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I am a eugenicist's dream.

Eugenics, a little-remembered and not particularly lamented movement, arose in the mid-19th century to advocate for the improvement of humanity through the breeding of "superior" or "worthy" individuals.  This principle, which seemed innocuous enough paper, was first set forth by a cousin of Charles Darwin around the time the great biologist died, and seemed logical enough; any livestock breeder knows that breeding the strong to the strong means strong offspring, so why shouldn't the same apply to humans?  America, with her unprecedented mix of races, ethnic groups, and religions, was in a unique position to see if heredity really did make for a superior human.

At least at first, the answer seemed to be an unqualified "yes."  The children of middle and upper class families that had come to America in the 18th and early 19th centuries were bigger, stronger, healthier, and mentally far more gifted than the offspring of city dwellers who'd arrived after the Civil War.  These slum dwellers, who were overbreeding at a shocking rate, were nonetheless superior to the inbred rural poor (especially the shiftless farmers of the rural South, who showed little of the ambition that propelled the Yankee tradesman and his offspring), who were in turn far superior to the newly liberated bondsmen who jammed into Freedom Schools across the South.  

Thus it was that eugenicists, including some of the most distinguished men in the country, began pressing upper and middle class families to have as many children as possible, while the poor and the dark were told to limit the size of their families.  Soon various states began instituting laws that speed this good work by ensuring that undesirables were unable to have children that would carry on their inferior genes, preferably when their spindly, delinquent offspring were in trouble with the law and sent to reformatories.  These efforts were spurred by scientific studies demonstrating that bad character, promiscuity, criminal tendencies, and low intelligence were inherited traits that should be excised from the breeding pool as quickly as possible.

Never mind that humans are not animals, size and strength have nothing to do with character, and a rising body of evidence compiled by do-gooders in the settlement houses that poverty, racism, poor nutrition, disease, bad housing, minimal education, and lack of sanitation could and did blight whatever potential a lower class child might have.  Thousands of children and adults, the vast majority from allegedly inferior groups (almost all of which seemed to have dark skin, or practice a non-Protestant religion, or come from poor families, and isn't that a fascinating coincidence?), underwent surgery to remove their reproductive organs between the late 19th and mid-20th centuries as a way to improve the species and ensure that only the healthy and worthy could contribute to the breeding pool.

This sounds awful, and it was (and, in some places, still is) - but compared to what an Austrian eugenics advocate named Heinrich Himmler and his associates did in Europe between 1935 and 1945?  I'm not for a nanosecond excusing American eugenics, which was both abominable and inexcusable, but it could have been so, so much worse, as my uncle Lou saw for himself 69 years ago.

What happened in Europe has little or nothing to do with me, or why a eugenicist would have absolutely slavered at the thought of me having as many children as possible - and absurd as this sounds today, on paper, I more than qualify, both in family background and character.  

Think about it:  I'm a seventh-generation descendant of a doughty Welsh pioneer who came to what is now Pennsylvania around 1740, then fought in the American Revolution thirty years later.  I'm intelligent, articulate, was raised in a loving two parent home with plenty of books, music, and adult stimulation.  I'm musically gifted (I sing and play the piano), a published author, and a world-class scholar in my (admittedly tiny) discipline.  I graduated from a Seven Sisters college and have rubbed shoulders with the daughters of the elite.  I'm kind to animals, live in a nice house, and am good enough at my job that I've gotten a raise the last two years.  I pay my taxes, obey the law, and generally live an exemplary if somewhat eccentric life.

In short, I am the very model of a superior specimen of white Anglo-Saxon Protestant womanhood that eugenicists taught should pass on her superior genes,  preferably with the assistance of an equally white, equally Anglo-Saxon, equally non-Catholic/Jewish/Muslim/Hindoo/what have you male graduate of a good liberal arts college.  My children, pale-skinned and intelligent, would have been picture-perfect examples of good breeding from the right sort of stock.

On paper, that is.  

In reality...not so much.

Behold the glorious results of seven generations of WASPY WASPness!  
I might be pale-skinned and Protestant, but as you can probably tell from this lovely self-portrait, I have a rebellious streak that's had disastrous consequences for me and my family more than once not to mention anyone with a lick of taste or fashion sense.  I am a lousy housekeeper, an indifferent cook, and reasonably hopeless at home maintenance.  My intelligence is coupled with the laziness that frequently accompanies those whose intellect blossoms early, meaning that discipline was not my friend until comparatively late.  And of course I'm a liberal and a feminist, meaning that not only did I have no children of my own, I've believed since adolescence that only an individual woman should decide how many children she has, and who should be their father.

Even worse, I'm not the physical specimen that a good little upper middle class WASP should be.  I'm short, overweight, have a mouthful of crowns thanks to prenatal medication exposure (Miltowns are not the fetus's friend, let me tell you), and hate to exercise.  Worst of all, I was born with only one kidney and accompanying Mullerian tube defects that would have made it difficult for me to conceive a child at all...not that anyone with such a gross physical imperfection should have been allowed to breed in the first place, mind.

That's why I saw that on paper, I'm a eugenicist's dream.  

In reality, I'm a eugenicist's nightmare.

I'm good with that.

Tonight I bring you two books that touch in some way upon eugenics and their highly disturbing influence on American life and culture.  One is an exciting pulp novel that had an enormous effect on science fiction as literature and cultural phenomenon, and still considered a minor classic.  The other, the last book of one of the early masters of the genre, is a late and less than appealing attempt at justifying eugenics for an audience that by and large hadn't even heard the term:

Slan, by A.E. van Vogt -  the so-called Golden Age of Science Fiction coincided roughly with the tenure of John W. Campbell, Jr., as editor of Astounding Science Fiction.  Campbell, a competent writer and brilliant editor, was responsible in large part for the dramatic improvement in the quality of American science fiction during the years just before and after World War II.  He discovered and mentored, among others, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, L. Sprague deCamp, Cyril Kornbluth, Anne McCaffrey, and a host of others who went on to shape the genre.  If his personal idiosyncrasies sometimes held the genre back, his influence on science fiction, even now, can be compared only to Max Eastman on mid-century literary fiction, Harold Ross on magazine writing, and Ellery Queen on the mystery story.

Campbell published a myriad of important stories and novels, from Foundation to Children of the Lens, but one of the most notable is Slan.  First serialized in Astounding in the fall of 1940, this short, exciting novel still holds its own as a fast, absorbing, thoughtful read.  Simultaneously a thriller about a young boy, Jommy Cross, who must find a way to avenge his parents in the face of relentless opposition, a cautionary tale about government persecution of the different, and a look at the next stage of human evolution, Slan was both prescient and very much of its time.  Prejudice against the different was all too common in 1940, both in America and abroad, and the idea that this might actually hold us back as a species was surprisingly rare.  

