I wish that son of a gun would take that other hand out of his pocket.

July 7, 2008, 6:39 pm

On this day in 1907, the second greatest proselytizer for the strident, oversimple libertarianism of high school debaters, Robert Heinlein, was born. Second only to The Fountainhead in importance to adolescent males whose genius isn’t appreciated by authoritarian parents, The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress informs readers How [to] Find Freedom in an Unfree World: chunk definite articles, catapult space rocks at Middle America, and embrace Ho Chi Minh. As my colleague Adam Roberts argues:

We might take this further, a note the many parallels between the ‘Loonies’ and the Viet-Cong. Heinlein may have been a pro-war signatory on the famous Galaxy double-page Vietnam advertisement, but his sympathetically portrayed, anti-American Loonies, who are essentially farmers, and who live in elaborate tunnel-systems that prove impossible for invading troops to infiltrate, have much in common with the South-Eastern enemy. More to the point, the whole scenario of a war between Earth (a large, populous, technologically-advanced world) and the Moon (a small, technologically-backward nation of farmer struggling for independence) presents a penetrating commentary upon the international events of 1966.

This is not Bob Barr’s Bob Heinlein. Granted, it’s a damned clever interpretation, but I’m more inclined to agree with my colleague Adam Roberts, who claims that after 1960, Heinlein sacrificed the virtues of his early work

to a strident, even desperate ‘puppet-master’ authorial persona, which harps incessantly and sometimes unpleasantly on a narrow range of ideological concerns: the importance of individual liberty conceived in the American libertarian mode, with a pendant mistrust of ‘government’ and a fetishisation of authority as such.

Difficult as it for us, as adults, to read novels in which characters break the fourth wall to deliver lectures about politics, the anti-authoritarian appeal of the libertarian rants of Heinlein’s not-even-veiled surrogates shouldn’t be overestimated, as the only alternative explanation for his continued popularity among the adolescent set is that 70 percent of his work is made of fucking.*

Not just any old fucking, though, but polyamorous-underwater-fucking, a practice whose appeal to bookish 16-year-old minds can’t be exaggerated. There’s also plenty of rape-fucking, which is mildly disturbing until you remember that by novel’s end it becomes marriage fucking, at which point you overdose on disturb and vow never to use your penis again. Especially when compared to the respectful, nuanced treatment of rape by Chris Claremont. The mind reels.**

My point, as you’ve probably surmised, is that this day in 1907 saw the birth of an author whose adolescent philosophy was disseminated in books chock-a-block with puerile male sex fantasies, a fact Penn & Teller would call bullshit on except, you know.

*Hence the title of the post, borrowed from a letter Joseph John W. Campbell, arguably the most powerful editorial voice during the Golden Age of science fiction, to Isaac Asimov:

I’ve got a Bob Heinlein novel on hand now [The Door Into Summer], for decision, that’s got me worried and bothered. Bob can write a better story, with one hand tied behind him, than most people in the field can do with both hands. But Jesus, I wish that son of a gun would take that other hand out of his pocket.

**I know, I know, this is a family blog. But there’s no other word for what Heinlein and adolescent males the world over fantasize about.

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