" 'What is marriage for?'
The car told her she was heading the wrong way; she reversed direction and came back past me toward its voice and pulsing beacon. 'Babies, obviously.'
I followed her. 'Bingo. Marriage is for making jolly babies, raising them up into successful predators, and then admiring them until they're old enough to reward you with grandchildren to spoil.' "
In “Variable Star” by Robert A. Heinlein, Spider Robinson
Ghastly, isn’t it?
There is an urban myth about a police sergeant who is assigned to scouring confiscated hard drives for pornographic content. After frequent exposure to lewd acts that are best left unsaid he becomes an addict, and descends into the grubby world of vice he is supposed to be policing. It is a slippery slope downwards to SF addiction. I have never taken heroin, thank God, because I am sure I am an addictive personality and would never get off it, but “Variable Star” is like the Harry Harrison Rat books. It is shit. But just because it is shit, doesn't mean I don't love it. It's like that scene from Stalker by the Strugatsky brothers where the tortured and religious guide takes a cynical journalist and an academic into "the zone" to find a fabled room where all wishes come true. They are scared to enter, because Tarkovsky, like Poe, knows that if we got what we really wanted we might not like what that said about us. So, I love Dune and I love the movies of Dune (I even have the version of Dune with John Hurt that was never released) but I hate myself for liking it. It's a sweetie chocolate book of messianic fantasy. If you understand what I’m talking about here, then you are my brother, my sister.
I don't feel guilty for having read “Variable Star”! Or am I protesting too much? I'm sure you can imagine a well-paced, sharply directed and whatever adjectives one uses for Hollywood films that remain fairly superficial. So, it is with this book. Heinlein and Robinson’s are pros, and full of interesting ideas, but on this showing they don't really do deep dark teatime of the soul, nor anything that would make me want to return to the book.
What I enjoy in SF is the way it changes the rules of the world and explores the consequences of these changes. I recently read Richard Morgan's brilliant Altered Carbon, which was superb in the way it used its central "rule change" (that people's personalities get stored in a chip implanted into the cortex, which can then be transferred into other bodies) to drive the plot and then use that plot to show the effects of this technology on people and society. There’s nothing like that in “Variable Star”. Like so many classic SF writers who are dismissed so easily by the ignorant, Heinlein had real gifts. One thing I particularly appreciated was his ability to--just in passing--mention some wild, cool idea that was part of the society he'd invented, an idea that wasn't a significant part of the story but that was just a way to further build his world. The best SF writers have that ability--it captures the reader's imagination and embeds him/her further into that world. It makes the reader stop for a moment and further imagine this invented world, adding more layers of reality to it. Unfortunately, we don’t have any of that in “Variable Star”.
SF = Speculative Fiction.