domingo, junho 30, 1991

Degeneration: "The Rolling Stones" by Robert A. Heinlein


(My own copy)


(Original Review, 1980)


THE ROLLING STONES happens to be a fascinating example of degeneration --- Grandma quit engineering because three less-competent men were promoted over her, Mother is a competent but very womanly doctor, and Daughter (what little we find out of her) is mostly hormones. I think it's also fair to say that TRS is the most liberal portrayal of women that Heinlein has ever created. Granted, Heinlein liked to write most of his famous material to well-defined audiences (THE STAR BEAST, complete with tiresome mother and conniving female chum, might have been written to order for BOY'S LIFE, but my copy doesn't mention any serialization (means nothing, though; I have the Ace reissue and they are among the worst at crediting prior publication). Not even Anne McCaffrey, perhaps the most conservative serious female SF writer, has a good word for Podkayne --- calls her "that unbelievable minx".  As for Joan Eunice Smith --- when Laumer included a short piece (in THE TIME TRAP) assuming that attitudes were the result of biology, at least he made it \funny/.

As for Spider Robinson --- well, both of the Robinsons are friends and I value them, but Spider's literary judgment simply isn't of the highest or most balanced (someone put it very neatly: "Spider worships the ground Heinlein walks above.")  For a good example, see his vitriolic review of Clute's and Nicholls' THE SCIENCE FICTION ENCYCLOPEDIA in the latest (well, latest but one by now) ANALOG; having read the sections he bitches about, I'll grant that Disch may be over-praised but Heinlein is not treated nearly as brutally as Spider claims. The author of the RAH article is quite right that RAH has difficulties with sex (even though he fills books with it). Look at Time Enough to Screw Around: a man bedding his mother is a classic fantasy; a man being tripped into bed by his daughters is becoming a stock modern fantasy (the "funny uncle" is a much smaller part of child molestation today than the father after his daughter; there's even a substantial slice of the porn market devoted to this appetite); and his claim that a woman is at her most beautiful when she's 8-9 months pregnant is the result of his own bile at never having had kids --- in this direction, strangely enough, the closest author thematically (although both of them would probably deny it furiously) is Spinrad, who has written several books in which the leading woman is there mostly because she has a thing for strong men's implements.

Oh well, enough flaming (well, almost). Probably some of you will consider this ridiculously puritanical of me, but I think the strongest condemnation of NUMBER OF THE BEAST was the monstrous advance paid for it. Most of us started reading SF because it offered entertainment on a level completely removed from both the "literature" beloved of schoolteachers and the sludge that winds up as popular fiction; that Fawcett saw such a goldmine in this that they were willing to advance $600,000 is an indicator of how far towards the trivially marketable RAH has gone.