Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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March 17, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

HEINLEIN vs. ASIMOV CAGE MATCH....Gary Farber, stout man, is reading Robert Heinlein's long lost first novel, For Us, The Living, and reports back:

Really really bad. Horribly, painfully, agonizingly, gongs ringing on your head, your teeth being drilled, being forced to listen to perky blonde partners of Regis Philbin chirp at you for hours, while Spider Robinson drones at you, and every inch of skin under your calluses itches madly but you cannot scratch, bad.

In comments, Gary upgrades his opinion of the book slightly, and also avers that no matter how bad it is as a novel, it's still interesting reading for serious Heinlein fans because it so clearly contains the seeds of practically everything he wrote later.

So I guess I should go buy it. For over a decade after Heinlein died I kept buying his books, even including the endless "original uncut versions" that mostly turned out to have no more than a few paragraphs of difference from the published versions, and finally gave up sometime in the mid-90s after I decided I wasn't going to get suckered any longer. This is why For Us, The Living is the only piece of Heinlein I don't own, and it's probably time to complete the collection.

In a related vein, Megan McArdle asks:

I wonder if those who read science fiction in childhood can be divided into those who liked Robert Heinlein better, with his swashbuckling individualism, and those who preferred Isaac Asimov, with his technocratic fantasies. And I wonder if those early preferences semi-reliably map onto the conservative/liberal divide . . .

Well, I liked 'em both, but I liked Heinlein more and I turned into a liberal. However, this almost seems like an unfair comparison to me. Political preferences aside, swashbuckling individualists just make for more exciting genre fiction, don't they? (Although I'd actually classify Heinlein's heroes as mostly cranky individualists rather than swashbuckling.)

I'm still waiting for someone to make a movie out of Starman Jones, though. There's gold there, I tell you, pure gold....

Kevin Drum 12:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (196)

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Comments

For bad writing and fanship of bad authors there is no one I would trust more than Gary Farber and ahem, Jane Galt.

Posted by: jerry on March 17, 2006 at 12:40 AM | PERMALINK

I'm enjoying Spin, thank you very much for the recommendation.

But I'm done getting involved in religious wars for today, so pass on the question at hand.

Posted by: craigie on March 17, 2006 at 12:40 AM | PERMALINK

Listen, the uh, religious wars have gotten huge numbers of comments.

Do we need to fear that due to the "eyes" pulled to these posts that the product manager for the Political Animal blog is going to shift the blog to all religious wars all the time?

It would be the mba thing to do.

Posted by: jerry on March 17, 2006 at 12:43 AM | PERMALINK

Heinlein's title, For Us, The Living, sounds eerily similar to the title of one of Ayn Rand's very first novels, We The Living. Considering Heinlein's individualist inclinations, it can't be a coincidence.

Titles, of course, cannot be copywrited.
--
HRlaughed

Posted by: HRlaughed on March 17, 2006 at 12:46 AM | PERMALINK

Heinlein lived near Santa Cruz when I was attending UC there in the early 70s. I knew someone who did odd jobs on the property, and who maintained that the initials R.A.H. stood for "Royal AssHole."

At 16 I thought "Stranger in a Strange land" was literature. I reread it at 22 and understood that it was pretentious trash.

Posted by: Rand Careaga on March 17, 2006 at 12:47 AM | PERMALINK

Asimov is responsible for Paul Krugman. Heinlein is responsible for Glenn Reynolds. Over heated nuts are responsible for Jane Galt.

Posted by: jerry on March 17, 2006 at 12:49 AM | PERMALINK

What about those of us that didn't like either of them? I'm pretty unimpressed by both Heinlein and Asimov.

Posted by: teece on March 17, 2006 at 12:50 AM | PERMALINK

"Sirens of Titan" is better than anything these two wrote.

Posted by: Boronx on March 17, 2006 at 12:53 AM | PERMALINK

At 16 I thought "Stranger in a Strange land" was literature. I reread it at 22 and understood that it was pretentious trash.

"When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much he had learned."
Mark Twain

Posted by: craigie on March 17, 2006 at 12:53 AM | PERMALINK

Then there are those of us who are Edgar Rice Burroughs fans.

Posted by: mcdruid on March 17, 2006 at 12:54 AM | PERMALINK

Glenn Reynolds Out-Stupids Himself - James Wolcott

First google hit for glenn reynolds heinlein.

"An armed society is a polite society, as Robert Heinlein noted."

Now I enjoyed reading Heinlein when I was, like, thirteen, but he's something you outgrow once you acquire a dab of literary and intellectual sophistication. Even the teen me was more enamoured of Ray Bradbury, whose sci-fi cast a much more poetic mood of discovery and desolation than Heinlein's adventures. (I still think The Martian Chronicles is a wonder.) Whatever one might say about Heinlein's talent and character, worldly he was not.

Reynolds has far less excuse for being such a rube, considering the global advances in tourism and communications.

"An armed society is a polite society." Think about that. Think about societies where the adult men routinely pack and tote arms.

Afghanistan. Yemen. The badlands of northern Pakistan (Bin Laden Country). The Sunni Triangle. Beautiful downtown Mogadishu.

Posted by: jerry on March 17, 2006 at 12:55 AM | PERMALINK

Fucknuts do we have to politicize every goddamn thing?

Heinlein was a nut who wrote a few decent books.

I didn't, and still don't, have any concept of coherent politics from Asimov.

As for megan mccardle, I thought we'd all agreed to ignore the dumbest fucking person on the planet.

Posted by: Mr. Bigglesworth on March 17, 2006 at 12:55 AM | PERMALINK

actually, i preferred arthur c. clarke, but i pretty much gave up sci fi after working my way through early delaney in the early '70s.

real americans read detective fiction....

Posted by: howard on March 17, 2006 at 12:56 AM | PERMALINK

I grew up liking Asimov better, but I think it was mostly due to the fact that I was exposed to him first. I don't think I really read any of Heinlein until my early teens where I read through the Foundation Trilogy at 8 or 9 (not that I absorbed all that much at that age, but there you go).

But looking back with blurry-eyed vision, I still like Asimov better just for the fact that he was closer to sci than fi. I've always had a taste for "hard sf". Hell, the vast majority of his prolific writings were nonfiction.

I really did enjoy Stranger in a Strange Land and Starship Troopers from Heinlein, but some of his (later?) work was just too transparently preachy on that weird Ayn Rand / survivalist vibe.

-turned out so f'ing liberal, my teeth hurt (due to lack of public dental care, no doubt)

Posted by: ketemphor on March 17, 2006 at 12:57 AM | PERMALINK

real americans read detective fiction....

Which comes from the Brits!

Posted by: craigie on March 17, 2006 at 12:57 AM | PERMALINK

real americans read detective fiction....

Which comes from California and Florida!

Posted by: jerry on March 17, 2006 at 12:58 AM | PERMALINK

I read both Heinlein and Asimov when I was a kid, initially favored Heinlein (The Star Beast, Have Spacesuit, Will Travel, and Starman Jones), gradually developed more of an affinity for Asimov (the Foundation series and I, Robot), and ended up a liberal. Heinlein was always better at the throat-grabbing moment, more red-blooded than cerebral, but he became increasingly erratic, while Asimov was ever interesting and reliable, if less dramatic. Asimov left his stamp on the future with his coinage of robotics and his famous Three Laws. Heinlein was, I think, rather less of a futurist, his spacefaring heros still yanking their sliderules around to compute their vessels' courses (one was even nicknamed "Slipstick").

Heinlein's libertarian streak was on full display in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, a true political thriller of insurrection against colonialism. He was extremely laissez-faire on sexuality and marriage. (In Harsh Mistress, some of the protagonists are in a plural marriage, making the fuss over gay marriage seem hopelessly medieval.) Unfortunately, Heinlein's weird oedipal obsession with mother-loving and other forms of incest kept intruding into his novels and added gratuitous creepiness.

Still, I could never quite give up on Heinlein and it was always heartbreaking when a novel like The Number of the Beast would explode into action in its first chapter and then fade away into a series of pointless polemics in which characters would argue over the responsibilities of command and resigning their posts in protest, etc., etc. But it was fun while it lasted.

Posted by: Zeno on March 17, 2006 at 1:00 AM | PERMALINK

real americans read detective fiction...

which comes from edgar allan poe.

actually, craigie, jerry, and howard are all correct in our own ways, and anyhow, my tongue was in cheek, although my switch from sci-fi to detective fiction was a real change of genre allegiance.

but i digress. back to sci fi for those who care....

Posted by: howard on March 17, 2006 at 1:00 AM | PERMALINK

And I wonder if those early preferences semi-reliably map onto the conservative/liberal divide . . .

I wonder what Megan read and if we can judge from her outlook that what she read makes people stupid.

Asimov bored me to tears. "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" is the best thing Heinlein ever wrote.

I'm so liberal that Kevin Drum sound like frickin' Hitler.

Posted by: Leni Riefenstahl Fan on March 17, 2006 at 1:00 AM | PERMALINK

Let's start with the basics.

Liberals wear tennis shoes, play tennis, take long walks, and drink fine wine.

Conservatives drink beer and watch football.

Isn't that where you are really heading Mr. Drum?

Posted by: Matt on March 17, 2006 at 1:02 AM | PERMALINK

but mr. bigglesworth, a side note: disccuions of the dumbest fucking person on the planet belong over at prof delong's semi-daily journal (seriously, if you dont know: it's a regular feature). this is a cat-blogging site!

Posted by: howard on March 17, 2006 at 1:02 AM | PERMALINK

Howard, I actually followed your path, switching pretty much from sf to detective fiction in the 80s, and making sure I read Poe and Conan Doyle, but really enjoying Cain, Chandler, Hammett, MacDonald, and Mosley and California authors.... And crazy floridian stories.

But I do miss Octavia Butler.

Posted by: jerry on March 17, 2006 at 1:04 AM | PERMALINK

And one of these days, Ellison himself will check out, and I will feel very very old and alone.

Posted by: jerry on March 17, 2006 at 1:05 AM | PERMALINK

The Heinlein book best suited for film is Glory Road, but only if they keep the last line intact. I may be paraphrasing a little, but I think it goes:

"Got any dragons you want killed?"

Posted by: Linkmeister on March 17, 2006 at 1:13 AM | PERMALINK

Recipe for primo mindfuck:

Take a high school kid all het up on Heinlein, Ayn Rand, Niven, and Anderson.

Arrange for him to find a copy of Olaf Stapledon's Star Maker.

Blammo!

It's hard to take callow technophilia and self-righteous provincial libertarianism seriously after reading a book about galaxy-spanning group minds trying to decipher the meaning of existence before the heat death of the universe.

Posted by: Stefan Jones on March 17, 2006 at 1:36 AM | PERMALINK

For potential movies the real gold is in Andre Norton, both her science fiction and her fantasy.

Posted by: Rick B on March 17, 2006 at 1:36 AM | PERMALINK

You people are all barbarians. "The Mote In God's Eye". Period. Done.

Posted by: anon on March 17, 2006 at 1:42 AM | PERMALINK

Heinlein wrote two decent novels: Stranger in a Strange Land and The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. What he did best was capture concepts in single words, like "grok" and "tanstaafl".

Asimov was less annoying, but rarely sparked the collective imagination. Excellent prose writer, though.

As human beings, no contest. Asimov was an introverted nut job, but he thought for himself and was a genuinely decent guy. Heinlein never had a political thought that didn't originate from the woman in his life (which is why he veered from liberal to liberatarian when he married his second wife).

Clarke, the only surviving member of the triumvirate, is by all accounts a terrific guy and also articulated some amazing concepts, but he just couldn't do people.

But none of them were the truly great sci-fi writers of their generation. Sturgeon was the best. Simak was the master of the pastoral. And Pohl, at his very best, did it all exceptionally well. I don't know if he's still writing.

Posted by: Cal on March 17, 2006 at 1:59 AM | PERMALINK

Pohl also wrote what was arguable the first SF (a short story called "Day Million") to address "The Singularity" . . . or at least to suggest that a society transformed by asymptotically advancing technology won't be readily comprehensible by 20th century humans.

It's a boy-meets-girl, boy-and-girl fall in love story. Only the boy is a metal-skinned cyborg, the girl is a prenatally transgendered otter woman, and they only meet once, to exchange "analogues" for virtual-reality sex.

Posted by: Stefan Jones on March 17, 2006 at 2:14 AM | PERMALINK

FWIW, Asimov once said that although Heinlein was "a flaming liberal during the war, [he] became a rock-ribbed, far-right conservative afterward ... just at the time he changed wives from a liberal woman to a rock-ribbed, far-right conservative woman."

Posted by: Hulka on March 17, 2006 at 2:18 AM | PERMALINK

then of course there was that weird cluster of distracted freaks like me who were reading P K Dick novels. . . not quite sure where we end up on the current political spectrum.

that said, I enjoyed both I Will Fear No Evil and the Foundation trilogy. . .

Posted by: lovedog on March 17, 2006 at 2:33 AM | PERMALINK

This is really pathetic.

Posted by: RT on March 17, 2006 at 2:43 AM | PERMALINK

"For Us, the Living," to the best of my knowledge, was published literally over Heinlein's dead body. It isn't something he wanted to see in print.

I am a rabid Heinlein fan, although I find his earlier work more appealing than the later stuff. His misnamed "juveniles" are not to be missed.

Asimov was a lifelong liberal, and I think his work is pretty damn good, too. His non-fiction books alone are worth it.

I have purchased hardcovers of Harlan Ellison reprints just to get the new forewords he wrote. The man is the original bleeding heart liberal--there is no pain on Earth he doesn't seem to feel personally--but I would give a leg to be able to write that well.

Bradbury, Clarke, Simak, Anderson, Niven, and many others mentioned here. All good. Liberals? Conservatives? I know for a few. Don't know for a lot of them. Who gives a rat's ass? I'm not voting for any of them.

Good God, what would I be missing if I let politics get in the way of enjoying a good book?

For fantasy? Pratchett and Leiber for recent work.

