Saturday, July 7, 2012

Happy Birthday, Robert A. Heinlein

Robert Anson Heinlein, often called the "dean of science fiction writers," was born 105 years ago today. Heinlein's writing stressed the importance of individual liberty and self reliance, the tendency of society to repress nonconformist thought, and the influence of organized religion on culture and government, among myriad other topics.

Heinlein was a prolific writer, his bibliography consisting of 32 novels, 59 short stories and 16 collections published during his life. Four films, two TV series, several episodes of a radio series, and a board game derive more or less directly from his work. Many of his works reference his own "future history,"

Heinlein's juveniles, S.F. novels for young adults, set many a youth on a quest to self-fulfillment and the close examination of the popular wisdom of the day. I count myself among those fortunate youth.

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, a loose retelling of the American Revolution set in 2076 in a lunar colony, is not only a rip-roaring adventure tale but includes a detailed examination of potential forms of representative government as well as an early look at the issue of computer sentience.

His explorations into unorthodox family structures and examination of the relationship between physical and romantic love, most apparent in Stranger in a Strange Land, added to the controversy surrounding his career. Following closely on the heels of his examination of the role of the military in society, Starship Troopers, many people firmly committed to the left-right paradigm don't know whether to throw rose petals or hand grenades when Heinlein's name is mentioned. On the other hand, lovers of individualism find him a consistent champion.

Other of his works, including Glory Road, an alternate-worlds fantasy, I Will Fear No Evil, a brain transplant novel that explored roles of the sexes in society, Friday, the story of a female "artificial person," which delved deep into the concept of prejudice, and Job: A Comedy of Justice, an examination of the role of religion in society, wandered far and wide across future landscapes, providing hundreds of inspirations and plot lines for novels that followed in their wake.

His wit and wisdom is apparent in his words even today. A modest selection follows.
  • There has grown up in the minds of certain groups in this country the notion that because a man or corporation has made a profit out of the public for a number of years, the government and the courts are charged with the duty of guaranteeing such profit in the future, even in the face of changing circumstances and contrary to public interest. This strange doctrine is not supported by statute or common law. Neither individuals nor corporations have any right to come into court and ask that the clock of history be stopped, or turned back.
  • An armed society is a polite society.
  • Every law that was ever written opened up a new way to graft.
  • How anybody expects a man to stay in business with every two-bit wowser in the country claiming a veto over what we can say and can't say and what we can show and what we can't show — it's enough to make you throw up. The whole principle is wrong; it's like demanding that grown men live on skim milk because the baby can't eat steak.
  • Reason is poor propaganda when opposed by the yammering, unceasing lies of shrewd and evil and self-serving men.
  • The capacity of the human mind for swallowing nonsense and spewing it forth in violent and repressive action has never yet been plumbed.
  • When any government, or any church for that matter, undertakes to say to its subjects, "This you may not read, this you must not see, this you are forbidden to know," the end result is tyranny and oppression, no matter how holy the motives. Mighty little force is needed to control a man whose mind has been hoodwinked; contrariwise, no amount of force can control a free man, a man whose mind is free. No, not the rack, not fission bombs, not anything — you can't conquer a free man; the most you can do is kill him.
  • Everything is theoretically impossible, until it is done. One could write a history of science in reverse by assembling the solemn pronouncements of highest authority about what could not be done and could never happen.
  • Morals — all correct moral laws — derive from the instinct to survive. Moral behavior is survival behavior above the individual level.
  • Correct morality can only be derived from what man is — not from what do-gooders and well-meaning aunt Nellies would like him to be.
  • Being intelligent is not a felony. But most societies evaluate it as at least a misdemeanor.
  • A rational anarchist believes that concepts, such as "state" and "society" and "government" have no existence save as physically exemplified in the acts of self-responsible individuals. He believes that it is impossible to shift blame, share blame, distribute blame ... as blame, guilt, responsibility are matters taking place inside human beings singly and nowhere else. But being rational, he knows that not all individuals hold his evaluations, so he tries to live perfectly in an imperfect world ... aware that his efforts will be less than perfect yet undismayed by self-knowledge of self-failure.
  • I will accept the rules that you feel necessary to your freedom. I am free, no matter what rules surround me. If I find them tolerable, I tolerate them; if I find them too obnoxious, I break them. I am free because I know that I alone am morally responsible for everything I do.
  • Must be a yearning deep in human heart to stop other people from doing as they please. Rules, laws — always for other fellow. A murky part of us, something we had before we came down out of trees, and failed to shuck when we stood up. Because not one of those people said: Please pass this so that I won't be able to do something I know I should stop. Nyet, tovarishchee, was always something they hated to see neighbors doing. Stop them for their own good.
  • There is no worse tyranny than to force a man to pay for what he does not want merely because you think it would be good for him.
  • A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.
  • Most people can't think, most of the remainder won't think, the small fraction who do think mostly can't do it very well. The extremely tiny fraction who think regularly, accurately, creatively, and without self-delusion — in the long run these are the only people who count.

  • and finally...

  • There comes a time in the life of every human when he or she must decide to risk "his life, his fortune, and his sacred honor" on an outcome dubious. Those who fail the challenge are merely overgrown children, can never be anything else.
We need more Heinleins in the world today. You, sir, are missed.

...and that's all I have to say about that.

1 comment:

  1. I love science fiction stories. Great job to this man. I hope there are more writers like him.