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December 30, 2003

“He was the train we did not catch.” John Clute reviews the finally-published first Heinlein novel.
I’m not about to suggest that if Heinlein had been able to publish openly in the pages of Astounding in 1939, SF would have gotten the future right; I would suggest, however, that if Heinlein, and his colleagues, had been able to publish adult SF in Astounding and its fellow journals, then SF might not have done such a grotesquely poor job of prefiguring something of the flavor of actually living here at the onset of 2004.
[02:23 AM]
Welcome to Electrolite's comments section.
Hard-Hitting Moderator: Teresa Nielsen Hayden.

Comments on "He was the train we did not catch.":

Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2003, 05:19 AM:

Clute seems to think a hell of a let less of Heinlein's overall career, of John W. Campbell, and of Golden Age science fiction, than I do.

I have always assumed that Heinlein's early political views on the far Left must have been extremely different from his later views. And I always assumed that, by the time he started publishing, his politicla transformation was more-or-less complete.

I was surprised, therefore (along with many other Heinlein fans) to see that Heinlein's views in "For Us, The Living," were remarkably similar to the views he expressed throughout his life.

With one major difference: In "For Us, The Living," Heinlein had great confidence in government's ability to correct social ills. In his later career, Heinlein had lost faith in government too -- he seemed to view society as being inevitably corrupt.

After reading "For Us, The Living," I re-read "The Past Through Tomorrow," and was surprised to see something in the story "Logic of Empire" that I had never seen before: It is an extremely Marxist story (or, at least, it conforms to my own notions of what Marxism is; others here are more familiar with that philosophy and will no doubt correct me if I am wrong). "Logic of Empire" is set on Venus, written back when sf authors often described Venus as an Earth-like jungle planet. Heinlein describes a system of plantations on Venus, worked by indentured servants who are, for all intents and purposes, slaves. A worldly character explains to the hero that slavery exists, not because evil men decree it, but -- and here's the part I found to be Marixst -- it's simple economic necessity. The slaves themselves, the plantation-owners, the owners of the ships that transport the slaves, the bankers on Earth who finance the operation -- everybody's just doing the best they can to make a living, nobody's really actively seeking to do anyone harm.

And indeed, we don't see anyone onstage in that story engaging in sadistic behavior. The one slaveowner we see up close is a small businessman getting squeezed by diminished profit margins, he's losing money by the barrelful and his biggest concern is providing for his only daughter. He's no monster -- he's just a guy trying to be a good father in tough economic times. He's pathetic, really.

Heinlein is often criticized for being unable to write realistic villains -- I find the opposite, that it's most other genre writers who can't write villains. Most genre writers write villains as monsters; the real-world villains I've encountered have always been people who were just doing what they thought they had to do. I'm sure if I'd had a chance to meet Saddam Hussein, I would have found him to be a perfectly charming fellow; what with all that art they found in his palace, I bet he was a big sf fan and we could have had a jolly conversation about the genre. Hitler was a vegetarian who loved dogs, was (by all reports) extremely kind to his employees and apparently a gifted interior designer and entertainer.

Now, if I ever run for office, I'm sure the preceding passage will be quoted out of context to make it look like I was endorsing Saddam Hussein and Hitler, when of course that was not my point at all.

bryan ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2003, 05:19 AM:

Bulwer-Lytton was in many ways the stereotypical novelist of his period, therefore his works are of primary interest.

If you find the name Bulwer-Lytton to be unfair, I am willing to go as far as Wilkie Collins.

Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2003, 08:53 AM:

And the bookshops won't be open for another hour!

bryan ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2003, 08:58 AM:

unfortunately hitler's vegetarianism is an urban myth.

Tina ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2003, 10:28 AM:

If you want a real chill, pay attention to the section of this novel where Heinlein describes the conditions leading up to a tyranny. Brrrr.

It is chilly when one recalls that this novel comes before WWII, but even chillier when one scans the newspapers.

Andrew Plotkin ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2003, 01:00 PM:

Clute's speculation seems awfully, well, speculative.

I haven't read this thing yet, although I heard Robinson talking about
it (essentially the same speech as the book's introduction) at
Worldcon. Robinson may be overenthusiastic about it, but at least he's
talking about stories Heinlein actually wrote. "Lifeline", and the
next twenty or thirty years of Heinlein's writing, really did become
immensely popular and changed the face of SF.

Clute seems to be positing an alternate history where Heinlein wrote
different stuff and changed the face of literature. Based on radical
ideas in what, by most accounts, is a Not Particularly Good Book. Why
should I find this plausible?

As a bonus, Clute gets to portray Heinlein as a self-perceived
lifelong failure -- bitter about the wasted potential of his early
work, hopeless in his later efforts. I never met the guy. Does this
even remotely describe him?

Clark E Myers ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2003, 02:01 PM:

I suggest that "[i]n his later career, Heinlein had lost faith in government too -- he seemed to view society as being inevitably corrupt." might be an overstatement.

For my money Mr. Heinlein once had faith in science (or engineering if you prefer) (and perhaps rigorous logic) for goals and checks on BIG government (in this context I read Roads as an attack on unchecked power). That is neither the wonderful analog devices of Beyond This Horizon nor the rigorous semantic logic of If This Goes On... (nor the supermen of Gulf) nor even the Heavenly intervention of Stranger in a Strange Land seemed likely to occur in any foreseeable future. Hence a later in life expression of a conviction the good life could be found only in the small scale and early stage - the Moon Colony in its early days from Future History, the Happy Valley of Time Enough for Love, some few of the political divisions in Friday.

As for "[Clute] would suggest, however, that if Heinlein, and his colleagues, had been able to publish adult SF in Astounding and its fellow journals, then SF might not have done such a grotesquely poor job of prefiguring something of the flavor of actually living here at the onset of 2004" I can only recoil in astonishment. To a significant degree we live in the world Mr. Heinlein and others made - (see the tales from JPL of being the big attraction outside the gates so to speak) to change the past would change the present so as to invalidate the predictions. Further the issue is not publishing but publishing in Astounding (or The Saturday Evening Post) - it was not lack of editorial courage that shaped the market but the market that shaped the editorial courage. The story goes that Lifeline was specifically written for the higher paying market (cf. the contest so often mentioned in that connection). Assume a world in which Huxley's Ape and Essence is vying with For Us the Living for Hugo and Nebula awards and you assume a world on the edge of an event horizon where weird and wonderful things appear constantly.

Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2003, 03:48 PM:

Clark E Myers: To a significant degree we live in the world Mr. Heinlein and others made....

Well, there's a complicated feedback going on between real-world advances and science-fiction predications and it's difficult to say, precisely, how much influence Heinlein, or sf in general, had on shaping the current world.

As I said in another thread on another Nielsen Hayden's blog, I recently re-read "Friday," and then immediately picked up "For Us, the Living" and read that next. "Friday" was published in 1982, and FUTL was written in 1937-38. In both novels, Heinlein writes about a world-spanning information network. The 1982 "Friday" version looks a lot like the Internet of today; Heinlein's characters sit at "terminals" and "punch" requests for information -- they can get everything from the history of the city of Memphis, Tenn., to musical recordings, to astronomical data. One character removes a "portable terminal" from her purse and punches for her family financial records, which she can examine in depth while sitting out in the garden.

Change some of the buzzwords there and you have an accurate portrayal of the Internet in 2004.

Heinlein's Internet ca. 1938 AD was way cool for fans of retro futures: users called operators on videophones (I forgot what Heinlein called the videophones) and the operators sent documents on their way via pneumatic tube; the tubes could reach from one coast to another. Whoosh! (Why doesn't the world have long-distance pneumatic tubes, dammit?!) At one point, a character in the 2085 wants to look up a newspaper article from 1938; she calls the operator and has a photostat in her hands within a few minutes.

Now, we could say that Heinlein was a prophet who influenced the future, but the truth is that he was one of many prophets. Moreover, science fiction has always been popular among engineers and scientists -- sf writers have always talked with engineers and scientists, and they've sometimes been engineers and scientists themselvse themselves -- and engineers and scientists have been speculating about global information networks for many decades -- I remember reading a Sunday newspaper magazine article about hypertext information networks in the late 1970s, and getting very excited about the idea -- so it seems likely that there was feedback in both directions, with the engineers reading the sf and speculating about information networks and the sf writers communicating with the engineers and coming up with ideas of their own.

Remember Asimov's MULTIVAC stories from the 1950s?

Clark E Myers ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2003, 05:12 PM:

No doubt and no disagreement.

My own comment was intended as a more specific reference to direct influence on the space program in the United States as it actually happened in my time line (and thus indirect causation of the microprocessor and so it goes) - To quote another who was involved in making it happen himself: "many of those who made it happen got started in their work by being inspired by Robert Heinlein". The book Requium is full of examples of Mr. Heinlein's influence on folks who did science as well as on folks who wrote (not a disjoint class); I can't imagine any such about any other writer. I have a copy of Will Jenkin's A Logic Named Joe around here someplace but I don't begin to think the arguably more accurate prophecy/description was more influential.

Ken MacLeod ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2003, 06:08 PM:

I haven't read the book, though of course I will, but I can see what Clute is getting at. The focus of some many of the comments here (direct influence on the space program in the United States as it actually happened in my time line) is agonizing evidence that he could be right. Heinlein could have been the American H. G. Wells. By that, I don't mean he could or should have stayed a lefty - that quote from the future constitution is pure Herbert Spencer; the point is that (according to Clute) he started out explicit about the radicalism of libertarianism, instead of having to smuggle it past the 'redneck bluenose[s]' - but that he could have shaped the minds of everyone who read, as distinct from everyone who read science fiction.

Tim Kyger ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2003, 06:19 PM:

I can't get to the Clute article from my browser for some damn reason. It may be due to my current location: A secure undisclosed SCIF here deep in the bowels of the Pentagram.

In any case, I have to strongly differ with Clark Myers about RAH's purported influence upon the space program. ("Heretic!") Yeah, a lot of folks *were* baptized in the High Church of Space by Robert Heinlein. (I'm not one of them, BTW; I was gotten to first by Willy Ley and Fletcher Pratt.) But these RAH-influenced folks are almost all of a *second* generation; the ones who, like me, grew up with Apollo. And who are pissed off as hell that we don't have "2001" here in 2003...

And my generation *didn't* forge that long, first step to LEO. We had nothing to do with it. Our parents did.

It's a long argument to make. Read "The Rocket Team" and "The Rocket Societies" for starters. Next, knock back "The Spaceflight Revolution" by Dr. Wm. Sims Bainbridge. Finish it off with a "Colliers" magazine chaser, circa 1952, and make sure it comes with that special Disney topping, circa 1956. That first generation of astronautics came into existence (in a broad way) because of (a) guys wanting to Just Do Science (Van Allen, the Vanguard guys); (b) guys wanting to Smite The Enemy (ICBM developers in the U.S. and the USSR); and the space crazies who'd been the space crazies who turned *Heinlein* into a space crazy (Von Braun, Ley, Oberth). Sputnik had nothing to do with Heinlein, and neither did Vanguard 1 or Explorer 1...or Project Mercury, or Vostok. Or Gemini, or Apollo, or Soyuz, or Zond for that matter.

Nevertheless, he's still a hell of a read.

clark e myers ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2003, 06:33 PM:

But to argue that "[Mr. Heinlein] could have shaped the minds of everyone who read" presupposes that he didn't and begs the question that more would have read further lesser polemics.

I will defer to the wiser and better informed on the influence of H.G. Wells on literature and on history - from my perspective I remember him mostly as enjoying the unique research opportunity of reading another's work through his publisher's connections [mining manuscripts for data IIRC but maybe it wasn't Wells] and having less lasting impact for social theories than say G.B. Shaw whose work seems to be more popular and also less anachronistic despite being full of them.

I think I'm beginning to get a glimmer of why Mr. Heinlein buried this work and why some who knew them say Ginny would never have allowed this publication.

Tim Kyger ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2003, 07:02 PM:

Oh, and before I forget again, let me add two more absolutely vital books:

John Logsdon's "The Decision To Go To The Moon,"

and Asif A. Siddiqi's brillant history of the early Soviet Space program, "Challenge to Apollo."

Not a speck 'o' Heinlein in either of 'em.

Not a speck 'o' SF in either of 'em either.

In fact, I'd make a major case for SF *not* having much *if any* effect upon the major decisions that brought the early space programs of the US and the USSR into existence.

clark e myers ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2003, 07:22 PM:

It's not as though there were any prizes for inventing Destination Moon nor any patents to be invalidated by prior art. Tom Corbett may have reached a wider audience than any of the books.

Seems to me much of the influence of Willy Ley is closely intertwined with his Galaxy columns and thus with SF - many editions of Rockets Missiles and Space Travel had a lovely color pull out chart too. Still I think Mr. Heinlein was space crazy before Ley was heard from in English. I can be properly in awe of the folks who reportedly spontaneously applauded at their own first exposure to the explosion of a V2 warhead nearby - grateful for being one step closer to space (realizing immediately the meaning of a supersonic warhead impact) and also acknowledge that as a time stamp.

On the other hand when Dr. Pournelle said "Most of my work was military aerospace, but I did get to work on Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo. We were helping to make the dream come true!" is the man who said "many of those who made it happen got started in their work by being inspired by Robert Heinlein" I am inclined to credit some inspiration as well as some special pleading.

There is an argument that captured V2's were in large part wasted as cheap high speed testbeds rather than the beginnings of space flight - though the Winston endpaper rockets all look like V2's writ large. Seems to me it's easy to credit Hermann oberth and other early pioneers too much somewhat like giving all credit for powered flight to the Wright Brothers because they were first and passing completely over Glenn Martin and others.

Certainly Mr. Heinlein didn't plant the seed, he'd have had to find another way to make a living if the seed had not been planted by others but equally certainly he watered the plant and guided it toward his vision of the light.

Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2003, 07:58 PM:

clark e. myers: "I think I'm beginning to get a glimmer of why Mr. Heinlein buried this work and why some who knew them say Ginny would never have allowed this publication.

Why do you think that is?

Ever since I heard about TUFL, I assumed the Heinleins suppressed it for reasons that seem obvious, at least to me: that, by the time it was possible to publish the work, the Heinleins had come to believe that the book was badly written, no longer reflected Heinlein's political views, and had been superseded by other work into which Heinlein had incorporated the same ideas.

Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2003, 08:55 PM:

Ken, I think you have the right of it--it is a real shame that Heinlein could not freely explore his radical libertarian future. Such exploration might have informed later libertarians, who perhaps would have been less inclined to see their ideals as panaceas. A later Heinlein character--Valentine Michael Smith--commented that (liberally paraphrased) true freedom had the bitter as well as the sweet. (I do not remember the exact quote.)

I also think this is one more of the failed dreams of 1930s radicalism. And Heinlein's later work--his repudiation of social organization beyond that of family and military--is a reflection of the despair of that failure. He had a script for the world, and the world refused to follow.

Clark E Myers ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2003, 09:02 PM:

Since you ask.

First so far as I know I wouldn't say suppressed but declined to offer nor refer to both Mr. and Mrs. Heinlein in that context but I have no special knowledge here.

My understanding is that Mr. Heinlein was under the impression that no accessible copy had existed for many years and I have a vague impression that Ginnie never read it and so never expressed an opinion about it; perhaps she did. I can see an omnibus collection of the stinkeroos, Take Back Your Government and Tramp Royale going for big bucks on Ebay but hardly as a main selection of the SFBC.

In the circumstances of this case I suppose your reasons apply precisely to Mr. Heinlein bearing in mind that it was always possible to publish it in some forum under some name - Mr. Heinlein was never shy about pseudonyms but only became possible to publish in a mainstream forum with his own name - others here may comment on the fate of the manuscript (assuming proper formatting and so not a manu script) in today's slush - though I wonder about the Anson McDonald name as a brand before that became common knowledge if there was ever such a time. In any event we know it was submitted and refused.

No real question that Ginny would simply have honored Mr. Heinlein's wishes in this as in many things but I rather think that if asked they both might regret the occasion for disharmony about the estate among the spiritual heirs.

Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: December 31, 2003, 02:09 AM:

Off, as at the moment of Brenschluss, on a bibliophilic tangent--

Clark E. Myers writes:

"Seems to me much of the influence of Willy Ley is closely intertwined with his Galaxy columns and thus with SF - many editions of Rockets Missiles and Space Travel had a lovely color pull out chart too."

I own about four editions of this book, and none has a color chart. Perhaps you're thinking of a different book?

"Still I think Mr. Heinlein was space crazy before Ley was heard from in English."

You're probably correct about this. I think he studied celestial mechanics in school and became fascinated with it; he mentions F. R. Moulton's 1902 textbook more than once in his writings. (Apparently it's still in print from Dover...)

Rob Hansen ::: (view all by) ::: December 31, 2003, 03:03 AM:

Actually, 'The Roads Must Roll' is an attack on trade unions, and appears to be a comment on events that happened in the US the year before it was written (I researched and wrote about this for a fanzine article some years ago but don't seem to have it to hand at the moment, alas). Politics aside, I've been deeply puzzled by why this story ever got into the SF hall of fame since it's not particularly well written - RAH has done much better - and rolling roads as laid out in the story are one of the most monumentally stupid ideas in all of Science Fiction. I once described these to some fellow engineers who were not SF readers, and they fell about laughing.

LauraJMixon ::: (view all by) ::: December 31, 2003, 10:31 AM:

I think the deepest influence SF has on science is not so much transferring specific ideas, but about creating for readers a fascination with the potential for the wonderful things that scientific and technological might bring about. A readiness for change. And for young readers, a desire to bring these changes about.

I'm an engineer, in addition to my sf writing, and I and many of my friends and colleagues became interested in the sciences through sf.

Another example -- you should have seen the scientists at JPL during the Voyager II Uranus flyby. Several leading sf lights were there, and the scientists were all so excited they were beside themselves. There were several VIP groups there and the brass had put us sf folk on the bottom of the totem pole. But as soon as the mission scientists heard that we had some of their favorite writers, including the likes of (iirc) Poul Anderson and Charles Sheffield, among others, they all came over to our room and stayed there all day.

Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: December 31, 2003, 10:47 AM:

Rob Hansen - I agree that "The Roads Must Roll" isn't one of RAH's better short stories, but I wouldn't say it's bad. It's extremely dated, what with the pop music dominated by male choruses and Oxford-educated Australian diplomat wearing a derby hat and carrying a bumbershoot. Not to mention the two female characters: the efficient but emotionless secretary, and the wife who does not understand her husband has important business to attend to -- MEN'S business.

The resolution of the story is silly, and reflects Heinlein's ongoing belief that psychology could be made into a precise craft, like engineering.

On the other hand, I think the central gimmick -- the rolling roads -- is deeply wonderful, and who cares whether they're practical or not? Ever driven for hundreds or thousands of miles on flat, featureless highway? Wouldn't it be nicer to have a whole STREET along with you, sit in a pub or restaurant for a little while, go out for a little stroll -- all while moving at 100 mph -- and then arrive at your destination?

So what's wrong with the engineering of the rolling roads, aside from the points that Heinlein addressed in the story? I'm not an engineer, myself.

Are trade unions any different from other kinds of labor unions? I don't know much about the history of the labor movement -- Studs Terkel is right about that.

F. Brett Cox ::: (view all by) ::: December 31, 2003, 11:18 AM:

To return to the original Clute quote: the key phrase is "the flavor of actually living here." Not accurate predictions of specific gadgets (although Heinlein did better that many in this department--_Stranger in a Strange Land_ may have forecast the water bed, but it also forecast CNN)but rather a sense of what the future will feel like, how the tidal currents of society will flow. In that sense, Clute is right regarding Heinlein, although I wouldn't dismiss the rest of SF. We are not living in John W. Campbell and Robert A. Heinlein's future; we are living in Michael Moorcock and J.G. Ballard's future.

And I completely agree with Rob Hansen's comments on "The Road Must Roll." I re-read it several years ago and was disheartened by what a poor story it is on almost every level. Why this wound up in the SF Hall of Fame rather than "'All You Zombies'" or "Requiem" or even "The Menace from Earth" is beyond me.

But, as I've said elsewhere, I think Heinlein's most important work is the novellas from the early 40's. "Universe," "Waldo," "By His Bootstraps," "Magic, Inc.," "The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag," and "Solution Unsatisfactory" offer a touchstone for much SF and fantasy that came after.

Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: December 31, 2003, 12:05 PM:

I'll agree that "The Roads Must Roll" is anti-union, but it's much more opposed to the attitude that one's job is so important that one is entitled to be in charge. It might even be opposed to the idea that society is so simple that there are easy solutions for making it work, and such solutions are so well-provable in advance that it's acceptable to cause huge amounts of damage to impose them.

Alan Bostick ::: (view all by) ::: December 31, 2003, 03:04 PM:

You could make the same kind of argument about Elia Kazan's On the Waterfront. ("I'll agree that it's anti-union, but it's much more opposed to organized crime.")

Rhetorically, "The Roads Must Roll" is anti-union because it depicts union activity as embodying the idea that one's job is so important that one is entitled to be in charg, etc.

Rob Hansen ::: (view all by) ::: December 31, 2003, 07:14 PM:


Mitch wagner wrote:

>I think the central gimmick -- the rolling >roads -- is deeply wonderful, and who cares >whether they're practical or not? Ever driven >for hundreds or thousands of miles on flat,
>featureless highway? Wouldn't it be nicer to >have a whole STREET along with you, sit in a >pub or restaurant for a little while,
>go out for a little stroll -- all while moving >at 100 mph -- and then arrive at your >destination?

I've done this. The thing I did it on is called a train. Ok, so it wasn't open to the elements but neither were Heinlein'sroads. Travelling at 100 mph, the winds would have knocked you over. Heinlein recognizes this problem, but his solution doesn't make a lot of sense. He has wind
break partitions on the strips at ever 20mph increase in belt speed, explaining:

"If we didn't have some way of separating the air currents over the strips of different speeds, the wind would tear our clothes off on the 100 mph strip."

Heinlein clearly envisions the air over each strip moving at the speed of the strip itself, but gives no indication of how this could be achieved. The reason the air moves at the same speed as us in a train or a car is because
it's contained in that box with us. Try driving in a convertible with the top down to see what happens when it isn't. Huge fans would be required to move the air, and there would need to be lots of them along the length of the road to keep it accelerated. Unless, of course,
there are other partitions front and back breaking the space on the roads into smaller compartments. Only then you're back to what are essentially railway carriages, so what's the point?

>So what's wrong with the engineering of the >rolling roads, aside from the points that >Heinlein addressed in the story? I'm not an >engineer, myself.

What's wrong with the rolling roads is that they violate perhaps the most basic engineering
principle of all, namely:

"The correct solution to any properly-defined engineering problem is the one that solves it in the simplest and most cost-effective manner."

(My wording, incidentally, since I'm not sure I've ever seen it distilled in quite that form.)

The rolling roads are not simple or cost-effective, and neither of these considerations can really be hand-waved away. Simplicity is important because the more things you have that can go wrong, the greater the odds that one or
more of them *will* go wrong. Consider a highway with cars on it. If one of them breaks down then, so long as it can get to the side of the road, this is an inconvenience for the car's passengers rather than for the system as a whole. Now consider the rolling roads. If any stretch breaks down - and I guarantee some would - thousands are stranded. And the cost of running and maintaining the system would be astronomical. Twenty years ago over here, I remember reading the cost of a six-lane motorway (our equivalent of your highways) was about a million pounds a mile. That's for blacktop and all the associated earthworks, drain-laying etc.
The cost if that static surface was instead a huge conveyor belt, driven by who knows how many enormous motors would be staggering. The motors, unlike blacktop, also require a lot of power to run, so factor in that cost, too. It's also a more expensive and skilled task to maintain them, so add in that, too. Then there's the amount of steel needed to construct them. I'm not sure exactly how much money the US economy generates, or how much steel you produce, but I think this system could well exhaust both.

