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"Maybe the hardest job of all—particularly when you have no talent for it": Heinlein's fictional parents, 1939-1987

McGiveron, Rafeeq O.

University of Texas at Brownsville

Permission for this article to appear here has been non-exclusively licensed
from The University of Texas through June of 2007

Originally published in Extrapolation, 2003

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* In Robert A. Heinlein's Have Space Suit—Will Travel (1958) a high school social studies class trying to formulate "an ideal family organization" decides that a family should be democratically governed by a "family council" that would give each child an allowance and his or her own room. After some subtle prodding from his father, even the teenaged narrator finally realizes that this airy investigation into parenting is mere "twaddle": "What did those kids know about running a family? Or Miss Finchley? —unmarried and no kids... [H]ow about the Quinlan family, nine kids in a five-room house? Let's not be foolish" (9-12). The situation is very amusing at — least to adult readers—and it is doubly ironic, I think, because while Heinlein himself may have had no children, the child of small-town Missouri indeed has plenty to say about parenting, not only in his early stories and juvenile novels but also in his later, clearly adult novels as well.

In Tunnel in the Sky (1955) an adult sibling tells her younger brother most clearly that "it is hard work to be a parent, maybe the hardest job of all— particularly when you have no talent for it, which Dad hasn't" (29). Heinlein is right, of course, and throughout his career he illustrates both the perils and the potentials of parenting with three main types of parents: the complacent "nonsurvival" types who hinder maturation and who thus must be left behind so that youngsters can grow and learn; the intelligent, supportive types—including uncle-figures—whose examples and teachings encourage responsible maturity; and, occasionally in some of the later works, the types whose parenting fosters a cloyingly incestuous atmosphere. Though Heinlein's treatment of incest may validate behaviors that are at best unwise, his portrayals of parents across almost half a century of science fiction otherwise are useful. Heinlein reminds us that to raise wise and capable children we must have both the intellectual resources to guide and support them and the moral strength to encourage them toward ever greater responsibility.

Heinlein holds up for ridicule many parents of the complacent "non-survival" type: dithering mothers upset by the harsh realities of life, and pompous fathers whose authority is not really grounded in the common sense and intellect it should be. Rather than encouraging the intellectual and moral growth of their children, these parents hinder by coddling them, stifling their creativity, or depriving them of the intellectual resources needed to face the world. As George Edgar Slusser puts it, "Heinlein's stereotypes" include "the henpecked husband; the weak-willed, fuzzy-brained, hysterical wife...;" and the product of their ineptitude, "the impossible brat" (Classic 20). Though such foils occur through the juvenile novels and beyond, early magazine stories provide some of the most harshly drawn examples.

"'We Also Walk Dogs'" (1941) opens with the description of "a dowager, fat and fretful, overdressed and underexercised," who believes in "keeping her son safely under thumb" (Past 319-20). The "stupidity, lack of resourcefulness, and laziness of persons like this silly parasite," the narration reminds us mercilessly, keep the great odd-jobs corporation of General Services in business; such parental failings also condemn her hapless son to a life as "a slightly shopworn Peter Pan" (Past 3 19-20). The self-important Judge Schacht of "Space Jockey" (1947) is a similar coddling parent. Though his son is an obnoxious brat who causes a potentially dangerous accident by playing with the controls of a spaceship in flight, "the process he call[s] 'making up his mind"' keeps the man from recognizing this, let alone adequately guiding or disciplining the boy (Past 324-26). The daughter of the inane Mrs. Appleby of "'It's Great to be Back!"' (1947) "takes after her father" in scientific ability, yet this is certainly from no encouragement of her ignorant mother. We may get the impression that this daughter's emigration to Luna City has been driven both by attraction to the colony's scientific opportunities and by repulsion from a mother who admits helplessly, "I don't pretend to understand all these things... All those atoms and neuters and things floating around in the air" (309).