Posted by: tbrosz on March 17, 2006 at 3:05 AM | PERMALINK

E.E doc Smith for the original conservative sci-fi author--the lensman series

Posted by: charlie w on March 17, 2006 at 3:34 AM | PERMALINK

Ahhh...your preference for Heinlein over Asimov explains a lot. Perhaps too much.

Let's compare:

Foundation vs. Friday.

The Stars, Like Dust... vs. Farnhams Freehold.

The Naked Sun vs. Starship Troopers.

The Gods Themselves vs. Job: A Comedy of Justice.

In short,

Thoughtful Fiction vs. Puerile Dreck.

Posted by: RedDan on March 17, 2006 at 3:44 AM | PERMALINK

Hello,
well, when doing the name checking, where does Le Guin come in? Delaney or Anderson, to name two different authors, are good to represent a wider perspective, but look at Le Guin's work compared to Heinlein's in terms of politics and imagination.

Of course, this is not quite a fair comparison - Le Guin is both more skilled as an author and she comes a generation later, like Delaney.

Though 'The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress' is a very good SF novel, it tends to be pale compared to the work of Le Guin, which has little to do with such mundane framing questions as liberal/conservative. Basically, she writes for human beings, not labels. Sadly, neither Asimov or Heinlein ever seemed to quite get the hang of that. (Clarke is in his own category - he proves that good SF and characters which are at best ciphers is actually worth reading).

On the other hand, I don't think Le Guin as an introduction to SF for a 10 year old is likely to work. And please, though I enjoy much of her fantasy when I read it as an adult wishing to fill in the gaps of her work, this is a SF discussion - fantasy is like mystery as a genre, in the sense that it is a recognizable genre. And why hasn't anyone pointed out Asimov's mystery work? The man was nothing if not prolific.

Posted by: other on March 17, 2006 at 3:44 AM | PERMALINK

I too would give tbrosz's leg and his computers to write and think as well as Ellison.

Posted by: jerry on March 17, 2006 at 3:44 AM | PERMALINK

And let's talk about LeGuin? Vonnegut (not really sci-fi, but hey), Zelazny? Dick? Pohl? Lem?

Puh-leeze.

Posted by: RedDan on March 17, 2006 at 3:47 AM | PERMALINK

I sometimes wonder why Hollywood seems to have missed Alfred Bester's The Stars My Destination.

Posted by: zxcv on March 17, 2006 at 3:50 AM | PERMALINK

Swashbuckling heroes generally make for the best adventure stories, although neither Heinlein nor Asimov wrote them well - Heinlein's are too cranky, as Kevin noted, and Asimov's too cerebral. The earliest SF authors to write them well were probably Doc Smith and Poul Anderson, both of whom probably were (or are, if Anderson's still alive) righties.

But that doesn't imply that there's a political implication in the story type. The most popular, and perhaps the best, heroes from this mold in current SF are Honor Harrington, from an author who used to be hard right but seems to be softening, and Miles Vorkosigan, from an author who is pretty clearly a liberal.

Posted by: Alex on March 17, 2006 at 4:34 AM | PERMALINK

Hm... reading and re-reading works by Heinlein, yet I bet you've never read a single book by Boris and Arkady Strugatsky.

Only so many sci-fi books to squeeze into a lifetime; choose them well.

Posted by: Triskele on March 17, 2006 at 4:38 AM | PERMALINK

My vote's with LeGuin. The Dispossesed. The Left Hand of Darkness. She knows how to draw characters that stay in the mind, and her ideas excellent. My favorite of the genre.

Otherwise, I've always preferred Clarke, just because his science is so verisimilar, even if his characters are, as was mentioned, pretty flat. Robert Heinlein sucks; I couldn't finish Stranger, it progressively nauseated me. Heh, gave me pretty much the same feeling I had reading Atlas Shrugged -- another book with absolutely no need to read every page -- though skip the Who is John Galt radio address near the end at your peril :)

Of course, Thomas Pynchon blows all speculative genre fiction out of the water, but that's like using hand grenades to fish :)

I just finished Mark Z. Danielewski's House of Leaves, if anybody wants to jawbowne about recent experimental fiction ...

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on March 17, 2006 at 4:45 AM | PERMALINK

I always get the shakes before a drop.

Yes, it's bad writing. Yes, the characters were always the same. (The Wise Old Man. The Young but sometimes Cynical Idealist learning from the Wise Old Man. The Hot Babe who is smarter and more talented than the Young Idealist, but nonetheless chooses to be his compliant wench.)

But we all consume lowbrow entertainment that is indefensible on its literary merits. I can't read what Neil Rubenking of PCMagazine calls the posthumous Heinlein. His literrary death took place, in Neil's view, when he published I Will Fear No Evil.

But the juveniles are entertaining, and don't require any heavy lifting. It's like reading Grisham or Christie. Sometimes brainless crap is entertaining. And Heinlein did have a knack for dialogue and aphorism.

Heinlein's not Gene Wolfe. But nobody is Gene Wolfe. And that's okay. But, having skipped the posthumous Heinlein, I have no interest in the fetal Heinlein.

Posted by: jayackroyd on March 17, 2006 at 4:54 AM | PERMALINK

Heinlein's title, For Us, The Living, sounds eerily similar to the title of one of Ayn Rand's very first novels, We The Living. Considering Heinlein's individualist inclinations, it can't be a coincidence.

If Rand intended to allude to Lincoln, then she got the reference wrong. If not, then Heinlein and Rand were making two different allusions, that are similar-sounding by coincidence.

It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced.

That sounds a little too... altruistic to be Rand's cup of tea.

Posted by: derek on March 17, 2006 at 5:11 AM | PERMALINK

I was a memeber of a Trotskyist group for many years. Somehow, I think my obsessive reading of Heinlein as a youth is responsible...

Posted by: David Altman on March 17, 2006 at 7:05 AM | PERMALINK

Huh. I've been blogging so little in the last couple of weeks, lately mostly due to feeling ill and having sleep problems, and being broke again, and the like, that I'd not even been checking my referrer logs, so I just happened to run across this due to my usual checking in with what you're posting, so color me surprised that you picked up on my immensely casual post (I may be forgetting, but if this isn't the first time you've ever linked to me, it's certainly one of them).

I knew I should have followed up on my impulse to write a more careful appraisal of the book after I was done than the casual slaphappy and sloppy couple of comments I made in my comments. Oh, well, normal for the blogosphere: the posts you put hours of work into and think are terribly important or well-done get linked to by no one, but the dashed off pieces of crap get picked up. Which isn't to say that I'm not pleased that you ran across the post and wrote about it, so thanks.

"...the seeds of practically everything he wrote later" is a bit of a stretch; the seeds of much of what he later wrote would be fair.

As Robert James notes in the afterword published to the book, Heinlein's clear models for this "novel" were Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward and H. G. Wells' The Sleeper Wakes. All are barely "novels," but are simply excuses for the "character" to wake up in the future and receive long lectures on the wonders of the future and the errors of the past. Even the always-immensely-annoyingly (to me, when he writes about Heinlein) hero-worshipper-of-Heinlein, Spider Robinson, in his foreword starts off his foreward disclaiming calling the book a "novel," and continues on that theme of refusing to make such a claim for it.

Which is wise, because as a "novel," it fails dreadfully, as I said. As a series of notes on ideas that were later used in stories, it's somewhat interesting, if you can manage to survive the horrifically grating dialogue, cutesy-poo banter, and generally being lectured fifty times worse than Lazarus Long or any of Heinlein's late period characters ever indulged in (far worse than even Number Of The Beast, or The Cat Who Walked Through Walls, which show some reversion to his ur-form).

When Heinlein learned to sell to John Campbell, and then to Alice Dagliesh at Scribners, at least he learned well how to tell a story, and when not writing male-female banter (of which, as I said, I tend to regard him as mostly a product of his time and place, as someone born in 1907 rural Kansas, which doesn't make me find his male-female banter any less painful), to have fairly snappy dialogue, and honed and efficiently simple prose. For Us, The Living has, alas, none of that.

But, as I said, it would be rather hard for those who confused his characters with him, or who concluded that he advocated the systems of any given book of his, or decided that Starship Troopers revealed him as a "fascist," to get very far demonstrating any of that from his long lectures on Social Credit theory in this book, or his advocacy of the notions of EPIC, Upton Sinclair, FDR, and LaGuardia. (I've never been sure whom I found more annoying: rabid Heinlein-can-do-no-wrong fans, or those who read him so superficially as to fall into the above glib types of errors; I grew bored to tears with both types by age 15 or so.)

For whatever it's worth, I met Heinlein twice, and Asimov many times, but never once did it ever occur to me that I had to prefer one to the other as a writer; they both had their pros and cons, and both had the problems of being able to sell huge numbers of copies of whatever fiction they wrote in their later years, without regard for what any editor might think, and thus, uh, didn't exactly produce their best work, shall we say, in their last number of novels. Both thus share the trait of, whatever you think of them, having done their best fiction between 1939 and, at the latest, 1968 or so. And in both cases, what their own "best" is certainly had nothing to do with the measures of mainstream fiction, although I'd say that Asimov fit even more badly against that template than Heinlein did; Heinlein did, after all, at least, have his Saturday Evening Post period, and I'd have to say that his better juveniles for Scribners were heads and shoulders above "Lucky Starr."

But I still wouldn't really say that I "preferred" one to the other; I'd simply be able to wax on at length about their rather disparate strengths and weaknessess and flaws.

As for their politics, Heinlein's shifted somewhat over time; not so much his principles as his regard for what he thought were the most important dangers of various periods (I don't think that the notion that he largely changed because of Leslyn and Virginia holds up very well; most such glib single-line summaries of people are wrong, and I think this one largely is); Isaac was a relatively unchanging liberal, period, end of story.

But the original Foundation stories could be exciting in their own way, at least if you're young enough when you first read them, or if you read them in their day, when they were original, and hadn't first read eight zillion deriviative works (a problem for reading any old science fiction now; if you can't read them as they were read in the context of their day, the appeal will inevitably be inscrutable).

"I'm still waiting for someone to make a movie out of Starman Jones, though."

As example, they'd have to drop all that stuff about the crucial importance of slide rules. :-)

Oh, and in answer to HRlaughed's comment about the title of "For Us, The Living," it came from Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, actually.

Note to Cal: Heinlein had three wives, actually. (Uh, serially and legally, that is.)

Fred Pohl is still with us, but not really writing any more. And Harlan is about to receive his SFWA Grand Mastership.

And it's Chip Delany, not "Delaney." (Just as his aunts were the "Delanys.") Also, "Le Guin," not "Leguin."

Poul Anderson died a few years ago, and certainly was a conservative of his day. And Doc Smith wrote Skylark of Space long before his first Lensmen stories.

Alfred Bester once threw a chair at me. It's been a couple of years since Harlan called me up because of something I wrote online, though. I gotta million stories. :-) Only met Clarke once, though; he didn't get to NYC much (it was 1973). Worked on a bunch of Roger Zelazny's later books, although the very first time I met him we were pissing at adjoining urinals. Chip Delany has a very loud snore. That probably over-does my quota of name-dropping of skiffy writers, though I could just keep going and going.... (I kinda grew up in the field after first getting involved in fanzines and conventions at age 12, circa 1971, after years of avidly reading in the field, and got my first genre job at 15 as an "Assistant Editor" [slush reader] for Amazing and Fantastic, and then worked and lived in the field for decades after.)

Nobody but Gene Wolfe is Gene Wolfe. Nobody but Greg Egan is Greg Egan, or Geoff Ryman Geoff Ryman, or Terry Bisson Terry Bisson , or Iain Banks Iain Banks, unless the latter is Iain M. Banks, and nobody but R. A. Lafferty was Ray Lafferty, and nobody but Michael Swanwick is Michael Swanwick, only Eileen Gunn is Eileen Gunn, only Carol Emshwiller, Carol Emshwiller, and on and on. None actually really in competition with the other. Of course, Robert Heinlein was also Anson McDonald, C. M. Kornbluth Cecil Corwin, and Raccoona Sheldon, and so forth, but we really don't want to get started on that kind of list.

Posted by: Gary Farber on March 17, 2006 at 7:16 AM | PERMALINK

Heinlein was always a horrible writer. The dialogue and description in "Stranger in a Strange Land" is sub-pulp level.

As for "seeds of things to come", only a very ignorant person could think Heinlein has a consistent point of view as a writer. "Coventry" and "Logic of Empire" are quite clearly bitter attacks on capitalism and lassaiz faire ideology -- the only hint of the frothing at the mouth libertarian Heinlein would become is "Logic's" cynical sense of hopeless resignation at changing the status quo. Heinlein's early writing is in transition -- bearing right, but with hints of the left wing radical he once was.

Posted by: Jason Stokes on March 17, 2006 at 7:38 AM | PERMALINK

Heinlein over Asimov? I don't go with an either/or choice here; the two are so different in the kinds of work they produced and their styles. I ws a fan of both and Clarke and Anderson as well, along with numerous others.

I'm a little surprised no one's mentioned Jerry Pournelle. Although of a somewhat conservative bent (my impression), I think there are examples of Pournelle thinking across the usual political boundary lines. He was responsible for a series of books out of Baen Books that used science fiction stories by assorted authors to explore many different aspects of government, human nature, and conflict, interspersed with commentary. The series are well worth tracking down. The link below can lead you to them.

Pournelle rejected the whole right-left spectrum as being inadequate to map political differences. You can find a link to what he developed at http://www.baen.com/chapters/axes.htm in which he posits the critical criteria are "attitude towards the state" and "attitude towards planned social progress". Here's a snippet:

*snip*

The two I chose are "Attitude toward the State," and "Attitude toward planned social progress".

The first is easy to understand: what think you of government? Is it an object of idolatry, a positive good, necessary evil, or unmitigated evil? Obviously that forms a spectrum, with various anarchists at the left end and reactionary monarchists at the right. The American political parties tend to fall toward the middle.

Note also that both Communists and Fascists are out at the right-hand end of the line; while American Conservatism and US Welfare Liberalism are in about the same place, somewhere to the right of center, definitely "statists." (One should not let modern anti-bureaucratic rhetoric fool you into thinking the US Conservative has really become anti-statist; he may want to dismantle a good part of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, but he would strengthen the police and army.) The ideological libertarian is of course left of center, some all the way over to the left with the anarchists.

