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End of "Slow Boat"; What 07-07-07 Means to Me

End of "Slow Boat"; What 07-07-07 Means to Me

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I’ve posted Chapter Five (“On the Beach and Deck 17”) and Chapter Six (“Tributes, Thefts and Oblique References) of A Slow Boat to Shippers’ Hell, if anyone’s interested.
Robert Anson Heinlein, the Dean of Science Fiction, the Grand Master, was born on July 7, 1907. Today, 07-07-07, is the centenary of his birth.  There’s a huge party going on in Kansas City, where Heinlein was born. I’m sorry I’m not there. So I have this tribute to make:
For me, Heinlein was like my first bicycle – something that you love to death when you’re young, that gets you started on years of enjoyment later in life, but something that you ultimately outgrow. But you never outlive your initial affection for it, and you take it out now and again to remember how it felt.
Heinlein published his first story, “Life Line,” in 1939 when he was just 32; it was recognized as a work of remarkable talent, and Heinlein became a prominent author within a very few years. By the time I was old enough to read whole books on my own, I’d noticed that my father (who was four when “Life Line” was published) had a ton of books by the one author. (My dad had the biggest science fiction collection in the state, probably, but there was more Heinlein in it than anything else.) There was a whole shelf of books that were specifically written for young adults – these were the classic “Heinlein Juveniles,” which are now sitting on the shelf in my office at home; I can see them from where I sit.
I plowed through those “Juvenile” novels before I was twelve; they include some books that remain wonderful reads for adults, such as Citizen of the Galaxy and Have Space Suit--Will Travel. I must have read his masterpiece, Stranger in a Strange Land, while I was only 13 or 14, and I’d read pretty much everything he’d written by the time I entered high school. It set me on a path of reading science fiction and fantasy to this day, and some of his ideas remain with me, although heavily annotated.  I read each new book that came out as an adult, until Heinlein died in 1988 (I'd been married for less than a year); my father died less than five years later.
Heinlein had the knack of describing the future “down to its shoelaces,” as one reviewer put it, and making you feel that the world he was showing you was absolutely real. He also had a way of making his thought-experiments seem like acts of conviction. Thus, Heinlein was derided as an anarchist for what he wrote in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, hailed as a prophet of the sexual revolution for Stranger in a Strange Land, and harshly condemned as a fascist for Starship Troopers.  In fact none of these books corresponded with his actual beliefs, but he portrayed people who did believe them so well that many of his readers took them to be his creed. (They were, of course, mutually contradictory, and no single person could have believed all of those things at the same time.)  He was also a tremendous optimist in the future of humanity and the basic sanity and decency of most people.
When I was in college (at the beginning of the decline of Second Wave feminism), it was popular to deride Heinlein as a sexist. This is a bit over-simplified – First Wave feminists would certainly not have viewed him so, since he was portraying intelligent, courageous, professional women at a time (the 1950s) when popular culture was going in the opposite direction. Second Wave feminists didn’t like him because of the personalities (especially the sexual personas) of his female characters, and they had a point. Third Wave feminists, who insist that they must have all voices and all personas available to them, probably wouldn’t object so much. But ndanukiwiwould be able to discourse on that topic better than I.  I suspect that the members of this Flist (based, anyway, on the way y'all write) wouldn't object too much either.
Sometime around the age of 20 or 21, when I was reading a lot of LeGuin and Irving, I realized that I had become “better read” than Heinlein, and his philosophical, political and economic ideas no longer appealed to me.  I’d also begun to see the similarities between many of his characters, and longed for a bit more imagination in that department.  I longed for the sort of literary complexity and perplexity that LeGuin provided.
But after all these years, I can still go back to these novels and stories and find them fresh. He wrote two of the four best time travel stories ever: “By His Bootstraps” and “All You Zombies –”. One can read Stranger in a Strange Land over and over again without getting tired of it, as is also true for many of his other works. I love Glory Road (the only sword & sorcery novel he ever wrote), Methuselah’s Children (a meditation on extreme longevity), and even the rambling Time Enough for Love.
I’m pretty sure that there’s a short fiction contest that’s supposed to be announced this weekend to celebrate his centenary. I think I’ll enter it.
  • 'I'll see you on the other side of Deathly Hallows'??!!!

    Blimey, Ken, you know how to invest something as straightforward as reading a book with excesses of melodrama! I loved the last chapter with JKR - that was very sweet and thoughtful. And your notes are a model of scholarly exactitude and thoroughness. :)
    • Wasn't after melodrama, Ros. "I'll see you on the other side of the finish line," is what I was trying to convey.

      Glad you liked the lady on the beach and the footnotes.
  • Interesting! I've read about Heinlein in fics (Hermione is obviously a great fan), but I never knew what he wrote. Thank you so much for clearing that up. Seriously cool birthday the guy had.

