Aug 13 2010 2:03pm

Heinlein’s contradictory views on race

In the comments on my earlier post on Heinlein, race, and diversity, I’m taking heat for my assertion that Heinlein was enlightened by the standards of his day, but often falls short by the standards of ours.

I was speaking specifically of the Heinlein of 1946, who wrote Rocket Ship Galileo (which both Charlie Stross and I apparently misidentified as Space Cadet). But throughout Heinlein’s career he displayed a mix of tolerance and celebrating diversity, alongside some ethnocentrism and sexism.

On the whole, Heinlein was admirably welcoming to different ethnic groups, women, and alternative sexual orientations, especially for a man of his era. But he wasn’t perfect.

Let’s start with the most obvious example first: In 1964, he published Farnham’s Freehold, a novel where the black people rule America, kept white people as slaves, stole white men’s wives to have sex with them, castrated white men, and practiced cannibalism on white people.

I understand what Heinlein was trying to do with with that novel, and I actually rather enjoy it. But then again I can afford to be tolerant about the whole thing. I’m white.

I don’t think Heinlein intended Farnham’s Freehold as a racist novel, and I’m not sure it is racist. Then again, I’m not sure it’s not racist. You can certainly read it that way. What do black people think of the book? What do white supremacists think of it?

Another example of Heinlein’s idiosyncratic record: William Patterson, author of the new Heinlein biography Learning Curve (to be published Tuesday), says that Rod Walker, the hero of Tunnel in the Sky, is black. If he says so, that’s probably right, but the clues are buried deeply in the book. You might even say that Rod is passing for white—not to his fellow fictional characters, but to his white readers.

You can find many more appealing portrayals of race relations by Heinlein after Farnham. Two years later, in The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, the hero is arrested on a charge of miscegenation in the American South. He comes from a mixed-race family. Not only does the hero think that’s normal, it never occurs to him that anybody could think there was anything more to it.

I’m not trying to tear down Heinlein here. He was admirably welcoming of all kinds of diversity, especially for a man of his era. He is, as I said in an earlier post, one of my heroes. But he wasn’t perfect, and it isn’t disrespectful to speak of his flaws under the circumstances, especially as he moves from being a contemporary to being a historical figure.

Mitch Wagner is a fan, freelance technology journalist and social media strategist, who blogs about technology on the Computerworld Tool Talk Blog. Follow him on Twitter: @MitchWagner. He’s looking for a publisher for his first science fiction novel, and hard at work on his second.

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rick gregory
1. rickg
Mitch? When you're in a hole....

Your earlier post was silly because it criticized Heinlein for not having “...Asians; disabled people; non-Americans of any kind; lesbians, gays, and the transgendered; Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, or representatives of the other major world religions.” all in one work. Really? Aside from the fact that that list reads like a caricature of a PC diversity list, you completely glossed over the point that he was writing the work you were discussing in 1948.

Judging someone in one historical period by the standards of another is a basic historiographical mistake. It's among the first things history students are taught NOT to do because it leads to all kinds of useless and incorrect interpretations. Was RAH forward thinking in the context of his time? Yes. Was he forward thinking by our standards? The temptation is to say “No” but in fact, the answer is unknowable because we cannot place him in 2010 and see if he would have written works that championed slighted minorities of this period. Doing what you do leads to the error of saying "well, since he didn't champion 2010 issues in 1948, he wouldn't champion them in 2010 either." It's sloppy thinking and barely deserves to be called logic.

As for your conclusion that Heinlein wasn't perfect... Um, no shit? In debate, that's known as a strawman since no one ever asserted he was perfect, merely that he was ahead of his time in many attitudes.