That variable works; but it doesn't pull all the political theories each into a unique place. They overlap. Which means we need another variable.

"Attitude toward planned social progress" can be translated "rationalism"; it is the belief that society has "problems," and these can be "solved"; we can take arms against a sea of troubles.

Once again we can order the major political philosophies. Fascism is irrationalist; it says so in its theoretical treatises. It appeals to "the greatness of the nation" or to the volk, and also to the fuhrer-prinzip, i.e., hero worship.

Call that end (irrationalism) the "bottom" of the spectrum and place the continuum at right angles to the previous "statism" variable. Call the "top" the attitude that all social problems have findable solutions. Obviously Communism belongs there. Not far below it you find a number of American Welfare Liberals: the sort of people who say that crime is caused by poverty, and thus when we end poverty we'll end crime. Now note that the top end of the scale, extreme rationalism, may not mark a very rational position: "knowing" that all human problems can be "solved" by rational actions is an act of faith akin to the anarchist's belief that if we can just chop away the government, man truly free will no longer have problems. Obviously I think both top and bottom positions are whacky; but then one mark of Conservatism has always been distrust of highly rationalist schemes. Burke advocated that we draw "from the general bank of the ages, because he suspected that any particular person or generation has a rather small stock of reason; thus where the radical argues "we don't understand the purpose of this social custom; let's dismantle it," the conservative says "since we don't understand it, we'd better leave it alone."

Anyway, those are my two axes; and using them does tend to explain some political anomalies. For example: why are there two kinds of "liberal" who hate each other? But the answer is simple enough. Both are pretty thorough-going rationalists, but whereas the XIXth Century Liberal had a profound distrust of the State, the modern variety wants to use the State to Do Good for all mankind. Carry both rationalism and statism out a bit further (go northeast on our diagram) and you get to socialism, which, carried to its extreme, becomes communism. Similarly, the Conservative position leads through various shades of reaction to irrational statism, i.e., one of the varieties of fascism.

*snip*

Hmm "Irrational statism". It's pretty clear where the Republican party has moved to by this charting - and I'd guess the Democrats at the moment are all over the map.

Posted by: xaxnar on March 17, 2006 at 7:42 AM | PERMALINK

Heinlein wrote what seem to be childrens books and then he became a dirty old man.

Posted by: Ba'al on March 17, 2006 at 7:55 AM | PERMALINK

Heinlein was one of the few SF writers who seemed to actually understand religion, and how it worked. I'm told he was reared to be a preacher and turned away from it. He understood human nature to an extent that was rare among SF authors. I could easily picture him running a circus sideshow or a con game very successfully. This may not seem to be a compliment, but I think it is - if you cannot do that, you don't really get people.
I still can't forget two things from Stranger in a Strange Land: Secretary General Douglas, an almost exact predicition of Ronald Reagan, right down to the domineering wife and the astrologer; and the Fosterite Church, which I'm reminded of every time I read about some "whoop-de-do" religious faction, or the Scientologists.
Also, he made you think. His fiction wasn't exactly on the Dickens level, but he did make you challenge your beliefs.
That said, he was a teensy bit elitist. And God forbid you weren't good looking and brilliant, you wouldn't have any place in his world. I also agree totally with the poster who commented on his rather spooky macho sex manliness stuff, including his justification for gang rape. Kinda skeevy.

Posted by: rhinoman on March 17, 2006 at 7:57 AM | PERMALINK

When I read Heinlein as a kid, his vision of the future struck a chord-it'd be pretty much like the present, except even more inconvienent and exasperating. Forty years later, living in said future, I see he was right.

Posted by: JMG on March 17, 2006 at 8:04 AM | PERMALINK

I was surprised when I found out that Heinlein was a Goldwater conservative (I hadn't read STARSHIP TROOPERS or FARNHAM'S FREEHOLD or GLORY ROAD at that time). After STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND, I thought he was kind of an aging hippie who wanted to overturn the establishment (note the parallels between Earth's First Lady and Nancy Reagan). Since Heinlein was kind enough to have written his "juveniles," I read him long before I read Asimov.

STARMAN JONES would be a great movie, but then I think all of RAH's books for young people should be made into movies. If they didn't bother to explain space stations existing in the 1950s, I think HAVE SPACESUIT, WILL TRAVEL would also be a great alternate history film.

Posted by: Chris on March 17, 2006 at 8:05 AM | PERMALINK

> Now I enjoyed reading Heinlein when I was,
> like, thirteen, but he's something you outgrow
> once you acquire a dab of literary and
> intellectual sophistication.

Given that we are currently developing a society somewhere between "If This Goes On..." and "Starship Troopers" I don't think you can dismiss Heinlein that easily. The last 3 years whenever I drive through St. Louis on I-255 and see Jefferson Barracks I immediately think of Nemiah Scudder... I do agree his novels are not great works of literature though.

I also don't think you can peg Heinlein as a "conservative" that easily. He skewered both ends of the political spectrum and (if his politics were visible in his writing at all, which is not clear) seemed to be more of a big-government libertarian than anything (yes, I know that is contradictory).

Cranky

Posted by: Cranky Observer on March 17, 2006 at 8:13 AM | PERMALINK

Good stuff. Heinlein was a lech with way too much incest on his mind, daddies deflowering daughters, 'n such. Asimov was always interesting reading, but everything always happens off-stage.

The references here to Bradbury and Vonnegut are most appropriate to the political/social bent of this blog -- these guys wrote social commentary disguised as science fiction.

Couple good scifi authors that nobody's mentioned -- Greg Bear and Tim Powers. Bear especially is good at that grand universe spanning themes that pohl does so well...

Posted by: Jim Collis on March 17, 2006 at 8:30 AM | PERMALINK

But I do miss Octavia Butler.
Posted by: jerry

Me, too. Nice piece on Salon re Octavia.

I read all the classics.

Azimov, Bradbury, Bova, Finney, Zalazny, Brin, Pohl, LeGuin...

Didn't read Heinlein until high school where 'Stranger' was kind of a cult thing. 'Moon is a Harsh Mistress" was my favorite but I'm not sure if any of his works would hold up to reread at this point.

Had a great collection which I ultimately had to abandon in first move out of college. Went into storage at my grandmonther's and ended up turning on my younger cousins to scifi, so not a total loss.

"Sirens of Titan" is better than anything these two wrote.
Posted by: Boronx

Amen. Read Vonnegut in college. Kind of surreptiously...hidden under Zola and Balzac... until one day I was in the office of my friend/English prof and she caught sight of "Sirens of Titan" and pulled out her desk drwaer to reveal that she had "Cats' Cradle" stashed there.

That was good for a laugh. I still revere Mr. Vonnegut and forgive him for "Breakfast of Champions".

Devour stacks of detective/mystery

Highly Recommend:

Barbara Hambly - hostorian who sets her pieces in pre-Civil War New Orleans. Hero is a 'free person of Color'. Excellent.

Also with New Orleans background but set much later in Ragtime/early Jazz era: David Flumer ("Chasing the Devil's Tail" and "Jass")

Can't do much better than Robert Wilson. Either his terrific Bruce Medway series set in modern day East Africa or "A Small Death in Lisbon"

Contemporary Brits like Barry Maitland and Peter Robinson.

Lindsey Davis' Didius Falco. Sarah Caudwell's Hillary Tamar.

Florida: Travis McGee rules. Randy White's series set on the FL east coast. Hiaasen surely.

I'll take Peri O'Shaughnessy's Tahoe series over the other big names in the legal genre.

Aside: So, git, who ya like for the big preps tomorrow? Rebel, Gotham, Tampa Bay Derby and San Felipe. As for Jerry Bailey's maiden appearance as commentator - my prediction is he gets technical and the other talking heads don't know what the hell he's talking about.

Posted by: CFShep on March 17, 2006 at 8:47 AM | PERMALINK

Asimov couldn't write people well. He didn't understand motivation. Heinlien couldn't write women well. He didn't understand women at all and wrote them as smart but mindless coquettes (if he liked them) and silly stereotypes of histrionic bitches (if he didn't like them). If you could get past that, then the novels were interesting. Children don't need convincing characterization. Maybe some adults don't either. In my opinion, there is no emotional depth to either author, and none to conversatism either.

Posted by: Nancy on March 17, 2006 at 8:48 AM | PERMALINK

Asimov couldn't write people well. He didn't understand motivation. Heinlien couldn't write women well. He didn't understand women at all and wrote them as smart but mindless coquettes (if he liked them) and silly stereotypes of histrionic bitches (if he didn't like them). If you could get past that, then the novels were interesting. Children don't need convincing characterization. Maybe some adults don't either. In my opinion, there is no emotional depth to either author, and none to conservatism either.

Posted by: Nancy on March 17, 2006 at 8:50 AM | PERMALINK

"Of course, Thomas Pynchon blows all speculative genre fiction out of the water, but that's like using hand grenades to fish :)"

Ah bob, now you're talking...Nothing quite like Pynchon...

"Follow the bouncing ball"
"Now everybody......"

Posted by: jam-crackers on March 17, 2006 at 8:52 AM | PERMALINK

Re Farber's comments. This reminds me of the poem by Asimov where he is talking about rejection letters:

Take back this piece of junk
It smelled, it reeked, it stunk
Just reading through it once was deadly rough.

Posted by: John on March 17, 2006 at 8:56 AM | PERMALINK

Every winter--when the temperature is cat freezing and the pavement cold & wet to the paws--my cats will sit at the outside door, meowing and meowing to get out. They long to have the door open to warm summer days and tasty small rodents and birds.

And I am reminded of Heinlein and grateful for the concept of the cat's "door into summer."

Posted by: PTate in MN on March 17, 2006 at 9:01 AM | PERMALINK

Actually, I'd have to say that Aldus Huxley's 'Brave New World' made more of an impression than anything else.

'Gravity's Rainbow' marks the first time I actually had to dash to the bathroom to throw up. (Only other time was Philip Caputo's description of decomposing Vietnamese dead.)

Coprophagia...ugh...never even attempted to read beyond that. Came back from the bathroom and threw the thing into the stack for the next library book drive.

Posted by: CFShep on March 17, 2006 at 9:04 AM | PERMALINK

They're made for gawky teenagers who haven't been laid. Anyone reading sci-fi after busting their cherry is a complete tool.

Case closed.

A corollary:

Watching Monty Python movies: OK. They're funny.

Quoting Monty Pythong movies: strictly verboten. And definitely not funny.

Posted by: NSA Mole on March 17, 2006 at 9:05 AM | PERMALINK

I think I liked Heinlein better, but I read them before they published stuff that people now mostly relate to them -- Foundation, Stranger in a Strange Land, etc.

I remember being scared to death reading the Puppet Masters late at night, but it has provided an invaluable metaphor for the Republican Party. Thanks, Mr. Heinlein.

Posted by: David in NY on March 17, 2006 at 9:07 AM | PERMALINK

Typo: Fulmer not Flumer.

Sorry.

Posted by: CFShep on March 17, 2006 at 9:08 AM | PERMALINK

I second the shout-out above for Pohl.
I think Silverberg needs to be shown some love, too.


BTW, When I was between 5 and 7 years old (mid-70's), I read a tattered paperback short story collection (I'm sure originally published in the 50s or 60s) about the misadventures of this Einstein/Groucho Marx-like mad professor.
The one story I remember best was where the professor bred these man-size rabbits for the army to replace human soldiers. The twist, in the last para, was that all these uber-rabbits were female and, thus, ineligible for combat.

Eternal gratitude to whoever can point me in the right direction (author name, book title).

Posted by: bartkid on March 17, 2006 at 9:08 AM | PERMALINK

I'm old enough to have read some of this when it first came out --- in particular I recall "The Caves of Steel" one episode at a time in "Galaxy" Magazine in 1955 (?). Asimov was essentially a writer of mystery novels superimposed on a schematic of future history --- loosely based on the history of the Roman Empire. He also invented "robotics", was scientifically grounded (he had trained as a biologist) and was one of the best popular science writers of all time. Re-reading the "Foundation" series is still fun although his failure to anticipate computers gives the whole thing a strange cast. As to politics, he didn't seem to have any. At most you can say that he gives the edge to characters who think through and think straight, like good scientists. Does that make him a technocrat?

Heinlein was another story, but I only caught this in full as an adult. I came from an Old Left background, but didn't notice the ultra-individualistic, almost antisocial, (and VERY sexist --- cf. Door into Summer, Dutiful Daughter) polemics woven throughout. OK, I was 10 years old and had never heard of Ayn Rand (who had in 1950?).

The giveaway was "Starship Troopers"...his take was that war is fun (he was a Naval Academy graduate...or was it West Point?), and that the military can run society better than anybody else...I guess he had never been to South America...or, maybe he had.The movie version made the link to fascism almost obvious, especially since the enemy was so repulsive. He could always weave a tale but as I grew older, the didacticism and wackiness became tedious...there was always one character (was it the one --- Jubal Harshaw? -- who packed heat underneath his kilt?) who had all the answers to everything...the kind who when he sits down at a bar everyone else edges away.

I may be tilting in hindsight, but I think Asimov wins...because I like detective stories better than sermons. The earlier stuff, like I Robot and Nightfall , still reads well.

The best, I thought then, was Theodore Sturgeon . And Alfred Bester, who was gonzo before the word existed...The Stars My Destination is still hair-raising.


Posted by: jprfrog on March 17, 2006 at 9:14 AM | PERMALINK

Listen, the uh, religious wars have gotten huge numbers of comments.

Do we need to fear that due to the "eyes" pulled to these posts that the product manager for the Political Animal blog is going to shift the blog to all religious wars all the time?

It would be the mba thing to do.
Posted by: jerry

I resolutely refuse to even open that thread. Enough. Honestly. Enough.

But that anyone from PA would actually e-mail Ms. Sullivan to heap abuse on her for her topics here is, IMHO, utterly reprehensible, childish and shameful behavior.

