rachelmanija: (Books: old)
rachelmanija ([personal profile] rachelmanija) wrote2010-08-20 08:41

Preliminary thoughts on Heinlein

Based on both recommendations and easy availability, I have obtained Space Cadet, Time for the Stars, Have Space Suit - Will Travel, The Door Into Summer, Podkayne of Mars, and Tunnel in the Sky.

I read Tunnel in the Sky, which I generally enjoyed and will report on individually, and three pages of Podkayne of Mars, which was all I could get through before I was overcome with the urge to vomit and/or hurl the book across the room. Those pages consist of 15-year-old Podkayne talking about being a giiiiiirl and going on about how pretty she is and giving her exact measurements and how she's smart enough to not reveal that she's smart because why would any giiiiiirl want to do things herself when she can bat her eyelashes at a man twice her age and have him do things for her? ICK ICK EW. Also, written in a rather twee style. I hate twee.

If it was about her learning better I'd keep reading, but I recall from the last time I read it that she gets blown up because she goes back to a house where she knows there's a bomb to rescue a cute alien kitten, and then her uncle lectures her mom over her comatose body about how it's all her mom's fault for having a career. (Flips to end.) "A woman has more important work to do." Barf. Nix on Podkayne.

Podkayne of Mars

Though I may change my mind after I've read more, my preliminary reading of one book and three pages of another suggests a theory on why people get so outraged over sexism in Heinlein's work, as opposed to getting outraged over sexism in the work of other male sf writers of the same time - especially when, as Heinlein's defenders argue, Heinlein actually has more interesting/badass/competent women than the others.

It's due to bait-and-switch. Because his women are more badass/competent/etc, the female or sympathetic male reader thinks, "Hey! Badass female soldier! Awesome!" Then, two pages later, the badass female soldier says, "Oh, I have no interest in the military at all! I'm only doing this because men outnumber women in outer space, so out there I can get a man and have lots of babies! I don't care of he's a total jerk and hideous, all that matters is that he's male. Oh to be pregnant!"

At that point, the reader is much more likely to be surprised and irate, their expectations having been unpleasantly thwarted, than if, as many other writers of the time did, no non-stereotypically feminine characters had been introduced at all.

As Jo Walton and others mentioned over at the Tor discussion, Heinlein has a trick of sounding extremely authoritative, in a manner which either seduces you into wanting to measure up to his rather eccentric requirements for true manliness/womanliness/awesomess, or else makes you instantly begin deconstructing them in your head. Or both at once. Again, this is unlike other authors of his time whom I've read, who were less concerned with what makes a Proper Man or whose opinions were not presented in such a compelling and forceful manner.

For instance, though I had to look this up as it's not in one of the ones I read, "Specialization is for insects." I'm sure not everyone has this reaction, but I bet I'm not the only person who reads that and instantly, defensively thinks, "I can do lots of stuff!" and then, "Tell that to a cardiac surgeon."

ETA: Complete quote: 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.

This is being discussed in the DW comments.

Link to edition I'm reading, with strangely-proportioned hero: Tunnel in the Sky
twistedchick: (Default)

[personal profile] twistedchick 2010-08-20 21:26 (UTC)(link)
I tried to edit the comment to add that most of Heinlein's juvenile books were written between the 1930s and 1960, are extremely dated and come from a culture that is all but alien to now -- when C.L. Moore could not be published without using her initials, before Ursula LeGuin was published in Playboy as U.K. LeGuin because otherwise men wouldn't read what she wrote, and only at the end crossing over with Andre (Alice) Norton's more than fifty novels.

If there's no electricity and the gas still works and the gas stove doesn't have sealed burners, you can feed yourself. It helps to have running water, if the pump is municipal and not electric; if the water's from your well, it helps to have a backup hand pump and know how to prime it. It also helps to know how to build a fire in the fireplace (or build a cooking fireplace from bricks and whatever's available outdoors) and how to cook over it. Survival's like that; it makes you learn things or else.

[identity profile] tool-of-satan.livejournal.com 2010-08-20 21:35 (UTC)(link)
Heinlein started writing earlier, but all the juveniles were published between 1947 and 1958.