    Chapter five was a delight, I had no problem realizing who that woman was. Dear old Jo, of course. JKR, that is, not JM. *grins*

    The footnotes is a splendid read, so far I've don the first two chapters - and now I'm off to bed. Spending the night reading is not a recommended action with kids who wake up at six in the house, pleasurable though it is. Looking forward to finishing that sometime tomorrow night.

    • If you find reading my footnotes in the middle of the night pleasurable, Berte, then I'm really flattered. The lady on the beach was probably my favorite part to write. Sweet dreams.
  • I only read Heinlein through my husband. He was the Sci fi fan. The first thing I read was The Menace from Earth. From there I read Stranger. I think that was the first Science Fiction I ever read. From there I ended up reading others like Fritz Leiber, Hugo awards and Nebula winner stories. For a while, I even started reading Cyberpunk stories. After a while, It just too weird. So it's been a while since I've read that.

    I've finished reading the chapter of your Slow Boat. It was great seeing how everything came together.
  • Heinlein was pretty much my first/favourite author too, although I read him a couple of years after you - the first 2-3 years of early high school. I've got almost all of his books, including all the 'juveniles'. In speaking to my 9-year-old nephew just yesterday I told him that I'd have to start lending him my Heinlein books; which will probably kick-start me into reading them all again too! Anything to get him off the gameboy and playstation.

    'Space Cadet' was the first ever Heinlein book that I read, and encountering the Patrol in several of his short stories (was it 'The Last Watch' that featured Dalquist's destroying the nukes on the moon?) was probably my first inkling of the fun that could be had when authors deliberately expanded their universes like that. More so than writing a straight linear set of novels like 'Lord of the Rings', I mean. I remember thinking about the mechanics/physics of zero-G 'flight' in a space suit and shuttle while reading about the cadets' lessons ('if you start to rotate pull in your arm and leg closest to the centre of rotation.' 'Wait, don't you mean the *other* arm and leg, sarge?'!!).

    For a weird while a few years ago I had 'Starman Jones' next to my bed and would re-read my favourite passages of that book - the ones where Max would use his talent and rescue the ship, particularly his first solo jump (as Captain) - for a few minutes before going to sleep as sleepy-time fodder. That book particularly pushed my button that's labelled 'Hero saves the Day'.

    The only book of his I never read fully was 'I will fear no evil'. I remember the (thick!) paperback from the library - it had some sort of large skull on the cover? Anyway, it was just too full of sex and such for me as a young teenager, or even a few years later when I had another go. I was able to make it through 'The Number of the Beast' and his other extended Long family novels though (my tastes being what they are, I enjoyed the first half of 'The Number of the Beast', where they're zipping around exploring universes, much more than the second half, where they mainly explored each others' beds). Maybe it's time to revisit 'I will fear no evil', have a third go at it.

    He wrote two of the four best time travel stories ever

    Okay, I know that one of those two short stories you cited is the story in which the central character is his own mother and father; which one was that, and what was the other story about? Both titles are familiar, but I need you to jog my memory on the other plot.

    And, more importantly - can you tell me what your other two 'best time travel stories ever' are? I suppose 'The Time Machine' would be one? Time travel is my all-time favourite Science Fiction sub-genre. Thanks!
    • Oh! How could I forget his 'The Door Into Summer', one of my all-time favourite time travel stories (even if it might be a bit lightweight compared to *serious* time travel)? And a lovely little bit of romance, too, excellent scene when Dan proposes to Rikki ... caught me totally by surprise and I still have a big grin on my face when I re-read it.
    • Hi, Brad!

      Actually the two other "best" time travel stories I was thinking of were David Gerrold's The Man Who Folded Himself and John Varley's Millenium. They're not your typical time travel stories; the Gerrold Story owes a lot to "All You Zombies", but he takes the idea further. The Varley story, for the first fifty pages, is the most depressing book I ever read; it gets better after that, though.

      Another candidate for best time travel story would be John Crowley's "Great Work of Time," although it's also pretty depressing.

      Starman Jones was my absolute favorite book as a kid. I must have read it twenty times.

      I still don't like I Will Fear No Evil nearly as much as his other books. As for The Number of the Beast, I read a fascinating essay a few years ago that said that it's really a deliberate satire of bad writing. He comes to one cliche after another, and at the end of each cliche one of the "Bad Guys" intervenes and messes up the story, at which point the writing style changes. In each case the Bad Guy's name is an angram of "Robert Anson Heinlein." Interesting, eh?
      • Interesting, eh?

        Very! Maybe I was *supposed* to dislike the second half of the book???

        If you ever run across that essay please let me know?
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