Posted by: CFShep on March 17, 2006 at 9:17 AM | PERMALINK

Coprophagia...ugh...never even attempted to read beyond that. Came back from the bathroom and threw the thing into the stack for the next library book drive.

Shep - just as well - the ending is much too hard to take...

Posted by: Blicero on March 17, 2006 at 9:19 AM | PERMALINK

I enjoyed reading most of Heinlein's work, but never really warmed to Asimov. But when I was twelve, I read every Jack Vance story my local public library had. Vance is still alive and writing pretty well, if not very often.

Posted by: David W. on March 17, 2006 at 9:19 AM | PERMALINK

Me, I just watch a lot of anime and read a lot of comics and manga these days. I highly recommend Warren Ellis's Transmetropolitan and Ministry of Space.

I'm still waiting for someone to make a movie out of Starman Jones, though. There's gold there, I tell you, pure gold....

Unless it involes some way of stuffing Milla Jovanovich in a catsuit, I don't think you'll have any luck selling Hollywood. Maybe Genndy Tartovsky.

Posted by: Dustbin Of History on March 17, 2006 at 9:19 AM | PERMALINK

Really really bad. Horribly, painfully...

All that and less! Amazing how quickly he learned, though. After this thing bombed, a few months later he sold "Lifeline", and was on his way.
As far as RAH v IA, I loved 'em both as a kid-- though Heinlein more--and grew up on the Left. My taste for Azimov's writing, though, didn't survive growing up. I still reread Heinlein, but Isaac's style makes my eyes glaze over now. I feel like I've lost something I can never get back.

Gold in Starman Jones? For a director without a political point to make (fuck you, Verhoeven!) There's gold aplenty in RAH's bibliography. Rewrite his stilted dialog and update the science, and you're good to go. I'm no 2nd Amendment type--I don't even own a gun--but I'd love to see Red Planet or Between Planets on the big screen. Time for the Stars, too. Hell, all of 'em...

Posted by: Doozer on March 17, 2006 at 9:43 AM | PERMALINK

The only political wisdom I ever took away from my reading of Heinlein:

"There's No Such Thing as a Free Lunch."

I thought Heinlein was funny. Not, perhaps, 'Red Dwarf'/Hitchhiker's Guide funny but there's a thread of humor nevertheless.

Azimov was dry and a litle scary but he had a humanist cast to his writing - how we will fare as society moves farther away from our roots and becomes more collectivised.

Didn't read for political subtext. I read so much of this stuff when I was very young. I cut my teeth on Jules Verne and read "The Fountainhead" based on an interest in architecture...hey, I was only 12.

Now David Brin's "The Sheep Look Up"? Impossible to read any other way.

Anybody here into Kim Stanley Robinson's Red Mars/Green Mars/Blue Mars cycle.

Has a lot to say about what would have to happen here (ecological disaster, resource scarcity and concentration of political power and wealth) before colonization becomes a viable aternative given the vast investment.

Posted by: CFShep on March 17, 2006 at 9:47 AM | PERMALINK

>>Really really bad. Horribly, painfully, agonizingly, gongs ringing on your head, your teeth being drilled, being forced to listen to perky blonde partners of Regis Philbin chirp at you for hours, while Spider Robinson drones at you, and every inch of skin under your calluses itches madly but you cannot scratch, bad.

Bad as Vogon poetry bad?

Posted by: CFShep on March 17, 2006 at 9:49 AM | PERMALINK

Since no one else has, I have to mention my favorite unsung sci-fi writer of the baby boom generation. Norman Spinrad - author of "The Solarians", "Agent of Chaos" and many other underground classics. Along with Philp K. Dick, Spinrad is probabaly the closest thing to a real-life incarnation of Vonnegut's Kilgore Trout.

Another little-known favorite of mine is the British writer Brian Stableford.

These guys are "idea" writers who can also tell a good story and write well. Heinlein could tell a good story, but his ideas were weak and predictable. Asimov had great ideas, but a flat prose style and wooden characters. Still, I guess I liked Asimov better and find that his stuff holds up better when I reread it now than does Heinlein.

Posted by: wvmcl on March 17, 2006 at 9:51 AM | PERMALINK

Yeah, I don't get this post. Why are we paying attention to anyone agonizing over the political merits of two mediocre pulp sci-fi authors from over half a century ago? Especially when there are so many much better sci-fi authors to discuss, if you're going to bring up sci-fi. Hey, I'll even be generous and name only political-minded sci-fi authors:

Old: PK Dick, UK Le Guin

Middle: Kim Stanley Robinson, Iain M Banks

New: Ken MacLeod, Cory Doctorow

And if you want out-and-out space opera with a tad of political awareness: Alastair Reynolds, Charles Stross...

To anyone agonizing about Heinlein vs Asmimov, I say only: get over yourself. Neither are very important in any grand scheme. If you're wondering which author to recommend to your 12-year-old neice or nephew, might I recommend Stanislaw Lem? And a few years down the line, any of the above mentioned authors would be good - preferrably the newer ones like Stross & MacLeod, so they can relate to it better.

One final thought: friends don't let friends read Ayn Rand, and if they do, they should be punishable for crimes against humanity.

Posted by: Adam Piontek on March 17, 2006 at 9:52 AM | PERMALINK

I'm still waiting for someone to make a movie out of Starman Jones, though. There's gold there, I tell you, pure gold....

No, not a movie. A SciFi channel series. Look at the wonderful presentation of Battlestar Galatica - just disregard all the other monster-of-the-week drek they produce in such quantities.

Posted by: CFShep on March 17, 2006 at 9:53 AM | PERMALINK

After STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND, I thought he was kind of an aging hippie who wanted to overturn the establishment (note the parallels between Earth's First Lady and Nancy Reagan).

Stranger in a Strange Land seems to me to be very much an anomoly in the Heinlein oeuvre; my own theory about how "Stranger" could have been written by the same person and round about the same time as "Farnham's Freehold" is that Heinlein just really knew how to pander to an audience.

Posted by: Jason Stokes on March 17, 2006 at 9:55 AM | PERMALINK

For potential movies the real gold is in Andre Norton, both her science fiction and her fantasy.

Time Traders! And what was the sequel? Galactic Derelict, yeah. Beastmaster...Star Rangers...I'd actually go to a live theater for those...
Van Vogt's Voyage of the Space Beagle...Slan...

Posted by: Doozer on March 17, 2006 at 9:55 AM | PERMALINK

Heinlein could write a riping yarn, re:If this Goes on... and many of his juveniles are great tales. Asimov wrote definitive sci-fi and science essays, the one problem is that all of his characters have the same voice: the rational New Yorker. Pleasant reading but not reflective of the human condition. Clarke tended towards the intellectual exercise, which is great when he pulls it off.

Halderman's revamps of Heinlein's classics (The Forever War etc.) from the standpoint of a liberal who has been to war show the basic quality of the stories when witten with a better grasp of the realities of war and life.

From the golden age Pohl did a better job of story telling than Asimov while having very innovative concepts, particularly with Kornbluth. Kornbluth wrote the only readable libertarian novel The Syndic.

Cordwainer Smith easily blew everybody else away. The gold ship was oh oh oh... is astounding. The vision of the Lords of the Instrumentality, fundamentally corrupt to the core but still functioning is quite astounding.

No mention of Stanislaw Lem yet, again astoundingly good, philosophical and very relavant .

Niven and Pournelle had a good early run when they were playing with ideas and then they went insane with politics.

Currently Charles Stross is blowing everybody away by writing sci-fi with modern science and engineering in it (what a concept). Check out the free stuff on his website.

Brin is interesting from a political standpoint. Wrong on a lot of points but working from an intense respect for egalitarian democratic position. A guy I'd love to argue with.

I liked Heinlien but grew up a liberal because I simply filtered out the politics. Asimov on the other hand argued out his politics from a pragmatic standpoint, and usually won you over.

Posted by: monopole on March 17, 2006 at 10:00 AM | PERMALINK

Wow, there is some great snark here.

I think I pretty much agree with everyone but I discount the complaints about Heinlein.

No emotional depth? Yeah, so what. Who needs it?

Dirty old man? I'll agree the incest was creepy but as for the ogling of young women - who the heck is buying all those Girls Gone Wild CDs? Heinlein just dared to be honest about it.

Later books falling apart? Yes, and it was a pity.

Asimov was okay but too dry for my tastes. Who cared about any of his characters?

The books I'd like to see made into a movie is "The Stainless Steel Rat" series. Maybe not great literature but a swell movie with gadgets galore.

Posted by: Tripp on March 17, 2006 at 10:11 AM | PERMALINK

Iain M Banks, Ken MacLeod. Yep. "Cosmonaut Keep' is IMO excellent.

I'm at a serious disadvantage in naming some of the more interesting writers I"ve read because I pass on so many books every time I move. The dozens of boxes I do move are enough to make my movers go on strike as it is. Oh, how they piss and moan.

So a painful culling has to happen each time. I sometimes fantasize about being able to reclaim all my books - it would be awesome to have that kind of space. Plus, would mean never having to move again. ...sigh

But really can one just ignore the pioneers of the genre - just say they're passe and let it go at that. I don't think so - 'cause you can be damned sure that the contemporary writers all read the old masters and rework a lot of their basic themes.

Posted by: CFShep on March 17, 2006 at 10:14 AM | PERMALINK

Stranger in a Strange Land seems to me to be very much an anomoly in the Heinlein oeuvre; my own theory about how "Stranger" could have been written by the same person and round about the same time as "Farnham's Freehold" is that Heinlein just really knew how to pander to an audience.

Starship Troopers (1959)
Stranger in a Strange Land (1961)
Podkayne of Mars (1962)
Glory Road (1963)
Farnham's Freehold (1964)
The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress (1966)

Actually, Troopers would be the pandering book, if you want to look at it that way. He was working on Stranger (had been for 10 years) when he got pissed at the "no nukes" crowd, became a Goldwater Republican (he began life as a Democrat) and whipped out Troopers as a political pamphlet, almost, then finished up Stranger. I first read Stranger in '67, and it always seemed like the '60s SF novel, but it was born the same year as me; 1949, and published years before the '60s we all know and love really started. Hell, the Hippies were still in junior high. He would have been pandering to a crowd that didn't even exist yet. Now, that's, a Futurian!

Posted by: Doozer on March 17, 2006 at 10:16 AM | PERMALINK

all of his (Asimov's) characters have the same voice: the rational New Yorker.

Exactly, and that was boring to me. The robotics stuff was interesting but only as a brain teaser - let's create the Karnough map of robotic behavior and tell a story about every cell.

Posted by: Tripp on March 17, 2006 at 10:17 AM | PERMALINK

I'm kind of with Monopole and a bunch of other posters who figured out that one can enjoy and admire a writer like Heinlein and still end up progressive/leftist/liberal/whatever the GOP fascist wing is calling us these days. His juveniles (Rocket Ship Galileo and Podkayne of Mars, particularly)are good yarns with strands of ethical behavior tucked in where they won't hurt. Some of his short fiction IMHO ranks with the bestin the English language--and even his late novels could crackle with provocation, activity and wit. Skip nine-tenths of The Number of The Beast and all of To Sail Beyond The Sunset and enjoy the pulp pleasures of Friday, or Job: A Comedy of Justice. What Heinlein says in the latter about love, fairness and Texas is worth occasional re-reading.

Posted by: david ware on March 17, 2006 at 10:17 AM | PERMALINK

Spinrad is probabaly the closest thing to a real-life incarnation of Vonnegut's Kilgore Trout.

Ahem...
Kilgore Trout... Theodore Sturgeon.
Nudge nudge, wink wink...

Posted by: Doozer on March 17, 2006 at 10:19 AM | PERMALINK

CFShep,

It sounds like you are a candidate for an eBook.

If it is any consolation I held onto all my paperbacks from college and now they are a brown crumbling mess - so unless your collection was fine hardcovers you haven't lost much.

Posted by: Tripp on March 17, 2006 at 10:20 AM | PERMALINK

Eternal gratitude to whoever can point me in the right direction (author name, book title).
Posted by: bartkid

exlibris.com specializes in out of print books - cruise around over there.

Posted by: CFShep on March 17, 2006 at 10:20 AM | PERMALINK

Tripp: It sounds like you are a candidate for an eBook.

That or a strait jacket. >>>laughing

I do retain a very few paperbacks from the dim long ago.

My copy of 'Pride & Prejudice" - Signet Classics...the price $.95. Wow. And while it's admittedly a bit worse for wear (the spine is giving way) I cherish it and move it, and all of Jane Austen, Edith Wharton, Graham Greene, Updike, Cheever, John O'Hara et al time and again.

Hello. My name is Cyn and I'm a biblioholic.

Posted by: CFShep on March 17, 2006 at 10:36 AM | PERMALINK

I generally find Heinlein to be a sexist pig, and a bad writer to boot. Asimov I found a little boring in places but I read him in my teens; I should probably give his sci-fi another try.

And if we're going to name-drop, I was never formally introduced to Asimov but performed for him 4 or 5 times as a member of a NYC-based Gilbert & Sullivan group (he was a fixture in the NY G&S scene for many years). He wrote some new lyrics for one of our productions of "HMS Pinafore". That was fun.

Posted by: fiat lux on March 17, 2006 at 10:43 AM | PERMALINK

I don't know where Gary Farber gets the idea that Frederik Pohl is "not really writing any more." We just published his latest novel, The Boy Who Would Live Forever.

Mark me down as another Heinlein fan on the political left. But this is an old, old argument.

Posted by: Patrick Nielsen Hayden on March 17, 2006 at 10:46 AM | PERMALINK

If people insist on comparing Asimov & Heinlein, I would like to point out:

The entire point of all of Asimov's Robot stories, and the whole point of the famous three laws, is this: they didn't work.

Asimov's short robot stories drive home again and again how those hard-coded, inviolable laws are a very, very bad thing.

The book uses robots as an analogy for a very serious philosophical point about humanity: codified rules are not a suitable replacement for people educated in ethics, science, and rational thinking. No set of laws, commandments, edicts, or mandates passed from On High will ever match every situation. Knowledge is the only way forward.

