As with all of my blog series, the FIAWOL blogs are written weeks in advance. But I was a day late posting this week because the online science fiction world was exploding with news about Chris Hardwick and Chloe Dykstra. I have thoughts about that news, and about the #MeToo movement at large. So I took a day out and tried to write about them. This was the second time in recent months I’ve tried to do so. And, just as with my first attempt, I wrote about 2500 words, re-wrote a second draft… and then decided I wasn’t ready to share my very personal thoughts on the subject with the world. Maybe I’m a coward, and maybe I have good reason to be. You see, my morality doesn’t work like most peoples’.
Which is a good segue for this piece that wasready for publication yesterday…
This was Robert A. Heinlein’s final book, moodily (and prophetically) titled with a quote from Tennyson’s “Ulysses” about old age and death. But this book is not at all about old age or death, it’s about life, about living it wisely and passionately, about defying death, and about maintaining youth.
I don’t like gatekeepers. By definition, a gatekeeper is someone who stands at a point of entry or exit and intercepts anyone trying to use that entrance or exit. In some cases, they just slow down traffic, in others, they tell people that they’re not allowed through the door.
I don’t like TSA, even though we’re guilted into believing we should. I don’t like receipt checkers at stores, who expect you to queue up in a line, afteryou’ve paid for your purchases, but before you’re allowed to leave the store. I don’t like locks on doors. They’re a nuisance. I don’t like big, burly men (or women) with lists at the doors of parties.
“Nobody likesthese things,” you might deflect, “but we have to have them! Without locks on doors, and people at the door, people would trespass, people would steal, people would take up illegal residence in other peoples’ homes and offices.”
I disagree with pretty much everything in that statement.
This is the first short novel of four that comprise the tales of Lazarus Long as he records his memoirs to placate his descendants while he undergoes rejuvenation—a process begun against his will by Ira Wetheral, the current Chairman Pro Tem of the Howard Families. “Chairman Pro Tem” because the rightful chairman of the Families—not a biological family, strictly, but an association of people bred for long life and named for Ira Howard, the philanthropist who funded, back in the 19th Century Gregorian, a project to lengthen the lifespan of humans simply by subsidizing the marriage and production of offspring of people with a genetic predisposition to long life. The Chairman of these families, by tradition, is the eldest member. When Howard’s experiment was not a century old, and Howard himself was already dead, it produced a mutant named Woodrow Wilson Smith. By 2012, Smith, under the pseudonym Lazarus Long, was the oldest man alive, Senior of the Families. It was a position he would hold for the next 23 centuries, and still counting as of Robert Heinlein’s last published work.
I should say I just finished it this time. This is probably my fifth re-reading of this, my favorite of the Grandmaster’s novels. The timing comes because I decided this year to treat myself to The Virginia Edition, a set of 40+ leather bound copies of everything Robert A. Heinlein ever published. That’s a lot of books, and it’s intimidating; so I decided to start with my favorite.
This is my desert island book. If I could only have one, this would be it. Short version if you don’t know it: Lazarus Long has lived over 2000 years and is the unwilling leader (and direct ancestor) of a society of people bred for longevity. Ready for death, he’s tempted back to life by descendants who collect his memoirs and provide him with ideas that might be interesting enough to keep living for. It’s time travel, it’s western adventure, it’s erotica, it’s space opera. Above all, it’s never boring.
I’ve waited many years to read this one. I began reading Heinlein (with The Star Beast) in 1981. I’ve read most of his work, and, indeed, broke down this year and treated myself to the Virginia Edition, leather-bound copies of all of Heinlein’s work, including non-fiction articles and screenplays.
But this, his first novel published in book form, and the first of his juvenile novels, was a book that I’d always heard was badly dated and not as entertaining as his others. Now that I’ve finally read it, I disagree. Rocketship Galileo is as captivating, speculative and amusing as any Heinlein adventure (although Starship Troopers was rarely, if ever amusing. That one came from a dark place within the Grandmaster.)