Heinlein says the roads have come into existence because of the squandering of fossil fuels, yet the partitions and roof of the roads are made of "glassite", by which, since it can't be a plastic due to all those fossil fuels having
ben used up, he presumably has to mean glass. Do you have any idea how much all that glass would weigh? That's a whole shitload more steel needed to support it right there.

I could go on but, really, any angle you care to come at this angle from it's a cast iron, 100% stinker. Yet back in the 1960s, SFWA voted this into their 'Hall of Fame' collection. What were they smoking?

>Are trade unions any different from other kinds >of labor unions?

It's what we call labour unions over here.

Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: December 31, 2003, 07:17 PM:

I knew Heinlein, who quoted me in his afteword to his Encyclopedia Brittancia article "P.A.M. Dirac, Antimatter, and You" in "Expanded Universe." We corresponded a bit.

In my two decades working in The Space Program, I often asked colleagues (including over a dozen astronauts) how they got involved in this grand venture. About half said that, when young and impressionable, they read science fiction. The authors mentioned most were Heinlein, Clarke, Asimov, Bradbury.

Heinlein intentionally propogandized for a real pace program in his "juveniles." It worked. he did help to create the present we live in.

As To Laura Mixon's description of "the scientists at JPL during the Voyager II Uranus flyby," I was a Mission Planning Engineer on that phase of that mission, with specific duties including the pictures of Miranda. I did NOT go to the big event up at JPL, as I gave my spot there to Jack Williamson, whom my wife and I encountered at a (now vanished) Pasadena restaurant, Brotherton's. Jack Williamson was oddly not on the VIP list, so I told him whom to call for my space. Clyde Tombaugh, discoverer of Pluto, was also not on the list (through oversight).

I spoke at the overflow press conference down at the Caltech campus' Beckman Auditorium. I handled the reporter who asked "why is the axis of Uranus tilted so much, and if it was from a collision, why didn't the axis keep going around?" with a description of the gyroscopic effect of a big collision with a spinning planet, which came awfully close to a prediction that the magnetic field of Uranus would be very unusual.

But, yes, the Voyager scientists and engineers did look up to the science fiction authors. Since I have a foot in all camps, I can say that it is because of the influence of the authors on the folks who made those dreams come true.

My published science fiction ("Skiing the Methane Snows of Pluto", Focus, UK) had a prediction that there were volcanos on Io. That is almost as common a chronology as the spaceship sending back data that only later appears in fiction.

And I think Heinlein is tied with Clarke for the number of correct self-fulfilling predictions.

With no criticism of Mr.Clute, whose work I cite somewhat more than he cites mine, that makes Heinlein's Science more important than his Politics in the history of SF, doesn't it?

RAH always considered Virginia to be a better engineer than himself...

clark e myers ::: (view all by) ::: December 31, 2003, 07:50 PM:

In terms of Mr. Heinlein's multiverse Roads comes after free power - Douglas-Martin sunscreens (that's a story not often reprinted?) and before easy portable power (Shipstones) - hence personal transportation is more difficult and long distance freight as well as commutes by many people go better with leave anytime mechanisms.

The system works with stationary powerplants and free energy implies ample material choices. Besides it's cool see also Caves of Steel (nobody who reads this thinks that's Mr. Heinlein). Given portable power the Roads died early in Mr. Heinlein's Future History.

Also don't forget the craft union versus industrial union usage - for this audience it has perhaps always been the AFofL-CIO but it wasn't always thus.

Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: December 31, 2003, 10:03 PM:

Not that I'm claiming to be the ONLY professional science fiction author on the Voyager project. I was certainly outranked by Dr. Carl Sagan...

The formal name of the phase mentioned by Laura Mixon was "Voyager Uranus Interstellar Mission." A science fiction fan I worked with there, Robert Cesarone, likes to mention on SF panels that he was, for a while, the only "Interstellar Navigator" -- except Sulu!

And Robert A. Henlein DID predict that we'd go to the Moon, and then stop going for a long time. "The Crazy Years" and all that...

"The Roads Must Roll" comes close to predicting the Segway, right? The unicycle thingie that the union crew rides for maintenance?

I respect Tim Kyger, who's been far more active than I in the Space Advocacy movement. But I think he's citing the overt history. The covert history is, IMHO, more SFnal.

I had interesting discussions with the guy who was VP of the National Science Council during the Eisenhower administration. Was his name George Kistiakowsky? I'm not 100% sure I recall the spelling. They did a secret report on what it would take to go the the moon, and that report WAS influenced by the proposals that Heinlein got before the Cabinet of FDR.

Ike called George K. into the oval office. "How much would this actually cost?" asked Ike.

George K. told me that he mentally doubled the cost analysis, which had not been appended. "20 to 25 Billion Dollars," said George. Ike laughed. The meeting ended.

But rumor has it that JFK leafed through that report after the Bay of Pigs, and right before making his famous announcement that DID get us to the moon, and safely back, within a decade...

And the cost estimate was correct...

Erik V. Olson ::: (view all by) ::: December 31, 2003, 11:04 PM:

The system works with stationary powerplants and free energy implies ample material choices.

It better be free. The problem? How much does a 100 mile long, 5 foot wide belt mass? Now, how much energy does it take to accelerate that belt to speed? And to hold it, given the drag of hundred of thousands of rollers, each having to bear part of the belt load, plus the load of people on the belt? What conducts this massive amount of power?

So, we have this massive belt. What happens when it breaks? What material will keep it from doing so. How much power do you need to *stop* it, and start it again? What structure supports in in the air (and the sets of slower belts to get to it?) and the motors, and the power conductors, and has enough room for men to zip about under it?

And how many belts do you need? There's lots of cities in the US. Furthermore, I'm supposed to stand from St. Louis to Chicago? That's 3 hours at 100 mph. Chicago to LA? Not working. I supposed the high speed belts could be wider, and have chairs and such. But then, how do you get the chairs and such off the belt when it loops back?

Sorry. The belts aren't wrong, they're *dumb.* If they have the materials to make the belts, the rollers, and the motors to drive them, they could build railways at a fraction of the material cost, never mind the tiny fraction of the energy cost to run them. Compare this -- you want to move a train from Hither to Yon. Do you accelerate the train, or the tracks?

clark e myers ::: (view all by) ::: January 01, 2004, 01:34 AM:

Picky picky. Want to argue that the story wasn't a success?

For the most part nobody cares about moving a train, they want to move goods or people.

So far as the moving roads as a wonder of the World for a simple impossibility demonstration just figure the moving mass and then consider that brakes are a device to convert kinetic energy to heat and calculate the heat dump - Fermi question style would be enough.

When I knew something about it the TGV would tear up 20 miles of track in a panic stop - (US work rules lead to excessively long trains which leads to whiplash starts and stops don't want your stuff in that last car but even that has amazing numbers and notice the issue of wear on simple train rails as rails and wheels are demoted from high speed to yard service to scrap) Sure the notion is absurd but in context it was part of the way the future was just the same.

I assume everybody knows the Heinleins did the orbitals for Rocket Ship Galileo on butcher paper and obviously didn't do calculations for Time for Stars with anything like the same rigor (and Carolyn Cherry did all the STL scheduling for her merchanteers books before she plotted and wrote them and it helps) and everybody can remember or lookup lots of talk about silly FTL and Libby's drive. Doesn't matter whether they were engineer's dreams or engineer's nightmares it's a given they inspired a lot of current and future engineers and scientists who have surpassed the Heinleins in that regard. Few have matched them as decent people and none as a writing combination. The man wasn't stupid.

Rob Hansen ::: (view all by) ::: January 01, 2004, 01:41 PM:

Heinlein may not have been stupid but, for the reasons Erik and I pointed out, the rolling roads in his story were certainly were. The real problem for me in this is that we're always told how Heinlein was a hard science man, but this is real basic, nuts'n'bolts barely-more-than high school level science stuff that was as well known in the 1940s as it is now. Even with the free energy hand-waves, there was too much really basic stuff he got wrong. 'Roads' is just a terrible, terrible piece of work.

Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: January 01, 2004, 03:39 PM:

F. Brett Cox: I think Heinlein's most important work is the novellas from the early 40's. "Universe," "Waldo," "By His Bootstraps," "Magic, Inc.," "The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag," and "Solution Unsatisfactory" offer a touchstone for much SF and fantasy that came after.

I think the juveniles of the 1950s are better and more important, especially "Citizen fo the Galaxy." I do agree that the novellas of the early 1940s are very fine as well, although I might pick a different set for my favorites -- "If This Goes On," "The Man Who Sold The Moon" "Methuselah's Children," and "Logic of Empire."

I'm not so sure "The Roads Must Roll" is anti-union -- one of the good guys is shown as being a loyal union member who stood up for the union in a previous strike.

Rob Hansen - Okay, so the rolling roads would never work. They're still deeply cool.

clark e meyers: I don't think Shipstones are part of the same future history as the rolling roads.

Jonathan Vos Post - Yup, "The Roads Must Roll" does come close to predicting the Segway, and when I re-read the story recently, I said to myself that Dean Kamen should've read the story before hitting the drafting table. Heinlein's "tumblebugs" have one wheel, rather than two -- they're described as being like unicycles the size of a kitchen stool. They have the advantage over the Segway in that a rider can get through any space wider than his shoulders (Heinlein explicitly says this) and also (Heinlein does not say this part) the rider is sitting. I've always thought the Segway was impractical because it required the rider to stand motionless for long periods. Clearly Dean Kamen was never in the military and forced to stand at attention for a long time, nor did he ever work as a cashier.

Rob Hansen: there was too much really basic stuff he got wrong. 'Roads' is just a terrible, terrible piece of work.

So if the science in a science fiction story is wrong, then the story is therefore bad? I know many sf fans, especially those from a hard-science background, take that attitude -- I've never really cared much myself. I prefer to judge a story on all its values.

I think the premise of "The Roads Must Roll" is fine -- not the premise of the rolling roads, but rather the premise that a union that controlled the central transporation technology fo the nation could exert great power on the nation. We saw that in the U.S. in the Teamster's Strike of 1966(?) and also the Air Traffic Controller's strike early in Reagan's first term.

Indeed, I think that's one of the reasons the story was included in the Science Fiction Hall of Fame -- Heinlein was credited with predicting the Teamster's strike.

I don't mean to expend too much energy defending "The Roads Must Roll" -- the premise of the story may be fine, but the resolution is nonsense. Heinlein's hero defeats the villain by calling him names and then beating him up.

Heinlein often said he worked without an outline -- I think he created this problem for the hero, sat and sat and sat and thought and thought and thought about a resolution for the problem -- couldn't come up with one, and so instead he solved the problem with a lot of handwaving about psychological profiling, followed up by a big fistfight.

If Heinlein ahd been writing for the movies in the present day, instead of pulp short stories sixty years ago, the story would have ended with a car chase and lots of explosions.

"The Roads Must Roll" touches on a theme that Heinlein never really explored fully in his published fiction. He lays it out explicitly in a few paragraphs in "For Us The Living": the idea that military training gives soldiers and sailors values of loyalty and service that are needed in other professions. In "For Us The Living," Heinlein postulates a military-style academy for doctors, and in "The Roads Must Roll," he postulates a military-style academy for workers on the rolling roads.

It's an idea worth discussing at least -- I don't mean here, necessarily, although here is as good a places as any -- I mean on a global level: how do you cultivate loyalty and service in a population?

Carlos ::: (view all by) ::: January 01, 2004, 03:39 PM:

John Clute wrote, somewhere:

"... SF might not have done such a grotesquely poor job of prefiguring something of the flavor of actually living here at the onset of 2004."

Is that Clute's point? I thought SF was supposed to be about Tales or polders or some such.

As criticism, it seems about as appropriate as chiding Raymond Chandler for not capturing the true flavor of crime in California.

And I guess reading about nekkid Social Crediteers in Astounding would have spurred J. Random Campbellauthor into predicting Napster. Somehow.

Anyway.

C. -- oh, and Happy New Year, all.

Emphyrio ::: (view all by) ::: January 02, 2004, 01:09 AM:

Could someone explain how the woman gets knocked onto the fast road and is spun into a gory mess?

If they're graduated in speed, how'd she get to one so much faster than the one next to it?

Rob Tomshany ::: (view all by) ::: January 02, 2004, 01:47 AM:

As I remember it, it's because one of the high-speed strips is halted and in the confusion, the woman is jostled onto one of the adjacent, still-moving strips. (There are safety interlocks built in that are supposed to shut down the whole road if something like that happens, but they don't work due to sabotage, this being the first sign of the "functionalist" uprising.)

CHip ::: (view all by) ::: January 02, 2004, 09:23 AM:

Brett: --_Stranger in a Strange Land_ may have forecast the water bed, Not exactly; waterbeds existed by then. If he predicted them (I've seen arguments that the idea goes back to the Egyptians), it was in Beyond This Horizon, where (shades of Rob's discussion of excessively complex engineering) your alarm clock drained your bed instead of ringing -- presumably into a convenient holding tank, since "May your bed spring a leak" is an accepted bit of rudeness.

And Rob -- you answer your own question about relative wind when you discuss the "glassite roofs"; the roads are enclosed, so air is carried along with the strips -- the only issue is the differences along with each of the strips.

Alan: there is a big difference between "We should have a share of power" and "We are so important we should have all the power."

Mitch: The resolution of the story is silly, and reflects Heinlein's ongoing belief that psychology could be made into a precise craft, like engineering. That was hardly exclusive to Heinlein; I'd say it was a common meme, widespread enough that Kornbluth could write a believable story challenging it ("Theory of Rocketry") and not have readers ask "What's he going on about?" For that matter, many new areas of study go through a phase of being seen as an all-curing tool; remember when AI was going to change the world? Or biotech? Or e-business?

Not that I hold a special brief for "The Roads Must Roll"; I'd just put it somewhere in the pile of "Do I have to rank these?" instead of in the garbage or on a pedestal. It would be interesting to see what was on the ballots that picked the stories in Hall of Fame....

Tim Kyger ::: (view all by) ::: January 02, 2004, 11:15 AM:

The following comments are probably far afield from commenting on a comment on Robert Heinlein, but what the heck; welcome to the blogosphere85

Jonathan Vos Post notes that I92ve been a 93space advocate94 for many years, but what he may not know is that I92ve been a student of the history of the politics of space and science for even longer. As well, I92m a pedant. So take cover, all!

Jonathan, there *wasn92t* any 93National Science Council94 under Eisenhower. Immediately after Sputnik, Ike *did* establish a 93President92s Science Advisory Council94 (93PSAC94 96 love those acronyms85) and he also appointed a Presidential science advisor; the very first official one. Ike92s first Science Advisor was Dr. James Killian, Jr., and he served from late 1957 through 1959, and when he left Dr. George Kistiakowsky did take over, and was there until JKF92s guy Dr. Jerome Wiesner took over. (Killian and Weisner were from MIT, too, BTW. FWIW.) You *did* spell 93Kistiakowsky94 right, which beats me (thank Ghu for spellcheck!).

Eisenhower actually *did* listen to Killian and Kistiakowsky. Of course, he started to listen to them circa November, 1957, many years into his Presidency. But he had access to piecemeal science advice before then from, for example, the AEC92s General Science Advisory Committee.

FDR did take science advice, and again, it was on a piecemeal basis, with Vannevar Bush trying to make it a more permanent and official function and position. Bush served into the Truman Administration and into the late 9140s, although Truman ignored him (this is well documented).

Kistiakowsky *was* on the PSAC when it was formed, so I92m assuming that he was the Vice Chair of that, as you noted.

But we now get to one of SF92s biggest Urban Legends: The one that has Heinlein getting something before the Truman Administration92s highest levels for consideration. We probably even know the proximate source of this Urban Legend: Ginny Heinlein herself. I cite Ginny Heinlein, because I heard this legend originally from her. It has RAH writing some sort of proposal up to do a space program and having it get as far as a Truman Cabinet meeting for consideration. Truman (according to Virginia Heinlein) turned to his science guy, Vannevar Bush, and said something like, 93Is this thing OK?94 And then V. Bush was reported to have said, 93No.94 And so Truman then passed on the proposal, and that was the end of it.

That's the story, anyway.

However, there is ABSOLUTELY NO DOCUMENTARY EVIDENCE THAT ANYTHING LIKE THIS EVER HAPPENED. I92ve looked. I92ve researched it. I wanted to write a paper on it for the AAS92 annual Space History competition. However, like all Urban Legends, there *are* elements of truth, *real* things, that fed and feed into this legend, and are probably the cause. (And so I now have a Heinlein connection for this post!)

Here92s the first 93real94 event that probably started this urban legend. Heinlein *did* write a paper, dated 17 August 1945, to his boss at the Philadelphia Navy Yard/Philadelphia Navy Aeronautical Station. This paper proposed that the Navy begin a program to develop 93war rockets94 that would lead to rockets capable of travel to the Moon. It was the very last thing Heinlein did there; he left that afternoon at 5pm, after dropping this paper on his now-former boss92 desk, leaving to move back to California: he'd just quit.

This paper and its treatment (it went nowhere and was totally ignored and not in any way acted upon) is probably the source of what some thought had gone up the chain to Truman to be turned down.

There *were* meetings at which various rocket development proposals went before Truman, and at which V. Bush pooh-poohed those proposals, and at which, as a result, said proposals were canceled by the Truman Administration. A great example of this is the funding for the MX-774 program, which is the direct ancestor rocket and program for all of the U.S.92 ICBMs and IRBMs; Truman cancelled it, and the three MX-774s only flew because what the Convair Corporation, which was the contractor, shoved in company money to finish and fly them. (It paid off; they were the ones selected in 1954 to lead the crash-program to build, fly, and field the Atlas ICBM.)

Truman canceled a *lot* of rocket and space-related programs in the 1947 time period as part of a larger bunch of defense cuts in order to try to return to a pre-WWII state of defense establishement, and also in an attempt to balance the Federal budget. FWIW.

The MX-774 program was cancelled at about the very same time that Heinlein was (a) getting a lot of stories published in the Saturday Evening Post, reaching a large audience with stfnal ideas for the first time (excepting, of course, Hiroshima and Nagasaki and that pesky atomic bomb thingy), as well as (b) the very same time that Heinlein was writing a series of articles, only one of which got published, advocating a system of orbital atomic bombs as a means of peacekeeping (a fictionalized version of this same proposal is *the* background of 93Space Cadet.94) He had an article, co-written by Lt. Caleb Laning USN, published in 93Colliers94 on 30 August 1947, 93Flight Into The Future.94 93Colliers,94 at that time, had a circulation of about 2 million or so, in a population of about 150 million; it had an incredible impact and readership. 93Colliers,94 also at this time, had an editor, Cornelius Ryan, who was sympathetic to stfnal content. Ryan is the editor who, in 1952, searched out Willy Ley and von Braun to write the landmark85er85Collier92s series on spaceflight. (Ryan also wrote the book 93The Longest Day.94 Yes, it's that movie, too.)

I think that it is these elements that have conflated together to form this particular urban legend.

Kevin J. Maroney ::: (view all by) ::: January 02, 2004, 12:33 PM:

Heinlein intentionally propogandized for a real pace program in his "juveniles." It worked. he did help to create the present we live in.

Strangely, I thought that the US space program was created by executive diktat in response to the Soviets actually going there. And I have a hard time believing that many Soviets read Heinlein juvies to inspire them to build Sputnik.

That many laborers in the American space program grew up reading Heinlein doesn't surprise me in the least. But just because he had some influence on the space program doesn't mean he had the most influence on it--which I think is something like the point of "The Roads Must Roll", yes?

Barry ::: (view all by) ::: January 02, 2004, 01:02 PM:

"Also don't forget the craft union versus industrial union usage - for this audience it has perhaps always been the AFofL-CIO but it wasn't always thus."

The usual difference, IIRC, is that a trade union, or craft union, has members who all practice the same (group of) job (functions), across companies. E.g., the International Brotherhood of Electrical workers. One company could employ members from several craft/trade unions. The Teamsters could also be such a union.


Alan Bostick ::: (view all by) ::: January 02, 2004, 01:15 PM:

CHip: Alan: there is a big difference between "We should have a share of power" and "We are so important we should have all the power."

Perhaps you could explain a little more clearly the relationship between this assertion and my own assertion that Rhetorically, "The Roads Must Roll" is anti-union because it depicts union activity as embodying the idea that one's job is so important that one is entitled to be in charg, [sic] etc.

Note that I was using Nancy Liebovitz's phrasing, because I was responding to her specific point.

("I'll agree that The Secret Protocols of the Elders of Zion is antisemitic, but it is much more opposed to the idea of submitting to world domination by a conspiratorial cabal.")

Jordin Kare ::: (view all by) ::: January 02, 2004, 02:18 PM:

Erik, rolling roads may not be a very good solution to long haul transit, but they're not so outrageous as all that. Just to take your example, a 200 km x 2 m x 0.1 m x 2 (out and back) belt is 8 x 10^4 cubic meters of belt, or somewhere around 200,000 tons of belt. Several meters of air moving with the belt adds very little mass; carrying one person per square meter (average) would add maybe 30%. We don't think anything's odd about moving 200,000 tons of supertanker around.

At 40 m/s (about 90 mph) the kinetic energy of the belt is 800 J/kg; call it 200 gigajoules, or about 50 megawatt-hours, for the entire belt. Keeping a road running would presumably take megawatts to 10's of megawatts; starting the belt after a (rare) maintenance shutdown would take perhaps 100 MW for an hour. (I could work out the air drag effects, too, but I'd have to start charging my consulting rates :-) The energy efficiency would be less than that of a train (unless the belt ran more or less continuously loaded) but as someone else pointed out, Heinlein postulated nearly-free distributed solar power.

An emergency stop would dump all the energy into the brakes: you can easily dump 200 kJ into 1 kg of brake drum, so you'd need 1000 tons of dry emergency brake hardware -- or less than 200 tons of water, if you're willing to water-cool the emergency brakes. There would be very few accidents or failures that would actually break a belt -- I'd guess it would be an accident at least as rare as a train derailment at speed or an airplane crash -- and in that case one could easily stop a belt in 10 seconds, which would pile up about 200 meters of belt at the accident site and probably damage 1 km or so of belt-and-supports. Not so different from a train wreck or airplane crash.

I don't recall the details of the rolling-road descriptions, but I see no reason the high-speed belts couldn't have seats for long-distance passengers. (I always assumed, BTW, that the rolling roads never "turned under" the way airport peoplemover belts do, but rather turned around on the surface, with a suitably large radius of curvature, so if you just stayed on one road long enough you'd hit a turnaround and come back to your starting point.)

So there's plenty of room to argue that rolling roads suck as a national transportation system, but I don't see any reason they'd be especially difficult to build from a physics or engineering standpoint.

Jeremy Leader ::: (view all by) ::: January 02, 2004, 02:37 PM:

Barry, the way I've heard it described is that trade unions were somewhat more elitist or classist, in that they were organized by trade, and so different trades might reasonably make different deals with management, with the more "valuable" unions of course getting the better deals. This was taken to an extreme by the Functionalists in The Roads Must Roll, where one particular trade throught they were important enough that they should run the country. Industrial unions were organized by industry, so that every worker in a given industry would belong to one union, which is structurally much more egalitarian (janitors and precision machinists are brothers), though also potentially more centralized and totalitarian.

My vague impression is that the trade unions more or less won out in the US, then grew and merged until in some industries they effectively became industrial unions (e.g. the auto workers, steel workers, arguably even the Teamsters).

I believe entertainment is one industry where a form of trade unionism persists, with separate unions for actors, writers, directors, film editors, electricians, grips, carpenters, drivers, and so forth.

Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: January 02, 2004, 04:14 PM:

Tim Kyger: That's a WONDERFUL essay! Expanded version should certainly be published! I admit that I may have been misled by Ginny, with whom I couldn't have had more than half-a-dozen conversations (not counting correspondance), some in a trio with the late Charles Sheffield (who never corrected her). Thank you for your corrections to my recall. I've only recently gotten regularly active on the NeilsenHaydens' blogs, having been addicted much longer to posting my own web pages (siince 1995 when Magic Dragon Multimedia was formed, my domain has grown to getting over 1,000,000 hits/month) and the Internet since before it was called that (I was often on the ARPANET since 1972/73 from Caltech, on a 300 baud acoustically coupled modem to U.C. San Diego)...

Mitch Wagner: thanks for backing me up on Heinlein/Segway.

CHip: there was, I believe, a lawsuit once as to who actually invented the waterbed. As I recall, the judge ruled that Heinlein described it well enough that anyone skilled in the trade could reduce to practice (i.e. build one).

Jordan: good back-of-the-envelope analysis.

Barry, Jeremy: I'm a member of two rather atypical unions. The National Writers Union is a union of freelance writers (think: union of anarchists? Union of solipsists?) affiliated later as Local 1969 of United Auto Workers; and a union of Adjunct Professors (who have failed to collect millions of $ specifically earmarked for their members in the California budget, years ago, pre-Gubernator). I seem to recall that SFWA was attempted to be formed years before it was born. A big percentage of the folks at the first meeting stormed out, saying "This is too much like a goddamned union" and many of the remainder storming out, saying "this is not enough like a union."

note that the first attempt to create a Writers Union was in England, as dreamed up by none other than Charles Babbage. He got Charles Dickens as the Big Name author, but it never really took off. Imagine if...

Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: January 02, 2004, 04:31 PM:

I was thinking about this problem of the economics of rolling roads, and came to the same conclusions intuitively that Jordin came to using a little math.

The rolling roads are described as being used between cities hundreds of miles apart, not thousands -- the main action of the story is described as taking place on a road linking San Diego and Reno, Nev.; the present-day driving distance of that trip is 637 miles, or a 9 hour 48 minute drive.

Cities that close together will tend to develop strong economic and commuter ties; there's LOTS of traffic between San Diego and Los Angeles (124) miles, and L.A. and San Francisco (381). There are flights every hour between San Diego and Los Angeles, and hourly up and down the West Coast. Truck traffic is heavy. In the U.S., we call these groupings of cities "corridors," I'm sure the same phenomenon must exist all over the world.

So the rolling roads become regional transportation systems, but not necessarily the transporation of choice over geographical distances (thousands of miles).

The other thing to bear in mind about the engineering of the rolling roads is that, in that system, energy is virtually unlimited and free. Rob Hansen talks about the costs of starting and stopping the roads, and moving the roads themselves -- but those only are significant costs if you have to pay significant amounts for energy. If energy is virtually free, then you can stop and start your raods as much as often as is convenient.

The payback you get for having rolling roads, rather than trains or trucks or planes, is that the roads are always rolling. You don't have to wait for the next scheduled train or truck or plane to move people or cargo, you just load your stuff onto the road and send it on its way. And the capacity of the roads is enormous -- Rob Hansen asks why move the whole railroad when you can have the rails stationary and just move the trains? I respond: why limit your cargo capacity to just the trains, when you can be moving cargo on every inch of rail?

Heinlein does postulate seats on the roads -- not just seats, but whole restaurants, and presumably other sorts of buildings and shops. He talks about "road cities" built up on either side of the rolling roads, the same way development spread along railroad lines and later (after "The Roads Must Roll" was published) along superhighways.

I think perhaps the roads themselves would become moving cities, with office buildings and even residences located on the roads themselves, the same way shops came to be built on London Bridge.

This whole discussion is illustrative of a split in the sf community: Rob Hansen and others say that "The Roads Must Roll" is bad because the engineering is ridiculous, but I (and I suspect others too) don't see bad engineering as a fatal flaw in an sf story. Indeed, I see bad engineering in an sf story as being trivial. We're willing to postulate FTL travel, time travel and antigravity, why not also be willing to postulate rolling roads if they help us tell a good story?

CHip: "Not that I hold a special brief for "The Roads Must Roll"; I'd just put it somewhere in the pile of "Do I have to rank these?" instead of in the garbage or on a pedestal. It would be interesting to see what was on the ballots that picked the stories in Hall of Fame....

I'm fond of the phrase "interesting failure" to describe stories or novels or movies or TV show that have a lot going for them, but also have a lot of problems. An interesting failure can often be more enjoyable and worthwhile than a successful, less ambitious work.

adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: January 02, 2004, 04:51 PM:

CHip:

I've been delaying on adding to this thread long enough that you beat me to pointing out that the waterbed goes back not to Stranger in a Strange Land but to Beyond This Horizon.

Let me just add that the same is true of CNN.

My copy of the new/old novel was supposed to be with me by now. Instead, it and my other Christmas gifts are all still with my wife and daughter in Arkansaw. Dammit three times.

Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: January 02, 2004, 05:14 PM:

Tim, could Vannevar Bush have known Heinlein?

I think Heinlein's (and SF in general) missing the predominance of fossil fuels in transportation is one of the most interesting failures of prediction in SF. When Heinlein drew that famous chart, fossil fuels had not yet become central to transportation; the US Interstate system was not even a gleam in some general's eye and and the California Arabian Standard Oil Company (later, the Arabia American Oil Company, later Saudi Aramco) had just begun shipping oil. There was a whole earlier generation of active solar power technologies, pre-World War II, that were pretty much abandoned until the first oil crunch of the 1970s.

Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: January 02, 2004, 06:01 PM:

Re: Randolph Frtiz's query to Tim Kyger,

I don't know, but strongly susepct that Heinlein and Vannevar Bush could have known each other. Tim? There are certainly parallels in their writings...

Courage is the complement of fear. A man who is fearless cannot be courageous. (He is also a fool).
- Robert A. Heinlein

Fear cannot be banished, but it can be calm and without panic; and it can be mitigated by reason and evaluation.
- Vannevar Bush

----------

If it can't be expressed in figures, it is not science; it is opinion.
-- Heinlein, Notebooks of Lazarus Long

"If scientific reasoning were limited to the logical processes of arithmetic, we should not get very far in our understanding of the physical world. One might as well attempt to grasp the game of poker entirely by the use of the mathematics of probability."
-- Vannevar Bush
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from
www.geocities.com/redgiantsite/moon.html

Written in the shadow of World War II, 'Rocketship Galileo' rehearsed the successful thwarting of a Nazi plot to establish a military base on the moon in the form of a myth of youthful American innovation warding off established imperial design. Three years later, in the context of a deepening Cold War, Heinlein's script for 'Destination Moon' replaced the Nazi menace with one from 'an unfriendly foreign power' and converted the three adventurous teenagers of the novel into a 'dominant group' consisting of an inventor, a general, and an industrialist (in Heinlein's words, 'the just past young, energetic, far-sighted and dynamic men who are the backbone of American industry'): Vannevar Bush's guardians of national security. As H. Bruce Franklin puts it in his study of Heinlein, their flight to the moon represented 'the triumph of the military-industrial complex.' (H. Bruce Franklin, Robert Heinlein: America as Science Fiction, New York: Oxford University Press, 1980).

------------

Michael Joyce's "essay on Vannevar Bush as the “father of hypertext” reads like William Gibson’s “The Gernsback Continuum” in that Joyce critiques a number of aspects of that earlier stage of electronic text theory, of circa-1945 predictions about the future of hypertext that have failed to materialize. His recurrent meditations on Bush as his “virtual father,” on his actual, biological father, and on his two sons (and he quotes from one son’s email from Prague, misspellings and departures from grammar and all), as well as his constant references to “space,” “place,” and “a recurrent insistence upon grounding our experience of the emergence of a network culture in the body” (4) all point to a tension between the reality of our current interface with cyberspace through the flat window of a computer screen and the desire/nostalgia for connection with an organic and physical whole. In criticizing “the gadgeteer’s chirpy American optimism” associated with Bush -- and, one might surmise, the Golden Age vision of Gernsback, Campbell, Heinlein and Asimov -- Joyce refers to his sister’s archeological work on precolumbian Mayan culture, to the “human remains that wash across history before us, and away from which we have bravely, if foolishly, surfed off in thinking to construct a network outside history” "

------------

And, excerpting from my cover article in the Jan 2000 Special Millennium Issue of IEEE Computer:

Robert A. Heinlein -- science fiction author and inventor of the waterbed-- worked in the 1940s on pressure suit technology for the US Navy; this work led almost directly to the development of space suits. But some 21 years before Armstrong and Aldrin even walked on the moon, Heinlein published a short story in which an astronaut experiences a problem with his oxygen; by looking at a small device attached to his belt, the astronaut confirms that the oxygen content in his blood has fallen.9

Such a device might not seem all that impressive to us today, particularly since, in the past 20 or 30 years, portable medical devices like this have become commonplace technologies in popular media like TV and film. Each generation of Star Trek doctors, for example, uses similar devices. But Heinlein was among the first writers to describe a device based on the idea of real-time biofeedback.

And now, wearable computers -- including biofeedback devices nearly as sophisticated as Heinlein's -- have clearly passed from technological speculation and science fiction into real-world use. Millions of people grew up with the comic-strip character Dick Tracy, who used a two-way wristwatch radio. Over the decades, he upgraded his wrist gadgetry to be capable of receiving a video signal. At the November 1999 Comdex, Hewlett-Packard's CEO Carly Fiorina announced to an enthusiastic Las Vegas audience that HP would be collaborating with Swatch to manufacture watches with wireless Internet connectivity....

Before there were electronic computers, there were mechanical calculating devices: technologies (like the abacus) designed to save people time. One of the most elaborate of such devices was Charles Babbage's unfinished calculating machine, which he called the Difference Engine; this device is often credited as being the most important nineteenth-century ancestor of the computer.

Science fiction authors, particularly in the 1920s and 1930s, drew conclusions from Babbage's work and created in their fiction elaborately designed androids driven by mechanical brains. It wasn't until roughly the middle of the twentieth century that the Babbage computing model gave way to electronic computing, well after the development of huge mechanical integrators in the 1930s and 1940s, most notably built at MIT under Vannevar Bush. But what if Charles Babbage had finished his work? What if mechanical computers actually brought about the computer revolution a century early?

One of the provinces of science fiction -- and in this case what some would instead call speculative fiction -- is alternate history, an extended indulgence in what-if scenarios. So what if Babbage had actually finished his machine? One answer to this question is The Difference Engine, a novel by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling10 in which the British empire by 1855 controls the entire world through cybersurveillance.

In addition to portraying an entire age driven by a science that never happened, Gibson and Sterling indulge in speculation about how this change might have affected twentieth-century ideas. For example, a punch-card program proves Kurt Godel's theory 80 years early -- that every language complex enough to include arithmetic contains statements that are completely impossible to prove or disprove. And John Keats, unable to make a living from poetry, becomes the leading Royal Society kinetropist -- essentially a director of computer-generated special effects.

Even though the mechanical computing model eventually gave way to electronic computing, Babbage's ideas -- coupled, no doubt, with all the fiction written about androids with mechanical brains -- inspired creations like the animatronic automata that amusement parks like Disneyland use for entertainment. Disney's first fully automated show was the tiki room, which opened in 1963 with more than 225 animatronic creatures. Of all the automata at Disneyland, though, perhaps most familiar is the mechanical Abraham Lincoln, which even inspired a Philip K. Dick novel....


Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: January 02, 2004, 07:36 PM:

In re whether "The Roads Must Roll" is ultimately anti-union: I should re-read it--that Protocols of the Elders of Zion argument did have a bit of a kick, and I generally believe that what's onstage in a story has more force than any theoretical statements the author or characters make.

Kevin, the US space program was certainly dependent on JFK deciding that the US could and should do better than the Soviets, but it may have been equally dependent on the existance of engineers and scientists who'd been inspired to work toward a space program, and who I assume had bent their educations in that direction.

In re "interesting failures": Does anyone want to kick "Jerry Is a Man" around? It's got plenty of good details (the explanation of why you can't have a flying horse, shyster as a profession, what is probably still one of the few respectful presentations of a rich, middle-aged, non-technical woman in science fiction), but I've never been able to make sense of the ending.

Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: January 02, 2004, 11:24 PM:

Tim Kyger writes:

The MX-774 program was cancelled at about the very same time that Heinlein was (a) getting a lot of stories published in the Saturday Evening Post, reaching a large audience with stfnal ideas for the first time (excepting, of course, Hiroshima and Nagasaki and that pesky atomic bomb thingy), as well as (b) the very same time that Heinlein was writing a series of articles, only one of which got published, advocating a system of orbital atomic bombs as a means of peacekeeping (a fictionalized version of this same proposal is *the* background of 93Space Cadet.94) He had an article, co-written by Lt. Caleb Laning USN, published in 93Colliers94 on 30 August 1947, 93Flight Into The Future.94 93Colliers,94 at that time, had a circulation of about 2 million or so, in a population of about 150 million; it had an incredible impact and readership. 93Colliers,94 also at this time, had an editor, Cornelius Ryan, who was sympathetic to stfnal content.

I'll crib something I wrote a few years ago:

I have a copy of Collier's for October 23, 1948, and on page 24 is "Rocket Blitz from the Moon," by Robert S. Richardson [Heinlein's friend and frequent Astounding contributor]. It's illustrated by two Chesley Bonestell paintings. I'll reprint the captions to give you the flavor:

"The rocket base on the moon as it might appear at the time of the attack on New York City. The rocket in the foreground is just starting its leap through space. Following the vertical take-off it will be guided toward the target by an automatic pilot. Within our stratosphere, controls operated on the earth will take over"

"The beginning of the end for New York. One rocket has exploded between the Empire State Building and the Battery, another in Queens. Others, lauched earlier, may have missed. The slightest error by attackers on the moon would cause projectiles to land thousands of miles from the big city-- or even miss the earth"

It's interesting that this boogeymen-from-space article appeared several years before the more famous pro-space Collier's series-- celebrated in Across the Space Frontier, Blueprint for Space, and other books-- for which Bonestell was also the illustrator, Cornelius Ryan the editor, and I think Richardson one of the authors. But it's the same sort of thing as the article Tim cites.

Vera Nazarian ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2004, 12:10 AM:

And completely off the subject, happy birthday, Patrick!!! :-)))

Daniel Hatch ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2004, 12:15 AM:

I was just trying to imagine the context in which Heinlein wrote "For Us The Living" and immediately thought of Katherine Hepburn's early films.

Hepburn was born May 12, 1907, 2 months before Heinlein. In 1939, she was on Broadway in "The Philadelphia Story" -- before it became a movie.

It's not hard to imagine an era where men wore suits with wide lapels and slicked their hair back like (the very young) Jimmy Stewart. An era where nudity, libertarianism, and videophones were as radical as you could get.

Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2004, 02:13 AM:

So do these quotes sound Heinleinesque?

"The individual to me is everything. I would circumscribe him just as little as possible."
-- Vannevar Bush

"My whole philosophy on this sort of thing is very simple. If I have any doubt as to whether I am supposed to do a job or not, I do it, and if someone socks me, I lay off"
-- Vannevar Bush

Yeah, it would have been nice to see Katherine Hepburn play a competant woman in a Heinlein film.

Rob Hansen ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2004, 04:51 AM:

CHip wrote: "And Rob -- you answer your own question about relative wind when you discuss the "glassite roofs"; the roads are enclosed, so air is carried along with the strips -- the only issue is the differences along with each of the strips."

Not so. The air may be carried along with the strips, but air is a fluid not a solid. Yes, the strips would carry along any solid on them at the same speed as they were travelling for the full height of that solid. The same is not true of a fluid for what would have to be the full heightup to the glassite roof (which is presumably solid and so would also impart drag on the top layer of air). This is why I wrote at some length about the fans and/or level of
compartmentalization necessary so that using the belts didn't feel like standing in a wind tunnel.

Rob Hansen ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2004, 05:04 AM:

Oh yeah, forgot something:

Mitch Wagner: "This whole discussion is illustrative of a split in the sf community: Rob Hansen and others say that "The Roads Must Roll" is bad because the engineering is ridiculous, but I (and I suspect others too) don't see bad engineering as a fatal flaw in an sf story. Indeed, I see bad engineering in an sf story as being trivial. We're willing to postulate FTL travel, time travel and antigravity, why not also be willing to postulate rolling roads if they help us tell a good story?"

Oh, I'm perfectly happy to read stories that postulate technologies that don't yet exist, and even stories that ignore known science (I read comics, and they routinely ignore even the most
basic stuff such as Newton's Laws), but when someone lauded for writing 'hard SF' gets
basic stuff wrong I feel kinda cheated.

David Moles ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2004, 08:25 AM:

Impossible technologies are okay, but not technologies that even if possible would be a bad idea. And aside from the eyeball kick, do the moving roads actually add anything to the story? How hard would it be to tell that story with trains or trucks or pneumatic tubes?

Erik V. Olson ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2004, 09:36 AM:

There would be very few accidents or failures that would actually break a belt -- I'd guess it would be an accident at least as rare as a train derailment at speed or an airplane crash -- and in that case one could easily stop a belt in 10 seconds, which would pile up about 200 meters of belt at the accident site and probably damage 1 km or so of belt-and-supports. Not so different from a train wreck or airplane crash.

But, unlike a train derailment, a break will effect everyone on the length of the belt. Plus, once the belt parts, you're going to lose braking ability as the belt detensions -- worse, if the trailing edge of the belt lifts, any part of the belt that isn't on a braking drum is mass that the first brake that is in contact is going to need to stop. Get enough of the belt flying, and you will have a catastrophic cascade of brake failures.

Furthermore, while the trailing edge (assuming it stays down) at least has a braking option, the leading edge of the spilt is even more problematic. You're going to have a goodly length of that part of the belt that isn't going to stop, even positing instant braking and infinite heat sinking. It will fly right off the rollers when you try, if the tension in the belt doesn't make it do so instantly. And, when that end hits the roof, sheesh, would it get ugly. That end will want to stop -- the main mass of the belt won't. It parts again. So, now, we have a good chuck of belt at near zero, and most of it moving at a little less than 100mph, and slowing (we'll posit a computerized braking system that kicks in when the belt tension drops, or some other sensor fires.)

How long to slow that belt? Because, now, until you stop it, you're piling the trailing end of the belt into the wreck. If it took an hour, you'd have, oh, 40-60km of belt rammed into the zone at a goodly speed.

Now, of course, you need to get people off the distant parts of the belt. This means that the other belts need to slow in sync with the main belt. Things get even worse if the 100mph belt drops to 50, and now, there's a 40mph difference between the formerly fast belt and the "slow" belt that they're supposed to dismount on.

Of course, the 90mph belt is probably in some trouble as well, unless the parted 100mph manages to not clip it.

And, very few > none. Taking you numbers, 200km x 2 m gives us 400km^2 of belt, positing a density of one person per 10 m^2 gives us 40,000 on the belt. One belt part would injure/kill a significant part of that belt. Assume 10% casualties (which I think is low.) That's 4000 people dead in one incident. That's not a train wreck or a plane wreck. The worst we could manage there was ramming two 747s into each other, and that only killed ~600.

(Never mind what a group like Al-Queda would think about the possiblity of parting the NYC-Boston belt at 8AM on Monday morning.)

Add in the energy to spin up/brake the rollers, which, as written, are very large. Thus, you need to soak that energy as well. Given, there's a near infinite amount of energy available, but I don't see infinite energy sinks. On every belt system I've seen, the rollers *far* outmass the belt, and you have to stop the rollers with the belt.

And there are many belts. The KE flying between DC and NYC and Boston would be enormous.

The belts clearly can part -- one of the key points made is the importance of the rollers not binding up and parting the belt.

And, the killer of this story -- what makes it just so bad, when it's offered as a "hard" science story. The proposition is that the reason the roads came about was that, at the time, the US was incredibly energy rich, yet material poor.

So, you have the materials to make a 200km long belt, with sets of subsidiary belts, plus a cover for them, plus the rollers needed to support them, plus the motor/brakes needed to control them, plus enough of a superstructure to support them *and* let men work underneath them, and you have enough material to build this all across the US?

Not an acceptible premise. If you have that much energy, and that much material, you can make 300mph trains for far less in material costs, and if you have any sort of rational power storage, you can make planes and cars. Heck, if energy is that cheap, you can make fuels! (The big rub with H2? Too costly to make, in energy terms. But if energy is free?)

_The Roads Must Roll_ claims to posit an energy rich, material poor, technologically advanced civilization. It, in fact, posits an energy rich, material rich society that has apparently lobotomized the engineers.

Given that Heinlein is supposedly one of the better hard-science authors in the realm, and that Heinlein brags about making a several foot long calculation to make sure that an orbital parameter in a story is correct, this is silly. Well, not silly. Stupid. It's just not an acceptable outcome. If they are material poor, they can't afford to make the rolling roads. Period. If they can, they can afford to make much better, safer, faster and cheaper methods of intercity transport. Period.

The fundamental premise of the story -- that the US cannot afford rail, cars or planes, thus, we have rolling roads -- is inane.

I don't mind bolonium in a story. I do mind it when people tell me that the bolonium is perfectly rational. At least Niven admitted that the Ringwold was unstable.

Supposedly, we admire authors that take a premise and come up with a rational outcome from that premise. To me, _Roads_ seems to be set up to deliberatly create a transportation system that has a horrific failure mode.

Which may be the real point of the story.

Kevin J. Maroney ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2004, 12:19 PM:

I don't mind bolonium in a story. I do mind it when people tell me that the bolonium is perfectly rational.

I noticed, on my relatively recent re-read of Heinlein's Giant Bugs from Beyond the Solar System that he gleefully described, in detail, the mechanics of the jumpsuits worn by the infantry, and made it clear that they worked in a way which would reduce the wearer's bones to jelly.

If he had described less, they would have been plausible.

adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2004, 12:45 PM:

Rob,

I will admit that I'd never read Heinlein with an eye toward careless science before this thread.

Since then, I've been back through, oh, maybe a dozen of the books, and I've spotted boners in two of my favorites--books which are, by consensus, among Heinlein's best.

In Citizen of the Galaxy, Thorby is explaining n-dimensional geometry to cuddly Loeen (who, unbeknownst to him, used to teach the stuff before being traded to Sisu).

He says, "A line is an ordered sequence of points. But where does the order come from? From being in a surface. If a line isn't held by a surface, then it would collapse into itself. It hasn't any width. You wouldn't even know it has collapsed...nothing to compare it with. But every point would be just as close to every other point, no 'ordered sequence'."

Well, a line isn't an ordered sequence--it isn't a sequence at all. A sequence is, by definition, countable. The real line isn't. One could wave one's hands and point out that the rationals are a countable dense subset of the real line and run with that. But the rationals can't be ordered into a sequence that makes geometric sense. Ordered set, yes--ordered sequence, no.

Now, I guess I could justify this by saying, "Okay, Thorby is explaining something he understands how to manipulate, but on which he's not sound on theory. The woman to whom he's talking does know the difference, but is playing dumb." Possibly so, but this is a moderately subtle point on which Thorby is never corrected. How many readers catch this?

Starman Jones has a much more serious blunder, one that strikes right at the heart of the plot. When the Asgard is stranded in unknown space, Max says:

"We don't know of any [calculated and surveyed congruences] within a hundred light-years, at least...and we won't know of any even if we find out where we are because we know where we aren't. Follow me? That means the ship would have to travel at top speed for something over a hundred years, and maybe much longer, just for the first leg of the trip."

That's true, in one sense--it'd take a hundred years in one frame of reference. Not, however, in the frame of reference of the Asgard. If the ship can get to light speed in four weeks, then holding it at just under that velocity long enough to travel several hundred light years is not all that long in the Asgard's frame of reference. That's a real alternative.

This is a point that's fuzzed over earlier in the story. The ship takes fairly long trips at near-light speed. Time contraction is just ignored, where it should play some sort of part. The ship spends a lot of time traveling at relativistic velocities, enough that it should, by the end of the trip, have added up. Putzie, for one, should be getting older faster than Eldreth.