Slan was an instant hit with SF readers, and it’s little wonder that Arkham House chose it as part of its first generation of post-war hardcover editions of magazine science fiction readers.  It’s been in print ever since, garnering praise from critics as disparate as  Groff Conklin in the 1950’s and Charles de Lint in the 1990’s.  The obvious parallels between the persecuted slans, the superior, telepathic version of humanity, and European Jewry in occupied Europe could equally apply to contemporary prejudice against the Roma in France, the Uighurs in China, and Muslims in the United States.  The writing may be crude in places, the plot melodramatic, and coincidence may get an Olympic-caliber workout, but it’s hard to deny that Slan is as much a fable for our times as it was in 1940.

It’s also had a curious, and largely unknown, influence on one of the least expected groups in contemporary America: the book’s audience.

I’m not talking about the books, or the films, or even the television shows or animes.  The Persecuted Hero With Special Abilities Who Wants Revenge is a trope that shows up in a lot of stories, from swift-footed Achilles bringing an entire war to a standstill sulking over a slave girl on down.  Van Vogt used this ancient theme, and used it brilliantly, but he was scarcely the first (or the last) author to use it.

No, I’m talking about the people who actually read Slan.  Today this could be anyone from a bright, nerdy kid raiding her father’s collection of moldering paperbacks to a bored college freshman looking for an easy English credit.  In 1940, that meant science fiction fans.  And in 1940, there were few groups that had less clout and less cachet in popular culture than the boys and (very, very few) girls who read Astonishing Science Fiction and its ilk, unless perhaps it was the women and (very, very few) men who listened to soap operas, or maybe the hordes of children who glommed down Action Comics.  

Think about it: science fiction was just emerging from the Hugo Gernsback era of hastily written, tech-heavy, characterization-thin pulp stories.  Most of its readers, writers, and even editors were the sort of teenagers who read indiscriminately, tinkered with new and exciting technology like ham radios, and were about as athletic as an ironing board.  They were nerds before the word existed, often socially awkward, and more than a few were recent immigrants from non-WASP backgrounds.  Athletic, popular, conventional kids looked down on them, their parents didn’t understand them, and they tended to band together as much for self-defense as out of a shared love of Jules Verne and C.L. Moore.  Why wouldn’t they identify with the super-intelligent, super-persecuted Jommy Cross?  

When one realizes that most of these little proto-nerds actually were smarter and better read than the handsome, well-loved jocks, it’s no surprise that the idea that “fans are slans” took off like one of the Baltimore Gun Club’s moon-bound projectiles.  The first “slan shack,” or fannish commune, appeared as early as 1943 in, no lie, Battle Creek, Michigan.  Soon others cropped up throughout the country, along with a host of fannish slang:  “fen” as the plural of “fan,” “fandom” for the subculture as a whole, “mundane” for non-fen, “femme fan” for non-male fen, “fanac” for “fannish activity,” “Ghu” for “God,” “bheer” for “beer,” “fiawol” and “fijagh” “fandom is a way of life” and “fandom is just a goddamn hobby,” and “gafiate” for “getting away from it all” or leaving fandom for the mundane world.  

Conventions, costumes, newsletters and small press operations, awards and reviews, fannish marriages and the resulting second generation fen…for a while in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s it actually looked like fandom might be evolving into its own little society.  This only accelerated with the publication of Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land (which in turn led to Atl, an early neopagan religion that shaped the work of influential neopagan theologian/eco-activist Oberon Zell-Ravenheart).  And since fen tended to be bright, well read, and idiosyncratic, it’s little wonder that the idea that fen were somehow superior to the rest of society became a fannish commonplace.

Not all that many fen today read Slan.  Its language, vision of society, and futuristic technology bear little resemblance to today’s world.  A.E. van Vogt may have been a good storyteller with some good ideas, but he’s been largely eclipsed by other, better known Golden Age writers.  Partly this is due to his long-time involvement with General Semantics, a cultish philosophy that attempted to examine the world from a non-Aristotelian viewpoint, but much of it is because he simply wasn’t as good, or prolific, as contemporaries such as Asimov, Heinlein, or Bester.  A long bout with Alzheimer’s cut his career short, and by the time Van Vogt’s widow and a ghostwriter published a sequel to Slan in 2007, not all that many people either knew or cared.

The first slan surely deserved better.

To Sail Beyond the Sunset, by Robert A. Heinlein - I have something of a love-hate relationship with Robert A. Heinlein.  His juveniles were some of the first science fiction I read, out of date plots and technology notwithstanding, and I all but devoured the equally out of date but still gripping Future History and the mid-career classics like The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and Starship Troopers.  Some of the books were problematic – slide rules in the far future? mandatory national service before one could vote? – but I was too young and too enraptured by the thrilling plots and omnicompetent characters to care.  Even now, forty years after my SF-loving father left an entire shelf of Heinlein paperbacks in the dining room for me to discover, I still regard Citizen of the Galaxy and “If This Goes On – “ as some of the most important books I’ve ever read.

Alert readers will note that the books and stories I’ve referenced above were all written during the early phase of Heinlein’s career, between the 1930’s and the mid-1960’s. Oh, I did read some of Heinlein’s later work, but his writing became increasingly problematic  as both he and I aged.  I’m not precisely sure why, although the realization that Heinlein’s female characters were by and large all the same person (probably his second wife, Ginny), with remarkably similar attitudes toward life, the universe, and childbearing regardless of life circumstances, surely was a major factor.  

The increasingly strident politics didn’t help.  I was less liberal then than I am now, but the ringing defense of liberty and equality that had permeated “If This Goes On – “ and Citizen of the Galaxy was gradually replaced by something darker and less savory.  Oh, I had no problem with most of it – I was still a Rockefeller Republican, at least in theory – but there were passages, characters, even whole chapters, that made me uneasy.  They seemed to have been shoehorned in rather than rising organically from the characters and situations, and I had to skip over alarmingly large chunks of text to get to the next part of the actual plot on a regular, and disturbing, basis.

And then there was the huge, thick, meandering mess that was Time Enough For Love, which told the life story of one Lazarus Long.  Long, who had first appeared in a much earlier book, was over 3,000 years old and had lived an occasionally interesting, frequently repetitive life while shedding every single inhibition one would think would go along with an early 20th century Midwestern upbringing.  Along the way he had a) pioneered zero-g midwifery techniques, b) settled a lot of different planets under a lot of different names, c) fathered an astonishing quantity of red-haired children throughout most of the galaxy, d) fallen in love with a sentient computer that acquired a body resembling his favorite wife, e) fought in a lot of wars with nary a hint of trauma, and f) gone back in time to make love to his mother, who was pregnant with one of his younger siblings.

Yeah.  I know.

Thanks to all the above (though particularly to what a friend called Time Enough for Sex), I had largely stopped reading Heinlein by the time I graduated from college.  Oh, I tried his later works.  I truly did.  Some weren’t bad - Friday, The Cat Who Walks Through Walls - and I admit to enjoying The Notebooks of Lazarus Long (aka, The Pithy Sayings That Do Not Involve Lazarus Long Gettin’ Jiggy With His Mother), but I gave up on The Number of the Beast over a bra joke and never bothered with I Will Fear No Evil.  What had seemed fresh and interesting to a teenager was now stale, boring, and sexist.  There were better books to read, and better ways to spend my time.