Oh and the answer to the first sentence? Stop digging. Please.
2. Brian2
Mitch, I don't mean to be rude, but isn't it time to write off this discussion? I'm not sure what the point of it was to begin with, and it just seems to wander more as it goes on.
Per Jorgensen
3. percj
I’d heard a lot of bad things about Farnham’s Freehold in fandom, so when I got hold of a copy, I was a bit surprised to find that it was more of a "by reversing oppressors and the oppressed, I will show that oppression and tyranny is bad" kind of book. Of course, it could be that this kind of reading is too benevolent towards the author. It might also be argued that if this was, in fact, the intent of the author, the execution was less than lucky in some respect.
some guy
4. NateTheGreat
What about the novel "Friday"? When you look past the SF it is entirely about racism.

Or what about the gay subtext of "The Cat Who Walks through Walls" or "The Number of the Beast"? BTW, the main character of TCWWTW was black. Did you know that?

How can you complain about "Farnham's Freehold" when only 2 years later he wrote "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress"? The opinions the main character expressed on race and homosexuality were radical for the mid-60s.
[da ve]
5. slickhop
I think the first piece was more on point than this clarification, although based on the comments, there may be too much fanboydom happening here to have a good discussion. Heinlen was most certainly admirably diverse in his cast of characters as well as mired in his own prejudices and those of his time. His virtues, I think, were demonstrated in the comments of the previous post. His failings though, are worth exploring without baffling outcries of "It was 1946! What do you expect?"

We expect science fiction authors to project possible futures. When those futures still contain sexism, ethnocentrism, unexamined ideas about race and/or other social issues that were being dealt with at the time they were conceived by the author, its worth talking about why they weren't "futurized" too. And all you folks throwing out the phrase "political correctness" just haven't learned that "Other folks" be they non-white non-male non-straight non-able-bodied non-Western, would just really appreciate it if the future didn't exclude them as a matter of course.

In other words, when an author that is mostly OMG AMAZING!1! leaves "Other folks" out without ANY explanation, there is a corresponding feeling of WTF. And it would be really nice if the folks who always get included would just listen and then talk about it like a nice human being without freaking out and defending the status quo.
rick gregory
6. rickg
Slickhop.... I almost didn't reply because people who use fanboy as a way to disparage others are usually not worth it, but... what the hell.

I and others bring up the fact that it was 1948 because it's relevant. It's relevant because you need to understand the society and surrounding environment that a writer was living it and you need to understand that, if they were 40 and writing in 1948 it meant they'd had certain experiences and that those are different than yours or mine. Heinlein, born in 1907, would have been in his early 20s at the start of the Great Depression. In his early 30s during WW2. The attitudes he grew up with and was surrounded by are important to understand the man.

Despite those influences, he wrote about situations and characters are quite diverse and in such an open fashion that you will still find people now who are made uncomfortable by them. If he doesn't perfectly address your pet diversity peeve, well, tough. He's not, after all, perfect.
7. Total12
@rickg Speaking of not digging... Mitch explicitly made two points in his original post:

That for 1946, Heinlein was advanced.

That for the present, Heinlein was not.

You are criticizing him for a point he did not make.
[da ve]
8. slickhop
@rickg ... yeah sorry, perhaps not useful to ask for understanding when crying "fanboy." To rephrase, there seem to be an awful lot of folks who like Heinlein so much that they're treating critiques of his work as attacks on themselves.

Re: 1948... Relevance =/= end of discussion. As for my "pet diversity peeve," its not a peeve, its my life. When some folks are saying "Man, why does this cool writer I like have such crappy ideas on A, B, C," its not particularly useful to say "He's not perfect, deal with it," or even to say, "Well, he didn't ruin D & E and you should be grateful for that."
some guy
9. NateTheGreat
In other words, when an author that is mostly OMG AMAZING!1! leaves "Other folks" out without ANY explanation, there is a corresponding feeling of WTF. And it would be really nice if the folks who always get included would just listen and then talk about it like a nice human being without freaking out and defending the status quo.

It sounds to me like you want him to use an explicitly minority character. What about Juan Rico? He's from the Philippines.

I'm going to have to go back and double check this but I'm pretty sure that in most of his books RAH avoided mentioning the race of the characters unless it was relevant. For example, in TCWWTW you don't find out about the main character's race until 90% in the book. How can you say that certain peoples were excluded when he avoids mentioning race? In this case he let you read whatever you want into what he didn't write.