The left and the right are both guilty at times of putting form of such absolute laws that, if we all just shut up and follow, surely we'll attain utopia.

So that's Asimov, politically. Whereas Heinlein picked a codified extreme and ran with it as his solution to the world's problems.

The two men were leagues apart, intellectually, if you ask me.

Posted by: Adam Piontek on March 17, 2006 at 10:51 AM | PERMALINK

And by the way, Adam Piontek, who wonders why we're discussing ancient dead SF authors when we could be talking about modern political SF writers like the excellent Ken MacLeod, should be aware that the unabashedly left-wing MacLeod is definitely and obviously a fan of some of those old guys, including (quite obviously) Heinlein and Poul Anderson.

For that matter, one of Samuel R. Delany's best short essays--most recently reprinted as an afterword to the new edition of Heinlein's Glory Road--is about why Heinlein is worth reading. As Delany remarks, the reactionary Balzac was one of Marx's favorite novelists, and Heinlein is one of his. The idea that we can only find value in novels by people who share our outlook is unbelievably provincial.

Posted by: Patrick Nielsen Hayden on March 17, 2006 at 10:52 AM | PERMALINK

Jack Vance is the greatest writer of that generation. He's still around too, though I doubt he will write any more novels since he is now blind. Always underappreciated though.

Someone above mentioned Cordwainer Smith, another good writer.

For those of you that think that Stranger in a Strange Land is a bunch of dreck, check out the Bhagavad Gita. You will get a better idea if what Heilein was talking about.

Posted by: The Bobs on March 17, 2006 at 10:56 AM | PERMALINK

(Then again, in the You Don't See That Claimed Very Often sweepstakes, here's David Ware saying that Heinlein's juveniles are good, particularly Rocket Ship Galileo and Podkayne of Mars. Whereas to my mind these are precisely the two to skip. I'd give any smart kid The Star Beast and Citizen of the Galaxy. But then, as the saying goes, it's a good thing everyone doesn't have the same tastes; think of the oatmeal shortage.)

Posted by: Patrick Nielsen Hayden on March 17, 2006 at 10:57 AM | PERMALINK

The idea that we can only find value in novels by people who share our outlook is unbelievably provincial.
Posted by: Patrick Nielsen Hayden

Absolutely.

Really there's no one else who thought Heinlien was at least partially satire? How odd.

Here's something sad. I was in B&N the other day and Balzac was represented by exactly one novel: Pere Goriot. Out of the entire 'Human Comedy cycle, one novel.

I was afraid to look for Zola. 'Germinal', anyone? 'The Debacle"...


"Where there is unanimity there is error or idiocy"
--an unknown early sage

Posted by: CFShep on March 17, 2006 at 11:07 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin,

I preferred, and still prefer (though by a smaller margin), Heinlein.

Sincerely,

theperegrine
Liberal

Posted by: theperegrine on March 17, 2006 at 11:08 AM | PERMALINK

Thanks for reminding me who it was who wrote the story "The Door Into Summer." I was just telling soneome about it as we entered our 40th day of rain and the cats were going nuts.

What about Philip K. Dick and Philip Jose Farmer? And Le Guin, definitely, also "The Lathe of Heaven."

Thanks Kevin for the recommendation of "Spin" (I've now read Darwinia and Blind Lake as well) and whoever for Iain Banks (or was it Iain M. Banks).

Posted by: Mimikatz on March 17, 2006 at 11:10 AM | PERMALINK

Adam,

Intellect is overrated, at least in writing fiction.

You may be correct that the point of the Robotic laws was to illustrate the futility of creating human utopia through absolute laws - I don't know - but it sure made for dull stories.

And to whoever said Heinlein was a sexist pig - so? What's wrong with that? He wasn't ashamed of his sexuality.

Posted by: Tripp on March 17, 2006 at 11:15 AM | PERMALINK

All these comments and I'm the first to mention Piers Anthony?

I liked him. C'mon, cut me down, I'm a big boy, I can take it.

Posted by: Tripp on March 17, 2006 at 11:18 AM | PERMALINK

Tripp: All these comments and I'm the first to mention Piers Anthony?

Haven't read him in ages...seem to recall that I liked his stuff quite a bit. Would you name a few of his works to jog my memory?

Posted by: CFShep on March 17, 2006 at 11:23 AM | PERMALINK

The books I'd like to see made into a movie is "The Stainless Steel Rat" series. Maybe not great literature but a swell movie with gadgets galore. Posted by: Tripp on March 17, 2006 at 10:11 AM


Harry Harrison, yes! I just finished reading one of his earlier novels, Planet of the Damned. Which seems to be a early run for his Death World series. Probably the same complaints about him as Heinlein, but still great fun.

One of my favorite scenes in this book is where the "Wise Old Man" is lecturing the "cynical young man" on "Scientific Humanism" and the merits of social engineering. Wonderful stuff!

Posted by: Dr. Morpheus on March 17, 2006 at 11:33 AM | PERMALINK

Oh, and this might be a little out of left field but anybody read "England, England" by Julian Barnes?

Not quite scifi but definately 'speculative fiction'/political. A Swiftian fantasy...

Posted by: CFShep on March 17, 2006 at 11:33 AM | PERMALINK

From the standpoint of robotics, the 3 laws make no sense at all. A robot must have values, abstract thought, ability to project actions into the future to evaluate their consequences, and some definition of harm in order to follow them. These are exactly the kinds of things robots can't do. In order for a robot to follow the laws of robotics, it must be not a robot in terms of its thought capacities and if it were not a robot, it wouldn't need such laws to guide it.

This is the same problem encountered with emotion in the movie AI. All of the robots had emotional response and will because they all wanted to stay alive and felt distress about being deactivated, not just the robot boy who was created as the emotional surrogate. The robots depicted ALL had motivation beyond that programmed into them. This made the premise of the movie ridiculous. They couldn't figure out a way to make the robots non-human and still interesting as characters so they gave them human characteristics and asked the audience to pretend they were robots because they looked like robots (not because they behaved like them).

Why is so much of sci fi some kind of flight from humanity?

Posted by: Nancy on March 17, 2006 at 11:35 AM | PERMALINK

If anyone's a fan of Asimov or Clarke, as I am, I'd like to give a shout-out to Charles Sheffield-he's got solid hard sci-fi chops and better characterization.

Posted by: Chris Thorpe on March 17, 2006 at 11:46 AM | PERMALINK

"The Sheep Look Up" was by John Brunner, not David Brin. John Brunner's other great social sci-fi work was "Stand on Zanzibar."

Posted by: nolo on March 17, 2006 at 11:50 AM | PERMALINK

real americans read detective fiction....

Martin Cruz Smith's "Wolves Eat Dogs" has jumped to my all time favorite detective/crime novel.

Posted by: Jeffrey Davis on March 17, 2006 at 11:52 AM | PERMALINK

"The book uses robots as an analogy for a very serious philosophical point about humanity: codified rules are not a suitable replacement for people educated in ethics, science, and rational thinking. No set of laws, commandments, edicts, or mandates passed from On High will ever match every situation. Knowledge is the only way forward."

Which is an interesting position to come to for a Jewish guy from New York with a left-wing background.

"Jack Vance is the greatest writer of that generation. He's still around too, though I doubt he will write any more novels since he is now blind. Always underappreciated though."

Sadly, that's true. He did show up to book event at Borderlands in SF. Wonderful dialogue in his writing.

Posted by: Urinated State of America on March 17, 2006 at 11:53 AM | PERMALINK
From the standpoint of robotics, the 3 laws make no sense at all.

Asimov's "laws of robotics" have nothing to do with robotics in the real world.

They are a device for an exploration of human morality.

Posted by: cmdicely on March 17, 2006 at 11:54 AM | PERMALINK

Re John Brunner: I can't believe I forgot "The Shockwave Rider."

Posted by: nolo on March 17, 2006 at 11:56 AM | PERMALINK

Patrick, the operative theme of my post was not to be centered on the few words "from over half a century ago" - no, the point was in the other words, "Why are we paying attention to anyone agonizing over the political merits of two mediocre pulp sci-fi authors..."

I mentioned Dick & Le Guin along with the newer authors. I am not saying that anyone should focus only on new authors and that writings from over 50 years ago are worthless. I did not say that and I do not think that. Certainly modern sci-fi authors owe much to the authors they grew up reading, and certainly those older authors are worth reading.

However, I would say that, given a limited life span, which I, unfortunately, have been saddled with, I would prefer to balance my reading more to contemporary works than to more historical works. I just think they tend to be more relevant to me, personally.

Posted by: Adam Piontek on March 17, 2006 at 11:57 AM | PERMALINK

Niven and Pournelle had a good early run when they were playing with ideas and then they went insane with politics.

I hate hate hate hate hate sci-fi. (Except The Man Who Fell to Earth and Mockingbird by Walter Tevis.)

However, one my favorite books is Pournelle's hysterically bad, laugh-till-it-hurts books about rock throwing elephant aliens.

That's an experience that can't be repeated.

Posted by: Jeffrey Davis on March 17, 2006 at 11:58 AM | PERMALINK

Why is so much of sci fi some kind of flight from humanity?

Nancy, cmdicely already addressed your comments on the 3 Laws of Robotics (and I spoke to their meaning further up thread)

But I wanted to reply to this because I think it's an unfortunate view.

Sure, there's a lot of pulp sci-fi, just as there is with any genre. But from what I can tell, the root of science fiction is usually either philosophical rumination, or an attempt to etrapolate human history into the future. Sometimes optimistically, sometimes as a warning. But it seems to me that those are definitely the two main themes of most science fiction, and to my mind, they are supremely about confronting humanity, not running away from it.

Posted by: Adam Piontek on March 17, 2006 at 12:03 PM | PERMALINK

Incidentally, I like Heinlein and Asimov both as sci-fi writers, as both are good at writing novels that raise interesting questions. I also like Kim Stanley Robinson, Piers Anthony (sometimes), Neal Stephenson, H. Beam Piper, Arthur C. Clarke, e. e. "doc" smith, William Gibson, David Weber, and quite a lot of other scifi writers of different stripes, for different reasons, none of them because they happen to endorse my pet political philosophies.

Posted by: cmdicely on March 17, 2006 at 12:05 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin, Kevin, Kevin,

You own ALL of Heinlein's books? Heinlein? The pulpiest-of-pulpy-sci-fi authors, whose dreadful style has been enshrined by literary critics in the derogatory phrase 'Heinlein-juvenile?'

I'm speechless. You seem like such a nice young man.

Asimov is good for readers of all ages, as is Bradbury. Anderson's a little overwrought, but not awful. LeGuin is wonderful - The Left Hand of Darkness, Rocannon's World, The Beginning Place, The Word for World is Forest. So is Butler, whose books are amazing in their originality - Kindred, Wild Seed, Parable of the Sower. DeLaney is a grown-up. Even Card - Ender's Game, while not my favorite, is an order of magnitude better than anything Heinlein ever wrote.

Actually, my grocery list is better than anything Heinlein ever wrote.

Posted by: cmac on March 17, 2006 at 12:08 PM | PERMALINK

CFShep,

Anthony seemed to write series of books, and once he got popular they published darn near everything he ever wrote, including some bad early stuff that shouldn't have been published.

From memory he had "Macroscope," the world of Xanth series ("The Blue Adept" and others) which started out good but ran out of good puns early on, another series that had "Sos the Rope" in it, and then a series I vaguely recall that had, I think, aliens living on a neutron star where time passed much more quickly than it did for us.

Posted by: Tripp on March 17, 2006 at 12:10 PM | PERMALINK

"The Sheep Look Up" was by John Brunner, not David Brin. John Brunner's other great social sci-fi work was "Stand on Zanzibar."

Posted by: nolo

You're perfectly right. Thanks.

As I said, I've got to work from a defective memory because I no longer have the works in question. I may have to go get copies of these again though.

Posted by: CFShep on March 17, 2006 at 12:12 PM | PERMALINK

cmac,

Really? I'd sure love to read your grocery list.

If you think Heinlein is pulp you ain't read pulp. The infamous L Ron (shudder) Hubbard and his Johnny Goodboy come to mind.

Posted by: Tripp on March 17, 2006 at 12:14 PM | PERMALINK

Asimov wrote childrens books and Heinlen wrote teen lit.

Posted by: Hostile on March 17, 2006 at 12:17 PM | PERMALINK

the world of Xanth series ("The Blue Adept" and others)

The world of Xanth was one series, "the Blue Adept" was in a different series, the Adept series.

Posted by: cmdicely on March 17, 2006 at 12:25 PM | PERMALINK

Jeffrey Davis>I hate hate hate hate hate sci-fi.

Read "The City of the Iron Fish" by Simon Ings. It might change your mind.

Posted by: Bruce the Canuck on March 17, 2006 at 12:25 PM | PERMALINK

cmdicely, David Weber seems to have gone off some kind of deep end with his most recent Honor Harrington book, "At All Costs." The plural marriage crap reads like it was written by a 14 year old who's never had a relationship with one person, let alone two.

Posted by: nolo on March 17, 2006 at 12:58 PM | PERMALINK

The books I'd like to see made into a movie is "The Stainless Steel Rat" series. Maybe not great literature but a swell movie with gadgets galore.

Agreed. I even spend some time once trying to write out the opening scene of the screen play (hint, from the robot's p.o.v. until the lead weight comes crashing down). Can't imagine why somebody hasn't tried, unless Harrison refuses to license it.

Agree too, with Patrick Neal Hayden's comment:

The idea that we can only find value in novels by people who share our outlook is unbelievably provincial.

I'm not a picky reader. I have a great deal of tolerance for any writer who can tell me a story with a) good characterization, or b) a good plot. If I find a writer that can do both at once, I'm ecstatic. If I find a writer that does both at once AND shares my outlook... well, those are the all-night reads.