The young narrator of "The Black Pits of Luna" (1948), the older of two boys, innocently describes coddling parents who apparently think nothing of abnegating their authority, tacitly turning over control to the youngest and least able member of the family: "The runt can always get Mother running around in circles. Mother has the same effect on Dad. He gets red in the face and ends up laying down the law to me" (Past 290). Because "Mother always objects and then gives in," the narrator concludes, "I suppose women just don't have any force of character" (Past 289). At least in regard to his mother—"one of those hopelessly frivolous Heinlein females" (Slusser, Classic 14)—he is correct. She is of the swooning "Oh, dear!" type and refers to her younger son as "Baby Darling" and to herself in the third person as "Mother Dear." Her negligence in losing her pampered Baby Darling during a spacesuited walk on the Moon forces the older son into a guilt he should not have to feel: "I shouldn't have depended on Mother to look out for him; she's no good at that sort of thing. She's the kind of person that would mislay her head if it wasn't knotted on tight—the ornamental sort. Mother's good, you understand, but she's not practical" (Past 296-97). With a headache-prone mother who knows no better than to ask about the possibility of using bloodhounds in vacuum (Past 297) and a father who would rather bull through with a mistake than admit his error (Past 291), it is no wonder that Baby Darling is a whining tyrant. Such non-survival types, an old Moon hand tells them at the end of the story, "don't belong here. You're not the pioneer type" (Past 2100). The resourceful narrator is different, but it seems only Heinlein's goodwill—and not any skill of the parents—that has made him so.

When Matt Dodson, the protagonist of Space Cadet (1948), returns home on leave from his training in the Interplanetary Patrol, he is dismayed to find that "little Mattie didn't live there anymore!" (124). The problem is not simply his younger brother's appropriation of his old room, the superficiality of his family's interest in his schooling, and the drifting away of the closest thing he had to a girlfriend; it also includes the knowledge that he has outgrown his stiflingly complacent parents. His mother and father understand neither the scientific underpinnings of his new profession nor, worse, the intellectual and moral underpinnings. When treated to an explanation of how the cadet helps inspect the Patrol's orbiting nuclear "prowler bombs," Matt's foolish mother is "horrified": "She spoke directly to her husband as if she expected him to do something about it. 'John.... I don't like this. I don't like it, do you hear? What if it should fall?"' (119). As Matt's fairly annoying little brother chortles, "Mother doesn't even know what holds the Moon up!" (120). Yet the father seems ignorant of the basic physics of space flight as well, for he imagines that to inspect the Patrol's deterrent bombs in their overlapping polar orbits a ship in an equatorial orbit "could just wait for the bomb rockets to come past" (118).

The conversation keeps returning to the subject of the strategic bombing that would be used "in case anybody started acting up" (122), and Matt's father attempts to calm his wife not by realistically discussing the politics but by trying to bully Matt into saying that the Patrol is merely the puppet of the North American Union: "after all, it's our Patrol. For all practical purposes the other nations don't count" (122). When the youngster disgustedly contradicts him, the man can do nothing but sputter, "What? What's that, young man!" (122). Later, alone with Matt, he halfheartedly apologizes, "Your mother, you know. I try to protect her. Women get worked up so easily" (100). Unlike his hindering parents, however, Matt knows that the heroes of "the proud Tradition" of the Patrol (100) struggled and died for more than narrow nationalism. His parents may try to "protect" themselves by refusing to see past their own noses, but he has grown beyond such complacency into the clear-eyed responsibility of the competent adult. Matt abandons his half-thought-out desire to resign from the challenges of the Patrol, and he returns to space with renewed vigor.

Starman Jones (1953) presents what is perhaps Heinlein's least likeable or amusing parent. Max Jones apparently once had intelligent and loving parents, but after the death of his mother and then his father, he is left with "Maw," a lazy, simpering stepmother who puts her own pleasures ahead of her familial responsibilities. According to Max, "you couldn't argue with Maw—what she didn't like she just didn't hear" (11). Such an intellect cannot resist watching "slobbering stereovision serials" (11), eating "that ice cream in the freezer, left over from Solar Union Day" (14), taking "snooping tours" of the shack so that she can squander the money Max tries to save for them (19), or accepting marriage from a conniving hillbilly who has never done "any honest work" (1l). (1) Maw has neither the intellectual background nor the moral strength to raise a child, and only with Max's escape from such a hindering step-parent—and with the replacement of his late uncle by a roguish yet avuncular new friend—can he sign on as crewman aboard a starship, an environment that supports and yet challenges him.