And again he wrote "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" in _1966_. Go read what he wrote about race, and then come back and argue that he excluded the "non-white non-male non-straight non-able-bodied non-Western".

What, did you want him to address all these issues in every book? That would be repetitive and pandering. It's also boring.
rick gregory
10. rickg
total12 - Yes, I know what Mitch said. There were two issues with it. First, that he's using a single work to comment about an author who had a large body of work (the 'reasoning from the particular' fallacy) and second, that he's using 2010 standards to judge someone's 1946 incarnation. Both of those lead, independently, to judgements that are, at best, incomplete and at worst misleading. After all, by the standards of 2075 many of our 2010 attitudes might seem primitive. So?

slickhop - I don't think you can expect anyone to fully transcend who they are and the times they live in though. I'm not at all uncomfortable with criticizing RAH or noting attitudes that fall short of what we would hope they'd be, but setting up a strawman of Mr Perfect and judging people by that isn't a useful way to go about that. The end goal of any critique shouldn't be simply to make us feel better because we're so much more enlightened, but rather to understand the person better.
11. Bill Patterson
I debated staying out of this discussion -- but, what the heck, it's a discussion. "I won't . . . I won't . . . the hell I won't!"

There's another of Mitch's statements I would take issue with, and that the standards of 2010 (particularly wrt PC) are unquestionably "better" than other such standards.

Now, in my opinion the problem with PC is not necessarily the content -- after all, judged by the standards of classical liberalism and individualist libertarianism, a broad equality of opportunity is an unequivocally Good Thing -- but the authoritarian attitude it (PC) brings to political and social discourse and particularly the really nasty attempt to reduce actual diversity of attitudes (while nominally celebrating diversity) by bringing about and enforcing a uniformity of ideas about its subject matter.

We're in an evolution and things will be different in the future. The people of that future may be further along a progression toward greater social acceptance (or not, of course), and in either case they will no doubt think the standards in place in 2010 appalling. Well, so do I. But, then, I'm used to being appalled. It's my daily meat and drink.
12. kitten
But, then, I'm used to being appalled. It's my daily meat and drink.

Bless you, Bill...That last sentence brought tears to my eyes. I'd steal it for a .sig line, but nobody would understand.

*hugs* and I can't wait to get my copy...should be here next week.

john mullen
13. johntheirishmongol
I think you mix up race and culture. Heinlein has an american centric view, but includes all races/sexes in this view. So, while you may not agree with that assumption, we still have the dominant culture on the planet and even those who hate/disagree with us tend to emulate us more and more.
[da ve]
14. slickhop
Its frustrating that some of you seem to think that it is impossible to critique something without being "authoritarian," and the insistent clinging to the term "political correctness."

@Nate ... more straw man stuff here. Pretty sure I didn't say anything close to what you attribute to me. And regarding "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress," or any other of the good work that Heinlein did with putting a diverse cast of characters -- it is, shockingly enough, possible to critique someone for whom one holds great respect or who has produced work that one greatly respects.

@rickg: "The end goal of any critique shouldn't be simply to make us feel better because we're so much more enlightened, but rather to understand the person better." Not sure we're looking at critique the same way: critique on wikipedia
[da ve]
15. slickhop
...I had a response, but it got marked as spam. In short, I think we are disagreeing on the purpose of critique. Besides which, getting buried in some typical internet back and forth.

I'm starting to get a little upset, so I'm going to back off. Agree to disagree I guess.
16. JohnnyYen
re: Heinlein's failure to include the disabled/differently-abled/transgendered - off the top of my head, Manny (TMIAHM)is missing a hand, Waldo is morbidly obese. hard to credit anyone bringing up sex and gender - Johann/Eunice is a man in a woman's body, Libby is a sex change via clone

Heinlein was a socialist turned large L libertarian, a practising polyamourist and nudist, any of which would marginalize him even today.