Then this book came out, and my ex picked up the paperback.  It was Heinlein’s last novel, supposedly the climax of his career, and a return to form after the problematic later books.  Wingding liked it, and since we had similar tastes in books, I decided to give it a try.

So I read it.  

And despite enjoying it at first, and reading it more than once, I quickly realized that this, the final book in the grand old man’s career, the crown of his life’s work, the novel that wrapped up everything – and I do mean everything - he ever wrote, was not only yet more of Lazarus Long gettin’ jiggy with his mother, it was a beautifully written defense of incest, adultery, and the selective breeding of human beings.

Consider the basic premise behind every single story  about Lazarus Long, his mother Maureen, and their assorted relations:  that a rich but unhealthy man named Ira Howard, furious that he was about to die young of old age, leaves his fortune to promote the extension of the human lifespan.  Since Ira’s unfortunate demise takes place in the mid-19th century, the trustees of his foundation decide that the best way to accomplish this is  by encouraging marriages between healthy, disease-free people with four living grandparents, with cash inducements for a) each baby born to a Howard couple and b) each marriage between the offspring of two Howard families.

The Ira Howard and his legacy were first mentioned in Methuselah's Children, originally written in 1940 and published in (where else?) Astounding Science Fiction, and if the entire scheme If this sounds uncomfortably close to the giant pumpkin contests at the county fair, that isn’t far off.  Eugenicists used to promote Fit Families competitions at agricultural fairs, with prizes for the healthiest and largest families...all of which, oddly enough, turned out to be from sturdy, pale-skinned Anglo-Saxon stock.

Just like Maureen Johnson, heroine of this enjoyable, occasionally lyrical, and quite, quite bizarre novel.  

Maureen narrates the book, which she describes as “the memoirs of a housewife.”  And so it is, if the housewife in question is a precocious, sexually rapacious, and utterly uninhibited Midwesterner born and raised in the late 1800’s by a mother who leaves no impression at all on either Maureen or the reader, and a physician-father who has no qualms about giving his daughter advice on birth control.  He also gives her her first pelvic exam, which arouses Maureen to the point that she develops a lifelong (and, God help us, eventually consummated) Electra complex that puts Oedipus' relationship with Jocasta to shame.

That this is one of Maureen’s tamer escapades is surprising only when one considers the following:

- Howard children are routinely expected to have sex with each other during courtship, albeit while using condoms (which are 100% effective, all the time, every time, even without spermicide) until they decide that they’re sexually compatible.  After that, the rubbers come off, the mattress tag commences in earnest, and the marriage doesn’t take place until the real reason for a Howard marriage is firmly ensconced in the bride’s uterus.

- As long as those Magical Perfect Condoms are worn to prevent non-Howard offspring, Howard men and women are free to engage in adultery, group sex, and pretty much any type of incest.  The same applies if the woman is already pregnant.

- Howard men never seem to get STI’s, and Howard women (especially “Mama Maureen”) never have morning sickness, pre-eclampsia, or even stretch marks despite bearing children.

- One of Mama Maureen’s daughters, Carol, ends up as the unwitting patron several centuries later of a “let’s bang everything that moves to blow off steam” holiday on the anniversary of her first menstrual period.  

- Maureen and her first husband, Brian, end up in a sexual/romantic threesome with their daughter-in-law after their son dies during World War II…and after the daughter-in-law bears yet another Howard child, Brian decides to marry her instead of Maureen since Maureen has (finally) hit menopause and there’s no monetary reason to stay with her while he can still receive those sweet, sweet cash payments for begetting yet another Howard brat.

- The sexual and social freedoms of mid-century America are a bad thing even though they’re pretty tame compared to what the Howards have been doing for a century or so, for reasons that are unclear but may be related to Robert Heinlein’s dislike of liberal politics and the disrespectful younger generation.

- Maureen’s experience as a housewife who gets an allowance but never sees the family checkbook makes her such a good money manager that she eventually writes a financial advice column.

Along the way Maureen has to cope with her youngest children having an affair with each other to the exclusion of any potential Howard babies, joins a Unitarian church because they don’t care if she’s an atheist, refers to getting pregnant as “ringing the cash register,” meets several characters from Heinlein’s other novels (don’t even ask), and ends up wealthier than Brian thanks to insisting on an equal division of assets in the divorce (see above).  Eventually she’s rescued from seeming death by her time-traveling son and his family (which by now includes two gender-swapped clones, Lorelei Lee and Lapis Lazuli) and whisked off to the far future.  There she’s informed that despite a couple of thousand years of medical advances, her genes are still so superior that women are lining up to bear her genetic offspring instead of their own (!).  She’s then given a full body makeover and rejuvenation treatment, inseminated with yet another baby, and has “welcome home, sonny boy!” sex with Lazarus after one of his adventures.

And then she and a bunch of her relatives rescue her father from certain death during the London Blitz…after which she gets pregnant AGAIN, finally proves that her heart belongs to Daddy, and marries pretty much every other character in the book in a massive group wedding.  “And we all lived happily ever after,” she says, in an ending that is simultaneously a promise of yet more adventures and the understatement of the year.

All (or most) of the above is narrated while Maureen is in jail awaiting trial on murder charges (spoiler: she’s a) framed and b) rescued).  Some of the chapters, especially those about Maureen’s early life, are tender, lovely odes to the green, lush Earth of her childhood, or sentimental memoirs of her early married years.  There are nice humorous touches like the appearance of Pixel, the Cat Who Walks Through Walls, and the revelation that Lazarus was originally supposed to be named “Ethel” since Maureen was convinced he’d be a girl.  Heinlein’s love of cats, and redheads, and the Midwest, is evident throughout.  

Unfortunately, so his is complete lack of understanding of why the societal upheavals of what he calls “the Crazy Years” of the 1960’s took place, or why the shorter-lived, the darker-skinned, and the non-heterosexual might have been less than happy with life in Maureen's version of reality.  This may be partly because Heinlein began the Howard family saga in the 1940’s, when racism and feminism weren’t really on the radar and the word “homophobia” didn’t even exist, but it’s hard to believe that a seasoned pro like Heinlein couldn’t have figured out a way to retcon the less savory parts of the idealized past.

Of course, if Heinlein had done that, he might well have had to explained why there seem to be so very few non-white, non-WASP Howard families…or how the human lifespan increased thanks solely to good breeding within about three generations...or what happens if a Howard baby turns out to be LGBT, or a woman has a miscarriage, or even wants to do something besides chart her ovulation and ring the cash register…or why even millennia from now, the greatest, most inventive human who ever lived is a pale-skinned redhead who really, really loves the mother whose heart belongs to daddy.  That might have been too much to ask, and probably was, but it might have made for a more interesting book.

The final irony?  For all his emphasis on good breeding, and group marriage, and babies,  Heinlein himself had no children by either of his wives.  Whether this was at the root of this major strain of his work is not known, but it sure wouldn’t surprise me.


