in his later years, he could have used an editor even more than a heart surgeon.  

Returning to sexual mores, there was one bit of censorship it's not clear that he objected to: that his boy heroes normally have no sexual drive. This can go to extremes. In Tunnel for the Stars, Rod Walker doesn't even know his companion is a girl until the wiseacre kid points it out to him.

While sexlessness is considered almost perverse these days, I suspect Heinlein understood. The attitude was not only the prudery of the times; if memory serves me right, it did correspond with adolescent views. While they were primarily the views of younger adolescents, they often didn't disappear in older adolescents - or even adulthood.

It wasn't that you didn't have sexual feelings; it was that you could protect yourself from adolescent angst when girls did not consider you appealing. Another aspect of this attitude was the view that girls were yecchy. By the way, a corresponding attitude protected adolescent girls. While most of Heinlein's heroes and heroines would be considered admirable by both sexes,  most adolescent boys and girls needed protection. 

Still, while Heinlein had to bow to mores and editing, there is a lot of the real Heinlein in his juveniles. In fact, they remained his unique novels. Among his contributions were the forays into science and technology with which he made his background.

In Red Planet, he made sure he knew about Martian terrain and Martian seasons. In Rocket Ship Galileo, he knew that thorium would make a great fuel. While Joe adds that he didn't know about thorium's potential for terrorism, I myself am not certain of that potential.

Heinlein not only used science and technology for his novels; he used the liberal arts as well. He made sure that all his futures had a history, at least when one was called for. In the '40s, I gather, he had a future history which he used for most of his short stories. Here he tends to have a different future history for each book. This does not mean he did it from then on. For instance, he saved the future history in The Rolling Stones for later novels. 

Heinlein's virtue was more than just technical virtuosity. He wrote about important issues too. Important issues I am sure children's books never broached. In several of his juveniles, overpopulation plays a big role. While overpopulation per se is not an important issue now, it was during the '50s. It looked like Malthus would be vindicated and we would be growing crops on each other's heads.

The answer of Farmer in the Sky was to go to the planets; or, in the case of that novel, the asteroids. The answer in Tunnel for the Stars was that we be teleported to far regions of the universe.

Also, in Tunnel for the Stars, he goes into the nature of society, and in Farmer in the Sky and Citizen of the Galaxy, he goes into the nature of authority and freedom. Of course, in Starship Troopers, he goes into the nature of authority with a vengeance.

In The Star Beast, he goes into the nature of intelligence. As he does in Red Planet and Between Planets, where Martians and Venusians, while still intelligent, behave along different lines than we do.

There is even some mysticism. In fact, in Red Planet, the Martians are the same as in Stranger in a Strange Land, except that their beliefs and practices are described rather graphically. Which, I guess, is why that novel never became the object of a cult.

These great ideas were heady stuff for young readers. On the other hand, perhaps a juvenile was the best way in which Heinlein could communicate such ideas. Adolescents and young adulthood is when people think about basics. As adults, our world tends more and more toward particulars.

Also, though a man of his time, Heinlein was ahead of the curve on some trends. He was a big believer in ethnic diversity. The hero in Tunnel in the Sky, Rod Taylor, was Black. The hero of Starship Troopers, Johnnie/Juan Rico, was Filipino.

Of course, I can't say the dialogue and mores are ethnically diverse: everyone sounds like he is a Midwestern American. You aren't going to hear a "Hey, Bro'!" in Heinlein. 

In addition, Heinlein heralded the future by writing about looser sexual morality and unconventional relationships. This brought him up to the Playboy morality of the '60s.

What brought him farther is that his women are often very strong characters and very competent individuals. For instance, the grandma in Rolling Stones is a physician, a lawyer and quite a character.

In other ways, Heinlein was behind the curve. In Starship Troopers, he acts very much like a small town conservative of the '50s or now: we should get tough on the enemies of our nation and really punish criminals. I heard both views many times when I was growing up. I even remember hearing them in college.

On the other hand, I wonder if there wasn't some of the Peacenik inside him he was trying to cover up. Joe claims Starship Troopers was a reaction to ads by SANE. However, SANE emphasized atomic war and Starship Troopers definitely did not. Was Heinlein dancing around his true feelings there?

Also, could that explain the defects in the novel so many people, including John Campbell, Jr., found?

In addition to views common in small towns during the '50s, Heinlein had some views that were common among the off-beat during the '50s. Some of these views were not ahead of the curve and are now deader than doornails.

In 1950, he predicted that intelligent life would be found on Mars. He roundly rejected the view accepted by most astronomers that Mars was almost as dead as the Moon. Also, I seem to remember that his Mars had canals in Red Planet.  A theory that had been exploded forty years before

Another offbeat view of the '50s Heinlein was very enthusiastic about was reincarnation; a belief that was popularized when a Morey Bernstein hypnotized a Virginia Tighe, and she came back as the 19th Century Irish woman, Bridey Murphy. However, I don't know whether Heinlein believed or not after the Hearst press debunked it.

Still, even if Heinlein was a man of his time - and who really isn't -- he was, as I said, a unique man of his time. I give him a lot of credit. Joe, in his book, obviously does too.

 

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