As far as the question at issue, I've read most of both Heinlein's and Asimov's books, and a fair number of their short stories. Enjoyed them both, but ultimately, don't count either among my favorite authors. It wasn't too long after that that I was delighted to find authors with strong female characters, and spent some time reading only books by the likes of Vonda McIntyre, C.J. Cherryh, Melissa Scott, Elizabeth Moon... others I can't think of right now. If you twisted my arm and forced me to state a preference between Heinlein and Asimov, I'd pick Asimov, wooden characters and all, because I found his "worldbuilding" more thought-provoking. Plus the fact that, although his female characters were wooden, at least they weren't bimbos with brains the way Heinlein's were.

Posted by: KarenJG on March 17, 2006 at 1:02 PM | PERMALINK
cmdicely, David Weber seems to have gone off some kind of deep end with his most recent Honor Harrington book, "At All Costs."

The problem with having lots of things I want to read (and its not just that long list of sci-fi authors; in addition to what I'm doing for school, I'm currently reading Rawls' Theory of Justice, which I've read parts of in other contexts, but not all sequentially, and Stephenson's Quicksilver) is that I'm usually, except by fortune, pretty far behind on any one author of them -- so I haven't read At All Costs yet, or the book that starts the Saganami Island split-off series.

But I will have to consider your warning.

Posted by: cmdicely on March 17, 2006 at 1:07 PM | PERMALINK

Crap. That's Patrick Nielsen Hayden. That'll teach me not to check back.

::hangs head in shame::

Posted by: KarenJG on March 17, 2006 at 1:31 PM | PERMALINK

i>He was working on Stranger (had been for 10 years) when he got pissed at the "no nukes" crowd, became a Goldwater Republican (he began life as a Democrat) and whipped out Troopers as a political pamphlet, almost, then finished up Stranger.

Thanks. Well, that's interesting, if true. But Heinlein did not start out as a Democrat, in any conventional sense. He started out as the editor for Upton Sinclair's newsletter. Depending on how you classify Sinclair, Heinlein was either a left wing radical, a socialist, or an outright communist in his youth. Sinclair attempted at one stage to win a Democratic primary nomination, if memory serves, but was nobbled by the party establishment who feared being associated with this pinko.

As for your argument that Stranger preceded the hippie movement, that's true, but it did not precede the bohemianism and neophilia of certain circles of science fiction fans, and that, I assume, was who it was written for. L. Ron Hubbard showed psuedospiritualism could pay with "Dianetics", and later with "Scientology", so why not write a tract for the nascent new age?

Posted by: Jason Stokes on March 17, 2006 at 1:47 PM | PERMALINK

I'm with the people who went off topic and ultimately preferred Ray Bradbury. But as a kid, if I had to choose, I always went with Heinlein---not because he was so visionary (I remember a scene in "Have Spacesuit, Will Travel" where a character trapped alone on a distant planet is trying to figure out how to escape and says, "If only I had a slide rule!")---but because he was so much better on the raw sentence level. A novel like "Starship Troopers" or "Podkayne of Mars" shows off his actual facility with dialogue and humor. But I put down Asimov's "Foundation" the second I read a sentence that went something like, "'Now see here!' he spluttered." Is this science fiction or the Dead End Kids?

I haven't read either one of them in about twenty years, but Ray Bradbury stands up. And he is, of course, famous for hardly being interested in science at all. He's a fantasist-slash-humanist who---most interestingly to me, for the purposes of this discussion---is also the finest constructor of wickedly funny horror stories until Stephen King. In clumsy hands, horror is an extremely conservative genre (punish the transgressing teenager!), but a well-handled horror story is deeply subversive---and just read "The October Game" or "The Small Assassin" if you want to see some vicious swipes at suburbia.

So did horror fans grow up liberal or conservative?

Posted by: Cowboy Dave on March 17, 2006 at 1:48 PM | PERMALINK

Heinlein? Asimov?

Try Frank Herbert.

Posted by: A Muse Zing on March 17, 2006 at 1:54 PM | PERMALINK

Read 'em all as a kid. Could not get enough. Living in a small town, I read the sci-fi shelf at the library left to right and then started overa again.

As a somewhat (ahem) older reader, I've got to mention Vernor Vinge. A Fire upon the Deep had some really inventive ideas--more than one. And The Peace War, too. Highly recommend them if you haven't already read them.

But the sci-fi book that made the biggest impact on me was Rogue Moon by Algis Budrys. Have read it several times and been engrossed each time.

Posted by: Cal Gal on March 17, 2006 at 2:16 PM | PERMALINK

The Heinlein/Asimov split McArdle describes also can be mapped onto the Star Wars/Star Trek universes, the former a Heinlein-type set of adventures (at least in the first set of movies, I didn't see the later ones) and the latter an Asimovian technocracy once TNG came on the scene. I've regarded SW as Republican and ST as Democratic for years.

Posted by: editer on March 17, 2006 at 2:25 PM | PERMALINK

Hmmm. I prefer Asimov to Heinlein, except for The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, which has a lovely plot. Asimov is glib and easy, but there are serious ideas in there. There are serious ideas in Heinlein, too, but you have to wade through the sex obsession to find them. I liked The Number of the Beast well enough until Lazarus Long turned up.

But I'd take Philip Dick over both of them.

Posted by: waterfowl on March 17, 2006 at 2:27 PM | PERMALINK

I'm still waiting for movies to be made of STARSHIP TROOPERS and THE PUPPET MASTERS. If ever a couple of books was made for cinematic adaptation, it's those two...

...eh? You say they made movies out of them? Are you sure?

Oh, yeah, that thing where every chick in it but Denise Richards showed us her tits. Yeah. That sucked. And that Donald Sutherland thing? Oh, that blew toads. No, no, I mean REAL movies.

STARMAN JONES might be okay, but there's too much weird guild stuff going on in the background. I think I'd rather see FRIDAY. Especially if they throw in all the lezbo sex scenes.

Er... I meant, especially if they toss in all the cogent political analysis and fascinating sociological explorations. Yeah, yeah, that's the ticket...

Posted by: Highlander on March 17, 2006 at 2:30 PM | PERMALINK

Starship Troopers should not be made into a movie, IMO; it doesn't cut down well. What it might work as is a TV miniseries.

Friday, though, I think would do well as a movie, though its been something over a decade since I read it. As you suggest, though, its important to kepp the "cogent political analysis and fascinating sociological explorations".

Posted by: cmdicely on March 17, 2006 at 2:52 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin, great call on "Starman Jones." A wonderful sea story transplanted to outer space, with a tremendous action ending.

One thing that needs pointing out about Heinlein is that his three cult novels of 1959-1966 -- "Starship Troopers," "Stranger in a Strange Land," and "The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress" -- appeal to three different cults: militarists, hippies/druggies, and libertarians, respectively.

It's self-defeating to look for a wholly consistent world view in his books. Heinlein isn't Ayn Rand, and that's a good thing.

Also, I don't reread Heinlein to learn about the future, but to learn about the past, about the attitudes of mid-20th Americans, the people who won the war, which I happen to admire on the whole more than my own generations' world view.

Posted by: Steve Sailer on March 17, 2006 at 3:13 PM | PERMALINK

At last! I loved the discussion being a lifelong SF fan, but was amazed that it took this long for anyone to mention one of the giants, Frank Herbert. Herbert wrote an epic like the Foundation Trilogy, but with great characters, wonderful language, and unparalleled imagination. He also was able to design a page turner that had all of the action and suspense that Heinlein could deliver.

Don't get me wrong, I love most of the authors mentioned, but to not see Herbert get his due was rather shocking. Makes me wonder at the real depth of reading that some of you have done. If you love SF and haven't read Dune, go directly to the nearest bookstore and treat yourself. It is grown up SF that appeals to adults.

Posted by: Awaiting on March 17, 2006 at 3:14 PM | PERMALINK

If you're a big Heinlein fan, yes, you should buy it, and yes, it is bad.

Posted by: Sisyphus on March 17, 2006 at 3:15 PM | PERMALINK

I don't think the issue is whether or not Asimov or Heinlein were the best sci-fi writers because clearly, they weren't. But the later writers that do legitimately compete for that title might not have had a market or, possibly, the inspiration without that first generation of pulp writers. Of that group, Heinlein, Asimov, and Clark were considered the "great triumvirate"--again, not because they were the best, but because they were the most successful. Their visions caught on with the most people, gave publishers the idea that these crazy stories about the future might actually have a future.

Many of you are mentioning writers from later generations. Ellison, Herbert, and Dick didn't publish until the 50s, and most of their famous work was in the 60s. Le Guin wasn't published until the 60s.

The other thing about Clarke, Asimov and Heinlein is that they wrote quite a bit of material that spurred attention and discussion. Cordwainer Smith wrote "The Game of Rat and Dragon" and "Scanners", but none of his other work really caught on. Pohl, who is my favorite writer from that era, wrote his classic book on advertising and "Day Million" (as mentioned above), but beyond that his influence was primarily as an editor, not as a writer. Yes, Gateway was terrific, but it wasn't influential (and it came much later).

Sturgeon is widely regarded as the best writer from that era, but was really rather a writer's writer--he never got much in the way of fame or popularity.

I'd say the only real injustice done in these Heinlein vs. Asimov converstions is the omission of Bradbury. He's an American, he was writing at about the same time, he's been incredibly influential, and his work has been very successful in films from the very beginning.

But for some reason, he never jumps first to mind as a "science fiction" writer. He's a far better writer than anyone else from that era, and his work holds up beautifully. Of course, that may be why he was never considered a science fiction writer.

Posted by: Cal on March 17, 2006 at 3:17 PM | PERMALINK

Oops--I meant to say that Bradbury has been mentioned in this conversation, of course. But these conversations always begin with Heinlein vs. Asimov, and then everyone chimes in with the injustice done to [X] in this polar choice. My point is that the only author whose omission is a legitimate oversight and a fair comparison is Bradbury.

Posted by: Cal on March 17, 2006 at 3:20 PM | PERMALINK

What about the great Niven vs. Hubbard debate?

Posted by: Hostile on March 17, 2006 at 3:37 PM | PERMALINK

Hey, guys, there's been so much disinformation in this discussion it's hard to know where to begin. I ran an sf bookstore for over two decades in Los Angeles and I know whereof I speak. Sturgeon was always popular. Cordwainer Smith's other work caught on just as much as his other stories. People have been trying to get "The Stars My Destination" off the ground as a movie for three or four decades. The main clue to grokking Asimov, Heinlein etc is to look at the copyright date of the stories. They were books of their time. They were also important (but not the only) building blocks of the field, written in a time when it was possible for many sf authors to essentially have a conservation with one another via their stories. (Williamson's "With Folded Hands" is essentially a reply to Asimov's Three Laws (which were articulated by John Campbell anyway). You may poo-poo some of this work, as it your right, but some of these critques sound like they're coming from people who complain that Benny Goodman and Glen Miller don't have feedback and tape loops in their music.

Posted by: Arthur Byron Cover on March 17, 2006 at 4:01 PM | PERMALINK

Herbert wrote a lot of books and only one of them was really worth reading.

However, for truly profound insight into human relationships as well as incomparably graceful prose, you have to go to John Norman.

Posted by: Alex on March 17, 2006 at 4:05 PM | PERMALINK

Yeah, Niven, he's the one that brought it all together for me. Characters a bit wobbly, maybe, but the best ideas and endearing humor. BTW, hating sci-fi is lamer than reading sci-fi, so go home haters.

Posted by: Blame America on March 17, 2006 at 4:18 PM | PERMALINK

Nope, the only thing worse than reading sci-fi is writing sci-fi, and the only thing worse than writing sci-fi is writing about people who write sci-fi.

Posted by: Adam Piontek on March 17, 2006 at 4:25 PM | PERMALINK

Well, I liked Azimov WAY better than Heinlein. I'm a liberal. (but I'm a woman. Maybe that makes a difference. I found Heinlein to be way obsessed about incest old man/young woman relationships, and other similar subjects.)

Posted by: Marilee on March 17, 2006 at 4:44 PM | PERMALINK

Adam, if you don't like SF, then you don't have to participate. You are perfectly welcome to go away. We won't hold it against you. In fact, I'll help...

::aims disintegrator ray at Adam::

Posted by: KarenJG on March 17, 2006 at 4:45 PM | PERMALINK
However, for truly profound insight into human relationships as well as incomparably graceful prose, you have to go to John Norman.

See, this is one place where emoticons would be nice...

Posted by: cmdicely on March 17, 2006 at 4:45 PM | PERMALINK

but some of these critques sound like they're coming from people who complain that Benny Goodman and Glen Miller don't have feedback and tape loops in their music.
Posted by: Arthur Byron Cover

LOL - exactly! (I saw Benny G fronting the Dallas Symphony Orchestra just months before his death - incredible experience. No sampling, thank the gods.)

I knew these guys over at (what was then) Mobil Geophysical in Dallas on Harry Hines. One Spring they got this wild hair to make dandelion wine. A straight up tribute to Bradbury.

Drove their, very lenient anyway, supervisors mad as they scoured the area for dandelions and interferred with the groundskeepers; wouldn't let them mow or - gods forbid - spray - until they gotten enough.

They got the in-house graphics people to design and run up lovely labels (pre-PC days) quoting "Dandelion Wine", bottled their wine, and in due course had a party where one and all were obliged to partake of the worst, I mean worst, bar none, homemade wine in this or any other galaxy.

The thought that counts, though, right?

As to Star Trek v Star Wars I vote for Babylon 5.

Posted by: CFShep on March 17, 2006 at 4:46 PM | PERMALINK

I liked Heinlein better, too, though I think a more interesting comparison might be early Heinlein versus late Heinlein. I only liked the early stuff. And it should be noted that Heinlein had girls who were the main characters in his book --- I can't remember a lot of details about this off the top of my head, but I'm thinking that Heinlein was a lot more liberal for us girls out there, than Asimov.

Posted by: catherineD on March 17, 2006 at 5:07 PM | PERMALINK

CFShep:

Well you do realize, I hope, that the coprophilia scene in Gravity's Rainbow wasn't just some gratuitous shock -- it was to make an extremely telling point about the way soldiers come to emotional terms with an apocalyptic battlefield.

That scene is duly referenced in Paul Fussell's scholarly work about WW1, The Great War and Modern Memory.