Are you a WASPY WASP of seven (or five, or eleven) generations?  Are you a slan?  Did you ever read a Howard families novel?  Heard of eugenics in the United States?  Now is the time to confess that DAR membership or the certificate from your Uncle Egbert and Aunt Matilda winning the Better Babies contest at the East Pithole Agricultural Fair in 1928, so spill...


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Comment Preferences

  •  I suppose I'm a WASP (12+ / 0-)

    but Heinlein lost me halfway through Stranger in a Strange Land.

    Someone, I think it was David Hartwell, told me that Heinlein had a brain problem halfway through that novel: aneurism or what, I do not recall.

    But even in high school, I could tell that the first half of Valentine's story was well-written and the second half was an awful mishmash of mush.

    So while I adored his juvies when I was a juvie, I had no desire to read him after Stranger. I maybe read one more after that -- don't recall all these decades later -- but really, Stranger was The End.

    English usage is sometimes more than mere taste, judgment and education - sometimes it's sheer luck, like getting across the street. E. B. White

    by Youffraita on Sat Aug 30, 2014 at 06:29:47 PM PDT

  •  Van Vogt and Heinlein (12+ / 0-)

    Back in the late '80s I had a couple friends who were big X-MEN fans.  At least they were until they decided that Chris Claremont's theme of "Mutants are Hated and Feared" was starting to become a bit over-worked.  Personally, I was quite familiar with that theme; I first came across it in Slan.

    I don't think van Vogt's eclipse as a writer was due as much to his interest in General Semantics as it was to the one-two punch of getting involved in his buddy L. Ron Hubbard's Dianetics organization, (he seems to have bailed about the time it morphed into Scientology), and of being disliked by Damon Knight, who became a Very Important Editor and an arbiter of SF taste.

    I wrote a bit about A.E. van Vogt a couple years back when I was writing a series of diaries on his Voyage of the Space Beagle.

    There are very few of Heinlein's post-Stranger novels that I care for.  Glory Road is one, (although it's been decades since I've read it; my opinion might have changed), and The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is another (and another which I wrote about in my SF/F Club series).  I really grew to dislike Lazarus Long, and one of the few things I liked about The Cat Who Walked Through Walls was that at one point the protagonist actually faces Lazarus down.

    I really wanted to like Number of the Beast, but the further I  read the more obvious it became that Heinlein didn't care about the plot; that the set-up was just an excuse to have his characters discuss sex and the nature of Leadership.  Oh, and for the self-indulgent trans-dimensional SF convention in the final chapter which would have been oh so much more novel had I not been reading that sort of stuff in comic books for years.

    Read my webcomic, "Hannibal Tesla Adventure Magazine" at

    by quarkstomper on Sat Aug 30, 2014 at 06:30:58 PM PDT

  •  Wisp of a WASP (12+ / 0-)

    Heavy Celtic overlay from Normandy with concomitant RC "poisoning"; however, that side of my ancestral family has been in the New World since the 17th C. when France sent her surplus female population to the colony presently known as Canada.

    But I, too, am a eugenicist's nightmare being about 75% legs and myopic since age 8, and look like a telephone pole with glasses.  Character-wise, I am not interested in being nor in becoming a "nice person."  You think you're lazy?  HA!  I am so confirmed a couch potato that my nickname is "Spud." (OK -- I exaggerate here.)

    I did my bit for Zero Population Growth and would do no more.  If I have my way, due to my contributions to humanity, our species will become extinct before we destroy our planet.

    Back to that lazy business again. . .I'm so lazy, I let Ellid read all the bad books and tell me what not to read.  Then I do as I'm told.

    Readers & Book Lovers Pull up a chair! You're never too old to be a Meta Groupie

    by Limelite on Sat Aug 30, 2014 at 06:49:41 PM PDT

  •  Eugenics. Great in theory; lousy in practice. (6+ / 0-)

    Agricultural experience (with plants as well as animals) shows conclusively that selective breeding DOES alter a species, quite rapidly in fact, but note that I wrote ALTER and not IMPROVE.  There are some very big philosophical/ethical questions involved here; I could find about 6 off the top of my head in less than 5 minutes of casual thought.

    As regards human society, there is also the little matter that the fastest way to apply eugenics is to 'breed to the elite male'.  Now this has certainly actually happened; David Brin repeatedly makes the point on his blog that that most, if not all, of us are descendants of males who WERE able by whatever means to impregnate more than their share of females.  (He uses Genghis Khan as an example, who via his Chinese harems is estimated to have over 50 million direct descendents after 35 or so generations.  Are his characteristics what we want to breed for?)

    As mechanisms go, the Howard idea is not so bad (apart from the tendency towards inbreeding).  I have myself wondered about whether a similar mechanism aiming at intelligence could be used as an Alternative History plot.  (Having a society which used cash, or more likely pension, inducements for highly intelligent FEMALES to have large families for a couple of centuries could have some interesting social effects IMHO.  But how do you define intelligence?  And how do you prevent one generation's winners from fiddling matters so their own offspring get favoured?)

    •  Exactly - how do you define "desirable traits" (6+ / 0-)

      in humans?  Do you want someone who's strong?  Fast?  Smart?  Creative?  A good singer?  Quick witted?  How do you breed for this?  How do you even define intelligence, and how do you screen for bad traits...which actually might be useful in some ways?  

      Most important of all, how do you keep a dominant group from defining all of the above?

      This isn't freedom. This is fear - Captain America

      by Ellid on Sat Aug 30, 2014 at 08:14:57 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  the Howard foundation... (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        xaxnar, Most Awesome Nana, Ahianne, BYw

        The Howard Foundation (Heinlein was clearly thinking of Howard Hughes, by the way), was specifically going after long life.  If your grandparents, and great-grand parents lived to an old age, you were a candidate for the Howard subsidies.

        If we're going to talk seriously about "eugenics", we might give Heinlein credit for coming up with a much less nasty form of the idea: instead of forced sterilization, the emphasis is on incentives.  

        (Myself, I don't think there's much good evidence that any qualities we really care about in human beings have a strong biologically inherited component, so all this stuff is besides the point.)

        •  Except that having long-lived grandparents (2+ / 0-)

          indicates very little about one's own possible lifespan unless one factors in diet, exercise, residence, income, environmental factors like living in a polluted area, and bad habits like smoking.  Heinlein's idea might be less cruel than the sterilization of Mexican, Native American, black, and the handicapped (or the "incorrigible," which usually meant "girls who got pregnant before marriage who happened to be poor"), but in the long run it was equally based on false premises.

          This isn't freedom. This is fear - Captain America

          by Ellid on Sun Aug 31, 2014 at 05:05:16 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  but the outer-envelope of the human lifespan... (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            RiveroftheWest, RunawayRose

            The outer-envelope of the human lifespan is what you would be trying to increase.  Lifestyle might get you to 100, but no one makes it past 150-- there does appear to be a physical, biological limit there, and as far as science fictional premises go, the idea that you might increase it with a selective breeding program isn't that crazy.