There's a different good story in these details. If one likes romantically happy endings, there's motivation for Max and Eldreth to end up together. There's the motivation of the ship's officers not to take the long way home--since the passengers are indemnified against losses, the company is looking at a whopping penalty for such late delivery. (Assuming the company still exists.)

On the other hand, consider the miracle of compound interest. Would the ship's passengers really lose by the delay? And even if the ship's company would draw paychecks by ship's time, they'd presumably be escrowed elsewhere, in a different frame of reference--how much would they mount up to by the return? That's a motivation for heading home at near-light speed.

(If Heinlein had lived another ten years, would he have written a sequel in which Eldreth outlives or dumps [or maybe not] Putzie and gets back with Max? It seems an obvious sequel.)

So: Is Heinlein really a hard SF author? Or a technophilic sociological SF author who used his talents to propagandize for science? Or someone who just liked telling good stories?

Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2004, 03:37 PM:

Randolph Fritz: I think Heinlein's (and SF in general) missing the predominance of fossil fuels in transportation is one of the most interesting failures of prediction in SF. When Heinlein drew that famous chart, fossil fuels had not yet become central to transportation.

Hmmm... I think you're wrong there. RAH drew the chart around 1940, I think -- by that time, cars were pretty prevalent, trains were the main form of long-distance transportation, and the country was mostly already electrified. What did electric plants burn back then but fossil fuels?

Nancy Lebovitz: "In re whether "The Roads Must Roll" is ultimately anti-union: I should re-read it...

Well, as I said, the story does include a supporting character who is strongly pro-union AND one fo the good guys in the story. (Heinlein does the same thing in "The Sixth Column" -- includes a good-guy Japanese-American character in a story about war between Americans and Asians.)

In re "interesting failures": Does anyone want to kick "Jerry Is a Man" around? It's got plenty of good details (the explanation of why you can't have a flying horse, shyster as a profession, what is probably still one of the few respectful presentations of a rich, middle-aged, non-technical woman in science fiction), but I've never been able to make sense of the ending.

What's unclear about the ending? The anthropoid servants are ruled to be human beings because they have the capacity to desire freedom?

I think most people's objections to the story are because the anthropoid ape-servants talk too much like 19th Century black American slaves.

Daniel Hatch: I was just trying to imagine the context in which Heinlein wrote "For Us The Living" and immediately thought of Katherine Hepburn's early films.

When I read Heinlein, I visualize the action as it would appear in an old movie -- the characters talk and move like fast-talking Yankees in a 1940 movie. That's part of the charm for me. This happens more often in the older stories, which is one of the reasons I read older Heinlein more frequently.

Rob Hansen: Oh, I'm perfectly happy to read stories that postulate technologies that don't yet exist, and even stories that ignore known science (I read comics, and they routinely ignore even the most
basic stuff such as Newton's Laws), but when someone lauded for writing 'hard SF' gets
basic stuff wrong I feel kinda cheated.

I try never to blame a writer or story for the sins of their fans. The fans said "The Roads Must Roll" was diamond-hard sf -- but I'm not aware that Heinlein ever said that. And even if he had said that, well, I am of the opinion that stories stand on their own -- what a writer says about his own story is just another opinion, not to be given any greater weight than anybody else's opinion about a story.

This is not always an easy rule to follow. I've been disappointed by many movies after reading superlative reviews of them and finding them, on my own viewing, to be merely very good. "As Good As It Gets," for example, wasn't -- but it was pretty good at that, and if I'd seen it before reading the reviews, I probably would have enjoyed it more.

However, there is a tradeoff in the other direction -- sometimes a movie fails to live down to its bad reviews. When I finally saw "Star Trek V," for instance, I said, "Well, this movie is all right -- it has special effects, gunfights, spaceship battles -- what else do you need from Trek?"

David Moles: Impossible technologies are okay, but not technologies that even if possible would be a bad idea. And aside from the eyeball kick, do the moving roads actually add anything to the story? How hard would it be to tell that story with trains or trucks or pneumatic tubes?

The eyeball kick is enough.

Erik V.Olson: And, the killer of this story -- what makes it just so bad, when it's offered as a "hard" science story. The proposition is that the reason the roads came about was that, at the time, the US was incredibly energy rich, yet material poor.

Where did you get the idea that the U.S. in that story is "energy poor"? I don't think it is.

Given that Heinlein is supposedly one of the better hard-science authors in the realm, and that Heinlein brags about making a several foot long calculation to make sure that an orbital parameter in a story is correct, this is silly. Well, not silly. Stupid. It's just not an acceptable outcome. If they are material poor, they can't afford to make the rolling roads. Period. If they can, they can afford to make much better, safer, faster and cheaper methods of intercity transport. Period. ... I don't mind bolonium in a story. I do mind it when people tell me that the bolonium is perfectly rational.

Just because he made all those calculations in one story, doesn't mean he made them in this story, or every one. Again: I don't blame Heinlein for the hyperbole of his fans -- and, for that matter, I don't blame a story for the hyperbole of its author talking about the story.

Daniel Hatch ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2004, 03:53 PM:

You know, we ARE talking about the guy who wrote "Methuselah's Children," in which Libby runs up the passageway and says: "I've just invented a spaceship drive that will let us get away from the Earth cops and travel to other stars. Plug it in and let's go."

Everyone realizes that the science and technology in science fiction are metaphors, right? I mean, Heinlein wasn't raising money to build the rolling roads, he was just making up a story.

Scott Lynch ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2004, 03:59 PM:

We're willing to postulate FTL travel, time travel and antigravity, why not also be willing to postulate rolling roads if they help us tell a good story?

It's not the overall audacity/unbelievability of any given SF premise that's the problem, it's just that too much explanation, and too close an examination of how the Prime Doohickey works, can derail suspension of disbelief.

If everything's left abstract (save for a description of what the device does), the (sane) reader can simply take it for granted that the device does its job and move on from there.

However, if the author halts the narrative for an in-depth explanation of how Bifurcated Gabblecocks make Atomic Underarm Deodorant not only plausible but essential to future life, it's only fair for astute readers to say, "Wait a minute, you couldn't bifurcate a fucking gabblecock even in 1939, you lousy bastard!"

Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2004, 04:04 PM:

Scott Lynch: Ah, now I see what you -- and probably Rob and Erik Hanson and others -- are getting at. Okay, that makes sense to me.

Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2004, 04:08 PM:

... and that makes Rob Hansen's criticism valid too -- it wasn't the FANS saying that "Roads" was hard sf, or even Heinlein himself saying it in some interview or essay -- the story itself made the promise, "I am a hard sf story. The engineering details of my central gimmick, the rolling roads, are meticulously worked out." But they weren't.

But still, the roads DO have that eye-kick -- at least for me -- and that's enough.

And Rob is right -- you get many of the same benefits from train travel, which is one reason why I prefer trains to any other form of transportation, where they're practical, which is, alas, hardly ever where I now live.

Compare "The Roads Must Roll" with "Life-Line," where the story says: "We don't know how Hugo Pinero predicts lifespan, and we don't care. That's not the point of the story." It's a better story than "Roads," for that reason.

Scott Lynch ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2004, 04:10 PM:

This is not to say that I didn't find "The Roads Must Roll" a heap of good fun; I read it for the first time this past summer in SFWA's Hall of Fame Vol. I collection.

Wonky science doesn't necessarily derail a story for me, nor outdated science. I adore the cork and leather spacesuits of late 30s and early 40s stories, and Stanley Weinbaum's "A Martian Odyssey" is a joy unto itself. The thing about most of Heinlein's short fiction is that he's got other balls in the air that are still worth the reader's time even if the hard science aspect falls to the ground.

adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2004, 06:07 PM:

"Life-Line", like "Let There Be Light" and "Logic of Empire"--and "The Roads Must Roll", for that matter--are examples of the early, left-wing populist Heinlein. They confine their preaching to important story elements (unlike the later, right-wing libertarian Heinlein, where so much of the preaching is shoehorned in). Economic life drives the action of these stories.

"Life-Line": A large insurance agency has Pinero killed to protect its business.

"Let There Be Light": The energy interests nearly drive the Douglas family business into bankruptcy by gaining control of publicly-owned power generation, then threaten them directly once the Douglas-Martin power screens are made public. (Open source/IP activists will like this story.)

"Logic of Empire": Slavery travels to Venus as the plantation system is revived.

"The Roads Must Roll": A corrupt manager stacks the deck in order to get a trade union local on strike for his own purposes. (The trade union/industrial union distinction is interesting here. Industrial unions were put down in the United States because they held too much power. Here we have a trade union occupying a position similar to the ARU during the Pullman strike. One might also note that the engineers in this story are apparently in a public sector union--most public sector unions operate by different rules than private sector unions.)

I'm not sure whether, as Mitch suggests, "Logic of Empire" is a Marxist story--I'm not expert on Marxism--but it's certainly leftist. Since I don't know anything about Social Credit, I think I'd probably call Heinlein's early political views as expressed in fiction as populist anti-corporatism.

You can see this in other early works, too--consider how Waldo feels about NAPA and his patents, or Archie's experiences with the concrete cartel and, later, Magic, Inc. (Corporations, like demons, "don't have the same limitations in time that we have" y'know.) You can even see a bit of this in "Blowups Happen", though it, like "Waldo", takes a relatively generous view.

But the most radical of all the early stories is "Let There Be Light". (The Franklin book Jonathan mentions is quite good on this--I wish we owned a copy!) Consider the passage where Martin quotes George Bernard Shaw on Breakages, Ltd. to Douglas, "describing the combined power of corporate industry to resist any change that might threaten their dividends".

Douglas counters that "Industry welcomes invention. Why, all the big corporations have their research departments..." and Martin replies "Sure--and any bright young inventor can get a job with them. And then he's a kept man--the inventions belong to the corporation, and only those that fit into the pattern of the powers-that-be ever see light. The rest are shelved."

I wonder why this story was dropped from the Future History chronology--even more, I wonder exactly when that happened, and suspect knowing the latter might suggest an answer to the former.

James Gifford points out in his indispensible Reader's Companion that Douglas' and Martin's timelines run out simultaneously on Heinlein's hand-drawn chart:

"Many years later, he wrote that he and Virginia Heinlein preferred to travel by air, in part because they hoped to go out in a common end. Perhaps this conjunction of lines on a chart drawn in 1940 is a very early reflection of that attitude." Of course, in 1940, Robert Heinlein was still married to Leslyn--the second marriage to Virginia was a decade ahead.

(The same common end appears true of John Lyle and Magdalene in that chart. Lyle married Judith in the original version of story--Magdalene becomes a major character only in the 1953 revision.)

A note relevant to the main thread here: There are three variants of "Let There Be Light", according to Robert A. Heinlein: A Reader's Companion.

The first, rejected by Campbell and published 1940 in Super Science Stories, compared Dr. Martin to Sally Rand and had dialogue sufficiently "raunchy" as to provoke "some heated letters from readers about Super Science Stories descending to smut, which probably led to the cleaned-up version in the book" publication--that is, the second book publication, in which Martin is compared to Marilyn Monroe. (The Reader's Companion doesn't note this, but I assume this 1963 version is where the reference to the Atomic Energy Commission was added.) The original book publication, from 1950, is also described as "raunchy", but in it, Martin is compared to Betty Grable. (Gallingly, we've got both four-story and six-story versions of The Man Who Sold The Moon in the house, but the six-story copy is an anomaly which contains the "clean" version.)

adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2004, 06:55 PM:

Randolph,

You begin:

I think Heinlein's (and SF in general) missing the predominance of fossil fuels in transportation is one of the most interesting failures of prediction in SF

and, with the change of "fossil fuels" to "petroleum", I take your point. But...it's also one where Heinlein may (as he often did) have gotten it more or less right, except early.

From The Roads Must Roll:

"...the end of the automobile era was in sight, and the National Defense Act of 1957 gave fair warning.

"This act, one of the most bitterly debated ever to be brought out of committe, declared petroleum to be an essential and limited material of war. The armed forces had first call on all oil, above or below the ground, and eighty million civilian vehicles faced short and expensive rations. The 'temporary' conditions during World War II had become permanent."

Anyone know whether that figure of eighty million civilian vehicles for 1957 is accurate? It sounds plausible to me. This here wasn't altogether wrong, either, except for the date:

"In 1955 Federal Highway #66 from Los Angeles to Chicago, 'The Main Street of America', was formed into a super-highway for motor vehicles, with an underspeed limit of sixty miles per hour...The great cities of Chicago and St. Louis stetched out urban pseudopods toward each other, until they met near Bloomington, Illnois. The two parent cities actually shrunk in population."

Note: Gifford shows no revision of this work, written 1/40 and published 6/40. Despite these dates, it cites--predicts?--World War II and, more impressively, gas rationing during that war.

David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2004, 07:13 PM:

In January of 1940, Hitler's War was well underway. I would guess that Heinlein greatly desired the US's entry; in any case, predicting that the US would eventually enter it doesn't seem to me to call for great foresight, still less that the war would lead to gas rationing. Predicting the names "World War I" and "World War II" is a bit more impressive (although I don't know when these were first coined) and I can't help wondering whether the text did in fact get minor revision. Anyone out there have access to the original magazine...?

David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2004, 07:32 PM:

We're willing to postulate FTL travel, time travel and antigravity, why not also be willing to postulate rolling roads if they help us tell a good story?

It's not the overall audacity/unbelievability of any given SF premise that's the problem, it's just that too much explanation, and too close an examination of how the Prime Doohickey works, can derail suspension of disbelief.

I think it's more than that. As I've said elsewhere, there are two distinct kinds of impossibility that can slip into a story.

One is the impossible that the author knows is impossible, and puts in anyway for the sake of the story -- like FTL or teleportation or time travel. The author knows it's impossible, and the reader knows the author knows, and everyone agrees to accept it.

The second and quite different kind is what gets in because the author was ignorant or failed to think things through. The reader who detects one of these is likely to have their trust in the author damaged, and their experience of reading likewise.

Whether the story be SF or fantasy, all natural laws not specifically suspended must remain in force.

It's usually not difficult to tell whether you're dealing with a literary device or a failure of education. There are conventions and markers that have grown up in the field. In the particular case of The Roads Must Roll, though, it's not completely clear what Heinlein was doing.

clark e myers ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2004, 07:38 PM:

On the truth is stranger than fiction principle must we in fiction assume BetaMax prospers because "much better, safer, faster and cheaper methods" always prevail?

Brought up short by "the second marriage to Virginia was a decade ahead" I may well be misinformed but IIRC correctly Mr. Heinlein married his third wife only once?

adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2004, 07:39 PM:

And if you've got an original magazine of that vintage, tell me if you would whether Judith or Magdelene is shown on the chart, and whether she and John Lyle have coterminous timelines.

(Yes, we have one Heinlein magazine publication of that vintage, but it's "The Devil Makes the Law", which is not a Future History story and thus does not have the chart.)

A grumble: Probably my neatest Heinlein item (one which my lovely wife did not bring into the marriage) is the dime novel publication of Universe--sans chart.

adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2004, 07:42 PM:

Clark,

Are you a copy editor? If not, consider a career change--that's a good catch. It would better have been written "the second marriage, to Virginia, was a decade ahead".

adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2004, 08:00 PM:

And perhaps I should have written "the third marriage, to Virginia, was a decade ahead", given Gifford's note about "slim but definite evidence that Heinlein was married once before 1932, making Leslyn his second wife and Virginia his third." (I'd just noticed that Virginia Heinlein refers to Heinlein divorcing "his wife"--not "his first wife"--in Grumbles from the Grave.)

I'd utterly forgotten this--thank you again.

clark e myers ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2004, 08:03 PM:

It's not obvious to me that Bob Forward knew time travel was impossible and "put[s] it in anyway for the sake of the story" To my shame I did dispute with him suggesting that starquake was unlikely as in that context astrological processes would have proceeded very quickly to a more stable condition but I do understand from him that he believed almost everything in the books was good science - notice the time travel there was not of the dinosaurs wiped out by junketing vice-presidents variety. Certainly such as The Brooklyn Project timetravel is for the sake of the story.

Similarly there are authors who have a pretty good claim on understanding the science and yet have an emotional faith that FTL is in fact possible and apply strict but hypothetical rules in some (but not all) of their stories.

Returning to thread, it seems to me Mr. Heinlein would often push a given story past unwilling suspension of disbelief plausibility but typically didn't try to sustain that particular major implausibility in subsequent related stories - road cities died (but were not scavenged to obliteration) - aliens in antigravity tanks are not common after We Also Walk Dogs and so forth.

Jordin Kare ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2004, 10:52 PM:

Goodness, Erik, such vehemence! I was just pointing out that rolling roads aren't an engineering impossibility, not trying to claim they'd be better than trains. But to address your points briefly:

...unlike a train derailment, a break will effect everyone on the length of the belt. Plus, once the belt parts, you're going to lose braking ability as the belt detensions...

At least in my understanding of the rolling roads, the belts are not under tension, and the loading of the belts on the rollers is due to simple gravity, not belt tension. IIRC, all of the rollers (or at least one in every few rollers) are drive/braking rollers, So no one ahead of the break (by more than a few roller spacings) would be affected; behind the break, they'd only be affected as they approached the break location -- which is why one would stop the belt as quickly as possible. From a physics, and to some extent an engineering, standpoint, there wouldn't be much difference between a continuous belt and a series of separate cars (or even just separate trays, like giant cafeteria trays) moving down the rollers. (In passing, I have seen drawings of a monorail concept in which the "rail" is a series of bicycle-like wheels. Some of the wheels are powered, and push a car as it passes over them; the cars have no on-board propulsion. Sort of midway between a conventional train and the rolling roads.)

-- worse, if the trailing edge of the belt lifts, any part of the belt that isn't on a braking drum is mass that the first brake that is in contact is going to need to stop. Get enough of the belt flying, and you will have a catastrophic cascade of brake failures.

You're right that there could be extra stress on the last few brakes ahead of a break, but it seems like an obvious design point (or it would after the first few belt break accidents) to make sure the belt doesn't lift severely under braking loads. I deliberately picked a 10-second stop time as producing

How long to slow that belt? Because, now, until you stop it, you're piling the trailing end of the belt into the wreck. If it took an hour, you'd have, oh, 40-60km of belt rammed into the zone at a goodly speed.

I specified 10 seconds to stop a ~100 mph (40 m/s) belt; that's a 0.4 gee braking force, which is comparable to a landing airplane or a panic stop in a car. Might be a little too quick, if most people aren't in seats with seatbelts, but certainly 20-30 sec. would be OK. That's a huge power dump, which is why it has to be dumped into brake rotor heat capacity; there isn't time to convectively cool the brakes.

the other belts need to slow in sync with the main belt.

I'd assume a break in any belt would result in the whole road shutting down (or at least dropping to a low speed), to avoid the problems Heinlein described. But they wouldn't need to do so exactly in synch -- especially if people were warned (a la airplane seat belt warnings) to get away from belt crossings if the emergency alarm goes off. ("Mind the gap!") People passing next to a break would be in danger for a few seconds until everything came to a stop, just like people in adjacent traffic lanes are in danger when a semi blows a tire.

200km x 2 m gives us 400km^2 of belt, positing a density of one person per 10 m^2 gives us 40,000 on the belt. One belt part would injure/kill a significant part of that belt.

I assume you mean 400k (m^2), not 400 (km)^2; and I was assuming easily 1 person/m^2 on a "passenger" belt, quite possibly more at peak times, so 40,000 people on a belt is conservative. But I also picked the slowdown time to limit the "lethal area" where the belt would actually be likely to buckle or otherwise do fatal things to a few hundred meters (200 meters of actual "run into a wall" stopping, although there might be buckling or other problems farther than that) so I was estimating 1000 - 2000 casualties, including a few hundred fatalities, in such a major accident. I don't see any reason why most of a belt should be affected.

Add in the energy to spin up/brake the rollers, which, as written, are very large. Thus, you need to soak that energy as well. Given, there's a near infinite amount of energy available, but I don't see infinite energy sinks. On every belt system I've seen, the rollers *far* outmass the belt, and you have to stop the rollers with the belt.

Note that that's on every belt system you've seen -- some things don't scale. I agree there might be something like the same mass in the rollers in Heinlein's roads as in the belts, but not more. I assumed a 4 inch thick (10 cm) "belt" with no significant flexibility out of plane (remember, it doesn't have to go _around_ any rollers -- the "belt" could perfectly well be made out of 20- foot railroad rails bolted together with occasional expansion joints). IIRC, the drive rollers were a couple of meters high, with, say, 2-cm-thick steel rims, spaced perhaps 10 meters apart, plus smaller support rollers every couple of meters. Equivalent to maybe 1" of moving steel underlying the entire area of the 4" thick belt.

And there are many belts. The KE flying between DC and NYC and Boston would be enormous.

So? It's not much energy *density* because the roads cover so much area.

When you get into the economic premises, I have no argument; it's pretty hard to see how a rolling road is better than a combination of roads and rail. (As described, it's better than rail alone because you can get on and off at any point and at any time -- for a society where linear cities have grown up along transportation routes, that would be a big advantage.) But the engineering isn't obviously bogus to me.

Incidentally, I'm now reminded of _Code Three_ by Rick Raphael, which took surface transport to a different extreme -- 200 mph, 10-lane superhighways populated by personal vehicles the size of railroad cars. Equally unlikely, but also a good read.

adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2004, 11:24 PM:

By the way, the one disaster mentioned in The Roads Must Roll was a pretty grim affair, with over three thousand people killed--about the numbers people have been suggesting here.

Kevin J. Maroney ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2004, 03:45 AM:

The oldest citation for the phrase "First World War" in the OED that I have to hand (OED2 on CD, version 1.13, 1994) is this:

1931 S. Jameson Richer Dust xix. 552 The salvage of what a dear dead and let us piously hope well-damned colonel preferred to call the *First World War.

(It's under "first 2".)

S. Jameson is Margaret Storm Jameson; Richer Dust is the middle third of a generation saga about Yorkshire shipbuilders. I can't tell if it's referring to the Great War as the First World War or if it's referring ironically to something earlier.

Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2004, 06:26 AM:

"I think Heinlein's (and SF in general) missing the predominance of fossil fuels in transportation is one of the most interesting failures of prediction in SF"

Thinking it over, I think I got this one wrong, entirely. (And that admission proves that I am not a Real Man and definitely not a proper net.writer.) What is remarkable, though, is that Heinlein was already thinking to the exhaustion of such fuels.

CHip ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2004, 08:54 AM:

Jordin: I have seen drawings of a monorail concept in which the "rail" is a series of bicycle-like wheels. Some of the wheels are powered, and push a car as it passes over them; the cars have no on-board propulsion.

You mean, like the People Mover ride at Disney? It's not a monorail, but that's how it's propelled, which is why the ride is rough -- the ]train[ changes speed several times but each wheel (from what I saw) moves at a fixed speed, sort-of-quantizing the delta-V. I expect modern tech could do a lot better via computer controls to {ac,de}celerate the wheels actually touching the ]train[; with regenerative braking it wouldn't even waste much energy.

Alan: I don't even agree with Nancy's original comment; a simple response to both of you is that the actions of a pathological personality who has collected all the malcontents of a union in one place (the story specifically says this is why the ]strike[ happens at all) do not represent the philosophy even of that union, let alone of unions in general.

adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2004, 10:16 AM:

CHip:

I agree with you about the sources of the strike in "The Roads Must Roll".

I think Nancy and Alan's point is that the action of the story is more important than the exposition. I'm generally inclined to agree with that--but Heinlein drank his exposition neat.

Still, we've got a scene where the old-time labor leader, Harvey, attempts to negotiate and is shot and killed by one of the rebels, who is in turn shot by one of the cadets. It's hard not to interpret that as the old union failing and being replaced by the new, quasi-military organization. I can't think offhand of another Heinlein story with that sort of big action writ small, though.