The Star Beast (1954) gives us a hindering parent who at least is rather more amusing. Though Diane Parkin-Speer somehow finds what she correctly terms the "overprotective" mother of John Thomas Stuart XI to be "portrayed sympathetically" ("Feminist" 114), I consider the woman fairly unlikable; she is one of Heinlein's stereotypical empty-headed dowagers, ignorant and smothering. Mrs. Stuart "make[s] it a rule never to pay attention to politics" (207) and knows so little about the natural sciences that to a reference about flat-worms she can reply, "I have never taken any interest in xenobiology..." (217). She annoyingly refers to herself in the third person, annoyingly knits her son wool socks that he does not like (121-22), and annoyingly claims that "all Mum ever thinks about [is] what's best for her big boy" (131). She has tried to ingrain in her teenaged son "a life-long habit of getting along with his mother, deferring to her, obeying her" (120). Such a woman, who "believe[s] that there should be no secrets between parents and children" and who often "tidies" his room in order to snoop (133), does not have the intelligence to guide her son when necessary or the common sense to encourage his responsibility as he matures. In order to grow, the young man must leave her behind, and with his new wife and new job of ambassador to "the matriarchy of the Seven Suns," he must voyage to the stars (253).

In Tunnel in the Sky (1955) Rod Walker's parents at least are not ignorant, but they still try to prevent his growth to responsible maturity. Just as in Space Cadet, it seems that this family's worst reproach is "You've upset your mother" (25). Though Rod's parents had agreed to let him take in high school an advanced survival course required in college for anyone planning for a career among the myriad worlds made accessible by overpopulated Earth's transdimensional gates, they quail at letting him take the final exam, a solo survival test which for the unwary or the unlucky very well may be fatal. "You are too young," Rod's father tells him flatly (26). Rod does take his test, of course, but he and his fellow students are stranded for two years on an untamed planet. By the end of the book, therefore, Rod has learned the survival skills of the wilderness and those of human society. Yet when he returns, his father, handicapped both by recovery from illness and by his original stifling paternalism, refuses to u nderstand that Rod now is capable of adult responsibilities. He disapproves of any chance that Rod might be interested in one of the "good-natured" but "strong and fast and incredibly violent" women he came to know during his accidental exile (211-12), and despite the fact that Rod will be a legal adult in less than a year, the man still tells the seasoned pioneer, "I hardly think I want you to live away from home while at college" (212). When Rod reminds his father "proudly" that he was mayor of his colony, the latter can say merely, "Possibly you need, eh—medical help" (213). Rod's controlling father and his weeping mother may believe they act from the best of motives, but Heinlein shows that the only way the young man can become a responsible adult is to grow beyond them, following the examples of his sister and of his crusty teacher by "head[ing] out on his long road" to the stars (214).

Juan Rico's parents in Starship Troopers (1959) are similarly stifling, for they are wealthy and pampering. "Johnnie" has the type of mother who uses a "not-angry-but-terribly-terribly-hurt routine" to get her way (33). Even when she writes to him in the military she still calls him her "darling baby" and smotheringly tries to keep him from growing up: "Wherever you are, whatever you choose to do, you are always my little boy who bangs his knee and comes running to my lap for comfort.... Little boys never get over needing their mother's [sic] laps—do they, darling? I hope not" (71-72). His father is less grotesque but still is presented as an obstacle to maturity. Johnnie's first thoughts about joining the Federal Service are not really well thought out, yet rather than carefully discuss the matter, the smug businessman gives a pompous lecture about the "normal stages" of adolescence and a disparaging lecture about the military: "Parasitism, pure and simple." He sketches out the alternative of an expensive e ducation at the Sorbonne and a quick rise through the family business, throwing in a vacation to Mars that even the teenager recognizes as a bribe (22-24). Toward the end of the book, of course, Johnnie's father realizes he is "Not just a producing-consuming animal... but a man" (136), and after the death of his wife in an enemy attack he takes responsibility and enlists, too. At the novel's beginning, however, for Johnnie to grow into adulthood he must leave behind his apolitical, coddling parents and follow the example of the pragmatic yet ultimately avuncular instructor of his high school course in "History and Moral Philosophy."