            Whether it would actually work, on that I have no opinion.  

            The implicit idea (at least, I think it's just implicit) that the Howard project also succeeded in breeding for intelligence, that seems like quite a stretch.

      •  Well, there are genetic diseases out there (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        RiveroftheWest, Ellid, RunawayRose

        I remember my college physical anthropology text stating that each of us have the recessive genes for at least 4 such genetic diseases in our genes. Identifying these & avoiding others who have the same recessive genes would be arguably a good thing.

        Of course this is very different in degree, if not kind, from how eugenics is supposed to be applied.

    •  There is a story along those lines... (6+ / 0-)

      A couple actually. That of humans who decided to breed for intelligence and the results over time. C. M. Kornbluth wrote two: the Little Black Bag, and The Marching Morons. There was more than a little cynicism and satire to both of them.

      "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

      by xaxnar on Sat Aug 30, 2014 at 09:19:03 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Heinlein, along with Isaac Asimov and (7+ / 0-)

    Arthur C Clarke and Anne McCaffrey were the four authors who I read the most of during my teens and 20s.

    I've read nearly everything written by all four of them. Except Asimov, that guy was too prolific for even me, and he wrote a ton of non-fiction math and science books which I never read any of.

    It's probably been over 25 years since I've read a Heinlein book, but oddly enough, I just downloaded a whole slew of them onto my oldest Kindle for reading this fall and winter.

    I too loved his juveniles best, but I do recall really enjoying the continuing saga of Lazarus Long nee Woodrow Wilson Smith. Even in those later novels which you couldn't bear to read (or at least finish).

    Because I'm the sort of reader who, once I pick up a tale, I have to know what happens.

    Even if when I finish I close the book and say to myself, "well, there's a few hours I'll never get back".

    But my all time favorite books are still, over thirty years later now, those Anne McCaffrey PERN stories. I hope to see a screen adaptation before I die.

    I long with all of my heart to see the great and wondrous golden Ramoth, bronze Mnementh and white Ruth and their Riders, too.

    Great diary, Ellid.

    "I like paying taxes...with them, I buy Civilization"

    by Angie in WA State on Sat Aug 30, 2014 at 07:31:01 PM PDT

  •  As far as eugenics goes.... (5+ / 0-)

    I long ago learned, like Jommy Cross, to conceal my superior abilities. I do it so well, as a matter of fact, even I doubt them.

    I've read everything by Heinlein I could get my hands on. When he's good, he's very good. When he isn't... the body of his work still (I think) beats Sturgeon's Law when considered as a whole. I think a large part of why his later works are problematic is because he'd gotten to a point where there weren't any editors capable of reining in his self-indulgences the way Campbell could.

    I suspect too some of it is a consequence of his obsession with exactly what it means to be human; how to resolve sex, morality, character, ethics, etc. into a consistent and coherent... gestalt, for want of a better word. His most famous/notorious approach to the problem is "Stranger in a Strange Land". Many people are still trying to grok what it means.

    He certainly shaped the field with his creation of the Future History series, setting stories against a shared background of events, places, and characters over an extended time span. A lot of subsequent authors have taken to building universes to set their stories in as a result, rather than creating something from scratch every time.

    And whatever else might be said about his work, I have to admit his efforts to bring so many of his characters to a final resolution of their stories has a certain poignancy to it. If one mark of a good writer is the ability to make a reader care about the characters he or she has created, there's a certain symmetry in that it appears Heinlein seems to have shared that concern.

    A.E. van Vogt is a different case entirely. I've read quite a bit of his work over the years, and enjoyed it. While he was not  big on developing characters of any great depth, he had a touch for crafting stories around Big Ideas and/or Sweeping Vistas, with the occasional twist thrown in. What's interesting is how so many of his novels were adapted by cobbling together and re-writing works originally written as short stories, usually with some additional plot elements the better to tie them together.

    While van Vogt seems to have fallen by the wayside, there are a number of his works that evoke some fond memories: The Weapon Shops of Isher, the Voyage of the Space Beagle, The War Against the Rull, The Silkie...

    It was amusing when I realized the TV series "I Claudius" drew on the same source material as did van Vogt's Empire of the Atom and The Wizard of Linn.

    "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

    by xaxnar on Sat Aug 30, 2014 at 09:11:59 PM PDT

  •  Eugenics as done the old-fashioned way doesn't (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    xaxnar, Most Awesome Nana, Ahianne

    bother me a lot unless it involves decisions about who can breed and who can't, or that certain privileged people can have more children while the rest must have less.

    What does concern me, though maybe I won't be around by the time it becomes a practical issue, is when we start messing with the human genome to produce (supposed) supermen. and I guess, superwomen though somehow the emphasis always seems to be on super males.

    As others have commented, the day that conservative Christians start deciding abortion is OK is the day that a test is devised to determine if the fetus is gay or straight.  And the day the Catholic church decides fiddling with genes is OK is the day that someone figures out how to turn a gay fetus straight.

    There's zillions of other problems like these where human beings frankly lack the wisdom to make the decisions that will soon be possible to make regarding genetics.

    •  That's the whole point of old school eugenics (4+ / 0-)

      Only the "fit" should breed, which meant middle and upper class whites from "good" backgrounds.  The poor, the non-Protestant, the rebellious, the black, the Asian, the Southern and Eastern European, the Native American - they didn't count, at least a century ago.

      Humans aren't four o'clocks or cattle, and whether or not we can eventually shape the species at the genetic level, our previous attempts have caused much damage and death.  

      This isn't freedom. This is fear - Captain America

      by Ellid on Sun Aug 31, 2014 at 05:11:35 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Eugenics keeps coming up (3+ / 0-)

        We really have to add to the list Frank Herbert's Dune. Centuries of selective breeding by the Bene Gesserit, all thrown off plan with the birth of Kwisatz Haderach Paul Atreides...

        And Lois McMaster Bujold's future includes a world where gene scans are routine procedure for those planning to use uterine replicators for child birth. Given the anti-mutant prejudice on Barrayar and genetic problems from the Time of Isolation, it's not entirely unreasonable.

        But then you have the Cetagandan Empire, whose aristocracy is dedicated to the creation of a post-human race...

        "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

        by xaxnar on Sun Aug 31, 2014 at 05:49:22 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Slans and Fans (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Aunt Pat, quarkstomper, xaxnar, Ahianne

    Although I never became a "fan" in the formal sense, and still am not (although I've come to realize I undoubtedly missed out on a LOT of fun), I've been reading SF for more than 50 years. I suspect I first read Slan when I was in High School, somewhere around 1960. I re-read it later (although it seems I no longer have a copy--although I do have a number of other Van Vogt novels and stories) and was not nearly as smitten by the story as I was when I was a misunderstood teen.

    My feelings about Heinlein are quite complex, and I keep thinking I really should write a diary about him, having recently finished William Patterson's 2 volume official bio, as well as Leon Stover's truly awful brief literary biography.