I never took--and still don't, on this re-reading--the story as anti-union, and that we're in such disagreement about it suggests to me that unionism per se is not the point of the story--that at the least, it's not about whether unions are themselves good or bad, but about their proper role in society (which is tacitly a pro-union point of view).

My personal pick for best novel of the twentieth centure is Ken Kesey's Sometimes A Great Notion, where the ostensible conflict is the Stamper family business versus the union. The Stampers have undertaken to fulfill a contract for a local company against which the union is striking, and the Stampers are, in this conflict, presented positively and the union negatively.

Would I call this novel anti-union? No. It's got bigger fish to fry. The real conflict of the novel is between the Stamper brothers, Hank and Lee, and even more the conflict inside Hank's wife Viv--only one of those three really out a winner. (Opinions may vary on that point.) The union is just a device--and the out-of-town organizer, Drager, is more a manager than an activist.

(An interesting note: This is Howard Dean's favorite novel.)

Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2004, 10:22 AM:

Sorry if this is a bit off-thread, but I couldn't resist. There's a kind of deliberately absurd bastard spawn of "The Roads Must Roll" in a new YA/SF/F series by Philip Reeve, "The Hungry City Chronicles" (beginning with the novel Mortal Engines and continuing in Predator's Gold), where -- against a backdrop of ruined high tech and a devastated world -- cities themselves take to the road, lumbering around absorbing rivals and smaller burgs. In this mad vision, London is portrayed as a layer-cake of its old districts -- and not just to comic effect. There's both sharp social satire and anthropological musings here (nomadic life vs. non-trendy "stasis"). However ridiculous and impossible, visions of future tech always have their uses, if the writer knows what he/she is doing.

Brad DeLong ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2004, 10:27 AM:

Let me stand up and say what, IMHO, is Robert Heinlein's unspeakable, unforgivable, unexpiable, most savage, most atrocious crime:

The first Heinlein book I ever read was _The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress_.

Ever since, whenever I have started reading something he has written, I've thought as I began, "Maybe this will be as good as TMIaHM." It never was. Some were pretty good. Many were OK. Some were real stinkeroos. But I always ended each one with a feeling of profound disappointment and betrayal: it had not lived up to its promise of being a TMIaHM quality work. Not once has Heinlein lived up to the expectations I had set for him. Not once.

Now I am terrified that the same thing is happening to me with Terry Pratchett. You see, the first TP I ever read was _Small Gods_...

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2004, 01:16 PM:

Obviously, authors should be prevented from publishing their best works. We'll get right on it.

The argument over "The Roads Must Roll" and Heinlein's science underscores what I've been saying for a while. Heinlein wasn't a great extrapolator of technology or science. What he was good at was the attitude and outlook of American technologists, that peculiar can-do mixture of optimism, stoicism, individualism, and slightly defective empathy. Many of his actual "inventions" -- the rolling roads are an excellent example -- are nonsense. In this Heinlein is like many great SF writers. A more recent example would be a writer whose future computing technology makes no sense, but who stunned the field with his fictional understanding of what high-end computer technology feels like to its practitioners: William Gibson.

I've been saying for years that the phrase "hard SF" gets used to cover a lot of things that don't have much to do with one another. Heinlein didn't write very much "hard SF". However, his fiction is full of people standing around talking tough about their hard-minded worldview, and we know they're hard-minded because they repeatedly tell us so. Many subsequent writers have imitated this. Meanwhile, many writers whose work is full of actual science (Nancy Kress would be a good current example) don't get categorized as "hard SF," because their characters don't strike the right attitudes about it.

Understand, I'm a stone Heinlein fan. I'm not really ragging on him; I'm making an observation about our insufficiently-considered categories.

adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2004, 02:09 PM:

"Obviously, authors should be prevented from publishing their best works. We'll get right on it."

I knew there was more to this editing business than I'd realized.

Sure, the gimmicks are fun in Heinlein--but what really matter is the people.

Another example of this is Cory Doctrow's Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom. That book is fully of fun scientific (pseudo and otherwise), economic, and sociological speculation.

What makes it such an excellent book, though, is Jules, his human problem, and the undeniable truth that, if someone goads you into making a series of horrible mistakes which lead your friends to turn against you, and you expose their goading and lead people to despise that goading, nonetheless, people have still turned against you and there's not much you can do about it.

(Not that I would know anything about that from personal experience.)

All the money in the world can't buy you love. Neither can whuffle.

(Or course, Randy Newman would like to point out, "They say that's money Can't buy love in this world But it'll get you a half-pound of cocaine And a sixteen-year old girl And a great big long limousine On a hot September night Now that may not be love But it is all right"--but I digress.)

Rob Hansen ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2004, 04:30 PM:

Brad de Long: Reading 'Small Gods' first. Ouch. Yeah, of all the Discworld books that's the one I think is best, too. However, I read them all in sequence and of the - what, 27 or so by this point? - there are only three or four I'd say weren't very good. Not a bad hit rate.

PNH: Totally agree about Nancy Kress. Wonderful SF writer, obviously knows her science, too. I always assumed she wasn't considered a hard SF writer because she's, y'know, a *girl* and you've got to be able to *get* hard to write that manly, hairy-chested hard SF. And the older I get, the more thoroughly repulsive I find the 'hard-mindedness' of Heinlein. It strikes me as the same sort of attitude that Dickhead-in-Chief Dubya adopted when he told those attacking US forces to "bring it on", and my tolerance for it has just about bottomed out.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2004, 05:46 PM:

Sorry I can't sign on to that last. Heinlein wasn't a perfect human being, nor was his work free of moral obtuseness, but everything I know about him indicates that he was a person of far more substance, grit, and (yes) sympathy for others than George W. Bush has displayed on the best day of his life.

Mike D. ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2004, 08:15 PM:

Sorry I'm late, but if you're serious about your SF, and you haven't done so already, you really must drop everything and dig upon Alfred Bester's The Stars My Destination. Bester offers teleportation and a 100% efficient E=mc^2 weapon, but everything else is as perfect and precise as a balanced equation. It really could have been written yesterday. No backpackers on Venus; no oven-sized "super-miniature computers."

Heinlein, Asimov, and endless others borrowed freely and shamelessly from this book, and George Lucas lifted an entire line from Episode Four from it. Cyberpunk? Done and done, and I mean done. There are several action sequences in space, and Newton's Laws are observed with terrifying fidelity.

You must read this novel.

adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2004, 08:34 PM:

What do you have against Heinlein, Patrick, to damn him with such faint praise?

Seriously, though, I have a similar reaction to Rob's, except that I have it to Heinlein fans--some of 'em, anyway; present company excepted--rather than to Heinlein and his work.

One of the best things about Varley's The Golden Globe (not so much about Steel Beach) is that it makes clear that the Heinleiners are rather unpleasant people.

(The best thing about The Golden Globe is that the Charonese society which we glimpse--now there's a Dangerous Vision--is so much more plausible than Luna Free State.

(Of course, the same was true of Heinlein's own Coventry--some people never learn.)

There's the problem with gurus--even reluctant ones like Heinlein: "The sage points at the moon; the fool looks at the finger". That, and that a hard head doesn't necessarily equal a hard heart.

(One can extend that to a number of organs, depending on ones tastes.)

Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2004, 10:51 PM:

"Heinlein wasn't a great extrapolator of technology or science. What he was good at was the attitude and outlook of American technologists, that peculiar can-do mixture of optimism, stoicism, individualism, and slightly defective empathy."

Part of Clute's argument, though, is that he wasn't allowed to fully engage the real issues by his public and so wasn't allowed to do realistic extrapolation. He's got a point; Heinlein's more radical extrapolations--the web, b'gosh--have been more on target that the conservative extrapolations he was more usually allowed. The touchstones of real scientific extrapolation are the great simple truths of science: generally, deep time, deep space, life as a physical phenomemnon; more specifically things like conservation of energy (and thermodynamics generally), special relativity, basic quantum mechanics, information theory, cell theory, evolutionary theory, the chemical elements, These allow allow for a vast range of choices, which sf writers who engage such issues fill with imagined history. And--I vaguely remember--wasn't this what Poul Anderson meant when he coined the term "hard science fiction?"

Kevin J. Maroney ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2004, 11:10 PM:

What did Heinlein predict that was like the Web?

Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2004, 11:55 PM:

Kevin - See above, my post of December 30, 2003 03:48 PM.

Carlos ::: (view all by) ::: January 05, 2004, 12:45 AM:

Heinlein's main gift (IMO -- but this is all IMO) was the ability to coat fairly random BS with a tough hard candy shell of certitude. He did this very well, although I do wonder how much of his ability had to do with his audience's pre-existing will to believe. People interested in the futurological aspects of Heinlein's writings concentrate on the incidental details of verisimiltude, and see reflections of them in today's gadgets; but Heinlein had a whole set of tricks he used to distract the reader while he palmed his cards.

Notice how in so many of his books and stories the different moral systems by which the nominal heroes make their decisions are verifiable only and entirely by authorial say-so: the scientific psychology of the Second American Revolution, Mycroft's Lunar simulations, Smith's theology, the whole History and Moral Philosophy hullabaloo.

Other authors, people put their books down and thought, what a clever gimmick! Heinlein somehow made those entirely spurious belief systems... believable. And not just believable, but *personally* applicable, to a fairly wide variety of people.

Even though the empirical fact content of said systems approached zero in the limit.

(And some wonder why Heinlein was so fascinated with solipsism.)

It's all in the attitude, as Patrick says.

Some later authors have pried apart those parts of Heinlein's fiction, and have reassembled them into rather unsettling books. John Varley, yes, and John Barnes too.

So I am a little unnerved by Ken MacLeod's suggestion that Heinlein would of course become like H.G. Wells, wearing his large libertarian heart on his sleeve for a mass market. I wonder instead whether he would become more like that quintessentially American figure, the con-man. What he could make his readers believe might have nothing to do with the contents of his heart.

C.

Avram ::: (view all by) ::: January 05, 2004, 12:50 AM:

Does anyone else here think 93He was the train we did not catch94 sounds like a line from a Grant Morrison comic? Or maybe Alan Moore, the sort of thing Mad Jim Jaspers might say in Captain Britain (93I92m the man with the answers...! I92m the upside-down box at the bottom of the page!94).

Brad DeLong ::: (view all by) ::: January 05, 2004, 01:18 AM:

>>Part of Clute's argument, though, is that he wasn't allowed to fully engage the real issues by his public and so wasn't allowed to do realistic extrapolation. He's got a point; Heinlein's more radical extrapolations--the web, b'gosh--have been more on target that the conservative extrapolations he was more usually allowed...

Say, rather, that Heinlein had only one decade rather than three decades to be Heinlein. He spent the 1940s and 1950s enslaved to Astounding and to Scribners, and only in the 1960s could he get up on his hind legs and really write novels that PREACHED: _Starship Troopers_ preaching how the MI would make a man out of you (or, rather, the human equivalent of a mindless Bug warrior out of you), _Podkayne of Mars_ preaching how career moms are dangerous, _The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress_ preaching bottom-up libertarian self-organization plus line marriage (never mind if young punks nearly off your Lafayette), _Farnham's Freehold_ preaching... I'm not going to go there... _Stranger in a Strange Land_ preaching whate'er you grok it to preach...

Clute thinks that with three decades--the 1940s, the 1950s, and the 1960s--rather than one--the 1960s--to really be Heinlein, we would all be vastly enriched.

The alternative point of view, of course, is that nobody needed a strong editor more than Heinlein. Heinlein needed to be a slave. He could be a slave to a strong editor. Or he would be a slave to his own preachiness--and for him to become a slave to his own preachiness would destroy his talent in short order.

On this interpretation, Heinlein in the 1940s and 1950s was often great because his preachiness was kept submerged. His preachiness still functioned as an enormous source of subterranean energy, yes, but energy in the service of Story, and not its master. Heinlein's escape from editorial control in the 1960s--into Panshin's Age of Alienation--produced some wonderful but also some very odd things. And what followed the 1960s was not pretty.

So which is it? In the parallel universe in which Heinlein was allowed to be Heinlein in the 1940s, are we all now shaking our heads about how it's too bad that he flamed out into right-wing solipsistic lunacy in the 1950s and 1960s, and how if only a strong editor had been around to curb his preachiness he might have been truly great?

Or is John Clute right, and are we the pathetic dweebs in the unfortunate alternative universe that is deprived of the greatest of the masterworks of Robert Anson Heinlein?

Avram ::: (view all by) ::: January 05, 2004, 01:51 AM:

I hope I92m not the only one here who thinks one of the best things about The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is that the libertarian society it shows has a pretty short lifespan?

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: January 05, 2004, 02:12 AM:

"Heinlein's main gift (IMO -- but this is all IMO) was the ability to coat fairly random BS with a tough hard candy shell of certitude."

Actually, the main lesson untold thousands of young Heinlein readers took away from exposure to his work was "Pardon him, Theodotus: he is a barbarian, and thinks that the customs of his tribe and island are the laws of nature."

The rest of it is really noise. Really.

Scott Lynch ::: (view all by) ::: January 05, 2004, 02:29 AM:

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is a fantastically fun read, but it's also proof that an environment as well as a character can be a Straw Man.

This pretty much gets the last word:

http://rinkworks.com/bookaminute/b/heinlein.mistress.shtml

clark e myers ::: (view all by) ::: January 05, 2004, 02:32 AM:

"...the train we did not catch" sounds to me very much like [I]Catch that Zeppelin[/I].

I'm very much inclined to agree with Gerald Jonas that Mr. Heinlein "presented a vision of the future that gave equal weight to imagination and technology" and certainly never let technology get in the way of a story - especially when he had written himself into a corner - like a Louis L'Amour hero suddenly noticing a trapdoor in a burning cabin surrounded by hostiles and popping up where least expected.

If I acknowledge the short lifespan of the libertarian society as a literary gem then I feel obliged to honor Westlake's Anarchaos which I am not much inclined to do - for my money the argument is rather in favor of the frontier than for the decline of frontier culture in settled communities - space opera if you will, tales in the marketplace tradition where the teller continually paints himself into a corner and lights out for the territories (Libby's space drive if you will). What Heinlein tended to stop publishing after Beyond This Horizon is any picture of daily life in the absence of outside events to move the story - I'd be fascinated to hear how the Oscar and Star of Glory Road got back together for Cat but of course they really didn't - not as the same people.

David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: January 05, 2004, 04:13 AM:

Actually, the main lesson untold thousands of young Heinlein readers took away from exposure to his work was "Pardon him, Theodotus: he is a barbarian, and thinks that the customs of his tribe and island are the laws of nature."

While I agree with this, I'm enough of a pedant to want to see the actual wording there given its proper attribution to George Bernard Shaw.

(I also find it mildly amusing to call C.S. Lewis a "barbarian", which by the above he certainly was -- see for instance Mere Christianity.)

adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: January 05, 2004, 08:38 AM:

Clark reasonably points out that "What Heinlein tended to stop publishing after Beyond This Horizon is any picture of daily life in the absence of outside events to move the story".

That's one of the charms of To Sail Beyond The Sunset--we get a fair amount of detailed explanation of how to manage a household. It's still one of Heinlein's weaker books, but there it is.

Carlos ::: (view all by) ::: January 05, 2004, 10:16 AM:

Actually, the main lesson untold thousands of young Heinlein readers took away from exposure to his work was "Pardon him, Theodotus: he is a barbarian, and thinks that the customs of his tribe and island are the laws of nature."

It's not unique to Heinlein. I don't think it's even that rare, and on gloomy days I wonder if Heinlein was all that good at it.

Meanwhile, the Heinlein of the fact-free catchphrases marches on. Polite societies, free lunches. I wouldn't buy it for a quarter.

C.

adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: January 05, 2004, 10:28 AM:

Carlos,

It's part of the package. When you free up people's minds to consider non-standard options, you get a certain level of goofiness along with the bright ideas. Heinlein was such a sixties author.

clark e myers ::: (view all by) ::: January 05, 2004, 03:49 PM:

Speaking of ST - "DARPA has been testing two lower-body models over the past year. Officials want to examine those results and draw up an initial design around October 2005, said John Main, manager of DARPA's Exoskeletons for Human Performance Augmentation program.....key difference between the two models lies in how they move with a user inside, Main said. The Sarcos unit "senses" contact between the exoskeleton and the human operator, and then moves accordingly, while the Berkley model employs six small computers to measure the weight of the load and then calculates the pressure the individual would be required to apply to move."

Skwid ::: (view all by) ::: January 05, 2004, 06:53 PM:

In case anyone goes looking for the original article, it's been archived in Scifi.com's back issues' archive.

Kevin J. Maroney ::: (view all by) ::: January 05, 2004, 07:46 PM:

Mitch: Okay, I've never read either Friday nor For Us, the Living, but your description here:

In both novels, Heinlein writes about a world-spanning information network. The 1982 "Friday" version looks a lot like the Internet of today; Heinlein's characters sit at "terminals" and "punch" requests for information -- they can get everything from the history of the city of Memphis, Tenn., to musical recordings, to astronomical data. One character removes a "portable terminal" from her purse and punches for her family financial records, which she can examine in depth while sitting out in the garden.

Is not actually all that similar to your summary immediately following:


Change some of the buzzwords there and you have an accurate portrayal of the Internet in 2004.

Portrayals of a vast, ubiquitous information-dispensing network have been part and parcel of sf since before it was actually sf--such a portrayal is central to Forster's "The Machine Stops" in 1909. The Internet in 2004 is fundamentally different from what you described because it is created by everybody. And that difference is not a tiny one.

Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: January 05, 2004, 08:46 PM:

Just want to say that I approve of having a hearty (and brainy) discussion of SF here. Keep it coming, boys and girls.

Regarding favorite authors and Good Stuff: I have a friend who loved Heinlein, but he didn't read all of Heinlein's novels. He intended to "save" a few.

Once or twice a decade, he would have the pleasure of reading a decent Heinlein novel for the first time.

I didn't learn about this practice until I'd already read all the Heinlein novels. Now I kinda wish I hadn't.

I did avoid reading *Tramp Royale*, but that won't be the same kind of pleasure.

Now, from beyond the grave, the Dean of Space-Age Fiction has given me a second chance to not read him.

(How does the new book compare to *Paris in the Twentieth Century*?)

David Moles ::: (view all by) ::: January 05, 2004, 10:18 PM:

Brad, Small Gods is about the time Pratchett started to get really good. The later stuff won’t all measure up, and the earlier stuff will be of interest primarily to fill in the back story for the later stuff, but you should find plenty to like. Jingo, The Fifth Elephant, and The Truth are my personal favorites (being, like Small Gods, both seriously funny and seriously serious) but the others are good fun, too.

Patrick, what’s the source of that quote about “the customs of his tribe and island”?

adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: January 05, 2004, 11:10 PM:

David,

It's from G. B. Shaw, Caesar and Cleopatra. Heinlein uses it as the epigram for Glory Road. (Heinlein and Shaw--two of the greatest [I mean that precisely] cranks [that, too--and highly affectionately, as well] of twentieth century literature.)

adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: January 05, 2004, 11:28 PM:

What's interesting about Heinlein's information network in Friday is that, while there appear to be hyperlinks (cross-references in the book), there are no search engines.

Note this from Friday:

That morning I was speed searching the index of the Tulane University library...looking for history of Old Vicksburg...

And here's the detailed description of how to look something up:

Like this: Set your terminal to "research." Punch parameters in succession "North American culture," "English-speaking," "mid-twentieth century," "comedians," "the World's Greatest Authority." The answer you can expect is "Professor Irwin Corey."

Not all that different from the description I've heard second-hand (my wife and child are still on the road with my Christmas copy) of For Us, The Living's system, wherein you ring up the operator and a few minutes later your pneumatic tube poots out a capsule with a facsimile of the document you want, is it?

It doesn't seem to have occurred to Heinlein that one might simply punch in "Old Vicksburg" or "Professor Irwin Corey" and be given a list of further reading (that is, search results).

There is a strong similarity to the use of computers for astrogation and fire control in Starman Jones and Citizen of the Galaxy respectively. In both those books, computers are used for massive number-crunching--in Starman Jones the data is even entered in binary--but human mathematicians set up the problems themselves.

Probably someone should go into this in detail, about Heinlein's rejection of behaviorism, and how he wanted to draw a line between what a machine could do and what a man could do.

Then one would contrast it with all those thinking machines that start showing up with The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress. Most of the later novels have them, exceptions being I Will Fear No Evil and Friday, both of which have entirely different meditations on what it means to be human, and Job, which is Heinlein's one late fantasy.

(If you look at his whole adult career, there's a good case that Heinlein's strong suit was fantasy. None of them are bad, and I'd claim every one of his fantasies is first-rate.)

(No remarks about sex with mathematically-gifted redheaded twin cousins, okay?)

It's been a long time since I read To Sail Beyond The Sunset, and I'm not sure I read it but twice--damned if I know just how it fits in there.

P. S. The description in Friday sounds in one way exactly like the internet as we know it: It seizes your attention as it leads you from subject to subject through loose association:

I went to my room and went on with French history since Louis Onze and that led me to the new colonies accros the Atlantic and that led me into economics and that took me to Adam Smith and from there to political science. I concluded that Aristotle had his good days but that Plato was a pretentious fraud and that led to my being called three times by the dining froom with the last call including a recorded message that any later arrival would mean nothing but cold night-rations and a live message from Goldie threatening to drag me down by my hair.

Does anyone here not resemble that remark?

adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: January 05, 2004, 11:48 PM:

Okay, that was an overstatement.

Both The Man Who Travelled In Elephants and Our Fair City are, maybe, a little less than first-rate. Still, Heinlein's fantasy is, on average, much, much better than his science fiction.

Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: January 06, 2004, 10:03 AM:

Patrick, thanks for the comment about Heinlein's wide sympathies. In spite of his (more exactly Lazarus') bombast about only people who can do math being fully human, Heinlein had a considerable range of characters that he treated with respect.

Kevin, IIRC the computer/communications system in "The Machine Stops" was used for conversation, not research. What was prescient about the story was the idea of people would want to use such a system for chatter. What's amusing is that that insight was then forgotten by the whole field until it came true.

As late as _Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand_, Delany didn't think about how the information gets into the net. IIRC, he has it entirely as a system of accessing respectable reference works. Imho, aside from any emotional issues that gap would make it very hard to write a sequel, though perhaps it's possible to just write the second book with everything on the net being a (frequently private) point of view and pretend that there wasn't any problem with the first book.

In re "Jerry Was a Man", iirc, the clincher was Jerry singing at his trial. I suppose it's possible to see that as him expressing a desire for freedom, but I saw it as something he was trained to do and the jury members as suckers for being taken in by it.

Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: January 06, 2004, 01:28 PM:

Kevin Maroney: Portrayals of a vast, ubiquitous information-dispensing network have been part and parcel of sf since before it was actually sf--such a portrayal is central to Forster's "The Machine Stops" in 1909. The Internet in 2004 is fundamentally different from what you described because it is created by everybody. And that difference is not a tiny one.

Good point. My handicap in this discussion is that it's been many years since I've read any old science fiction OTHER THAN Heinlein. I read a lot of old science fiction in the 1970s, but since then, just about all the sf I've read has been written after 1980 -- and the overwhelming majority of the sf I've read was newly published at the time I read it.

Heinlein doesn't really do so well at predicting technology, but he does a good job of predicting the experience of using the technology. I can say that it was uncanny to see Heinlein, in 1937-8 and again in 1982 predicting, not the Internet, but the experience of using the Internet.

The exchange in "For Us, The Living" wherein Diana uses the information network to look up some things for Perry reminds me of this: I have very often been in my home, having a conversation with someone and we get to speculating about some fact or another, and one of us says, "Hey! Why don't we Google it?" and we just trot over to the other room and punch it up on Google and, lo, there's the answer.