(Regarding the source for the above. I honestly don't recall where I read this but it was confirmed by those who knew him well. Possibly either a Fred Pohl memoir or Danmon Knight, or one of the bio/biblio books. My books are packed at the moment and I can't check but I believe this is pretty well accepted information.)
stephanie keenan
17. adriel_moonstar
I was a Navy officer more than fifty years after Robert Heinlein. And despite all the changes in our society during those fifty years, there were still very few Filipino officers and Filipino enlisted men were still heavily concentrated in the service ratings. So I have to come down HARD on the side of Heinlein's being a very progressive writer. Read Starship Troopers again, not only is Johny Rico the hero, he his the son of a wealthy and socially prominent family. This is a prime example of imagining a future other than that conceived of by any of your contemporaries.

I have to say that all this discussion reminds me of the ridiculous debates about teaching The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in high school. People get so caught up in the fact that the book uses the dreaded "n-word" that they forget that the character to whom it refers is the true hero of the book.
18. Betsy-the-muffin
Yeah, it was 1946 then. But it's 2010 today. I love Heinlein's novels, but I come to them as a reader from 2010 - and as such, when I read them I notice that they contain dated attitudes. I don't think it's controversial to say that some of the content in (frex) Farnham's Freehold or Sixth Column is offensive by today's standards - and if someone is reading for entertainment, then their standards matter more than the author's do.

Frankly, it's a tribute to Heinlein that this discussion is happening at all - it's a testament to the value many people (me included!) find in his novels *despite* the ways in which they're dated, and to the fact that while he was unable to completely transcend his time period he managed to do so somewhat. No one spends much time or energy defending the Fu Manchu novels on the grounds that they're of their time.
Mitch Wagner
19. MitchWagner
Bill, I'd like some clarification of what you mean by "political correctness." That phrase has been around at least 20 years and I don't feel like I understand it any better now than I did when it first started getting thrown around. What particular standards or statements have I made here that you disagree with?
Eli Bishop
20. EliBishop
I don't disagree with these two posts, but if Mitch Wagner actually has a point beyond "Heinlein wasn't perfect," I can't tell what it is. So far it seems like the discussion boils down to--

Wagner (1): Heinlein was pretty good in a lot of ways, but what you may not realize is that he wasn't perfect.

Commenters: Well yeah. Of course he wasn't perfect. But he was pretty good in a lot of ways.

Wagner (2): Yes, Heinlein certainly was good in a lot of ways. And yet, if you think about it, he wasn't perfect. He got better though! But my point is, he wasn't perfect.

Clearly it's time for to start a spinoff blog devoted entirely to repeating this dialogue over and over, until-- somehow-- we can find some sort of common ground...
John Adams
21. JohnArkansawyer
I think Heinlein meant well, but he was (let's face it) a weirdo even by SF standards.

His views on race were fairly progressive for his time, which was the forties. That was weird. They didn't change much over the years (though they came to cover more people), and that was weird, too.

(This culminated in his cross-gender Mary Sue/Black President from Expanded Universe.)

Look, there's another black character in The Cat Who Walked Through Walls who exists so he can be shot for taking offense to being called Sambo. I find that not racist but downright strange. Why?

And one other thing, while I'm on the subject:

I was supposed to intuit from Rod and Carolyn being thought of as a thing that Rod was black, too? I assumed he was hinting there was some screwing going on among hunting partners while away from camp.
Vicki Rosenzweig
22. vicki

Rod thinking of Caroline as a "big Zulu girl"--in an American high school, not as someone Rod had met elsewhere--read to me as him seeing her as different from him. If anything, it's evidence against Rod's being black himself. People assuming that Rod and Caroline were sexually or romantically involved might be evidence that that cohort of high school students didn't think of race as that important. Or of not being able to think past sex and romance to other ways that people of different genders can be friends: that seems to be what Rod's parents were doing. (And Rod simply assumes that he can't ask her to partner with him, because "girls" as a class would assume that any such suggestion was meant as romantic.)
John Adams
23. JohnArkansawyer
@percj: I'm pretty fond of Farnham's Freehold myself. It's one of the few books where Heinlein keeps real sadness in the story*.