    But for now I'll just say that I was very sad when Heinlein died because I had been "arguing" with him for my entire adult life. I was sorry for him all over again when the Soviet Union fell apart just a couple of years after his death. It seemed somehow unfair of the universe to let him live so long but not quite long enough, unlike Lazarus Long who obviously had time enough to wear out his welcome.

    Oh, and I think actually Star Beast might be one of my very faves of Heinlein's books. Like everyone else I believe his juveniles are the best things he ever wrote.

    If your internal map of reality doesn't match external conditions, bad things happen.--Cambias

    by pimutant on Sat Aug 30, 2014 at 10:14:51 PM PDT

  •  I liked some Heinlein and detested some (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Aunt Pat, xaxnar, Ahianne

    The Roads Must Roll, with vicious military strikebreaking and incredibly stupid technology, was the worst, followed by the lunatic political and social theories of The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.

    I am currently writing a Diary series for the Readers & Book Lovers group called Grokking Republicans. However, we are reading real-world scientific materials with some illustrative political analysis that takes the science into account. John Dean, in particular, came to know Stanley Milgram and his work on obedience, and Robert Altemeyer and his work on a variety of authoritarian personalities. He used their work in writing Conservatives Without Conscience, some of whom appeared in Heinlein long before.

    Back off, man. I'm a logician.—GOPBusters™

    by Mokurai on Sat Aug 30, 2014 at 10:48:56 PM PDT

  •  I enjoyed the General Semantics (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Aunt Pat, xaxnar, pimutant, Ahianne

    in van Vogt's work, although one can easily go overboard if one tries to turn it into an ideology.

    The cortico-thalamic pause, asserting conscious control over desires and autonomic reactions, has a lot in common with Buddhist meditation for abandoning attachment to desire.

    The map is not the territory.
    is also very close to the Zen teaching
    The pointing finger is not the moon.
    But ultimately GS is too thin a reed to support claims of being a comprehensive philosophy.

    A. E. van Vogt was a master of the paranoid style in Science Fiction plotting, in which only one man holds the keys to survival of a mission (The Voyage of the Space Beagle) or all of civilization, or even all of existence (the Weapon Shops series), and enemies are everywhere. Slan, too.

    Delusions of grandeur are of course pervasive in hero fiction, where they are typically all true for the heroes but the villains all have some essential flaw, such as bragging about their plans in such detail and for so long that the heroes work out how to bring them down.

    Heinlein did some serious persecution paranoia in fantasy tales, notably The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag and They, where it is actually worse than the protagonists think.

    Back off, man. I'm a logician.—GOPBusters™

    by Mokurai on Sat Aug 30, 2014 at 11:09:38 PM PDT

    •  I didn't read either of those (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      xaxnar, Ahianne, RiveroftheWest

      I think I'd moved on to other authors by then.

      As for the villain monologuing - one of my favorite moments of television last year was in the finale of Agents of SHIELD, when John Garrett (the Clairvoyant) uses his new healing factor to repair the damage he suffered fighting the good guys.  He stands up, grinning, and declares that now he's stronger than ever, that he'll be unstoppable -

      And Agent Coulson walks in, shoots him with a gun that basically reduces him to his component atoms, and walks out with a little shrug and a comment about "oh, that's where the gun was."

      So much for the wisdom of Evil Monologues of Evil.

      This isn't freedom. This is fear - Captain America

      by Ellid on Sun Aug 31, 2014 at 05:17:32 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Van Vogt & Heinlein (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Deward Hastings, Ahianne

    A.E. van Vogt is a fascinating writer-- you run into people obsessing about how, say, Phillip K. Dick is so bizare, but they don't get that his predecessors were weirder, just not self-conscious about it.   I don't know if van Vogt's General Semantics got much in the way of his popularity-- "The World of Null-A" and it's sequel was as big a hit as "Slan", I would've thought.   I think the trouble was that he was generally incoherent-- he often worked by waking himself up with an alarm every few hours and transcribing his dreams.  He didn't seem to have much grasp of how to convey human character, either: even Hal Clement did a better job.

    I actually liked "To Sail Beyond the Sunset" quite a bit, compared to the other later Heinlein novels (the later novels start with "I Will Fear No Evil", okay?), and I think you're missing an angle.  Much of the later novels do indeed have a pornographic thrust to them (sorry), following a general theme of "geniuses create their own rules"-- for our Howardian ubermensch, polygamy and incest are no problem.  With "To Sail Beyond the Sunset", things are considerably less rosy (sorry): the incest play leads to a nasty jealous rivalry among siblings; the polygamous marriage ends in a divorce.  So: there are problems that can arise with just making up your own rules...

    (By the way, about that "irony" that Heinlein was relatively childless-- I had the impression he had children by a previous marriage, pre-Virginia, but whatever-- I offer the theory, founded on very little that it was Virginia's idea to skip having children, and all of that jazz about the wonders of child-raising and so on was essentially an in-joke: the polemics were directed at his own wife.)

    •  The World of Null-A was a success, I believe (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Ahianne, RiveroftheWest

      I was refer to the sheer amount of time he devoted to GS (and later, as someone else pointed out, Dianetics), which of course came out of his writing time.

      No kids by any of his wives (of which he had three, though not all at once).  Two of the marriages (the second and the third) lasted long enough for him to have had kids, but it never happened.

      As for TWBTS - I did like certain parts of it, and yes, I am aware that the sibling incest was supposed to have ended poorly.  But the relationship among Brian, Maureen, and their daughter-in-law ends when Brian basically decides to trade Maureen in for a more fertile model (and attempts to screw her over in the property division, to the point of trying to give her only a third of their assets so that the DIL can get a third even though she didn't contribute a dime to the kitty).  And the father-daughter and mother-son incest...

      Sorry, but that was too much for me.  Ditto the lack of black characters (are there any?) and the whole "we bred a better human" business.  It's an enjoyable read, but the subtext was very problematic, at least for me.

      This isn't freedom. This is fear - Captain America

      by Ellid on Sun Aug 31, 2014 at 05:25:04 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  He did retcon one of the Howard characters (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Ahianne, Ellid, RiveroftheWest

        as being black, but that was just a " there are no racial differences in the future - we're all midwestern white Americans now" thing.

        The thing about quotes on the internet is you cannot confirm their validity. ~Abraham Lincoln

        by raboof on Sun Aug 31, 2014 at 06:18:35 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  black characters (are there any?) (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Ahianne, RiveroftheWest

        In the Davis family, and Mannie himself ? ? ?

        Fake Left, Drive Right . . . not my idea of a Democrat . . .

        by Deward Hastings on Sun Aug 31, 2014 at 07:55:14 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  Heinlein the non-parent (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Ahianne, RiveroftheWest, RunawayRose

        He was married twice before Virginia, a very brief first marriage, and a longer second marriage to an alcoholic (probably the basis for the wife in Farnham's Freehold). For awhile he lived with his second wife and Virginia, a situation which was NOT stable, but evidently he didn't take that to heart, or just wished for such a thing to work, so kept writing about it. He had no children. From trying to read between the lines in the authorized biography I believe he was sterile. At one point he and Virginia did consider adoption. I always thought his preoccupation with reproduction while simultaneously having no real conception of the problems of child-rearing was frustrated desire to have had his own children combined with profound ignorance of what kids actually involve.

