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Jacque Marshall writes:
Hi there! You don't know me, but I just happened on a notice for your page in the newsgroup rec.arts.sf.fandom, and have started reading "Oh, Them Crazy Monkeys!" Only partway through it, but it has provoked some thinking about *my* relationship with Heinlein, and clarified a few observations I've wondered about. Thought I'd try to share them with you briefly.
First, despite the fact that up until about ten years ago, Heinlein was my Absolute Favorite Writer, I now strongly suspect that it's a damn good thing that I never met him -- I grew up with a bad case of what they call Borderline Personality, and from your description of the Heinlein Hypnosis effect, would probably have become a sycophantic zombie within minutes.
Second, when I started reading Grumbles from the Grave, I was particularly startled (appalled?) by the letter wherein H reads Campbell the riot act for not toeing the party line re: WWII-era propaganda, invoking a law to the effect that causing a soldier to have doubts about his duty is regarded as "treason." (If memory serves.) "My," I thought to myself, "touchy, isn't he?" Far from supporting his own position effectively, I thought the argument sounded like it essentially translated to "You better say I'm right or I'll tell my big brother to beat you up!" Which struck me as an awfully odd position to ake for someone who was supposedly confident of the validity of his own point of view.
And third, even though I'm exceedingly fond of Spider Robinson (Spider gradually displaced H on my mental pedestal over a number of years.), his uncritical devotion to H always struck me as just a little *weird.* His behavior is just what I would expect as an effect of the sort of force-of-personality you describe. Particularly odd in someone like Spider who doesn't otherwise seem overly vulnerable to authority.
Reading your essay, I'm finding that a lot of subliminal, vague, second-hand and undefined impressions I didn't even really know I'd collected over the years are suddenly snapping into focus.
For a little context, I'm a Star Trek (Classic)-era sf fan, and went to my first Worldcon in 1978. Oh yeah, and I'm female (so I'm always a little puzzled when I hear about a gender-divide in responses to Heinlein).
Anyway, I just felt a burning urge to share this with you while it was fresh in my mind. Back to the essay...!
--August 1, 2001
Alexei Panshin replies:
The gender gap is by no means absolute, but I have heard more women than men say that something in the certainty with which Heinlein spoke prevented them from being a Heinlein fan. It might just be that women, having an outsider's view of macho attitudes, are more likely to shake their head at Heinlein than to nod in agreement.
I think you've put your finger on an important moment in Heinlein's life when you cite his January 4, 1942 letter to John W. Campbell. In his correspondence with Campbell immediately after the attack on Pearl Harbor, I think Heinlein says pretty explicitly why his postwar writing would be less ambitious than his early work.
Steve Burwen writes:
Although there has been progress in the memory training area, there is nothing even close to a method that would produce Fair Witnesses. Renshawing as Heinlein depicted it does not exist, and I have my doubts there will ever be anything like it. The reason is that humans are not very good at rote memorization tasks, and I don't think that much can be done to improve it beyond the use of methods such as peg and loci systems, which have their limits.
However, humans have tremendous memory for sensory material, especially visual images and sounds and can probably remember millions of these without too much trouble. This is because our brains are well-engineered for single and even multi-modality sensory information processing and memory association functions and not for the sort of tasks Fair Witnesses performed.
-- January 10, 2001
Alexei Panshin replies:
It seems to me that even before you have the question of what a prospective Fair Witness remembers, you have the question of what a prospective Fair Witness perceives. There is a picture -- courtesy of Samuel Renshaw -- attached to my old college paper on Renshaw and the tachistoscope. What would a Fair Witness say that it is?
Pete McCutchen writes:
It's my hypothesis that at least some of your criticism of Heinlein is motivated by the fact that you felt disillusioned with and angry toward your childhood idol. "Spurned lover," may be a bit snide, but I think it adequately summarizes my hypothesis. And yes, I'm psychologizing about somebody whom I've never met. But what's good for the goose . . .
Two other comments on your web page to which I might take issue, while I'm at it.