Hugh and Barbara turn out okay, but everyone else along the way is a loss of one sort or another--Karen, Joe, Grace, Duke--hell, Hugh is a little sad about killing Memtok. (Not much, though**.) America survives this time around, and for Heinlein in that time of history, that's called a happy ending.

The book surely wasn't intended as racist, and I don't believe it is, but I don't know that if I'd've written it in 1964, I wouldn't have held it back a few years.

If I could've afforded it. I doubt Heinlein thought he could.

And it is a worthy book. Heinlein kept getting better as a writer for a very long time, and his ambitions grew, by my understanding. It's no surprise he decided to shoot for a Gulliver's Travels/Puddinhead Wilson kind of satire. It's not that good, I don't think, but it's still pretty good.

*I think Bruce Franklin that first pointed that out in regard to Karen. It's true of many of the characters--this book has a high casualty rate for Heinlein.

**Compare that to the attitude Dak has toward the Martian--Rrrr'eengrill, or something like that--he kills early in Double Star.
David Levinson
24. DemetriosX
vick1 @22: But when Rod thinks of Caroline as "Zulu", he means exactly that. Her family, at least, is descended from the Zulu tribe of southern Africa. Her last name is Mshiyeni. Her family may have emigrated as part of the upheavals that led to or resulted from Australia being conquered by an east Asian power. Rod, on the other hand, is an American. That could be all the difference he sees.

Not that there are that many clues to Rod's skin color. We learn that he's a Zoroastrian Monist (among other things, there's a throwaway line about the family's sacred flame), but other than that? RAH says it was what he intended, but probably couldn't get anything explicit past his publisher.
David Levinson
25. DemetriosX
I was doing a little poking around in the concordance at the Heinlein Society website, and I think we may be totally off track as regards the character of "Uncle" in Time for the Stars. His actual name was Alfred McNeil, and he insisted that the younger crew members call him "Uncle Alfred".

This is entirely different from everybody calling him Uncle. It was not uncommon up until a generation or two ago for children to refer to any adult male who was, for instance, a friend of the family or with whom they had frequent contact as Uncle. It allowed them to interact with a non-related adult male in a semi-formal or even informal way without being impolite. What we actually seem to have here is an older man trying to smooth out the relationship with younger people, sidestepping rank, as it were, among the telepaths on-board the Lewis and Clark.
26. Foxessa
By my own error (making dinner while reading, writing and posting) this got posted to John Scalzi's latest entry instead of here, to the discussion which this entry has provoked. So here I go again, with apologies to both John and Mitch.


Current opinion says that giving a pass for wrong doings due to time lived doesn't work. For instance:

"In Ken Burns Civil War doc, historian Barbara Fields argues against giving people an "of their time" pass, because often there are people in that time who are on the right side of history. You can't at once credit the enlightened, without calling out those who stumbled around in the darkness--especially those who did so willfully."

Or as the song goes about Thomas Jefferson, he chose "To live off slavery all his life long."

Jefferson knew better too, judging by his own writings. He knew slavery was wrong and evil. But he couldn't deal in any kind of way with the idea of how he himself and his culture could exist without it, and he had it made.

However, I'm not about to suggest that this was the same deal for RH -- except, that it is always more convenient for the rest of us that aren't personally affected by the lack of liberty and opportunity and the right to choose to make such decisions.

Again, not a criticism of RH, but an observation.

Love, C.
David Dyer-Bennet
27. dd-b
DemetriosX: "Uncle" for random male friends is not dead; I'm given that distinction in at least one context.

JohnArkansawyer: Good point about Farnham's Freehold. I agree, the casualty level is high, the loss (in other ways than people dying) level is very high. It's rather different from most of his other books. (I think it's deeply flawed and has not aged well, but that's not interesting; your insight is interesting.)
28. Bill Patterson
Foxessa -- as before, sounds good, but, again as before, what the heck is that supposed to mean? Heinlein should not be given a pass for being aggressively antiracist in 1946 (pick your year).