Plus, the climax of the book is even more shuddery ...

And Katje Borgesius is actually one of the better characters, who turns out to be part of the Counterforce in the end ...

Pynchon won a National Book Award for GR. And it was unanimously nominated for a Pulitzer by the judges -- but rejected by the steering committee for being "turgid ... unreadable ... overwritten ... obscene."

Heh. My kinda book :)

Gravity's Rainbow is still my all-time favorite novel.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on March 17, 2006 at 5:08 PM | PERMALINK

Harlan Ellison.

Posted by: mymble on March 17, 2006 at 5:09 PM | PERMALINK

alex:

Well, I've not read Dune (saw the original cut of the movie when it first came out), but I did read Herbert's Destination: Void.

Horrible.

James Blish's early short story Surface Tension was actually pretty cool ...

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on March 17, 2006 at 5:14 PM | PERMALINK

A flash fiction for "our" Adam...

Adam Piontek awoke in his gelcel, still groggy from last night's moodfest. What in the seven galaxies made me think that was a good idea? he thought blearily. Of course, there was no better way to insure that he would sleep through the transition. He hated being awake during transition. It always gave him a monster headache. If he'd known that before he'd signed up with space force... Bah. Too late now.

The mood emitters had gone from cheerful to romantic to sloppy sentimentalism then back to romantic and finished up with a long bout of manic lust. What was that Rigellian's name, anyway? Adam considered looking her up for an unassisted assignation during their next off-duty shift. Ah. No. he rejected the thought nearly before he'd completed it. In his current state, he was bound to be disappointing. Not that he'd ever been anything other than disappointing, outside of a moodfest, but he really didn't want to be reminded of that just now. He was two galaxies away from the love of his life, and it depressed him to think that she was probably happy about that. Maybe when he came back a war-hero...

Battlestations, all hands to battlestations.

The volume of the alert, along with the attendant klaxons gave him the headache he'd hoped to avoid by going to the moodfest. Crap, already? We just got here. he grumped to himself as squelched out of the gelcel and struggled into his battle armor. The ship shuddered around him as he reached for his helmet. He heard the whistle of escaping air a split second before the bulkhead blew out, sending him into the vacuum, grumpiness, unrequited love, headache and all.

;-)

Posted by: KarenJG on March 17, 2006 at 5:21 PM | PERMALINK

Bob, m'dear. I leave you to it.

As my dear friend Reilly H____ out in Archer City used to say: "Jack's son has the gout."

In this instance I trust my gut. I mean that quite literally. If it makes you up throw up - throw it away.

The particular scene was heavily eroticized, it's not as though I'd never encountered descriptions/mention of coprophagia in clinical literature without turning a hair.

I'm not, generally speaking, particularly squeamish.

I have enough with which to contend just now, what with Terrible Tiny 'Tina having taken to being repeatedly sick on my Karastan rug. Two inches from a perfectly good hardwood floor.

Care to come over and help me corral her so I can smear hairball remedy on her paws?

No? Ah, well then....cat round-up time.

Posted by: CFShep on March 17, 2006 at 5:23 PM | PERMALINK

CFShep:

Cyn, I'm a pretty squeamish guy ordinarily. I have friends who came of age during the 80s horror resurgence and I watch movies with them. I have trouble sitting through a lot of their favorites: Fight Club, all Tarantino save Pulp Fiction, Wild At Heart (although Blue Velvet's a classic), nearly all their favorite slasher movies.

I don't like the portrayal of gleeful sadism, so much so that I have a hard time enduring it.

When I first read the infamous scene between the seductive triple-agent Katje Borgeisus and the doddering, near-senile Brigadier Ernest Pudding, I had a reaction close to yours. It's *horrible*. But it's horrible for a reason.

The scene is heavily eroticized to make a point. One of Pynchon's broadest themes in GR is how the West came to fall in love with Death. Katje's character, "Domina Nocturna, shining mother and last love" evokes an apparition Pudding had a quarter-century earlier in the "Argeddonite filth" of trench warfare on the Ypres salient. It is also an acid satire of bureaucracy, because this assignation is arranged by the evil Pavlovian Ned Pointsman, to pry money loose from the old Brigadier for Pointsman's research. That Pudding experiences intense pain and nausea as the price of his erotic fantasy (he later dies of an e. coli infection) -- a fantasy save for its extremity otherwise pretty in line with common S&M imagery -- is precisely the point, as this apparation appeared to Pudding while 75% of his unit died purposelessly in the mud and filth of the trenches.

It is, in short, an incredibly powerful and psychologically verisimilar commentary on how men find meaning in the meaninglessness of modern warfare.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on March 17, 2006 at 5:51 PM | PERMALINK

I read a lot of Asimov and Heinlein when I was a kid. Heinlein's "Have Spacesuit, Will Travel" was my favorite childhood book; I re-read it many times.

I recommend one of Asimov's lesser known novels, "The End of Eternity", if you haven't read it. The whole story is a build-up to a surprise ending that when you reach it, you realize is completely logical and inevitable. A classic Asimov maneuver. He was like O. Henry in the clever little logical twists that he built his stories around.

Philip K. Dick was a true visionary -- he may have been actually insane, or else in contact with some sort of alternative universe -- and my favorite SF writer of all time.

And of all the SF and/or fantasy novels I've ever read, the one that I would most like to see made into a movie is Roger Zelazny's "Lord of Light".

Posted by: SecularAnimist on March 17, 2006 at 5:55 PM | PERMALINK

A. E. Van Vogt was great too.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on March 17, 2006 at 5:58 PM | PERMALINK

And Ray Bradbury.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on March 17, 2006 at 5:59 PM | PERMALINK

Just so everyone knows,

The new bbc series of Dr. Who debuts tonight on Sci Fi Channel. In about 90 minutes.

Posted by: cld on March 17, 2006 at 7:30 PM | PERMALINK

KarenJG - um, that "only thing worse than reading sf" post of mine was supposed to be a joke. Sorry I didn't include a smiley, but I figured after my previous few posts in this thread talking about sci-fi and some of my favorite sci-fi authors, I thought it might be kind of obvious.

BTW, as a last sort of word (of mine) in this thread, people with an interest in modern scifi and some critiques of where it is and where it's going might be interested in the "Mundane SF" movement.

Posted by: Adam Piontek on March 17, 2006 at 7:37 PM | PERMALINK

It is, in short, an incredibly powerful and psychologically verisimilar commentary on how men find meaning in the meaninglessness of modern warfare.

Bob

Yes, dear. I understand. Truly. I just couldn't read it. ;-)

Nonetheless, I'll stick to "All Quiet on the Western Front", "August 1914", "A Soldier of the Great War" and "The Thin Red Line"...

Speaking of Solzhenitsyn, I think I read somewhere that "The First Circle" is going to/has been made into a film.

I can't bear those slasher films at all. So misogynistic and pointless.

Posted by: CFShep on March 17, 2006 at 7:38 PM | PERMALINK

Just so everyone knows,

The new bbc series of Dr. Who debuts tonight on Sci Fi Channel. In about 90 minutes.
Posted by: cld

yippee.

Posted by: CFShep on March 17, 2006 at 7:40 PM | PERMALINK

I have to say the reactionary Tom Wolfe and Evelyn Waugh are two of my favorite novelists.

Posted by: cld on March 17, 2006 at 7:49 PM | PERMALINK

Adam: ACK! I confused you with the earlier poster who apparently *meant* what he said!

I shall resurrect you immediately! (I can do that, you know, with my god-like author-powers.)

Well, after dinner and Dr. Who, that is...

Thanks for the tip on the Mundane SF site.

Posted by: KarenJG on March 17, 2006 at 8:00 PM | PERMALINK

Good Lord, SecularAnimist agrees with me about something! Philip Dick is our common ground. Pigs can now fly.

I have to agree with Cal, though, that Ray Bradbury has been seriously slighted. That man wrote the most fantastic prose in SF.

Posted by: waterfowl on March 17, 2006 at 8:08 PM | PERMALINK

Sorry, S_A, didn't even see your own Bradbury post until after my own.

Posted by: waterfowl on March 17, 2006 at 8:12 PM | PERMALINK

Interesting thread. I guess I'm another 70's Heinlein segue into PK Dick fan. Interesting that these 2 others are intertwined here.

I really liked "Time Enough for Love", but I think his most interesting book was "The Man who Sold the Moon". I really like how he developed the whole idea and I think that would make a great movie.

One thing that struck me about Heinlein was that the SciFi aspect of his book was really just window dressing for his ideas about how man fits into society. I recall he detailed a concept of politics called "rational anarchy" which I guess, in retrospect, is a libertarian ideal. Anyway, it's been many years since I picked up a Heinlein book...but he was a "must read" on my book list 35 years ago.

Posted by: Innocent Bystander on March 17, 2006 at 8:24 PM | PERMALINK

cld: I have to say the reactionary Tom Wolfe and Evelyn Waugh are two of my favorite novelists.

Well, possibly my favorite novel of all time, and certainly my favorite fantasy novel, is "A Winter's Tale" by Mark Helprin (who also wrote "A Soldier of the Great War" which someone mentioned earlier). I later found out, to my disappointment, that Helprin is politically conservative and was a speech writer for Bob Dole during Dole's 1996 presidential campaign.

In "A Winter's Tale" Helprin described a mayoral election campaign in New York City in which a character named Praeger de Pinto challenges an incumbent known as "the Ermine Mayor":

Where most politicians, including the Ermine Mayor, were quick to promise things they would never deliver, such as clean streets or the absence of crime, Praeger's approach was different ... He never talked about garbage, electricity or police. He only talked about winter, horses and the countryside. He spoke almost hypnotically about love, loyalty and esthetics ... He promised them love affairs and sleigh races, cross-country skiiing on the main thoroughfares, and the transfixing blizzards that howled outside and made the heart dance ... They thought, or so it was generally stated at the time, that if they were going to be lied to, they might as well pick the liar who did it best.

There's something in that, I suppose.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on March 17, 2006 at 8:28 PM | PERMALINK

After posting that last comment, I read over a few of Helprin's political essays posted on the website of the Claremont Institute where he is now a senior fellow. And I regret to say that while they are elegantly written, in terms of content they are low-grade right-wing rubbish that would be worthy of the stupidest of the Rush-regurgitating Bush bootlickers who post comments on this site all the time. Very sad. Nonetheless, "A Winter's Tale" is a wonderful book.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on March 17, 2006 at 8:37 PM | PERMALINK

Ok, Adam. I can't edit my post above, but I fixed the entry on my blog.

Sorry 'bout that. The comments (and commenters) all tend to run together after reading 150 of them. I thought you were the same guy who posted about sf being for "gawky teenagers who haven’t been laid."

Posted by: KarenJG on March 17, 2006 at 9:33 PM | PERMALINK

" Sturgeon was always popular. Cordwainer Smith's other work caught on just as much as his other stories."

Sturgeon was nowhere near as popular as the others, and had money problems most of his life. He's also not nearly as well known outside the sci-fi community. Beyond the two stories I mentioned, Smith's work hasn't had staying power. I'm not talking about contemporary views.

Also, Smith didn't write that much science fiction. He had a short and busy life.

Posted by: Cal on March 17, 2006 at 9:59 PM | PERMALINK

Starman Jones?? One of the weaker Heinlein Juvies.
The best is "Citizen of the Galaxy"; best for a movie, "Tunnel in the Sky"- why didn't I have high school courses like that?
Favourite Heinlein story: "All You Zombies", the ultimate Grandfather paradox.

Strange that both Heinlein and Asimov fell into the same trap in their later, much inferior work- trying to straitjacket different story-worlds into the same timeline.

And Ray Bradbury is to great prose as Carl Sandburg is to great poetry.

Posted by: MikeN on March 17, 2006 at 10:13 PM | PERMALINK

About the person who says Sturgeon wasn't as popular as the other writers (Heinlein and Asimov) a) so what? b)it's wrong, any true student of the field will be just as familiar with his work as the others c) true he had money problems but was because of his life style and psychological quirks (some people are more disciplined as professional writers/businessmen than others) and d) just what is your empirical evidence. I have thirty five years of experience in the field and can state quite empirically that Sturgeon is up there, in the same way that Artie Shaw is competitive with Goodman and Miller, to continue using a big band analogy. And trust me, the entire cannon of Cordwainer Smith resonated with sf readers. And writers. Just ask Chip, Mike Moorcock, Frederick Pohl, and, through John Edwards, Roger Zelazny. Come on guys. Some of you are thinking that your personal opinion represents objective historical fact. Remember, to recall an earlier era, Seabury Quinn (sic, possibly) was a more popular writer than Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, and Clark Ashton Smith. Who's more important?

Posted by: Arthur Byron Cover on March 17, 2006 at 10:29 PM | PERMALINK

"I don't know where Gary Farber gets the idea that Frederik Pohl is 'not really writing any more.'"

From having forgotten that I'd barely noticed mention of that book a bit while ago, and from not remotely paying as close attention to the field as I used to, being semi-gafia/fafia, and from writing overly casually while not feeling well. Modify to "not writing as much as he once did." Which is hardly surprising for someone who is 86, although he's dwarfed by Jack Williamson, who will turn 98 in a couple of months. Thank you for the correction, and my apologies to Fred.

Posted by: Gary Farber on March 17, 2006 at 10:45 PM | PERMALINK
I really liked "Time Enough for Love", but I think his most interesting book was "The Man who Sold the Moon". I really like how he developed the whole idea and I think that would make a great movie.

One thing that struck me about Heinlein was that the SciFi aspect of his book was really just window dressing for his ideas about how man fits into society. I recall he detailed a concept of politics called "rational anarchy" which I guess, in retrospect, is a libertarian ideal. Anyway, it's been many years since I picked up a Heinlein book...but he was a "must read" on my book list 35 years ago.

The writer of the above is clearly referring to the novel The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, not the short story "The Man Who Sold The Moon" (which is about D. D. Harriman). Posted by: Gary Farber on March 17, 2006 at 11:11 PM | PERMALINK

I found most of Henlein rather irritating, although "Job" was rather funny, and "Stranger in a Strange Land" had it's moments.