First, I'd disagree with your offhand assertion that Heinlein should "accept responsibility" for "social damage" allegedly "caused" by Stranger. I have to say that I strongly suspect that Charles Manson would have done the same even if Stranger had never been written, and that, in any case, Manson and his followers bear exclusive moral responsibility for their actions. Saying that Heinlein is responsible is like saying that DC Comics is responsible for some idiot kid who jumps off a roof, thinking he'll fly like Superman, or saying that some rock group caused somebody to commit suicide. Stranger is social satire, at least by my reading; I never took it literally, and I think Heinlein was entitled to assume that his readers had some modicum of reading comprehension. Further, even if you do take it literally, you'll note that Mike was able to "discorporate" bad guys by wandering out of his body and applying metaphysical energies. By the logic of the book, if you *need* to have your followers stab people, you aren't worthy of deciding whom to discorporate. So, even if you take it absolutely *literally*, it wouldn't justify Manson's murders.
Second, I think that your comments about John Wayne and the crew of The Conqueror dying of cancer are irresponsible. John Wayne smoked like a chimney; it's far more likely that his cancer was caused by a lifelong habit than by brief exposure to some amount of radiation. As to the number of folks on the crew who died of cancer, that information is useless unless you do a serious epidemiological study. You need to compare, taking into account all important variables (smoking and diet being the most important), the number of folks who died of cancer with the number who should have died of cancer. Only by doing an epidemiological study can you make any statement about whether the radiation exposure had any effect at all. The raw numbers are absolutely useless, and the mere fact that there is a correlation doesn't say anything. (The parents who now believe that MMR vaccines cause autism are making a similar mistake.)
Oh, on the plus side, I did come across a used copy of Rite of Passage,which I'd read as a kid, but somehow misplaced from my library. It stood up very well to later rereading; it's an excellent book. Sort of reminds me of Starship Troopers, actually.
I continue to believe that if you had written thirty or forty novels of that general quality, you would today be one of the giants of the field, with a veritable spaceport on your mantlepiece.
P.S. Who did the art on the first page of your web page? I really rather like it.
-- November 19, 2000
Alexei Panshin replies:
Thank you for dropping by to visit from alt.fan.heinlein, Pete. Please come back again, read more, and modify your hypotheses as appropriate.
I think my point was not that Stranger in a Strange Land caused Charles Manson to direct his followers to commit murder, but rather that when it became known that Manson was highly influenced by Stranger in a Strange Land, Heinlein got angry at the messenger.
John Wayne did indeed smoke too much, and I'm sure it wasn't good for him. But it isn't irresponsible to point out the cancer deaths in the movie company of The Conqueror and in the people of Utah associated with atom bomb tests at Yucca Flats, Nevada. An account that Cory downloaded says, "A good chunk of the film was shot in Snow Canyon, which turned out to practically glow in the dark with radioactivity. As if that wasn't bad enough, they returned to Hollywood with 60 tons of sand for retakes in the studio. As of 1984, ninety-one out of 220 cast and crew members have developed various forms of cancer. Most of them have died. In an average group that size, the expected number of cancers is only thirty."
It is not as though this is all a secret. There was a Nova program on PBS about the deaths in Utah. And there are books in the library about nuclear testing which go into the matter. I understand that one of them is Under the Cloud by Richard L. Miller.
The art on the cover page is by Barclay Shaw, as it says if you move your mouse onto the picture. There is a picture of my den by Barclay that I'm going to have up realsoonnow.
Steven Butler writes:
I must confess that I came to your web page purely from the hope that I might find some way to locate a copy of the 'universal pantograph' and perhaps find out about the state of your backlist, I stayed to read two of your essays "Rite of Passage..." & "Sex..." and was reminded again of the depth of your insight. These are not the first of your essays I have read though sadly, the art of the essayist is in either decline or at least failing in public regard and attention.
I shall return to read further. Each essay has required some thought and consideration and I, as an aspiring author, will give them some time to be absorbed into my own world view. Understanding the sequence of your writing of Rite and the depth of your soul-searching has made me aware that my work should also be given enough time to ferment to appropriate ripeness though I have not attempted anything on the moral or social scale of your work.