This experience was always possible for anyone who owned a decent reference shelf -- and, indeed, that's probably what Heinlein used as a model -- but now it's possible for anyone who owns a PC, which is a much larger subset of the population.

adamsj: What's interesting about Heinlein's information network in Friday is that, while there appear to be hyperlinks (cross-references in the book), there are no search engines.

Also, no ads and no spam.

here's the detailed description of how to look something up:

Like this: Set your terminal to "research." Punch parameters in succession "North American culture," "English-speaking," "mid-twentieth century," "comedians," "the World's Greatest Authority." The answer you can expect is "Professor Irwin Corey."

On the other hand, it is a fairly close prediction of what it was like to use a hierarchical directory like pre-Google Yahoo, which was the best way of finding stuff before there was Google.

I went to my room and went on with French history since Louis Onze and that led me to the new colonies accros the Atlantic and that led me into economics and that took me to Adam Smith and from there to political science. I concluded that Aristotle had his good days but that Plato was a pretentious fraud and that led to my being called three times by the dining froom with the last call including a recorded message that any later arrival would mean nothing but cold night-rations and a live message from Goldie threatening to drag me down by my hair.

Does anyone here not resemble that remark?

And THAT is precisely the point I was trying to make -- not that Heinlein predicted a globe-spanning information network -- as Kevin Maroney correctly pointed out, that idea was in the air in the sf community from from the beginning right up until the time that the networks started to emerge in real life, in the 1980s. What Heinlein predicted was the experience of actually USING the network -- in particular, the experience of sitting down to one thing and getting lost for hours and hours in the garden of links and cross-references, until someone threatens bodily harm because you're making everybody late for dinner. (A daily occurrence at our house.)

Likewise, Friday has a data terminal in her quarters, but prefers the one in the library because it's better. In real life 2002, my brother-in-law had a cheap laptop computer and a dial-up commection at home, but preferred to use the PCs at the library, which were better computers and had high-speed Internet access.

Heinlein correctly predicted the use of pocket-sized phones in "Between Planets" (and probably other works, too). So what? I bet lots of writers predicted portable phones.

What's impressive is that Heinlein predicted that users would view pocket-sized phones to be as much of a nuisance as a benefit; the hero of "Between Planets," making a long journey from Earth to Venus, packs his phone in his suitcase so he won't be disturbed. I used to travel pretty frequently on business, and of course I never ever lied to my managers about being unable to get a cell phone signal or make an Internet connection while traveling.

Nancy Lebovitz: Patrick, thanks for the comment about Heinlein's wide sympathies. In spite of his (more exactly Lazarus') bombast about only people who can do math being fully human, Heinlein had a considerable range of characters that he treated with respect.

I think Heinlein and George W. Bush are similar and one and only one way: Both of them celebrate violence.

That's not trivial, and it makes me uncomfortable reading Heinlein. No question about it. He loves violeince, whether it's the ending of his alien-invasion novel (ratz - I've blanked on the name) where the hero jubilantly cries out "Death and Destruction!" (just like that, with the italics, exclamation mark AND, I think, the capital D in destruction too), or his frequent, career-long references to the human race being the toughest, meanest race out there, or his references in 1980 to never leaving the house unarmed.

On the other hand, the hero of "Tunnel In The Sky" gets in two (2) fights, and gets the crap beat out of him in both of them. He's a survivor, but not a fighter.

But aside from that one point, Heinlein and Bush couldn't be more different. Heinlein has personal integrity, he valued intelligence and education, he valued reason and science over blind faith. Heinlein was personally courageous, he travelled all over the world and TRIED to serve his country in war. Heinlein celebrated human diversity.

Whereas Bush is a lying scumbag, he has little education and low intelligence, he mistrusts science and reason, preferring instead to make his decisions based on prejudice and prayer -- which is to say, he bases them on prejudice alone (God [if He exists] has chosen to communicate directly with only AT MOST a few people throughout human history, for the rest of us, He [if He exists] stuffed our heads with brains and put eyes in front and ears on either side and we have to rely on those instruments to steer us through life). Bush is personally cowardly, he never went anywhere until he became President -- and hasn't done much travelling since, and what travelling he HAS done, he's been insulated behind such a thick wall of Secret Service and handlers that he might as well just of stood at home. And, finally, Bush seems to HATE diversity.

But, yeah, other than that Heinlein and Bush are exactly the same.

In re "Jerry Was a Man", iirc, the clincher was Jerry singing at his trial. I suppose it's possible to see that as him expressing a desire for freedom, but I saw it as something he was trained to do and the jury members as suckers for being taken in by it.

Naw, the big problem with "Jerry Was A Man" is that Jerry talks and acts exactly like a black guy in a 1930s movie. "Lawsie, massa, I don' wanna pick cotton no mo, I wants ta be FREE!" (not actually a direct quote from the story, but it captures the flavor, I think).

Oliver Morton ::: (view all by) ::: January 06, 2004, 02:40 PM:

Coming in late on a few points

I think Tim Kyger92s largely right on the fact that it was only the second generation of spaceflight engineers who were drawn in by Heinlein (ie people reading Scribner92s juveniles in the 1950s and 1960s working on Voyager in the 1970s and 1980s). But he may go a little too far in downplaying sf's earlier influence. I92ve only really known one of the first generation pioneers, Mert Davies, a RAND veteran who worked on the first spy satellite cameras. He was at RAND because he heard they were interested in satellites in 1946 and, an sf fan and backyard astronomer since boyhood, he couldn92t think of anywhere else he would rather be.

Jonathan92s rhetorical similarities between V Bush and RAH seem to me more a case of common cause than evidence of a personal link. The quote about science, numbers and opinion, for example, echoes a long strand of thought perhaps best illustrated by the quotation from Lord Kelvin: "I often say that if you can measure that of which you can speak, you know something of your subject; but if you cannot measure it, your knowledge is meagre and unsatisfactory". I believe this quotation is carved somewhere prominent in the economics school at the University of Chicago; it was also much loved of the 1930s Technocrats.

On the question of Heinlein thinking himself a failure and not being H G Wells, IIRC there92s a rather persuasive treatment of this by Alexei Panshin: "When the Quest Ended", NYRSF 38, October 1991, Vol. 4, No. 2, p. 1.

If my roads have to roll, I want Jordin in charge.

Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: January 06, 2004, 02:55 PM:

Mitch: I don't know if it's an important distinction, but I think Heinlein liked the idea of violence a whole lot better than he liked violence. Most of the violence in his stories is off-stage and/or briefly described, though I'll grant that he wasn't a very sensory or visceral writer generally.

He thought violence was sometimes necessary, but I think he preferred low-violence solutions--frex, very few people are killed in the revolution in _The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress_. Compare this to Doc Smith, in which huge numbers of aliens are wiped out.

Mind you, his promulgation of the idea that it's cool to talk like a cold-blooded killer doesn't strike me as a good thing, but I also can't see that it's made much practical difference.

Heinlein did an amazing job of predicting devices in _The Door into Summer_--iirc, he came up with about half a dozen that actually came into use.

Robert ::: (view all by) ::: January 06, 2004, 07:12 PM:

Carlos writes:

"Heinlein's main gift (IMO -- but this is all IMO) was the ability to coat fairly random BS with a tough hard candy shell of certitude."

I came across a shocking example of this in one of his *nonfiction* articles, "Paul Dirac, Antimatter and You" (in Expanded Universe.)
After several paragraphs of enthusiastic prose about the ineffable beauties of the Dirac Equation, he finally displays the equation itself - except that he doesn't. The equation he writes down isn't the Dirac equation in any manner, shape or form, it's a rather trivial normalization integral. I strongly suspect that Heinlein, who probably got his understanding of Dirac's work from one of Gamow's books (a perfectly reasonable thing to do) but unable to avoid showing off for his readers, flipped open a quantum mechanics textbook and copied out an expression that happened to look sorta cool.

Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: January 06, 2004, 08:51 PM:

"So which is it? In the parallel universe in which Heinlein was allowed to be Heinlein in the 1940s, are we all now shaking our heads about how it's too bad that he flamed out into right-wing solipsistic lunacy in the 1950s and 1960s, and how if only a strong editor had been around to curb his preachiness he might have been truly great?"

Or perhaps his preachiness would have been less, and moderated by his peers, instead of aggravated by years of frustration.

Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: January 06, 2004, 09:04 PM:

Randolph - You haven't read "For Us, The Living," have you? That novel is MORE preachy than anything he published later.

Of course, that which you call "preachy," others might call "entertaining and useful discussion of issues." I'd rank "Time Enough for Love" as one of Heinlein's top five novels.

Instead of looking at a novel with lots of preaching in it, and saying that it is a bad novel because of that, perhaps we should instead recognize that kind of novel as a valid form, and judge it on its own merits.

An interesting example of that kind fo thing is "1939: Lost World of the Fair," by David Gelertner. It's the story of a man who is researching a nonfiction book about the New York World's Fair, who interviews an elderly woman who was a young woman when the fair happened. There isn't much of a story: the young man visits the old woman, she talks about how the world was in many ways better then, and then he writes about the things he's discovered about the World's Fair and America at that period.

For years, I thought that "1939" was a unique sort of art form, but then I read FUTL, with its introductory matter and afterword referring to predecessors such as "Looking Backward" and "A Sleeper Wakes." I realized then that "1939" was simply a twist on those sorts of Utopian novels: in those sorts of novels, a person travels through time between the present day of the writer, and a Utopian state, and compares the Utopian state with the present day. In most novels of that kind, the protagonist travels from the present to a Utopian future using a kind of time travel or suspended animation -- in "1939," the PAST is the Utopia (or, at least, a better world) and the time traveler arrives in the present the old-fashioned way, by aging.

By the way, I used to think a lot more of "1939" until I read FUTL and saw Heinlein complaining about the exact same problems. Heinlein writes his book in the late 1930s, and complains about the lack of civility, social conscience and honest business dealings at that time -- Gelertner writes in the 1990s and complains about the same things in HIS present day -- and says those thigns weren't problems in the late 1930s.

Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: January 06, 2004, 09:05 PM:

I really need to start poorfreading more carefully.

Temperance ::: (view all by) ::: January 06, 2004, 09:44 PM:

Great discussion. I have to come down on the side of those who think "The Roads Must Roll" is a great story -- irrespective of whether the science/engineering is accurate. Who cares? For me, with both sf & fantasy, the experience of being in the created world is much more important than either the action or the technology. And I don't think anyone, with the possible exception of Preston Sturges, ever wrote snappy mid-century American dialogue as well as Heinlein. -- Oh, one more thing: Brad, I've heard many people say what you said, that Moon is a Harsh Mistress is a great book, but personally I think everything he wrote after Stranger sucks. The really good books are the juveniles, especially Star Beast, Citizen of the Galaxy, & Have Space Suit Will Travel.

Maureen ::: (view all by) ::: January 07, 2004, 12:25 AM:

Yes, the Friday cross-reference thing is a great prediction. But it's very clearly based on what you do when you go to the library and read books there...you run across something interesting and just go look it up. All Heinlein did (and it's a lot, of course) was to replace "wouldn't it be nice if I didn't have to get up to get this stuff?" with "what if I _didn't_ have to get up?"

The moral of the story is that human behavior today can be mined for human behavior tomorrow. But then, you all knew that.

Maureen ::: (view all by) ::: January 07, 2004, 12:30 AM:

Forgot to say this -- if sf pulps had been somewhat more unconstrained as to sex, kids couldn't have bought them and a lot of small town drugstores wouldn't have carried them. The various "spicy" rags (mysteries, action, and sea stories were the usual, IIRC) often had this problem of distribution. (IIRC.)

And the 'spicy stories' rags weren't exactly known for freethinking high literary style, either. So, you know, if John Clute thinks Robert A. Heinlein would've been best served by writing 1940's tentacle porn, I guess he can think that.

Brad DeLong ::: (view all by) ::: January 07, 2004, 12:45 AM:

>>Oh, one more thing: Brad, I've heard many people say what you said, that Moon is a Harsh Mistress is a great book, but personally I think everything he wrote after Stranger sucks. The really good books are the juveniles, especially Star Beast, Citizen of the Galaxy, & Have Space Suit Will Travel.

You... you... you... you PANSHINIST, you!!

Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: January 07, 2004, 03:45 AM:

"Randolph - You haven't read "For Us, The Living," have you? That novel is MORE preachy than anything he published later."

I have read Beyond This Horizon, though. Perhaps, if he had engaged in dialog about these matters as a younger man, he might have moved in another direction.

Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: January 07, 2004, 09:12 AM:

Mike D. (January 4, 2004 08:15 PM):
you really must drop everything and dig upon Alfred Bester's The Stars My Destination ...

BTW I believe that was its UK & Australian (Canadian?) title, but for the USA it was called Tyger! Tyger! (note Blakean [Blakite? Blakese?] spelling). It really knocked me over some twenty-odd years back when I read it at a reasonably impressionable age. Was it Brian Aldiss in Billion Year Spree who called that style "Wide Screen Baroque"? Some of that type pall very quickly, but this one does seem to stand up over time.
There is a bit of a fashion near here for reviving the old Maori facial tattooing - mostly in a less-than-permanent form, and whenever I glimpse one unexpectedly I get a flash memory of that.

Also, I enjoyed Heinlein's Young Adult stories in early/mid High School, but gradually got a very bad taste in my mouth from his more didactic preaching works. Then while reading a fairly early (?) book, The Puppet Masters one little bit really shook me. I've never worked out if it's serious (surely not?) or meant to show the flawed character of the narrator. Don't have a copy to check, it's something like "I felt good, like I'd just had a woman or killed a man".

The humanity of Terry Pratchett's attitudes (and his humour) is, even if falsely comforting, at least some comfort in difficult times (like Teresa's teddy).

Speaking of pre-internet web predictions, has anyone read "Michaelmas?"

Rob Hansen ::: (view all by) ::: January 07, 2004, 01:28 PM:

Returning late to this thread:

First, me:

Totally agree about Nancy Kress. Wonderful SF riter, obviously knows her science, too. I always assumed she wasn't considered a hard SF writer because she's, y'know, a *girl* and you've got to be able to *get* hard to write that manly, hairy-chested hard SF. And the older I get, the more thoroughly repulsive I find the 'hard-mindedness' of Heinlein. It strikes me as the same sort of attitude that Dickhead-in-Chief Dubya adopted when he told those attacking US forces to "bring it on", and my tolerance for it has just about bottomed out.


From Patrick Nielsen Hayden,

Sorry I can't sign on to that last. Heinlein wasn't a perfect human being, nor was his work free of moral obtuseness, but everything I know about him indicates that he was a person of far more substance, grit, and (yes) sympathy for others than George W. Bush has displayed on the best day of his life.

New me:

I know little about RAH's personal life and so have no reason to suppose he was anything other than how you describe him. I'm puzzled as to what exactly this has to do with what I wrote, though. My comment (reprinted above) ran from Nancy Kress through RAH to Bush and was clearly, I thought, about machismo and macho posturing. None of the positive qualities you list preclude macho posturing, in my experience, and that's certainly how I've always perceived Heinlein's 'hard-mindedness'. The difference in Bush's case is that that posturing gets people killed. This is a non-trivial difference, but the basic impulse seems the same to me.

Mr Ripley ::: (view all by) ::: January 07, 2004, 04:50 PM:

Epacris--

I think it's the other way 'round: The Stars My Destination has always been the U.S. title of the novel, except perhaps in its first serialization.

After having considered the issue for over twenty years, done a little research, and had a few conversations about it, I've come to the reluctant conclusion that everything in The Puppet Masters is meant to be taken straight and unironized --i.e. that all of the protagonist's sentiments, unless explicitly marked as hindrances, are meant to be appropriate for his admirable role in defending Earth against the communistic invaders. It's something of a Spillanean novel.

clark e myers ::: (view all by) ::: January 07, 2004, 06:09 PM:

So far as the Puppet Masters goes I suppose the narrator Elihu (notice the importance of names in Mr. Heinlein's writing - Aluquere?) doesn't vary much across the various editions but I wonder if some of the discordant tone derives from uneven expurgating without much further adjustment. My own first reading in the 50's I was terribly ignorant of both Mr. Heinlein's personal history and lifestyle choices over time and the perspective the later works might give on the editorializing - that is knowing something is a theme in later works might have taught me to look for it in earlier works - literary detection had I but known.

I do find analysis referring to the writing of SIASL as though the composition had a particular dating and some relevance to the publication dating confusing. Is there something I missed that identifies when the 3(?IIRC) principal pieces of The Heretic were written? And where the joins Mr. Heinlein was so proud of disguising can be found?

Seems to me the more I read it all the more consistent it all is but the only hard science is some understanding of ballistics mostly around the Moon.

Kevin J. Maroney ::: (view all by) ::: January 07, 2004, 11:37 PM:

Heinlein writes his book in the late 1930s, and complains about the lack of civility, social conscience and honest business dealings at that time -- Gelertner writes in the 1990s and complains about the same things in HIS present day -- and says those things weren't problems in the late 1930s.

I've read Gelertner's book, and I don't think he's holding up 1939 as the utopia of the Golden Age. In fact, he does quite the opposite; the central thesis of his book is that the 1939 World's Fair looks quaint to us because its visions of utopia came true. He spends a lot of time talking about how poor even the American middle-class of the 1930s was--the secretary who worked full-time and regularly skipped lunch because she was just too damn poor to eat lunch daily sticks in my mind. The 1939 World's Fair promised ample food and refrigerators in every home, and we look back and wonder how people could have thought these were great aspirations.

He does point out that standards were different. Different, not better. The unlocked construction shed, filled with dynamite, demonstrates that things were different then.

Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2004, 12:32 AM:

Kevin, I've read "1939" and one or two others of Gelertner's pieces on this theme and he is hard to figure out. I think me might say that we are physically much better off than we were in 1939 -- as you say, we are living in the Utopia that people of 1939 imagined -- but spiritually much worse. Although I think he might reject the word "spiritually."

For Gelertner, the decline of civility is a big part of this spiritual decline: men don't wear jackets and ties, they don't stand and remove their hats when a lady enters the room. They don't even wear hats anymore. (It's hard to figure out whether he thinks men should ACTUALLY stand when a lady enters the room, or if he's just using that as an example of a code of etiquette which needs to exist.)

It's a seductive viewpoint, one I can neither entirely accept nor dismiss.

I was mentioned this with our Blog Host last time I saw him: Every time I see an old movie or newsreel where all the men are wearing suits, I think, damn, they all look good. I think: Men should wear suits all the time today, like they did back then. And yet on the occasion when I'm called on to wear a tie, I look for ways out of it.

Avram ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2004, 12:49 AM:

Mitch, if someone92s going to argue that we92ve declined spiritually (whatever that means) since 1939, I92ll want better evidence of the claim than a list of habits and fashions 97 ones having nothing to do with how people actually treat each other 97 that have changed since then.

That code of etiquette was pretty wrapping paper around the dead fish of a system that marginalized women. It went away as women become full-fledged people. We92re better off in that regard now, and if that92s a spiritual matter, then it92s a spiritual improvement.

Dan Layman-Kennedy ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2004, 10:30 AM:

I saw Mona Lisa Smile over the weekend and had a similarly cognitive-dissonant reaction to seeing all those guys in their sharp-looking fedoras and suits. In the end, though, it's a little like admiring the design of Nazi uniforms: great look, but a shame it's attached to such repulsive ideas.

(Which, circling back to topic, strikes me as not far from the message Verhoeven was likely sending with the design of Starship Troopers, a film that may be much more about Heinlein's cultus than Heinlein's work itself.)

Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2004, 02:22 PM:

Avram, I urge you to read "1939" yourself, rather than rely on my flawed memory of a book I read several years ago.

Nonetheless: Etiquette isn't Gelertner's main reason for seeing a decline since 1939, it's only part of the argument. His main point is, I think, that we've lost the bold Utopian vision of 1939, the courage to envision a perfect world and then roll up our sleeves, loosen up our ties and get to work creating that world. (We can't roll up our sleeves and loosen our ties because we're all wearing short-sleeved T-shirts and not wearing ties.... )

The etiquette argument is somewhat similar to the focus on so-called quality-of-life crimes in New York under Mayor Rudy. It was Rudy's assertion that if you cracked down on panhandling, public vagrancy, broken windows, littering, graffiti and other apparently minor infractions of the law, it would help to create a better civic environment that would lead to a decline in the BIG crimes: murder, rape, muggings, etc.

This was controversial throughout Rudy's administration, and I expect historians are going to be debating the policy for decades to come.

Similarly, I think Gelertner's argument is that the decline in formal etiquette is a manifestation of the same trend that also leads to a decline in the ability of society as a whole to take on big projects for solving social problems.

And I've only been talking about half the book here -- Gelertner intertwines the social lecture with a history of the 1939 World's Fair, a look at daily life at that time in New York and the whole U.S. Even if you reject Gelertner's social message, the book is highly worth reading for the history alone.

Another excellent history of daily life in mid-century New York, this time without the political sermon, is "Manhattan '45," by Jan Morris.

My parents spent their teens and young adulthood in that time and place, and I grew up with stories about how it was a Golden Age, so books like the Gelertner and Morris mean a lot to me. Also: "I. Asimov," which is Asimov's memoir, and "Now and Then : From Coney Island to Here," by Joseph Heller.

Dan Layman-Kennedy: I saw Mona Lisa Smile over the weekend and had a similarly cognitive-dissonant reaction to seeing all those guys in their sharp-looking fedoras and suits. In the end, though, it's a little like admiring the design of Nazi uniforms: great look, but a shame it's attached to such repulsive ideas.

Godwin's Law: I guess this conversation is at an end, then. :)

You see the suits and fedoras as symbolic of everything that was wrong with America in the middle of the century -- oppression of women, gays, brown-skinned people, and the lower classes. Whereas I (and Gelertner too, I suspect), see those clothes as everything that was right with America back then (and which I fear is lost today -- hopefully not irretrievably though): the can-do attitude, expanding middle class, and willingness to work to implement Utopia on Earth.

I really don't see any comparison between mid-century America and the Nazis.

Disclaimer: I have not yet seen "Mona Lisa Smile," although I'd like to.

Dan Layman-Kennedy ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2004, 03:45 PM:

Godwin's Law: I guess this conversation is at an end, then. :)

Of course not; I only meant that that was where my (highly subjective) reaction came to rest. Should have made clear what I assumed was implied. :)

You see the suits and fedoras as symbolic of everything that was wrong with America in the middle of the century -- oppression of women, gays, brown-skinned people, and the lower classes. Whereas I (and Gelertner too, I suspect), see those clothes as everything that was right with America back then (and which I fear is lost today -- hopefully not irretrievably though): the can-do attitude, expanding middle class, and willingness to work to implement Utopia on Earth.

It may be more accurate to say that I see the fashions of the time as emblematic of the stifling conformity that was an undercurrent to all of the positive things you mention. The same goes for the strictures of "ettiquette," which meant considerably more than just being nice to each other (a quality that by itself I much admire).

The world of mid-century America looks like a frightening place to me. The Utopia that the can-do middle class was working to build didn't have much place for a guy like me - a scruffy, bohemian, bisexual free-thinker and anarchist-sympathizer. It doesn't help that the people who most romanticize that era seem to also want to build a world that has no place for me in it.

(Or maybe it's just that I look like crap in a fedora and I'm bitter about it. Take all this with salt to taste.)

I really don't see any comparison between mid-century America and the Nazis.

Well, I sure wouldn't have wanted to be black, gay or Jewish in either place. In some ways it's a matter of scale. The difference (in scale) may be more significant to you than it is to me. We didn't bake anybody in ovens, but we sure had no shortage of people who may have been happy to.

Disclaimer: I have not yet seen "Mona Lisa Smile," although I'd like to.

Go see it. It's wonderful - what Dead Poets' Society wanted to be, but much better in many ways.

