09 July 2007

Robert A Heinlein Birth Centennial--A Bold Author in a Timid World

Robert A Heinlein was a prolific author who left a legacy in writing and endowment. For many readers here, Heinlein was too far before their time (born 7 July 1907, died 1988) to have been exposed to very much of what he wrote. For you, there is the book navigator pulldown menu, for brief synopses of most of his novels.

I had the privilege of hearing Heinlein speak shortly before he died. Although he had undergone surgery for occluded carotid arteries, and was nearly 80 years old, his mind was crystal clear and his voice was strong. It was fitting that Heinlein's mind was sharp at the end of his life, after a brief interlude of carotid vascular insufficiency. He was able to make the farewell tour and appreciate how much he was admired, respected, and loved.

Heinlein was one of the first authors I read, when I started reading science fiction. Along with Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov, and Poul Anderson, Heinlein introduced me to the far imaginings and possibilities of speculative fiction--fictional worlds with no boundaries but science.

Heinlein was not afraid to face his critics, who were typically people who did not want to learn from another person's experience. When Heinlein stood before a large crowd during the Vietnam War era and declared "there will always be war," he was soundly booed, and branded a fascist by psychologically neotenous mind-children yet to experience real life. Naturally, Heinlein was able to take their measure and place their criticism where it belonged.

Heinlein was controversial and bold. He spoke his mind and stayed around to confront anyone who wanted to debate ideas reasonably, based upon logic, science and history. Most of his critics were not up to the task, but rather sniped at him from a safe distance. Unfortunately, it was these cowardly critics and their like who took over most of the universities and still control them today--still smothering campus atmosphere with lockstep PC oppressiveness.

My favourite RAH novels include Starship Troopers, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, Citizen of the Galaxy, and Tunnel In the Sky.
[Tunnel In the Sky] is the story of a High School graduating class's final examination. Course 410 is an elective senior seminar called Advanced Survival, and the students must successfully complete (i.e., survive) the final field exam to pass. Rod Walker and his classmates receive 24 hours notice to prepare themselves before being blindly transported to an unspecified planet, with unspecified climate and terrain -- and unknown hazards. At moments reminiscent of Lord of the Flies, this is a must read, really!

Tunnel In the Sky is similar to Alexei Panshin's "Rite of Passage." It is true that the "rite of passage" theme is used in science fiction frequently, which is one reason that I favour using science fiction as reading material for young teens--the scientific constraints of good science fiction teach logical thinking, and the frequent use of teenaged characters placed in trying circumstances allows SF to entertain teens as it educates.

Citizen of the Galaxy is another good example of Heinlein's use of the "rite of passage."
Citizen is an impassioned plea for life-long education. In many of Heinlein's books, a principal character is portrayed over time, beginning in relative ignorance, learning from experience, receiving the benefits of tutelage from an authoritative source, and then using those teachings to resolve subsequent problems. A formula, but one that works very well, repeatedly, in the hands of this master story teller.

Citizen portrays this young man's education in four stages: a disenfranchised child tutored by a man of wisdom, an adolescent in an artificial space-faring culture that may prefigure tomorrow, a young recruit in the Guard, and an unwilling adult but youthful player in economic, social, political, and legal machinations that clearly satirize 20th Century America's corporate civilization.

Heinlein's life is the antithesis of psychological neoteny. He took responsibility for himself and his ideas, and proceeded to find his forte` and pursue it without apology. He left his critics in the dust, forgotten. One of the lessons of his life is that anyone who chooses can do the same.

Labels: , , , ,

Bookmark and Share


Post a Comment

“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act” _George Orwell

<< Home

Newer Posts Older Posts