It’s called “dated” less because of the naiveté of the idea that the first expedition to the moon would be the result of a contest for inventors–and particularly teenaged inventors–and more because the villains are–wait for it–Nazis.
Yoji presenting the Heinlein Medal at Balticon 47, with Michael Flynn.
Yoji Kondo, scientist, science fiction author, mentor and friend to me for the past 36 years, has died. Like my father, who died in May, Yoji’s last years were spent amidst diminishing brain function as dementia claimed one of the greatest intellects I’ve ever known.
Yoji introduced me (indirectly) to the works of Robert Heinlein. I say indirectly because, in the beginning, I was just a punk kid who wanted to date his daughter Beatrice, and he was a respected scientist, an Aikido master, if I’m not mistaken the one of the two or three highest ranked practitioners of Aikido in the United States, and a friend to people like Heinlein and Arthur C. Clarke, the grandmasters of a field I desperately wanted to pursue. I didn’t speak much in his presence. I was intimidated.
I Will Fear No Evil was Robert A. Heinlein ‘s 26th novel, published in 1970. At this point, the Grandmaster was 62 years old that year, and had four Hugo Awards for best novel to his credit. IWFNE is widely regarded by science fiction fans (and there are no higher authorities on everything) as the worst thing he ever published.
I love this book. I’ve read it a half dozen times since high school (as I’ve read all of RAH’s later novels repeatedly) and will probably read it a half dozen more if I live long enough.
But, before I tell you why I love it, let me heap a little more evidence on the other side of the scales, because I love a challenge. Heinlein was a pantser, not a plotter. That is to say, he wrote by the seat of his pants, without an outline. He also did not like to rewrite–although he did substantial re-writing on his most problematic and best-known work, Stranger in a Strange Land. He preferred to write and write and write, and then cut out the chaff.
There’s nothing more disheartening for a writer than to read something published by a major house and think, “I can write better than this!” That’s especially true for a writer whose collection of rejection notices exceeds his collection of pay checks for work sold. (Isn’t that most of us, though?)
Oh, yeah, there is something more disheartening… having that work be authored by someone that one of your literary idols thought was a real talent.
I picked up a couple of books by Dan Galouye because he’s mentioned, in Robert A Heinlein: In Dialogue With His Century, as a writer whose work the Grandmaster really admired.
RAH must have read something by Galouye other than The Infinite Man.
So last week I gave a rundown of how four different SF stories used cannibalism in their plots. Most prominent were the first few episodes of this season of The Walking Dead, less obvious was an episode of the almost-forty-year old Space:1999 series called “Mission of the Darians.” Less well-known to those who think science fiction was invented in 1966 by Gene Roddenberry are two of Robert Heinlein’s works, Stranger in a Strange Land and Farnham’s Freehold.
All use cannibalism as a metaphor. In the two TV storylines, it’s a metaphor for denial of the importance of the individual. In Freehold, it’s a metaphor for oppression of one group by another. In Stranger, it’s a metaphor for strangeness, alien-ness, and acceptance of the universe. It’s also used as a gentle poke at Western Christians who consider themselves more civilized than the heathens who go around rubbing blue mud in their bellies.
As with most of my blog posts, this one has grown out of many intertwined roots. The first was the featuring of cannibalism as a theme in the opening episodes of The Walking Dead’s fifth season. The second was my reading, at the same time, of Robert Wood’s well-researched volume Destination: Moonbase Alpha, a re-visitation of the making of one of my all-time favorite SF series, Space: 1999. (A show which many in the SF community hold in utter contempt. 1999 fans long ago learned to stop caring in the slightest.) The final contributing factor was my participation at PhilCon, only days ago as I began writing this, in a panel discussion about William H. Patterson’s authorized biography of the Dean of American SF, Robert A. Heinlein: In Dialogue with His Century. This was a well-attended discussion moderated by author Michael Swanwick.
PhilCon was before Thanksgiving, and The Walking Dead has already reached its mid-season finale for this year. As you can tell, this discussion has been brewing for a while.