Saturday, July 7, 2007

Happy Birthday, Robert Heinlein!

Today is Robert Anson Heinlein's 100th birthday. 'Course, he's deader than yesterday's sushi, but still, he along with Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke comprise(d) the Three Essential (and seminal) Big-Time Writers of Hard-Core Science Fiction. What's makes Heinlein unique, though, is that twenty years after his death he still generates controversy.

The first Heinlein book I read was Glory Road (detailed summaries here and here; quickie critiques here and here), which probably wasn't the best place to start, being a near-parody of heroic fantasy whose subtleties I wasn't capable of appreciating at the tender age of thirteen ( I was into horror fiction and Fortean phenomena at the time) . I didn't bother with him again until my freshman year of college when a dormmate talked me into reading Stranger in A Strange Land.

Sweet Lamprey of Santa Fe! Now here was a novel! Martians! Sex! Anarchy! Mistrust of authority! Defiance of authority! In fact, Stranger was as far from the more prevalent Space Opera I thought comprised all of science fiction as one could get and still be shelved in the SF section of the local bookstore.

Plus, I wanted to be a Heinlein Hero--intelligent, wise, super-competent, libertarian as hell, ready to spit in the face of the ignorant masses who might oppose me, surrounded by attractive, naked, or near-naked women . . .

And so, I was hooked and immediately immersed myself in The Moon is A Harsh Mistress, Revolt in 2100, Methuselah's Children, and, especially, Time Enough For Love. Most especially. Believe it or not, I studied "The Notebooks of Lazarus Long" as carefully as some study the Bible.

I wanted Woodrow Wilson Smith/Lazarus Long to be my wise and loving grandfather, showering me with loving guidance.

A few quotes may explain why:

--A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.

--A society that gets rid of all its troublemakers goes downhill.

--Always listen to experts. They'll tell you what can't be done, and why. Then do it.

--Being intelligent is not a felony. But most societies evaluate it as at least a misdemeanor.

--Certainly the game is rigged. Don't let that stop you; if you don't bet, you can't win.

--Cheops' Law: Nothing ever gets built on schedule or within budget.

--Delusions are often functional. A mother's opinions about her children's beauty, intelligence, goodness, et cetera ad nauseam, keep her from drowning them at birth.

--Do not handicap your children by making their lives easy.

--Everything in excess! To enjoy the flavor of life, take big bites. Moderation is for monks.

--Human beings hardly ever learn from the experience of others. They learn; when they do, which isn't often, on their own, the hard way.

--If it can't be expressed in figures, it is not science; it is opinion. It has long been known that one horse can run faster than another--but which one? Differences are crucial.

--It's amazing how much "mature wisdom" resembles being too tired.

--Never appeal to a man's "better nature." He may not have one. Invoking his self-interest gives you more leverage.

--Never underestimate the power of human stupidity.

--One man's "magic" is another man's engineering. "Supernatural" is a null word.

--Place your clothes and weapons where you can find them in the dark.

--The truth of a proposition has nothing to do with its credibility. And vice versa.

--What are the facts? Again and again and again--what are the facts? Shun wishful thinking, ignore divine revelation, forget what "the stars foretell," avoid opinion, care not what the neighbors think, never mind the unguessable "verdict of history"--what are the facts, and to how many decimal places? You pilot always into an unknown future; facts are your single clue. Get the facts!

--You live and learn. Or you don't live long.

--Your enemy is never a villain in his own eyes. Keep this in mind; it may offer a way to make him your friend. If not, you can kill him without hate--and quickly.

--The Notebooks of Lazarus Long

Happy 100th, Robert Heinlein! I am but an egg, but someday I hope to grok in fullness.

And maybe have a house like yours.

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