Kevin J. Maroney ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2004, 04:22 PM:

I maintain that Mitch is reading too much endorsement into Gelertner. But I'm going to shift the argument slightly, anyway:

The etiquette argument is somewhat similar to the focus on so-called quality-of-life crimes in New York under Mayor Rudy. It was Rudy's assertion that if you cracked down on panhandling, public vagrancy, broken windows, littering, graffiti and other apparently minor infractions of the law, it would help to create a better civic environment that would lead to a decline in the BIG crimes: murder, rape, muggings, etc.

And New York did have an astonishing drop in the reported crime rate in the 1990s. Of course, many other cities had similar or even larger drops in the crime rate in the 1990s, and did so without having tens of thousands of proven violations of people's Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable search and seizure.

Giuliani's "get tough on criminals" policy was very similar to a lot of Heinlein cultist's "get tough on the stupid" rhetoric--appealing as long as you're the person who is allowed to decide the direction that the toughness gets pointed.

Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2004, 05:34 PM:

Dan Layman-Kennedy: Well, I sure wouldn't have wanted to be black, gay or Jewish in either place. In some ways it's a matter of scale. The difference (in scale) may be more significant to you than it is to me. We didn't bake anybody in ovens, but we sure had no shortage of people who may have been happy to.

Dan, you're being rather outrageous and quite frankly offensive. There is a great deal of difference between wanting to put someone in an oven and actually doing it. Ask any concentration camp surivor.

I can speak from personal nowledge that mid-20th-Century America was a great place to be Jewish. My parents, uncles, and aunts all grew up in that time and place. They were all the children of dirt-poor Eastern European immigrants who escaped pogroms and real persecution in their home countries. My parents and their peers became solid Americans, middle class or better, and my generation has continued that legacy.

Likewise, I know a few older blacks who improved their lots in life a great deal during tht period. Martin Luther King himself was from that generation.

So don't give me any crap about Nazi Germany and middle-20th-Century America being different form each other in degree.

Likewise, it was no picnic being black in many places in the U.S. in the mid-Century, but that was changing fast. That generation is the generation that produced Martin Luther King and LBJ -- leading to America of today where a black person can achieve anything he wants to achieve in life.

Yes, I know that racial prejudice still exists today, but I'll stand by my assertion: a black person can accomplish anything in life that he cares to achieve, even become Secretary of State or National Security Advisor in a conservative presidential administration.

I'll give you this much: it was hard to be an independent woman, gay or bisexual in that time. It was a real country, not a magic kingdom. It had problems. Many of those problems were more severe than they are today. I'd rather be living today than then -- but, still, I'm unwilling to dismiss the country that fought in World War II as little better than its opponents.

Kevin - I think I'm portraying Gelertner's arguments accurately, but you may be right.

Dan Layman-Kennedy ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2004, 06:52 PM:

Aiya! I intended no offense, Mitch, and I apologize if I caused any. There are certainly parts of this history on which I'm not as informed as you, so I beg your pardon for talking out of half-knowledge, and for coming across as much more argumentative than I meant to.

Point very well taken, too, about the role of the US in WWII. We really were the good guys there, in more ways than just being on the right side.

Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2004, 07:25 PM:

No problem, Dan. Thanks for your gracious response.

Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2004, 08:43 PM:

Kevin - I don't think Gelertner was saying the quality of life was better in 1939. I think what he was saying was that we had more MOMENTUM back then -- more of a desire to create a better world.

Would it be possible to create a World's Fair in 2004, with the same upbeat, forward-looking outlook as in 1939? They had just come through a Depression, they were on the verge of a World War that had already begun in Europe -- and was going very badly for our allies there, too -- and yet they were optimistic about the future.

Dan Layman-Kennedy ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2004, 08:47 PM:

You're welcome. I confess my jaw dropped when I saw that I'd pissed you off, until I reread my previous comments, and what I'd intended as witty conversation looked very much like a) picking a fight, and b) talking out of my ass. Thus I fail my Electrolite screen test.

Anyway, it's pretty disingenuous to oversimplify the '40s and '50s in either direction, which, whatever its failings, is also the era that gave us the Beats, Lord of the Rings, and rock 'n' roll.

CHip ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2004, 11:03 PM:

Dan: The world of mid-century America looks like a frightening place to me. <snip> It doesn't help that the people who most romanticize that era seem to also want to build a world that has no place for me in it.

It's also amusing to notice how selectively they romanticize that world; for instance, the notion that the rich should be taxed at 90% doesn't have many friends in those quarters....

I expect every age has its good and bad points; the usual problem is people assuming that an age was unreservedly good or bad. I've recently read Los Alamos: the Ranch School Years, which has been very ... illuminating.... (I was sent a copy in return for autobiographical notes from my father, who was headmaster for most of its existence.) I would have found it an intolerable environment: very hierarchical, culturally thin, run by a man who despised "the female influence" -- but I suspect fewer would-be Ken Lays came out of that school than out of any similarly expensive private school recently. (And I'm probably romanticizing almost as badly as the author; it's easy to think that concepts of responsibility being attached to power, and duty to fortune, were more vigorously inculcated then, and difficult to prove.)

Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2004, 02:48 AM:

CHip - Your father was headmaster at that school? How interesting. And here I thought you were about my age (43) too.

Chris Quinones ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2004, 04:46 PM:

Mitch: Just this week in Science Times, there was an article about a challenge to the "broken windows" theory of crime prevention. From the article:

"This theory has been one of the most important in criminology. It was first proposed in an article published 20 years ago in The Atlantic Monthly, written by Dr. James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling. The theory provided the intellectual foundation for a crackdown on 'quality of life' crimes in New York City under Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani.

"Today, 'broken windows' policing is endorsed by police chiefs across the country, its proponents sought out for lectures and consulting around the world. But from the beginning, Dr. Wilson concedes, the theory lacked substantive scientific evidence that it worked.

"'I still to this day do not know if improving order will or will not reduce crime,' Dr. Wilson, now a professor emeritus at the University of California, Los Angeles, recently said in a telephone interview. 'People have not understood that this was a speculation.'"

Not arguing with your assessment, but I think it's interesting that the proposal is questionable even in the eyes of its chief proponent.

Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2004, 09:59 PM:

Chris - I did not intend to advocate the broken windows theory of crime reduction. I'm not sure of it myself, for precisely the reasons Kevin cites.

CHip ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2004, 10:45 PM:

Mitch -- closer than you (now) think; Davey threw me an Oldphart party last Summer at Readercon, where I turned 50. I think my father was going his father one better: Charles Edward Hitchcock (1856-1921) spent years as a missionary in Wyoming territory and sired his first child at 44; Lawrence Sill Hitchcock (1898-1983) was at Los Alamos for 22 years, met my mother after V-E day (both were home-front military managers), and was almost 55 when I was born. (Father said CEH was the 2nd youngest of a "typical" family of 11: half of my great-aunts and -uncles in that line died in childhood -- and one in the Civil War.)

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2004, 10:50 AM:

Rob, I don't disagree that there are some pretty unpleasant examples of "macho posturing" in Heinlein's work. I just don't think Heinlein's sins in this regard are all that similar to the sins of a George W. Bush.

Then again, I don't see Bush as an actual tough guy. The hero of The Puppet Masters, cited above as one of Heinlein's nastier protagonists, is despite all his foolishness genuinely a tough guy. As someone observed, he's really right out of a Mickey Spillane novel. George W. Bush, on the other hand, is a fake, a sissy, a dude. The Spillane hero might punch out his girlfriend. George W. Bush has James Baker to do it for him. The girlfriend's been badly treated either way, but the sins that lead to it are significantly different.

Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2004, 03:00 PM:

Interesting coincidence: The Heinlein novel I'm currently re-reading is "Between Planets." I remembered that the novel starts with boy hero riding a pony out in the American desert -- what I didn't remember, until picking up the book again last night, is that the boy attends a "ranch school" in the New Mexico desert, where they learn to care for horses in addition to classroom education.

Also, there are a couple of more tidbits in there to show Heinlein's mastery of understanding how technology would actually be used: Not only does Heinlein show phone answering machines, he also shows people using the machines to screen incoming phone calls.

The more I think of it, the more I think that "The Puppet Masters" was an aberration for Heinlein in its celebration of violence. Mostly, what Heinlein celebrated was not violence itself but the WILLINGNESS to fight for right, for friends and family and of course for country. His heroes were, at least at times, people who would cross the street to avoid a fight and, at other times, were people who got beat up when they DID fight.

Heinlein was both a philosopher AND a pulp writer with one eye on his bankbook at all times. Indeed, in his autobiographical essays he enjoyed denying that he was a philosopher or an artist, he liked to say he was just a guy trying to get John Q. Public to part with his beer money. I think that perhaps "The Puppet Masters" was a conscious effort to write a novel that was different from Heinlein's norm, to write in the style of the tough-guy bloodthirsty fiction of the day.

Also, Heinlein often did not dwell on the specifics of hand-to-hand combat, the action often occurred between paragraphs.

In an opening scene of "Between Planets," the boy hero has been taken into custody by police for the second time in 24 hours, the first time he was at least somewhat cooperative but this time he has resolved to fight back, despite the odds. When his interrigator orders him to submit to a strip search, the boy refuses. The interrigator calls over a couple of assistants to strip the boy. The next paragraph says that 20 minutes later, the boy was stripped naked, with a black eye and a painful arm that he didn't THINK was broken.

And when Heinlein DOES show us violence on-camera, he doesn't play it for thrills and derring-do. We don't see much of soldiers charging enemy emplacements with knives in their teeth, shrieking hateful slogans (how do you shriek hateful slogans with a knife in your teeth, anyway?). The depictions of violence are clinical. The battle scenes of "Starship Troopers" focus on the thought processes and conversations of a noncom and low-level officer trying to command his troops in the thick of battle. ("Bugs, Mr. Rico! Zillions of 'em! I'm a-burnin' them down!") His soldiers aren't eager to leap into battle, they're eager to let some other guy leap into battle while they stay in the barracks and play cards.

Charlie Martin ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2004, 01:21 AM:

Well, I've just happened upon this discussion (rather late) but golly it's old home week. (Hi Brett, Nancy, Kevin, Tim, and so on; if I've missed anyone it's because I exceeded my stack depth and didn't want to scan back.) I'm also fascinated by the amount of unexpected information some of you have about George bush's emotional state, intelligence, and so on, but then I just know about him from mutual friends, so I suppose that reading news reports is a much better source.

In any case, several points:

First: The belief that Heinlein's The Roads Must Roll is anti-union is, I believe, vastly mistaken: he makes it quite clear in the story that the revolutionaries are syndicalists who are subverting the union. Wobblies, in other words. One of the other utopian movements spawned in the 30's, and (as I recall) quite opposed to what Upton Sinclair was pushing. As was pointed out, the union itself is treated with respect.

Second: Anyone who tries to look at Heinlein from the standpoint of his great technological intuition is bound to be disappointed: from giant econometric and astrodynamical calculations being made with ball-plane integrators in Beyond This Horizon to interpreting binary by looking the numbers up in tables in Starman Jones, his intuition mainly depended on Popular Science and the like. (Cf the 1939 World's Fair and some of his 40's stories, or consider the possible influence of Bucky Fuller. The description of the car in For Us, the Living sounds an awful lot like the Dynamaxion Car.)

But then, I don't think Heinlein was in any case interested in technological speculation, no matter his reputation as a "hard SF" writer. Instead, in "The Roads Must Roll", he's exploring, among other things, the Wellsian suggestion that the scale of cities was established by the speed of transportation, and along the way taking a shot at the Wobblies, and other groups that would like to establish an ant-like uniformity of central control. In For Us, the Living and Beyond This Horizon, he's exploring (among other things) the emotional and social implications of a world of plenty and what we might call "virtuous eugenics" -- and let's neglect for the moment whether such a thing can exist -- while making his bad guys from people who what to impose centralized control. "Jerry Was a Man" is obviously inspired, in part at least, by an explicit reaction to racism: yes, the ape servants seem very Steppen-Fetchit-ish, but then the whole point of the story is that the supposedly inferior apes are in fact "human" in the broad sense. (Hell, he even has the Martian genetic engineer explicitly say something about how the humans and apes aren't all that different.)

The point is that whatever technological extrapolations Heinlein made -- and there weren't a lot of them really, ball-plane integrators were how the gunnery computers he used aboard Lexington worked -- were made in the service of social extrapolations. I think FUtL makes it a little more clear that what Heinlein was, primarily, was a utopian novelist, interested in what the "right" way to live was, and trying through his fiction to call attention to things he thought were wrong: Starship Troopers as an exploration of the ethics of military service and a "utopia" in which military service was interpreted as more or less virtuous; Glory Road as a fantasy adventure, but by the end of it a meditation on manhood and an examination of another utopia; Moon is a Harsh Mistress explicitly examining libertarianism -- and then exploring the downfall of a libertarian state in The Cat Who Walked Through Walls.

I don't think it's at all wrong to see Heinlein as both Wellesian and Shavian.

Charlie Martin ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2004, 01:25 AM:

Oh, by the way -- I noticed that FUtL included a specific reference to hyperlinking: a citation or cross reference can be selected and followed to the referenced item.

Charlie Martin ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2004, 01:33 AM:

Kevin:

Strangely, I thought that the US space program was created by executive diktat in response to the Soviets actually going there.

You're mistaken on this, possibly by equating "space program" with the Race To The Moon thing. X-15, for example, was an active program in 1954.

Charlie Martin ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2004, 01:35 AM:

Kevin: I noticed, on my relatively recent re-read of Heinlein's Giant Bugs from Beyond the Solar System that he gleefully described, in detail, the mechanics of the jumpsuits worn by the infantry, and made it clear that they worked in a way which would reduce the wearer's bones to jelly.

I dunno, Kevin, I'm not a half-bad engineer and I don't see that at all.

Charlie Martin ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2004, 01:43 AM:

Nancy: In spite of his (more exactly Lazarus') bombast about only people who can do math being fully human, Heinlein had a considerable range of characters that he treated with respect.

It's worth noting that Lazarus (and his damnable nasty biddy of a mother, gargh) are only Perfect Examples of Humanity when told from their own point of view: Lazarus comes across very much the ass in The Cat Who Walked Through Walls. Come to think of it, that's pretty much true in the one where they go to Oz etc dammit, I can't think of the title -- when seeing people from their own POV, they are perfectly reasonable; it's everyone else who's being a jerkk.

Charlie Martin ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2004, 01:45 AM:

Clute seems to think a hell of a let less of Heinlein's overall career, of John W. Campbell, and of Golden Age science fiction, than I do.

Honestly, I got an awfully strong feeling that a lot of Clute's objections came down to thinking Heinlein would have been a better writer if he'd have remained a socialist of some stripe.

Charlie Martin ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2004, 02:00 AM:

A line isn't an ordered sequence--it isn't a sequence at all. A sequence is, by definition, countable.

You're being seduced (and it's tempting, I know) by specific use of the terminology in mathematics: Heinlein was writing to a juvenile audience. A "sequence" in common terms is just an ordered progression of some sort; what Thorby is saying can be equally well interpreted as the statement that a line in a geometrical interpretation is really just an uncountable set with a total order, but we have to think about it geometrically as embedded in a set of higher rank. He's heading off toward a definition of "distance" as the line integral of a trajectory, and then gallumphing off toward differential geometry.

Kevin J. Maroney ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2004, 11:49 AM:

Charlie: The specific detail of the jumpsuits in Giant Bugs from Beyond the Solar System that doesn't work is when he explains how they jump. There are any number of acceptable skiffy mechanisms for how they would work--boot-jets, springs in the soles, antigravity--but he specifies that they work by jumping. To hurl an infantryman a mile through the air, they bend the infantryman's leg and kick the ground really, really fast.

The only way to get acceleration out of a jumping motion is by moving the leg really, really fast and hitting the ground really, really hard.

I haven't worked out the details of how fast the leg of the suit would have to be moving to get a half-mile jump, but I'm willing to bet it's fast enough to pulp the flesh and bone leg trapped within it.

Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2004, 03:14 PM:

Kevin, you're definitely wrong about the specifics of how the combat armor works in "Starship Troopers": you've described how the user operates the suits, but the narrator specifically says that jets or rockets will kick in for very long jumps.

Jeremy Smith ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2004, 07:12 PM:

Ted Nelson (inventor of Xanadu, original hypertext project) told me that when he told Heinlein about Xanadu in around 1978, Heinlein said "So it's just like The Source?" which was a kind of information network at the time. So Heinlein must have been pretty wired when the technology was available - which reflects on his savvy predictions about the World Wide Web/Internet.

adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2004, 08:50 PM:

Randolph is onto something here:

"Or perhaps his preachiness would have been less, and moderated by his peers, instead of aggravated by years of frustration."

And even more so here:

"Perhaps, if he had engaged in dialog about these matters as a younger man, he might have moved in another direction."

If you read the commentary on editing in Grumbles from the Grave, it's pretty clear that Heinlein greatly resented one particular sort of editing: Messing with his ideas.

Messing with his style only seems to have been an issue with Gold's rewrite of The Puppet Masters--that pissed Heinlein off royally, but it's the only such incident documented in the book. He argues with change of story elements, sometimes, when he finds them misguided, and other times he shrugs and makes them, occasionally suggesting that certain changes weaken his brand.

Here's the passage to Alice Dalgliesh that jumps out, in reference to Red Planet and guns: "I have made great effort to remove my viewpoint from the book and to incorporate yours, convincingly--but in so doing I have been writing from reasons of economic necessity something that I do not believe. I do not like having to do that."

Now, Charlie says:

"Honestly, I got an awfully strong feeling that a lot of Clute's objections came down to thinking Heinlein would have been a better writer if he'd have remained a socialist of some stripe."

I'm not sure that's Clute's position. I personally would have preferred that Heinlein's didacticism had been directed in that manner. I won't claim that would have made him a better writer, or a worse one, for that matter. Sure, Coventry makes infinitely more sense than Luna Free State, but for all my griping about it, The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress is still a fine story.

What I think Clute is saying--whether he's saying it or not, I will--is that, had Heinlein been able to write the books he wanted to write the way he wanted to write them early in his career, he would have been a different writer. Better or worse, who can say? But different. Further, had he been a mainstream author with a different audience, over time, he would have written different stories.

(Yes, obviously they'd've been different. I mean different in the sense that we would pick them up and say, "That reads like Heinlein, but it sure doesn't sound like him talking. Who wrote that?")

In this, I differ from Randolph a bit, in that Heinlein was, I think, "moderated by his peers". This is Clute's point when he says 93That instead of being a great writer to the world, he had a chance of becoming RAH to the gang.94

Anyone who doubts that Heinlein had literary aspirations is wrong. I know how Heinlein talks about writing for the money, but that92s just protesting too much. No one lards their writing with quotes from the Big Boys--Shakespeare, Twain, Shaw--who feels otherwise. Read the epigrams for the chapters in The Cat Who Walks Through Walls, about half literary giants and half Heinlein characters (with a few extras thrown in--the grouping of Woodrow Wilson, Genghis Khan, and Aesop comes to mind), and tell me he didn92t intend to write in their class.

Consider also what Heinlein says about I Will Fear No Evil: 93I seem to be translating Giles Goat Boy into late Martian.94 Read also Heinlein92s other comments on Barth--Giles Goat Boy 93impressed and enormously amused94 him (though it was 93not for Ginny; she lives life in simple declarative sentences with no veiled allusions, and she wants her fiction the same way94)--and his mention of experimentation with a multiple first-person technique in 1956 (which brings us back to Sometimes A Great Notion. But I digress). It92s not what he used in The Number of the Beast--that92s pretty conventional.

More to the point of this discussion, though, Heinlein92s political views as expressed in his writings might92ve not degenerated into twentieth-century Luddism--94Smash the Looms of Government!94--had he engaged with a different, larger or more varied readership. Early on in his career, Heinlein was espousing libertarian socialism--I92ll take that over what he ended up with.

The other point, which will not be available for rational discussion for the foreseeable future (and I92m not convinced it92s even capable of rational discussion, as it amounts to psychologizing the writer) is the extent to which Heinlein92s marriage to Leslyn, the subsequent divorce, and especially his marriage to Virginia afffected his writing and his ideas. (We can point at correlation, but that92s not necessarily causation.) Clute alludes to this when he points out that Spider Robinson92s 93unfortunate introduction...gives Heinlein's third wife, Virginia, entire credit as muse for his early work, and does not mention Leslyn at all94. Clute slightly overstates the point, but only slightly.

James92 afterword, interestingly titled 93A Clean Sweep94, says, 93After Heinlein92s divorce from Leslyn in 1948, he repeatedly went out of his way to erase their marriage from any public mention.94 He notes this 93rests at least in part from a need to protect his public reputation as a political figure and as a writer94 and leaves open the question of what other motivations might underly this decision. (93A Clean Sweep94 explicitly refers to Heinlein92s 93cleen sweep94 in, with the appearance of For Us, The Living, having published everything he wrote.)

James suggests here that it92s Heinlein92s open marriage to Leslyn, their nudism, and so on that Heinlein set out to erase, for public reasons. I would suggest two other possibilities: That he was attempting to erase his political history (not many people remember Ronald Reagan, liberal, do they?), and that he was trying to erase the marriage itself, but for personal reasons.

I think I92ve gotten myself in enough trouble for now--perhaps I92ll read the book itself, not just the Afterword and the Introduction, now that it (along with my wife and daughter) are returned from Arkansas after the holidays.

A personal postscript--I also read just the first page of For Us, The Living, a crisp descriptive passage showing Perry92s car crash. I can attest from recent personal experience that Heinlein did a good job on it--his description of Perry approaching the rock feels very much as I felt as the three of us headed toward the culvert in our post-Christmas car crash. It wasn92t until today that the full irony of the circumstances under which we nearly died with a Heinlein novel unread hit me.

Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2004, 09:22 PM:

Yes, that *was* a good description of a car crash, wasn't it?

I remember one day in the late 1980s, driving along about 70 miles an hour on a straight stretch of country highway. I was in the right lane, traffic was light. There was no shoulder on my right, just a steep embankment, looked to be about six feet high, running like a green, grassy wall next to the highway.

A deer leaped over the wall, and directly in front of my car. There was no time to turn, no time to brake. I looked at the deer, measured the distance between it and my car, and said to myself, "The car is going to be totalled. I hope the accident doesn't kill me. Probably it will, though."

And then the deer leaped away.

The whole thing happened so fast, I didn't have time to be scared. My adrenal glands never kicked in, I never got the shakes. I just kept driving.

adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2004, 10:14 PM:

Mitch, I'm jealous. I not only got the shakes, I think I went into mild shock, even though I was almost unhurt (bunged up my left hand a touch, slight lower back pain--my wife had nasty bruises from the belt. Quincy, when I got the back door open, was scarily quiet--then she gooed and smiled and I think she said, "Daddy, that was fun! Let's do that again!" Takes after her mother.)

I kept mostly rational, sort of, except when the trooper asked me how old my wife was? I answered calmly. And how old was my daughter? "Twenty-eight weeks and three d--"

That's where I almost started crying.

I guess I'm saying any description of a car crash that includes survival is a good description.

adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2004, 11:16 PM:

A few quibbles with Charlie:

"The belief that Heinlein's The Roads Must Roll is anti-union is, I believe, vastly mistaken: he makes it quite clear in the story that the revolutionaries are syndicalists who are subverting the union. Wobblies, in other words. One of the other utopian movements spawned in the 30's, and (as I recall) quite opposed to what Upton Sinclair was pushing. As was pointed out, the union itself is treated with respect."