In the age of the internet the sort of relationship which you initially began with Heinlein is very difficult to pursue. E-mail leads us to expect instant gratification and we settle for 10 words that say nothing in too much haste over taking the time to consider our message and engage in a dialog.
-- November 2, 2000
Alexei Panshin replies:
You say that you aspire to be an author.
If you just wanted to be a writer, things would be a lot simpler. You could be a good pro and write whatever you are assigned to write.
But to be an author is something else. It suggests authenticity, creativity and love. And those aren't qualities that the present publishing industry values.
But then, the Industrial Age is on its way out, and, as they say, "Every time a door closes, somewhere a window opens."
You are certainly right in thinking that the Neb offers the opportunity for hasty, superficial words. But it also offers the possibility of expression that the old manufacturing-and-distributing industries wouldn't have considered "commercial."
The old limiting condition was what the marketplace allows. The new limiting condition is ourselves. If you have something to say and are willing to do the work necessary to say it, nothing stands in the way of doing the do.
Monte Davis writes:
I've just read "Rite of Passage and Robert Heinlein" thanks to a pointer in a rec.arts.sf.written thread. I've owed you thanks for many years (more to come on that), but let thanks for the essay not be delayed.
I'm 50. My introduction to SF -- and Heinlein's central role in hooking and exciting me -- could have been yours, except that instead of an older brother'sBoys' Life, it was an uncle's small stash of Galaxy and A. Merritt paperbacks (hoo ha!) that started me off in 1958. By the next year I had pillaged the local library's SF section, almost all the RAH juveniles and some of the rest. My parents' gift, a subscription to F&SF, started the month before the 10th anniversary issue and the serialization of Starship Troopers. (I loved it, of course.) The next year we moved to Manhattan, I found used bookstores where I could get Signet and Ballantine paperbacks for a quarter, and that was that: I probably read upwards of 2000 SF books, and all the prozines, over the next decade.
Farnham's Freehold was a deeply disappointing rant. Glory Road was fun, but far afield. Stranger was -- well, a strange mix of crankyness and liberation by someone who seemed to be forgetting all the narrative skills he'd taught the genre 25 years before. But it was Starship Troopers that kept coming up in discussions, discussions with an *edge* I couldn't identify then: first cut of the culture wars that have afforded us all so much innocent pleasure in the decades since.
In 1968-70, while still in college, I taught at a NYC private school whose headmaster was a fan, and got a chance to put together a class in SF. Lafferty, Bester, LeGuin and Delany stretched them -- but the best choice I made was to pair Starship Troopers and Rite of Passage. That stretched all of us.
I went on to a decade as a science writer, then two more as a marketing writer for high-tech companies. Other than some reviews for a fanzine (and at Discover, a more-in-sorrow review of Number of the Beast), I haven't written about SF. But if I had... and if I'd ever tackled my gratitude for the Heinlein of 1940-1960 and my mixed feelings about where that deep 'un went from there... I hope it would have been one-half as candid, thoughtful, and generous as your essay.
-- May 2, 2000
Alexei Panshin replies:
Starship Troopers was a point of demarcation for many readers. Without any question, up to that point, Heinlein was The Man in science fiction. Some people may not have found him to their taste, but nobody felt inclined to take issue with him. That changed with Starship Troopers.
It's a very persuasive book, and it won the Hugo Award when it was published. At the same time, it actively rubbed many people the wrong way. More than one writer attempted to answer it fictionally.
However, Heinlein is very difficult to refute on his own terms. As he has it in Starship Troopers, unless you accept his premises, your opinions are nonsense. And if you do accept them, then any disagreement you may have is also nonsense. I suspect that he may have learned to argue this way on the Negative Debate Team in high school.
So what is the issue between those who continued to find guidance in Heinlein after Starship Troopers and those who didn't? It might be this: If the story we tell about ourselves is the story we get, is it the best possible self-story for the human race to regard itself as a troop of wild animals with a will to survive all competitors and to expand without limit? Or are there better possible human aims?