If what you mean is that Heinlein's chosen strategies don't match your particular values and strategies chosen years later an in a time which Heinlein never experienced -- well, a snort in your general direction seems in order.

Again, while not disagreeing with the general principle at all. It's the "wrongdoing" I'm having a hard time with. What wrongdoing, where? And when?
Torie Atkinson
29. Torie
@ 28 Bill Patterson

Don't make it personal. This isn't about Foxessa.

@ All

Please disagree respectfully, and remember that criticism (here in the neutral meaning of simply analysis) of RAH is not, in fact, the same as dislike, denigration, or even reproach of the author. Books are products of not just authors but cultures, and it can be an illuminating (and valuable) exercise to look at the latter without casting any aspersions on the former.

Likewise, potentially problematic influences or elements shouldn't necessarily preclude one from finding a book valuable, interesting, or worthy.

Try to keep open minds, and be at your most polite and civil when you vehemently disagree.
John Adams
30. JohnArkansawyer
Bill, I'll take a crack at a response.

I find Heinlein's aggressive personal anti-bigotry stance admirable. I'm entirely 100% with it as far as it goes, just like I'm with Jefferson's ideas about freedom, so far as they went.

You can track that line through "...If This Goes On", into "Magic, Inc.", on to "Logic of Empire", up through Methuselah's Children, and through The Door Into Summer.

Then I hit a stopping point, which is Uncle's speech in Time For The Stars, which raises two questions for me: First, did Heinlein have the beginnings of the Civil Rights movement in mind when he wrote that? And second, did Heinlein follow the Goldwater/libertarian line against Civil Rights laws in the mid-sixties? Maybe, maybe not, maybe there's textual evidence. Bill, what do you know on this?

(I ask that for the same reason I asked you at the Centennial about whether there was any evidence in Heinlein's library that he'd read the modern poetry he loudly disliked--you might know.)

For me, I'd say Heinlein crusaded against bigotry in his personal life, which act is undeniably virtuous. I'd guess he was notably absent in the fight against organized bigotry (which I prefer to call racism).

This puts him on a higher moral plane than Jefferson, in my book. And, yes, not perfect.
31. Makgraf
For the record the actual novel Space Cadets did include:
"Asians; disabled people; non-Americans of any kind; Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, or representatives of the other major world religions." (No openly LGBT characters, but c'mon this is 1948).

I do think that this requires some form of correction.
Jeff Soules
32. DeepThought
There probably hasn't been a corpus in SF since Heinlein's with as much racial, religious, and ethnic diversity.

Now, it's also got a lot of blind spots. Ferex, certain groups are persistently bad guys (non-American East Asians, religious fundamentalists). Or, what I read to be Mitch Wagner's point: partially as a result of Heinlein's marked American exceptionalism, his diverse casts do not necessarily result in true and accurate portrayals of people from those backgrounds -- you could say he's writing a bunch of racially & ethnically diverse white people (though my memory's too fuzzy to take a strong stand on this point; I've read about 85% of what he wrote, but it's been fifteen years or so).

There are lots of ways in which Heinlein's work is problematic! That doesn't mean there weren't also lots of ways it was really good (as literature) or really progressive (as a political statement), but it's a good thing to have a clear-sighted view of both his merits and flaws, even if the former are enduring and the latter are now unchangeable.

As a parting shot, I would posit the following: with the exception of a few blind spots and the aforementioned cultural imperialism, Heinlein's work is not "progressive by the standards of his time" but progressive by the standards of the vast majority of SFF published today.
John Adams
33. JohnArkansawyer
Heinlein was downright aggressive about putting the disabled into his works. He even gave them ADA-style accommodations and beyond for federal service in Starship Troopers. And Heinlein himself, not to put too fine a point on it, was disabled, at least enough to be unable to re-enlist for WWII*.