As for Asimov, "The Gods Themselves" was his best, as far as I'm concerned.

But a lot of truly great SF writers often get left in the shade, like Iain Banks, Robert Silverberg (at least in the '65-'77 period), and David Zindell. Philip Dick and Thomas Disch are also a lot of fun, if yer into that style. And Alfred Bester's "The Demolished Man" was so ahead of it's time that it still works today, after 50 years.

Posted by: Harkov311 on March 17, 2006 at 11:19 PM | PERMALINK

"And trust me, the entire cannon of Cordwainer Smith resonated with sf readers."

Canon, Art (I apologize if I'm being overly informal; although we've never had direct contact, we have a bunch of mutual friends/acquaintances; Harlan, for instance), as I'm sure you know, but since we're wincing, I can't resist wincing at.

"Some of you are thinking that your personal opinion represents objective historical fact."

Quite, but with all due respect to Kevin's readers and regular commenters, with a few exceptions, this simply isn't a site to look for much expert science fiction knowledge and discussion from; it's mostly, at best (no offense intended, though that probably won't help), average common sf readers, and most of the comments naturally come from those whom are at least interested.

Expecting more expertise here from many is simply unreasonable. (I wrote and deleted a similar comment from my prior comment, but seeing that you're being pulled into the inevitable urge to correct all the silly mis-statements, ignorance, and confusions of personal opinion with fact and more knowledgeable opinion, I thought I'd point out that it's, if not futile, an effort that will go little rewarded; although the thread will die off when it goes off the front page in a day or three, anyway.) (Look, almost everyone you're reading is talking about "sci-fi," after all, and won't even get what point I'm making in this sentence; they're civilians.)

Since Paul Linebarger's pseudonym has been mentioned, here is an easter egg for serious fans of Cordwainer Smith.

Posted by: Gary Farber on March 17, 2006 at 11:26 PM | PERMALINK

It comes back to me a minute later (and this really might be better in e-mail, but what the hell, I'm lazy) that I did minor scutwork on Planetfall, back when I was working for John Douglas 1986-88, by the way. :-) I doubt I ever mentioned that I've always thought The Platypus of Doom was one of the great all-time titles. (More smiley.)

Posted by: Gary Farber on March 17, 2006 at 11:33 PM | PERMALINK

Ellison is Da Man. Unless Bradbury is.

But at age 12 or so, I did learn the Fool's Mate -- a four-move checkmate -- from a Heinlein short story. That served me well against bad chess players for 30 years or so, until all the bad chess players turned to video games.

Posted by: Mike Kienzler on March 17, 2006 at 11:34 PM | PERMALINK

re: Doctor Who. I wept.


Posted by: cld on March 17, 2006 at 11:41 PM | PERMALINK

Heinlein's books are fun reads. Completely trash, of course, his mediocre use of English and cartoonish characterization perhaps a paean to A. Rand, though nobody could write as poorly as her. He wrote books for children and books for adolescents: the latter were the same as the former, but with sex added.

Asimov was somewhat better at plotting and characterization, but he wrote like a robot: I always found his prose to be overly sterile. He wrote for the science geeks in High School.

Again, Edgar Rice Burroughs is the only one I find worth rereading as an adult. His plotting may be non-existent, but his writing is as juicy as a well-cooked steak. And his characters can only be described as iconic. However, he couldn't do women either.

Granted, he had more than his share of pot-boilers, but he had some great ones:
"I had this story from one who had no business to tell it to me, or to any other."

He was also undoubtedly the most influential SF writer of them all. (How many writers have cities named after one of their characters?)

It is a complete mystery to me that John Carter doesn't already have a movie.

Posted by: mcdruid on March 18, 2006 at 3:11 AM | PERMALINK

I would also like to see Zelazny's best turned into movies, but I also doubt it could be done well. I envision "Creatures of Light and Darkness" as an animation, but "Lord of Light" would be tough and "Eye of Cat" may have to be viewed while on hallucinagens. I would be surprised if anyone attempted them: movies explicitly about religions other than Judaism/Christianity don't get made in Hollywood.

Posted by: mcdruid on March 18, 2006 at 3:15 AM | PERMALINK

And I regret to say that while they are elegantly written, in terms of content they are low-grade right-wing rubbish that would be worthy of the stupidest of the Rush-regurgitating Bush bootlickers who post comments on this site all the time. Very sad. Nonetheless, "A Winter's Tale" is a wonderful book.
Posted by: SecularAnimist

Just goes to show that excellence in fiction (or any other creative/imaginative field such art, music, architecture, or science) is no predictor of excellence in any other sphere.

So, certainly a deluded political hack can nevertheless be a greatly stimulating and entertaining writer.

I continue to prefer 'A Soldier of the Great War', but 'A Winter's Tale' was my introduction to Helprin. Would likely have never read the latter if not for the former.

Posted by: CFShep on March 18, 2006 at 7:54 AM | PERMALINK

There's something about the jaundiced social perspective of a conservative that can make for fine literary observation.

Evelyn Waugh is one of my favorite novelists, and is quite wickedly (if dryly) funny. No, forget "dry." The Loved One is uproarious satire.

T.S. Eliot, perhaps the greatest modernist poet in the English language, was a notorious Tory. His contemporary Ezra Pound was an anti-semite (based on his contempt for usury) and Mussolini fan.

And while Tom Wolfe was secretly snickerking at all the beatniks, mods, SoCal beach bums and art snobs he hung with, his New Journalism pieces absolutely crackled. He novelistic career may have fizzled (Bonfire of the Vanities was very good, but A Man In Full was a Southern-fried Bonfire rewrite) and his interviews reveal a true pompous creep -- but he was a helluvan observer of human foibiles.

And of course there are the lesser lights in that firmament, PJ O'Rourke and Chris Buckley, who are fun in small (nay, homeopathic) doses.

And never *ever* forget the scabrous H.L. Mencken.

I take comfort, though, in knowing that Thomas Pynchon was and is a hardcore left-anarchist who lived his ideals by thoroughly repudiating the celebrity machinery of the publishing industry. It's time to re-read Mason & Dixon, his magic realist 18th century historical novel -- a veritable encyclopaediac alternate history of America's founding and possibly an even better book than Gravity's Rainbow.

A friend knows a professor of 18th century literature who considers M&D the absolute funniest book he's ever read.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on March 18, 2006 at 9:41 AM | PERMALINK

At 13 or so, I thought Red Planet, Podkayne of Mars and Door into Summer were Heinlein's best. Given the choice then between Heinlein and Asimov, count me Asimov. But AC Clarke romped over both, far and away, then and now.

ACC sent me onto the harder stream of sci fi, with the Killers B's (Brin, Benford, Bear - officially, but add Baxter and Bujold also) and add a V for Vinge (Vernor) for the tremendous combination of humanity and realistic science they all provide. And strangely enough, many years later, as an Aussie there are finally great Aussie writers in the Seans (Williams and McMullen) and Egan to carry on the same sort of combination of good human and technological drama. Golden age of sci fi is now, not then. WooHoo!

Posted by: Brett on March 18, 2006 at 10:48 AM | PERMALINK

Just a quick note to Gary, if he is still following this thread: you are so right. Since closing the shop I have paid very little attention to the sf field (I need a vacation), but since so many of the comments thus far reflected the same insight one finds in the reader reviews on Amazon, I couldn't help myself.

Posted by: Arthur Byron Cover on March 18, 2006 at 12:06 PM | PERMALINK

since so many of the comments thus far reflected the same insight one finds in the reader reviews on Amazon, I couldn't help myself.

Heh. And yet, so many authors I know worry about their Amazon ranking. Point is, yes, we're rubes who probably wouldn't know exquisite writing if it rose up on its hind legs and bit us in the ass. But we buy the books. Without sales to readers - yes, those same undiscerning readers who write reader reviews on Amazon - writers are just waitstaff with a hobby.

Posted by: KarenJG on March 18, 2006 at 3:13 PM | PERMALINK

Heinlein lost me when he had cannibal blacks eating (you know, cooking, cutting, chewing) teenage white girls in Farnum's Freehold. That was certainly weirder than any of Ayn Rand's sex scenes. Haven't read Lynn Cheney though.

Posted by: Snickersnack on March 18, 2006 at 3:21 PM | PERMALINK

Just a coincidence? Raw Story right now has a picture of an anonymous protestor at an anti-Iraq war rally in London who could be the clone of the twin sister of Doctor Who's new companion,

http://rawstory.com/

Posted by: cld on March 18, 2006 at 3:48 PM | PERMALINK

Bob: Evelyn Waugh is one of my favorite novelists, and is quite wickedly (if dryly) funny. No, forget "dry." The Loved One is uproarious satire.

Oh, don't forget 'Decline and Fall', 'Vile Bodies' or a 'A Handful of Dust".

Posted by: CFShep on March 18, 2006 at 4:20 PM | PERMALINK

CFShep:

Indeed. Although I think The Loved One, as a satire on postwar SoCal, was the most seriously over-the-top.

"I heard you, Francis Hinsley
I heard that you were hung
With red protruding eyeballs
And a pink protruding tongue"

snicker-snack:

A reviewer once called an Ayn Rand sex scene like a Fortune magazine description of an industrial process :)

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on March 18, 2006 at 5:45 PM | PERMALINK

"About the person who says Sturgeon wasn't as popular as the other writers (Heinlein and Asimov) a) so what?"

So you said he was "always popular", as rebuttal to my statement that he was not as popular as the others.

"b)it's wrong, any true student of the field will be just as familiar with his work as the others "

Ah, the "true student". Only those who know, how really know. Except, you see, I was referring to the broader community, which was aware of Heinlein and Asimov.

"c) true he had money problems but was because of his life style and psychological quirks (some people are more disciplined as professional writers/businessmen than others)"

But it's also true that he didn't have nearly as much in the way of royalties, because his work didn't sell as well. Not--now, pay attention--not because "true fans" didn't like him, because they did, but because his work never found a much wider audience.

"d) just what is your empirical evidence."

The fact that he's not nearly as well known. The fact that you see endless debates about Asimov vs. Heinlein, that the "great triumvirate" of the 50s didn't include Sturgeon, the fact that not 10% of the US population knows of anything he wrote, where 2 or 3 times as many are familiar with some aspect of the other two. Then there's the fact that Asimov and Heinlein's deaths received major coverage, wherease Harlan Ellison famously had to explain who Sturgeon was to the LA Times obit writer. The majority of people (note again: not just "true fans") are far less familiar with Sturgeon's name and work than the other two. Many people only know him at all because of his law. Which had nothing to do with science fiction.

" I have thirty five years of experience in the field and can state quite empirically that Sturgeon is up there"

You are quite clearly unfamiliar with the definition of "empirical". Here's a hint: bald assertions != evidence, empirical or otherwise.

As further evidence of your weak reading skills: I already acknowledged that Sturgeon and Smith both were incredibly popular with the sci-fi community and specifically mentioned Sturgeon's popularity with writers. Your comparison with Shaw is reasonably apt, which suggests you must have copied it from someone smarter.

There is life outside the "true fans" of the science fiction community. Heinlein and Asimov found it--not always necessarily with their writing, but with their ability to raise sci-fi's profile outside of the narrow geek squad. The other writers--pay attention again WHILE OFTEN SUPERIOR TALENTS--never found the same broad range of awareness and again, focus hard and move your lips while you read BEYOND THE MASTURBATORY GEEKY SCI-FI COMMUNITY into the general population.

Posted by: Cal on March 19, 2006 at 3:31 AM | PERMALINK

I could never get past Heinlein's prose style long enough to get into whatever stories he was trying to tell.

When I was growing up and starting to read SF/F, it was all Dick, Zelazny, Vance, Lieber, and R.A. Lafferty.

Posted by: Vlad on March 19, 2006 at 10:47 AM | PERMALINK

Dear Cal

What is your problem?

Posted by: Arthur Byron Cover on March 19, 2006 at 8:16 PM | PERMALINK

Two points people might want to consider by way of at least a bit of slack, if not actual forgiveness, for some of Heinlein's writerly sins, esp in the later books:
1) Somewhere between the great works of the 50s/early-60s (Starship Troopers, Glory Road, Moon is a Harsh Mistress, Stranger) and the self-indulgent effluvia that came later (Time Enough for Love, Job, Friday, etc), his health went to hell, with specific impacts on his cognition. (Wikipedia indicates one problem to have been severe peritonitis, and another something it labels a "near-stroke" -- whatever that is). Couple that with sufficient authorial clout by that time that few editors would want to tangle with, and the results aren't all that surprising.
2) RAH, for all his political "failings" (from a current leftist viewpoint) does need to be given the considerable credit due for having made at least one major protagonist a person of color, at a time when that was virtually unheard of in any American literary genre. (Narrator Juan Rico of Starship Troopers is Filipino, and not, as seen in the movie, Argentine.)
I just REALLY wish Heinlein had gotten a chance to write his Nehemiah Scudder novel. In light of what's happened to our country over the last 30 years, that would have been MOST interesting.
Oh, and to the people upthread who gave props to Bester and Vance, LeGuin and Herbert -- yes, yes, yes, of course. But how come nobody's mentioned Leiber's Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser yet?

Posted by: smartalek on March 19, 2006 at 8:31 PM | PERMALINK

I loved Heinlein as a kid, and I too grew up to be a liberal. But once you grow up Nazi's on the Moon seem a bit silly. Even as a kid I wondered why all the characters in most Heinlein novels end up taking off all their clothes at some point. Still not as bad as most Clark novels (with the exception of The City and the Stars) which start great and end in some sort of obscure religosity.

Posted by: fafner1 on March 19, 2006 at 9:51 PM | PERMALINK

And I preferred Asimov and turned out pretty conservative.

Posted by: Shoshana on March 20, 2006 at 3:47 AM | PERMALINK

>It is a complete mystery to me that John Carter doesn't already have a movie.

Uh, according to IMDB, as a follow-up to Elf, Jon Favreau is directing John Carter of Mars. Release scheduled for this year.

Posted by: bartkid on March 20, 2006 at 12:31 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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