        If your internal map of reality doesn't match external conditions, bad things happen.--Cambias

        by pimutant on Sun Aug 31, 2014 at 09:13:00 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  Right, but... (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        RiveroftheWest, RunawayRose

        "But the relationship among Brian, Maureen, and their daughter-in-law ends when Brian basically decides to trade Maureen in for a more fertile model ..."

        This is the story told from Maureen's point of view.  We don't know what Brian was actually thinking, we just know the way she took something he said.  Look at it from Brian's point of view: he essentially has two wives, and they both seem to be okay with this, but legally he can only be married to one of them, and for obvious practical reasons-- considering the time and the place-- that should be the one bearing children.  (He wasn't trying to throw her out-- she admits this in passing later-- so she was wigging out about a change in legal status).

        The fact that Heinlein was willing to depict the "Howard lifestyle" as having any drawbacks at all is what I'm commenting on.  Extreme utopian experiments are all very well, but an author that just shows you the up-side is cheating...

        •  You're forgetting that he tries to screw her over (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          RiveroftheWest, RunawayRose

          when it comes to the divorce settlement - even after he drops Anne (?) from the equation, he STILL offers Maureen the less lucrative package.  

          This isn't freedom. This is fear - Captain America

          by Ellid on Sun Aug 31, 2014 at 03:12:15 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Okay-- (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            RiveroftheWest, RunawayRose

            Well, we don't really know what Brian thought he was doing, but I'm not trying to defend Brian's character-- what I am saying is that this particular later Heinlein is a lot more complex than the others.  

            If your point is that it doesn't grab you as a wish-fulfillment fantasy, well that's my point too.

            •  As I said in the diary, I have very mixed feelings (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:

              about the book, and about later Heinlein in general.  I do think there were some elements of wish fulfillment in his emphasis on large families, but unless someone digs up his medical records, it has to remain speculation.

              This isn't freedom. This is fear - Captain America

              by Ellid on Mon Sep 01, 2014 at 04:02:32 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

  •  I will break ranks here and say that, (5+ / 0-)

    while I enjoy and value Heinlein's juveniles, I don't think any of them can match either The Puppet Masters or The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, which I consider the last two truly successful novels that he wrote. Citizen of the Galaxy comes the closest, IMO but it suffers from a chronic weakness in some of Heinlein's post WWII work.

    Starting with Beyond this Horizon on through Starship Troopers, Stranger in a Strange Land,  Farnham's  Freehold and beyond a pattern emerged. Narratives are begun with "The Dean" apparently in his usual fine form, only to lose their drive, dissolving into an unfocused meandering that doesn't end so much as it simply peters out.

    SIASL almost avoids this by martyring the protagonist for a big finish but the effect is blunted by all the nattering that precedes it, such as RAH's decision to interrupt the narrative with bulletins from the Christian afterlife. His choice to attach one of these satirical misfires as a coda at the end of the novel serves only to deflate the story's climax.

    In the end, I think the reason for Heinlein's latterly decline is pretty straightforward; he forgot to be a storyteller first. In the late novels the story becomes little more than a pretext for pontification.

    This is certainly true of To Sail Beyond the Sunset. Since the novel is structured as a "memoir" it poses less difficulty than in the other books. One expects a memoir to have a large dose of opinionated commentary.

    Between the nostalgic odes to the Missouri of his childhood and revisiting all the  sexual taboos that he found endlessly fascinating, it's evident that his protagonist is really nothing more than simulacrum for voicing RAH's flights of fancy.

    I like to think that the last line of the book was the product of a personal epiphany on RAH's part. That or a puckish desire to let everyone in on the joke.

    Great diary, as usual :)

    Nothing human is alien to me.

    by WB Reeves on Sun Aug 31, 2014 at 02:38:02 AM PDT

    •  Agreed that Heinlein got more and more pompous (5+ / 0-)

      The lecturing, and the sense that He Knows All About All Things, go to be too much for me.

      This isn't freedom. This is fear - Captain America

      by Ellid on Sun Aug 31, 2014 at 05:26:55 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  One of Heinlein's recurring themes was that... (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        pimutant, Ahianne, RiveroftheWest

        Life is an inevitable tragedy. Just about the time a person begins to figure what life is, achieve some mastery at it and all the things humans can do, the body begins to fail. Age takes its toll. All the pleasures of life - including sex - become less and less attainable just as one is reaching the capacity to enjoy them to the fullest. It's the driving force behind the idea of the Howard Families and the race to find "Time Enough For Love."

        (Hmm. Again it's an issue Bujold keeps returning to, what with Jacksonian brain transplants into young clone bodies, cryofreezing and revival, and more recently Lord Mark Vorkosigan's funding of rejuvenation research.)

        One of Heinlein's later works that I seldom see discussed is "Job - a Comedy of Justice". It takes the central idea of "The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag" and expands it by adding religion to the mix by retelling the biblical story of Job.

        Spoiler alert:

        Hoag's unpleasant profession is that he is an art critic, and the art form he specializes in happens to be what ordinary humans call existence, the universe, etc. etc. In essence, what we perceive as the universe is a work of art by beings far beyond our comprehension.

        Hoag hires a husband and wife detective team to find out what it is he actually does. As they eventually find out, his work as a critic involves 'dumbing down' his god like powers to that of an ordinary human, so he can experience the art work (this universe) from the inside - the better to critique it. Once the detectives trigger his true self into full awareness, Hoag decides his work is done.

        His review? This universe is a flawed, but promising work of art by an artist still developing his/her/its talents. He departs, but not before arranging for the detectives to survive as the universe is rewritten around them by the artist responding to the critique. They are unsettled, to say the least.

        "Job" is a bit wider in scope. The main character is a fundamentalist Christian who becomes cast loose from his past after taking a dare to walk on burning coals (on a trip through the south Pacific) to demonstrate the power of faith. He does so without apparent injury - but faints upon completion.

        When he wakes up, he finds the world has changed around him. While he's trying to get his bearings, he finds he was engaged in a passionate affair with the lovely Scandinavian attendant from his ship - or that some alternate version of him was. Bowing to the inevitable, he throws himself into the relationship, despite being (unhappily) married to an absent wife, committing what is by his lights a sin.

        What happens is that the two of them keep encountering more unexplainable shifts of the world around them, each time landing them in a completely different milieu. They are continually being stripped from their luggage, their possessions, even their clothes at one point, and being dropped down into a world that differs in significant ways from the preceding one.

        This gives Heinlein the opportunity to explore coping with different cultures and different mores, and the problem of what "good manners' really amount to. His characters are also  forced to survive by the strength of the relationship they've formed.

        Ultimately the "Job" in this story discovers he has been put through the entire ordeal to test his faith by his God - but when he arrives in Heaven as a Saint (where R.H.I.P. is rule one) and discovers his lover isn't there... he chooses to give it all up to find her.