It's only human to bellow loudest when your own ox is gored.

*Bill's research (I think it was his) suggests Heinlein was also blocked due to his socialist past, if memory serves--gotta get me the book.
David Dyer-Bennet
34. dd-b
JohnArkansawyer: Hmmm, did the EPIC political platform have anti-bigotry aspects? Because he was certainly involved in publicly furthering that.

Also, doesn't telling your agent in advance to refuse offers on a book that come with the condition of making the Jewish character non-Jewish count as being active in the fight against organized bigotry? Insisting on being more inclusive in your books than your society expects, if you're read by that many people and influence their intellectual positions as much as Heinlein did, is a MAJOR contribution.
David Dyer-Bennet
35. dd-b
DeepThought and Mitch: I do think you're onto something. Tagging a character as black or Filipino or whatever in a way that most readers won't notice probably accomplishes little. However, even if it's only noticed by blacks or Filipinos, they benefit from feeling included.

On the third hand, I guess, he's clearly a melting pot person, not a cultural diversity person. That puts his positions out of step with today's progressive politics.
John Adams
36. JohnArkansawyer

I'd argue the point that the views expressed about homosexuality in The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress are advanced for their day. First, female homosexuality doesn't even exist in that novel, so far as I recall. Second, male homosexuality lasts in Lunar culture only so long as it takes for enough women to arrive to go around. It's considered a poor substitute for "the real gelt" (if my memory is good).

It's in the unfairly-maligned I Will Fear No Evil that we start getting positive views of gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and even the chaste (Eunice's black guard, another unfortunate yet well intended stereotype). Seems like maybe Jake's guard Rockford and certainly the surgeon who transplants Johann's brain are asexual, with the surgeon presented as a sympathetic sublimated sadist.
Mitch Wagner
37. MitchWagner
I'm going to have to re-read "I Will Fear No Evil." Heinlein's vision of "Abandoned Areas" in the US is certainly striking, and I think of it during every economic downturn.
John Adams
38. JohnArkansawyer
dd-b, I'm waiting to read Bill's book to know more about EPIC, but I wouldn't be shocked if it was not a particularly progressive platform so far as race was concerned.

The left of the first half of the century had a varied record on race, some of it admirable (the Communist Party stands out there), some of it indecent (certain labor unions stick out like sore thumbs), and some of it not even on the scale. Debs (for one) was not unsympathetic to racial inequality, but declined to do organizing he couldn't link directly to improving the economic conditions of the working class.

Remember, I'm not arguing Heinlein's virtuousness here. He needed the money when he put those conditions on marketing Rocket Ship Galileo. That's the act of a righteous man.
John Adams
39. JohnArkansawyer
Mitch, I think you'll find it rewarding reading. It's the only one of Heinlein's sex-drenched books that's actually sexy, and I, too, think a lot about the AAs. When I pass through East St. Louis, for instance.

It's a damn shame Heinlein got ill while writing this. It might've been one of his best.
40. Bill Patterson
#30 -- There are several times when Heinlein is out in front trying to get people interested in something, and then when people do get interested in it, he feels free to move on to making noise about something else. The "aggressive" anti-racism might be one of those things, though this is a speculation rather than a conclusion based on weighing evidence. The fact that a significant number of people got off their duff and we had a Civil Rights movement may have taken the edge off for him.

The Goldwater thing is interesting, and I'll come back to it, but I wanted to point out that for IWFNE, written in 1969, he tore out two pictures from men's magazines, one of a sunny blond, the other of a sultry black woman, and he would switch off looking at the pictures so that his language woulnd't drift off into unconscious stereotypes -- so he's doing "aggressive anti-racism" stuff that late, at least -- but he's not preaching it in narrative any more, not that I can recall offhand anyway.

