Alexei Panshin's The Abyss of Wonder



    Having now gotten an up-to-date file of PITFCS, I see that the arguments are exploding in four cardinal directions.  It's tempting to join all of them, but there are limits even to my logorrhea.  Accordingly, the sermon for this day, drawing its main texts from Messrs. Leman, Davidson, McConnell, McLaughlin, and Vonnegut, will be on Conformism In Science Fiction.  . . .

    . . . Bob Heinlein suggests a few obvious theses, such as (a) the universe wasn't designed for our comfort, and we might consider re-adapting our culture to that fact; (b) the old-fashioned concept of duty may be one good instance of such adaptation, and ought to be revived; (c) murderers, parasites, and other sons-of-bitches don't have quite as many rights as the less offensive citizen.  This he embodies in an admittedly rather preachy novel.

    So what happens?  Dean McLaughlin, who dislikes these opinions, can tolerate them in Citizen of the Galaxy but not in Starship Troopers, because the latter "is a long, strident harangue," i.e., the theses are less smoothly presented (which is true, but why get so indignant about a purely literary flaw?).  Furthermore, Troopers "contains sanctions which persuade the individual to accept these duties for reasons other than nobility . . . pictures a well-designed system of training camp brainwashing, and postulates a system instituted at a time when there was no need to have such a system."  Therefore Heinlein is a dirty fascistic etc.

    Read the book, Dean.  In the background history, the system evolved out of contemporary conditions; it simply happened to be there when it was needed.  Of course it contained sanctions.  Show me the society, anywhere and anywhen, which doesn't.  As for brainwashing -- as Campbell said in answer to one of those anguished protests, "I always understood that the essence of brainwashing is to force the victim to have one, and only one viewpoint, denying him all other possible viewpoints."

    Which, Ted, sounds exactly like your horror at the thought that adolescents might read Troopers.  Why shouldn't they, for God's sake?  How can anyone learn to think without something to exercise his brain on?  What's wrong with advocating that war is noble, beautiful, and necessary?  I agree wholeheartedly, any such view is pure horse apples.  But I will not go along with the "liberal" contention that no one has a right to advocate the eating of horse apples.  In fact, the reason I stopped being a liberal is that it stopped making sense to me that all Communists were free to advocate what they wished but no fascists should be allowed to; that it was good to resist Hitler but bad to resist the Chinese; that all ethnic groups must be regarded and treated as identical, except the Germans, whom it is O. K. to consider as naturally a bit evil; that anybody in business is an Organization Man but nobody in government or a labor union is; etc., etc., etc.  Not that I'm about to vote Republican.  I don't like government by soothing syrup any better than you do.  I just hate to see science fiction, which pretends to be The Thinking Man's Literature, fall into the same trap.

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Originally published in The Proceedings of the Institute for Twenty-First Century Studies #136, June 1960.

Graphics by Kelly