        Cast out of Heaven, he lands in Hell - where it turns out Satan is one of the people he'd encountered in one of the previous world shifts. Satan has decided to take an interest in his 'case'. Hell turns out to be a far more logical - and comfortable place than Heaven - once you sign up with the right credit card company...

        Satan had taken no part in the torments inflicted on 'Job' - he'd gotten tired of playing those games long ago - but he has issues with the way God has treated one of his creations and takes him to arbitration - of a sort. He's seeking Justice for 'Job' after all he'd been put through for what turn out to be pretty arbitrary reasons.

        It turns out both God and Satan are comparable to the artists described in Hoag's Unpleasant Profession, and Satan goes to a being as far above them as they are above ordinary humans for a resolution. (The experience for 'Job' is rather like that of a beloved pet being taken to a Vet - with the possibility of being put to sleep!) It turns out God is a bit of a hack creator, and comes in for criticism of the disrespectful way he treats his creations. A lack of artistic integrity, as it were.

        'Job' is reunited with his love.... and Heinlein puts together a happy ending for them, in a universe where the tragedy of life is replaced by a much happier scenario - and a lot less Judeo-Christian baggage.

        It's not quite science fiction, not quite fantasy - but borrows heavily from both genres. I think Heinlein's later writings, while intended to be entertainment, were also intended to 'make people think' about the world around them, as opposed to accepting everything they'd grown up with as the baseline for 'normal' and 'moral behavior." Heinlein had traveled widely, experienced a number of very different cultures, and had issues with what he regarded as provincial American narrow-mindedness on many different matters. (That's one of the big themes in "Glory Road".)

        If his later books seem to have a lecturing tone to them, well that's my theory as to why that would be so.

        "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

        by xaxnar on Sun Aug 31, 2014 at 07:07:43 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  World as Myth (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          xaxnar, Ahianne, RiveroftheWest

          Which is what makes the last scene of The Cat Who Walks Through Walls so powerful, as Richard Campbell rants against a creator who'd be so cruel as to hurt a tiny kitten like Pixel.

          This isn't freedom. This is fear - Captain America

          by Ellid on Sun Aug 31, 2014 at 07:44:50 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  "Job" reads much better (4+ / 0-)

          if one has read Cabell's "Jurgen" first.

          The thing about quotes on the internet is you cannot confirm their validity. ~Abraham Lincoln

          by raboof on Sun Aug 31, 2014 at 08:33:56 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  Job (6+ / 0-)

          Thanks for the comparison of Job and Hoag! Very well perceived and described, and, I think, you are quite correct on all points. I once had a young friend, with about zero interest in SF, but I did manage to convince her to try Job, and she loved it.

          If his later books seem to have a lecturing tone to them, well that's my theory as to why that would be so.
          I actually found it very instructive to read his first book, For Us, the Living. It was written in 1939, but not published until 2004. One of Heinlein's great strengths as a writer was the ability to tell a story, but there is precious little story in this first novel, it is all about the endless lecturing he wanted to do. After I read it I realized Lecturing was really what he was all about, but he quickly discovered no one voluntarily sits still for being lectured to, and also discovered he had a great talent for story-telling. So he started telling stories and selling, and worked a few lectures in here and there. What he wanted was to lecture, what the readers wanted was to hear a good story. Early on the need to find and keep an audience, plus the power of editors, kept the lecturing to minimum. Later his popularity allowed him to follow his own desires more, over-ride the good sense of editors, and still sell books.

          If your internal map of reality doesn't match external conditions, bad things happen.--Cambias

          by pimutant on Sun Aug 31, 2014 at 09:35:49 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  I agree that The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          xaxnar, RiveroftheWest, RunawayRose

          Hoag expresses Heinlein's sense of tragedy. As I recall, however, he was referring to the tragedy of human love. It is this innovation of the "artist" which leads Hoag to judge this universe as being worthy of preservation.

          In retrospect I think both this story and Waldo prefigure the whole idea of the "world as myth."

          Nothing human is alien to me.

          by WB Reeves on Sun Aug 31, 2014 at 12:35:46 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  Ick. Just ick! (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RiveroftheWest, RunawayRose

    How anyone can read that dreck is beyond me.

    But I love your writing, Ellid! Superb and fun, too.

    I confess to being a WASP. Scots-Irish. My ancestors were Calvinists. John Knox was their hero - even though at the age of 50 he married a 17 yo.
    Knox bio

    But no one was much into eugenics - hard to feel like a Superman when you are a short, squat, coal miner.

    "May the forces of evil become confused on the way to your house." - George Carlin

    by Most Awesome Nana on Sun Aug 31, 2014 at 09:07:25 AM PDT

  •  It's been a long time since I read any Heinlein (5+ / 0-)

    or van Vogt.  I do remember liking a lot of Heinlein's juvenile sf, along with Andre Norton it was my main introduction to the genre.

    A couple of comments on eugenics.  It is difficult to appreciate how widespread a movement this was in in the west during the first part of the 20th century.  Advocates of improving the lot of humanity through breeding came from both the right and the left.  Class and racial biases that seem obvious to us now were so engrained in the social fabric of the time that they were overlooked by people who really ought to have known better.

    R.A. Fisher, who, of all the humans in the world, probably had the best background to see the flaws, was an ardent eugenicist.  His classic work [ The Genetical Theory of Natural Selection] has eleven chapters.  The first seven introduce a lot of really important ideas in evolutionary biology and the last four are just embarrassing.  Fisher's concern for the decline of the British aristocracy because of their failure to reproduce seems like something that should have come from 1830s rather than the 1930s.

    Having said that I do have to take issue with one of your reasons that eugenics wouldn't work.  A very short quote: 'humans aren't animals'.  Not quite sure what you meant by that but taken literally it isn't true.  Humans are definitely animals.  Not only are we 98% (or whatever the actual number was determined to be) genetically the same as a chimpanzee, if you compare the genome of a mouse to a human it is striking how similar they are in many ways.

    What makes eugenics bad biology (as opposed to immoral which is also the case) is the inability to control non-genetic factors in assaying the subjects any proposed study.    There is no way to control for environmental effects on the traits of interest in human populations and, in the case of behavioral characteristics, the interaction of genetics and the environment is likely to be particularly strong and complex in human populations.

    Eugenics strikes me as being a lot like libertarianism - an attempt to understand a very complex phenomenon through a very simple explanation.

    "To see both sides of a quarrel, is to judge without hate or alarm" - Richard Thompson

    by matching mole on Sun Aug 31, 2014 at 09:21:05 AM PDT

  •  Eugenics (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RiveroftheWest, RunawayRose

    My mother told me at one point to never, ever mention to anyone that my grandparents (my father's parents,  married in 1912) were very interested in eugenics.

    Unfortunately this went hand in hand with other prejudices they certainly had against people with browner skins.

    They were appalled when my two sisters were adopted (from Hong Kong) and never acknowledged them as their grandchildren.

    Considering both my grandparents were born before 1900, the attitudes were not unusual for the time.

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