Goldwater's opposition to the federal Civil Rights movement gave Heinlein qualms. He had known Goldwater personally for about 10 years by that time and knew that personally Goldwater was as uncompromisingnly antiracist as he was (G had for example, desegregated the family department store forcibly and over huge objections, at a time when it could have meant the end of this commercial enterprise). In the second volume (and this is not the big surprise, incidentally, of that recounting), I make the point that even though there were classical liberals in the conservative movement, there wre always these touchstone issues. Goldwater objected to federal desegregation on a very typically conservative's basis: it was constitutionally a states' rights issue. Heinlein didn't see it that way: for him, desegregating federal housing etc. was what the government as for.

Hope this isn't too much a spoiler . . .
will shetterly
41. willshetterly
"Tagging a character as black or Filipino or whatever in a way that most readers won't notice probably accomplishes little. "

DD-B, is there any evidence that he didn't expect readers to notice? Writers have two choices when presenting information:

1. Make it screamingly obvious.

2. Let it be as important as it is to the POV character.

This is especially tricky in first-person stories. If you're setting a story in a future in which the concept of race has little or no importance, having the character focus on race will not be true to the character or the setting. It would be as false as having a Roman or a Persian being obsessed about race.

My suspicion is that Heinlein expected the reader to notice and go "Ah." He simply underestimated the number of readers who skim books and miss important clues.
Mitch Wagner
42. MitchWagner
willshetterly(41): This is especially tricky in first-person stories. If you're setting a story in a future in which the concept of race has little or no importance, having the character focus on race will not be true to the character or the setting.

True, but the writer also has a choice of treating race like many Americans treat European ancestry, or where in the U.S. you come from -- not hugely important in daily life, but a source of pride and identity.

Italian- , Polish- , and Irish-Americans, for example, face very little prejudice in much of America today, if they were born here. Other people don't really care that much in day-to-day life. But these things are significant to the person.

This point was made insightfully in a post on John Scalzi's blog a while ago (I don't have the link at hand). The subject was about white people writing non-white characters. The author made some great points -- among them that, for a long time now, being white, hetero and male was the default state of characters in pulp fiction, which was equivalent to giving them no ethnicity, sexual orientation, or gender at all. That's unrealistic, in a bad way. In real life, people have gender and sexual orientation, some of them are disabled, and a science fiction novel should either reflect that, or it's making a statement why its future world doesn't have those things. And sometimes that statement isn't good.

In real life, nobody's actually white, except for white supremacists. In America that's the case at least. We're all either Jewish-Americans or Italian-Americans or Polish-Americans or our families date back to the FFV of Virginia. Even if we have no knowledge of our ancestry, we know where we're from, and that's a source of our identity far more important than our race. Those elements are significant to our characters.
43. Harv Griffin
Hey, Mitch!

My take on FARNHAM'S FREEHOLD? Heinlein was deliberately going for provocative, pushing the limits as far as he thought he could get away with in the Sixties, having a ball identifying with Hugh while writing the puppy. And, no, Heinlein will never be politically correct on the issue of race. Cheers! @hg47
44. Aaron Em
Regarding JohnArkansawyer's puzzlingly phrased "cross-gender Mary Sue/Black President" -- Y'all know that was Nichelle Nichols, right? -- and that the president who died by misadventure right at the start of the story, thus propelling Ms. Madam President Nichols into the Big Chair, was a rather prescient portrayal of JFK Junior. My goodness, I should certainly hope so! Or is it a general trait among critics, to make mountains of molehills yet fail to spot the blindingly obvious?
45. Aaron Em
Also, who cares what white supremacists think of Farnham's Freehold, or indeed of anything? They're scum, and unintelligent scum at that. Taking any heed of their opinions, beyond whatever minimum is necessary for tactical purposes, strikes me as both embarrassing and foolish.
46. Jon P Ogden
It's relatively obvious from a number of the comments made by you, Mitch, that you haven't even read all of Heinlein's works, don't remember some that you have (Space Cadet and Rocket Ship Gallileo???) and have misunderstood some as well. And yet people who try to correct your misapprehensions are dismissed.

I suggest that until and unless you are ready to engage with Heinlein, you stop commenting on him.

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