I agree with your conclusion, but not your premises. Syndicalism predates the twentieth century. The Wobblies had peaked well before the thirties--the action at this point was (I believe--it's not a period I know well generally, though I do know the Wobblies) elsewhere, with the CIO and various CP-influenced unions. The Wobblies advocated (still do, in fact) "One Big Union"--the functionalist idea of "One Union On Top Of Everyone Else" would be anathema to them. The idea of "central control" was a CP idea, democratic centralism and all that--the Wobblies and the CP were at each others' throats. While the radically decentralist Wobs are a more modern phenomenon, it's still an idea that was implicit in their brand of syndicalism from the beginning. And Van Kleek is just a strongman trying for power--no ideology there, except as veneer, as means but not end (unlike both McFee and Scudder, both true believers).

"I don't think it's at all wrong to see Heinlein as both Wellesian and Shavian."

No quibbles with that--I just wanted to repeat it. Both that and your characterization of Heinlein as a utopian novelist are quite right. (I love Beyond This Horizon and always will.)

"Lazarus comes across very much the ass in The Cat Who Walked Through Walls."

Perhaps slightly overstated, but not by much.

Apropos the rest of that comment, note also that Justin Foote has maintained the slight disdain for Lazarus Long (LL--hmm...) which he first manifested in Time Enough For Love.

"You're being seduced (and it's tempting, I know) by specific use of the terminology in mathematics: Heinlein was writing to a juvenile audience."

Well, yes and no. It was written for the juvenile market--I am so glad the term is now "young adult"--but first publication was Astounding. Okay, that is a quibble.

Heinlein was also consciously propagandizing for science and especially mathematics (math and library science get the greatest respect of all the disciplines in Heinlein's writing--an attitude I carry, in part, to this day).

He wrote about young people who studied calculus in high school, whether on their own (Kip Russell), in accelerated classes (the Galileo crew), or as part of the curriculum (the Stone kids). If he didn't intend to inspire young readers to do so themselves, well, all I can say is it worked on me anyway (though it took till tenth grade for me to really get differential calculus).

Sequences and series are part of that course of study, and a rather tricky part for most people. (I found them among the easiest material in calculus and the hardest once I got to real analysis aka advanced calculus, but then, I'm odd.) For a didactic technophile propagandist to get a basic part of his advocated material wrong is a serious point.

Heinlein was an engineer, not a mathematician, and sometimes it shows.

(That's not a slam on engineers--I can't do most of what they do, either--just an observation.)

Besides, I'm not so convinced about his analogy.

Why does a line need a surface to exist? To have a metric? I don't see it. A line can have a perfectly good metric of its own without any reference to any surface which contains it.

It's handwaving on Heinlein's part to justify the necessity of n-dimensional geometry (and to set Thorby up with Loeen through a little handwaving of his own--and look where it nearly got Thorby).

Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2004, 03:10 AM:

adamsj - Jealous of my aplomb? Don't be. It happened so fast that I had no time to be scared at all.

Actually, nothing happened at all. Death came to my door, rang the bell, and said: "Is this #6 Spring Street? I was looking for #8 Spring Street. Sorry to have disturbed you, go back to what you were doing."

F.Baube ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2004, 09:50 AM:

Not much discussion here of the film adaptation of "Starship Troopers". It bombed in the US, maybe because the OTT cheery have-a-nice-day fascism went over the audience's heads? :-)

There's a long and good comparison of the book and the film here: http://www.kentaurus.com/troopers.htm
(He's really down on Verhoeven's interpretation.)

Here's a mention that "Starship Troopers" is on a US Marine Corps reading list (also "Ender's Game" and Che Guevara): http://boingboing.net/2002_11_01_archive.html#85664521

(BTW/FWIW the USMC is proving to be a lot savvier about counterinsurgency than the US Army.) (Disclaimer: I'm not in, nor have ever been, in either.)

Jeremy Leader ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2004, 01:24 PM:

F.Baube, regarding Verhoeven's intentionally "over the top" elements in "Starship Troopers", I read one review that dismissed the idea that the unpleasant aspects of the movie could be regarded as ironic with a response something like "The director responsible for 'Showgirls' shouldn't be allowed to attempt irony."

Daniel Hatch ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2004, 02:29 PM:

Does anyone notice the fine irony of a Heinlein discussion here in the world of left-leaning blogs, which seems to be maintained to a large degree by the Heinlein demographic?

By that, I mean computer-savvy, SF reading left-libertarians, many with some military experience. For example: DailyKos, Calpundit, Brad Delong, Steve Gilliard.

This isn't quite what Heinlein envisioned, but it seems to be something he helped create.

Brad DeLong ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2004, 02:36 PM:

We left-techno-social-utopians too are Heinlein's children... of a sort.

I will confess that _Starship Troopers_ was a much better novel between when I was 14-18 than it has been since I was 18. When I was 18, you see, I realized it wasn't a parody.

But between when I first read it at 14 and 18, I thought it was a parody. Think of it: Why does Johnny Rico fight? Does he fight for truth? No. Does he fight for justice? No. Does he fight for liberty, equality, fraternity? No.

Johnny Rico, at the end of the book, fights for the biological expansion of the human race and for no other purpose. He is the mirror image of a bug warrior, who fights for the biological expansion of the bug race and for no other purpose. Between when I was 14 and 18, I read _Starship Troopers_ as the story of how you turn a young male adolescent--a not-too-bright, spoiled young male adolescent--into a mindless unreflective killing machine. I mean, Heinlein couldn't have meant that book to be read straight, could he?

Of course, when I was 18 I decided that he could and did. And all of a sudden it became a much less interesting book.

Dave Lebling ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2004, 04:36 PM:

Other than the eye-candy, what I remember about 'The Roads Must Roll' is the idea of urban sprawl and the Interstate Highway System. The specific technology that produced those outcomes was pretty ridiculous, even at age 14.

'Solution Unsatisfactory' seemed when I first read it to resonate strongly as an even less palatable solution to nuclear weapons than MAD. Now it seems to suggest the Pax Americana and the doctrine of pre-emptive war over WMDs.

The original career of Nehemiah Scudder, as detailed in 'For Us the Living,' seems simultaneously to parallel the religious right's and the secular left's fantasies of future (hmm, 2040 or so?) success and failure. The later Scudder was more successful, and seemed more to resemble Hitler crossed with Calvin.

The details of Heinlein stories (such as how those silly roads actually worked) have always been less important, to me at least, than the speculations, ideas, and opinions. In that sense, he was always a very traditional SF author. Far more than half of his works were 'A Tour of the Balloon Factory' (that is, much like 'For Us the Living').

By the way, are there any good references describing/debunking Social Credit? Having taken only a couple of semesters of Economics many many moons ago, and hence rather unable to analyze Heinlein's anecdotes, I'd like to see a rigorous treatment from either side.

Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2004, 04:43 PM:

F.Baube - I thought the movie "Starship Troopers" was a perfectly fine over-the-top, big, dumb bimbo of a summer blockbuster. Great sfx, babes, nudity, explosions, the perfect summer movie. I enjoyed it a great deal. I may rent it again someday.

And, hey, did you know that Robert A. Heinlein wrote a novel with the very same name? Nobody's ever made a movie about that, maybe someone ought to.

Brad, I think you're grossly misrepresenting "Starship Troopers." What evidence is there that Johnny Rico is a "mindless, unreflective killing machine"? How do you reconcile this with the fact that Johnny Rico is the first-person narrator of the book -- in other words, in the fictional universe, ST is Johnny Rico's memoir, it is a thoughtful, book-length reflection on why a person becomes a soldier.

The humans and bugs are not mirror images of each other -- the humans are fighting a defensive war, they were attacked first. Unless you want to argue that the Americans and Nazis were mirror images of each other because they were both fighting for their countries. (You can make a case for individual American and German soldiers being mirror images of each other for that very reason -- but the Bugs in ST are hive-minds, so the analogy doesn't apply.)

Nor would I say that Johnny Rico is "not-too-bright" and spoiled at the beginning of the book. He does well in school, he assists Carl in the lab. What evidence do you have that he's spoiled? Sure, he has a lot of stuff -- an Olympic-length swimming pool in his backyard -- but that just means his family is rich. He's not spoiled, or stupid -- just an extremely naefve adolescent who led a sheltered life.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2004, 05:51 PM:

Dan Hatch wrote:

Does anyone notice the fine irony of a Heinlein discussion here in the world of left-leaning blogs, which seems to be maintained to a large degree by the Heinlein demographic?

By that, I mean computer-savvy, SF reading left-libertarians, many with some military experience. For example: DailyKos, Calpundit, Brad Delong, Steve Gilliard.

This isn't quite what Heinlein envisioned, but it seems to be something he helped create.

Actually, of those, I'm only aware of Kos being a veteran, although Steve Gilliard may be as well. No matter, it's a good point. I'll always remember who I was talking with on the night Heinlein's death became known--it was my old friend the sometime political activist, editor, and Bay Area bookseller Debbie Notkin, and we talked about how reading Heinlein at a young age had taught us to ask the sorts of questions that formed our latter-day politics, dissimilar to some of Heinlein's views though those politics may have become. (I'm not a "utopian," though, pace Brad de Long.)

Many years later, it occurred to me that the single person I know who most closely matches Heinlein's catalog of skills essential to the "competent man" is in fact Jon Singer. Those who know Jon (roughly 31.7% of the human race, and constantly increasing) will appreciate the humor of this.

Brad DeLong ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2004, 09:18 PM:

>>By the way, are there any good references describing/debunking Social Credit?

Social Credit.... Every year, as the economy expands, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing prints up a huge honking mass of dollar bills and the Federal Reserve buys bonds and credits banks with reserve deposits at their local Feds. This supply of purchasing power is created literally out of nothing. (In the real old days, we'd have had to employ a bunch of miners to dig gold and a bunch of stampers to stamp the gold coins, but we're not on a gold standard anymore.)

Who gets this extra supply of $$$$ created out of nothing? Under our system, the government does--and as a result our collective taxes are lower by some... $50 billion in 2002 (I don't have the 2003 number handy). That's about $800 per household per year.

"Social Credit" would hand out this "seigniorage" directly to families, in $800 a year lots (and would make some changes in the banking system that Crediteers hope would boost the annual amount that could be handed out), rather than letting the government snarf the purchasing power itself.

Likely net effect? In a year the average household pays $800 more in taxes (because the government cannot draw on the seigniorage, and has to tax or borrow to pay its bills), and receives 8 crisp new $100 bills...

adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2004, 10:50 PM:

Brad,

So we'd get the $800 bucks without interest until tax time came? And we could (in theory) diddle the tax code so the handout/takeback had a progressive effect? That's a little gain, but not much.

Surely the social credit people had more in mind.

Brad DeLong ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2004, 11:41 PM:

>>Surely the social credit people had more in mind.

There's distributional stuff (taxes progressive, social credits egalitarian). And there are some fuzzy thoughts about how in the real world we live in the bankers--somehow--get hold of the lion's share of the seigniorage.

But I've always thought that the bottom line is that the Social Credit people were... confused. The same way someone is confused who, I don't know, thinks a bottom-up anarchy resolves itself into a polite, libertarian society, rather than into something like the sixteenth-century Scottish Highlands--where everyone is either a clan member to be aided, a clan enemy to be killed, or a stranger to be robbed....

Gary Denton ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2004, 04:44 AM:

I always thought that extreme libertarians would someday see that advocating no government leads to rule by many little governments - armed mobs like in Lebanon.

I am one of those economic leftists and social libertarians who is a huge heinlein fan.

My review of For Us, the Living.

How do I like it?

Spider Robinson and John Clute rave reviews did not praise it enough!

It was not published in 1939 because of its style, although there are some clunky spots.

I think it could not be published in 1939 because of its advocacy of social changes that he could finally do starting with “Stranger in a Strange Land.” It could not be published because of it's picture of a future history so at variance with conventional wisdom and it's call for radical change in democracy, banking, sexual mores, religion, education, criminology, the right to privacy, and the list goes on.

The afterword is the first time I have seen in print anywhere some of the details it has of Heinlein's life.

The influence of the book is more seminal than Heinlein's novels in the 40's and 50's.

The basic story of the book takes place because someone in 2083 was conducting experiments in ESP for this Sanctuary Council. During this his mind leaves his body and he doesn't come back. The body is stored and in 2086 Perry Nelson, a man who dies in 1939 wakes up in this body. There is a further hint much later that Perry has moved over from an alternate world. This is directly related to Heinlein's last books involving time and dimension hoping in his "Worlds as Myth," his theory that universes are created by the act of imagining them.

John Clute says the world of science fiction and our world would be much different and better if this had been published in 1939. I would agree.

Easter Lemming Liberal News Digest
http://elemming2.blogspot.com

Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2004, 04:22 PM:

Gary Denton -- What's the hint that Perry might have moved over from an alternate world?

Gary Denton ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2004, 06:52 PM:

I don't have the book with me. It is very brief where he mentions something that was said about him being there that he didn't understand.

Jim Henry ::: (view all by) ::: January 16, 2004, 05:15 PM:

G. B. Shaw: "Pardon him, Theodotus: he is a barbarian, and thinks that the customs of his tribe and island are the laws of nature."

David Goldfarb: "I also find it mildly amusing to call C.S. Lewis a "barbarian", which by the above he certainly was -- see for instance Mere Christianity."

It's been a while since I read _Caesar and Cleopatra_ so I don't recall the exact context of the quote - Julius Caesar referring to something silly the comic-relief Briton character (whose name I forget) has said, or I miss my guess. I think you're doing C.S. Lewis an injustice; he's better than a lot of other Christian authors at distingushing between British (or European) laws and customs, and the natural moral law - see for instance the discussion on modesty vs. chastity in _Mere Christianity_, or _The Abolition of Man_, or _The Discarded Image_. Or do you fault him for believing in an objective moral law at all? If so, Heinlein is "at fault" in the same general way though in different details. My impression is that Shaw also believed in objective right and wrong, though in a somewhat different way than Lewis or Heinlein; I think he's probably talking about confusing local customs with objective moral standards, rather than poking fun at all who aren't moral relativists.

adamsj: I agree that Heinlein's fantasy is overall better than his sf, though _The Moon is a Harsh Mistress_ is still his best single work.

I still haven't read _Friday_ - what I had heard about it was unfavorable, and the few Heinlein novels from that period I've read (_I will Fear No Evil_, _Farnham's Freehold_, _The Cat Who Walks Through Walls_) were so disappointing that I haven't bothered to read the other late novels yet. Comments on this thread have intrigued me, somewhat, but maybe not enough to rush out and read _Friday_.

CHip ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2004, 12:47 AM:

Jim: Theodotus was objecting to the common Egyptian custom of royal siblings marrying, which some large fraction of societies believe immoral. I'm not convinced Shaw believed in a "moral order", even if he mostly attacked the sacred cows tended by his local audience. I would be interested to see documentation on any clash between him and Lewis -- it's one of those things that would have been fascinating to watch from a safe distance.

David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2004, 05:33 AM:

I don't believe in a single natural moral law ordained by God (in whom I don't believe) and written on everyone's heart, no. Also it seems quite obvious to me that the "moral law" C.S. Lewis described was fabricated by him out of his own tastes and desires, which were closely shaped by his society's laws and customs.

Jim Henry ::: (view all by) ::: January 19, 2004, 05:54 PM:

I don't know Shaw or his works well enough to say that he belived in the natural moral law; my guess is that he didn't, not in the sense that Lewis and most other Christians do. But I think I can say he did believe in objective right and wrong. I base that on a (not very recent, I'm afraid) reading of several of his plays, especially _Mrs. Warren's Profession_ and _Widower's Houses_. Shaw expresses moral indignation at the mistreatment of the poor by the rich, and at the way people are content to villify the women who work in or operate bordellos while ignoring those whose unjust practices make prostitution seem like the only available option for some poor women.

Similarly, Heinlein expresses real moral indignation at injustice in many of his works. "Logic of Empire" was mentioned several times in this thread; colonial exploitation in _The Moon is a Harsh Mistress_, police brutality in _Between Planets_, slavery in _Citizen of the Galaxy_ also spring to mind in this context.

Seemingly neither Heinlein nor Shaw had the same epistemological basis for believing in right and wrong that Lewis had. I don't know enough to say what that basis was, in either case, except that neither of them is either Christian or materialist; they both seem to be some kind of supernaturalist not affiliated with a particular religion. I would be grateful if someone more familiar with Heinlein's (or Shaw's) nonfiction writing would comment on this.

Probably Lewis's tastes and desires were to a large extent shaped by his society's laws and customs. But I don't understand why it's so obvious to you that he made up the moral law to suit his tastes and desires. It's not obvious to me. Have you read his other nonfiction works besides _Mere Christianity_? Or other Christian philosophers and theologians besides Lewis (who was mainly a popularizer of moral theology)? It seems to me that he deliberately tried to leave out of _Mere Christianity_ whatever in his personal beliefs was not common to most or all other Christians.

Shaw, and Heinlein in quoting him, were, it seems, saying one of two things:

"The barbarian says X is morally wrong. In fact X is not morally wrong, but the barbarian thinks so because it is contrary to his tribe's customs, which he conflates with objective right and wrong."

or,

"The barbarian says X is morally wrong. We can translate this seemingly meaningless utterance as 'X is contrary to my tribe's customs', or 'I dislike X'."

(where X = royal incest in _Caesar and Cleopatra_, or some other controversial practice in _Glory Road_)

My argument is that Shaw and Heinlein probably did not intend the epigram in the second sense, because they seem (as evidenced by various other works) to believe in objective right and wrong. They would disagree with Lewis (and probably each other) about whether certain practices are right or wrong, and about why they are right or wrong; but all three of them are light-kalpas away from a moral relativist would would interpret the Shaw epigram in the second sense, denying that "right" and "wrong" mean anything objective.

(Lewis, in talking about British people who react to scanty dress as though it were as objectively wrong as fornication or adultery, might express himself very similarly to Shaw. I am quoting approximately from memory here - "A Victorian lady covered up in clothes, and a South Seas island girl wearing hardly any clothes, may be equally chaste or equally unchaste for all we can tell by their dress.")

adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: January 19, 2004, 10:24 PM:

One should note that Widower's Houses and Mrs. Warren's Profession are two of Shaw's very earliest works. I'm a fan, but haven't read them, and I understand critics don't think them typical of Shaw's work. Of course, one could say the same of Beyond This Horizon, which I think is one of Heinlein's best novels, so take it with a grain of salt.

Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: January 20, 2004, 11:35 AM:

Jim Henry: "Lewis, in talking about British people who react to scanty dress as though it were as objectively wrong as fornication or adultery, might express himself very similarly to Shaw. I am quoting approximately from memory here - "A Victorian lady covered up in clothes, and a South Seas island girl wearing hardly any clothes, may be equally chaste or equally unchaste for all we can tell by their dress."

That was a theme in Heinlein's later works: that a woman could be a sexually promiscuous as she wished, without drawing down the disapproval of the community, if she simply took pains to behave in public like a modest woman, and that she should start by dressing modestly.

Charlie Martin ::: (view all by) ::: January 25, 2004, 10:50 PM:

I don' know if anyone's following this at this point -- I had to get Kevin's help to find the thread again. But a couple fo things seem to beg reply:

First, re Wobblies, history of the: Whoops. I stand by the notion that Heinlein was reacting to the idea of the desirability of central control.

Brad: You should try reading Heinlein's Starship Troopers some time. Good book. Heinlein's heirs should sue whoever published the one you're describing.

adamsj: Thanks for the kind words. I agree with you that Heinlein's literary aspirations were much greater than he ever admitted to -- as you say, he's clearly well read and conversant with things that don't fit the purely venal motives he always claimed.

On the mathematics, well, maybe it is what happens to an "engineering" mind -- Heinlein was not, as I understand it, notably successful as a math grad student. (Nor would I be -- I'm a computer scientist with some pretention of being a logician.) But the notion of a line within a plane etc seems to makke sense to me -- consider, say, a trajectory in an abstract phase space of many dimensions in which for some reason the trajectory always embeds itself in a subspace of many-minus-n dimensions.

Sadly, I think we'd consider the Astounding audience a "juvenile" one -- fiction in Campbell's Astounding had to be acceptable for what we'd consider a juvenile audeince; even Argosy and True, which were supposed to be much racier, were pretty darn mild.

I'd guess that Heinlein was very much aware of having to live within those restrictions, considering "The Man Who Sold The Moon" -- there's one spot in which a broadcasting executive explicitly is looking for a way out of censorship: "it's like telling a grown man to live on skim milk because a baby can't eat steak."

Kevin: Someone already pointed out that the long jumps in Heinlein's MI suits are rocket-assisted, but I don't think your mechanical assumptions are good even without (although without the rockets the miles-long jumps would be hard to accept for other reasons.) But biomechanically, when someone jumps they use the articulation and elasticity of the whole system of the legs to absorb the landing shock (try jumping and landing stiff-legged sometime, but don't do it from any height, because you'll break something and I don't want that on my conscience.) The suit articulation would necessarily have to do the same, but it would have to do the same even to handle running, which is after all a series of small jumps.

Seems like there ought to be something ellse ... oh, yeah: Brett, just saw your picture in Locus. I think you should look into a side career as a Carl Sagan impersonator -- you look even more like him now that you did in Durham.

Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2004, 04:36 PM:

Did Science Fiction affect the real space program? Ray Bradbury, interviewed on Fox 6 Feb 2004 says:

Q: To what extent do you think science fiction writers like you and other greats have encouraged space exploration?

Bradbury: Oh, yes, indeed, of course we have. We didnít intend to, but thatís the way it worked out. In small groups of science fiction fans and writers back in 1937, we used to have meetings in Clifton's Cafeteria in downtown L.A. And the students from Cal Tech used to come. They were planning to form rocket societies and dream about going to the moon. So the very first experiments with building rockets and firing them off were carried out by students at Cal Tech in 1937, '38 and '39. And later these people put together these jet propulsion labs in Pasadena and wound up sending aircraft and spacecraft to the moon. So it all began very primitively with love. The important thing is to be in love with something.

Bradbury on Fox

Geo Rule ::: (view all by) ::: July 04, 2004, 02:46 AM:

Gee, only 6 months late to the party. So nobody'll see it. Ah well.

Re: Heinlein and the space programme. Seems to me this breaks down two ways: direct influence on the individuals involved, and indirect influence through preparing the popular culture (and thus making the political support possible).

Someone up above said RAH didn't have a lot of direct influence on the first generation, and probably that's true. I would argue for the indirect influence --an enabling influence-- of the second kind above.

A few pages:

Bottom left here: http://www.heinleinsociety.org/links.html which has about 20 RAH mentions on NASA pages.

Right side of this page here: http://www.heinleinprize.com/rah/onspace.htm

History of the Space Frontier Foundation here: http://www.space-frontier.org/History/

A recent winner of the National Space Society's "Robert A. Heinlein Award" here: http://www.nss.org/news/heinlein2002.html

Peter Diamandis, Ansari X-Prize founder, reports that he's personally given away about 200 copies of "The Man Who Sold the Moon". Diamandis will be part of the next Heinlein Readers Group chat next week.

John Carmack, Gaming Ghod, and Armadillo Aerospace principal is also a RAH guy.

I would absolutely agree that the evidence is way too anecdotal, and spread out. It would be lovely if someone would collect it all in one place. There is an Italian doctorate candidate right now who is trying to do that. I suggested to her she put together a questionaire and get NASA to allow her to use it with their folks. I know she has an interview with someone from NASA soon. Don't know if it will go anywhere, but it would be nice.

Best. Geo
The Heinlein Society
www.heinleinsociety.org

Geo Rule ::: (view all by) ::: July 04, 2004, 02:54 AM:

Oh, one more thing. . .the DVD of Destination Moon has a very cool extra. A special that a local LA TV station did on the set, including RAH getting his nickel in here and there. There he was in 1950 (uh, '49?) cheerfully telling the TV reporter that *of course* we really were going to the moon, and it really wasn't all that big a challenge at that point. All the tough stuff had already been worked out.

That is so "big picture" Heinlein. Once the conceptual challenges are understood there is nothing left but skull sweat and skinned knuckles in the way --just gotta want it.