Robert Heinlein

I was recently reading about the Heinlein Centennial (his 100th birthday, basically), and the spate of Heinlein criticism (both good and bad) that followed it. And I realized that there are many good reasons to dislike Heinlein. For one thing, he didn’t always write so good. In fact, he often wrote badly. And his portrayal of women veered towards offensive in the best of time, and skipped right over that line (far over that line) in the worst. And of course he just had a lot of weird sexual devices that just don’t feel very plausible to me (line marriage? Cmon). But, of those reasons, there is one bad one that is frequently cited. And that reason is his political beliefs.

I find any criticism of his political beliefs interesting considering that SF is replete with authors who have strong political beliefs and express them subtly throughout their fiction. These include the socialists (Ken Macleod and China Mieville), the libertarians (David Weber, and a bunch of the Baen Books space cadets), and the the militaristic nationalists (Orson Scott Card, Anne McCaffrey, and a bunch of other Baen Books space cadets).

But Heinlein’s three most cited books are very explicit manifestations of these three ideologies. The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress is a libertarian utopia. It is clearly set up and defined as one. Starship Troopers is a fascist utopia. And Stranger In a Strange Land contains a collectivist utopia. Now, I have no idea what Heinlein’s political beliefs were. If I was forced to guess, I’d assume that they would primarily include some element of personal freedom, mostly surrounding the right of old men to have sex with lots of young, beautiful women. Other than that, it’s not really that clear (even in his later, completely bonkers books like To Sail Beyond the Sunset and I Will Fear No Evil).

It seems to me, that Heinlein, more than any of the other very opinionated spec-fic authors out there, was courageous enough to just talk about what he was going to talk about. If he was going to have fascists in his book they were goddamned clearly fascists. There was none of this veiled, perhaps subconscious, idealization of the military and of nationalists. He pretty clearly laid out that he was talking about fascism. And because alot of people who do have that subconscious idealization latched onto that book (or onto The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress or Stranger In A Strange Land), he takes alot of flak for being on the side of people he’s really not at all on the side of.

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