Perhaps Heinlein's most subtle failure of parenting occurs in Podkayne of Mars (1963), wherein, instead of narrow-minded coddlers, Heinlein gives what for him is an unusual example of parental intellect run selfishly amok. Podkayne's mother is a decorated "Master Engineer, Surface or Free Fall" (7), while her father is a prestigious historian (8). As Diane Parkin-Speer notes, "In a reversal of a common stereotype, Mrs. Fries is the logical, unemotional part of the couple and Mr. Fries is... the romantic, sentimental one" ("Feminist" 16). Certainly this would seem to give Poddy and her brother Clark—and, later, the frozen embryos which the busy couple will thaw and raise—great intellectual advantages. Indeed, the precocious eleven-year-old Clark is already an expert at chemistry and electronics.

As Panshin reminds us, however, Clark also "is totally asocial and has an insatiable desire for masses of money, an obvious love substitute" (105). Despite a few places in which his mischievousness comes in handy—dyeing racists peculiar colors (76-78) and "snapp[ing]" the neck of an old-lady villain (156), for example—he is otherwise an unlovable little sneak who enjoys tormenting his fairly unoffending older sister. It is not enough to write, as ParkinSpeer does, that the novel shows "Intriguing ideas of how motherhood could be delayed and combined with a career if reproductive technology advanced..." ("Feminist" 116), for the Fries parents neglect their familial responsibilities more than they balance them with the professional. At the very end of the book Podkayne's disconcertingly named Uncle Tom—really her great-uncle, a respected senator who fought in the Martian Revolution (8)—makes this clear by giving her father a withering half-page tirade on parenting that includes some very pointed advice: "Bu t I have a message for you, sir, one that you should pass on to your wife. Just this: people who will not take the trouble to raise children should not have them. You with your nose always in a book, your wife gallivanting off God knows where..." (159).

As Heinlein's letters show, his original ending to the manuscript drove his point home by killing off Podkayne, which he likened to Shakespeare's killing off of Romeo and Juliet:

The true tragedy in this story lies in the character of the mother, the highly successful career woman who wouldn't take time to raise her own kids—and thereby let her son grow up an infantile monster, no real part of the human race and indifferent to the wellbeing [sic] of others.. . until the death of his sister, under circumstances which lay on him a guilt he can never shake off, gives some prospect that he is now going to grow up. (Grumbles 88)

In a way, the parents who raise such a boy as Clark even in the published version of the novel are as weak-willed as Heinlein's more usual coddling parents; whereas the latter are too weak to force their children to do what is right, Mr. and Mrs. Fries are too weak to force themselves to break away from the selfish lure of their professions and do right by raising their children.

Occasionally Heinlein gives his protagonists companions or acquaintances—usually to be left behind—whose flaws clearly stem from poor parenting. (2) As early as Space Cadet, for example, Matt and his friends encounter Girard Burke, a sneering, annoying fellow candidate for the Interplanetary Patrol. When the crash of a training rocket kills eleven people, Burke is certain he knows better: "those ships can't crash, unless you crash 'em on purpose. I know—my old man builds them" (42). With a father who encourages this kind of smug blindness to the fundamental nature of reality—or the reality of Nature—it is no surprise that after Burke washes out of training he ends up in mortal danger on Venus for his high-handed, actually criminal, treatment of the natives (176-77). "[T]he Patrol was [not] invented to keep a jughead like you from paying for your fun" (178), Matt's friend tells Burke, and rather than "rescue" him, the cadets instead "arrest [him] under the colonial code titled 'Relations with Aborigines,' charges and specifications to be made known... at... arraignment and not necessarily limited to the code cited" (215).

In Red Planet (1949) the "smug" young Herbert Beecher "smirk[s]" about the harsh new disciplinary code at school, automatically parroting the ideas of his father, the paternalistic Company's "Resident Agent General" on Mars: "[M]y old man says you guys have been getting away with it for a long time. My old man says that Stoobie [the former headmaster] was too soft to put any discipline into this school. My old man says that—" (43). Such a sycophantic spoilsport has been raised by a man who thinks nothing of explaining to a crony, "'The fact is, my boy, that there are unlimited opportunities in a place such as this for a smart man, if he will just keep his eyes and ears open. Not graft, you understand.' .... 'Not graft at all. Legitimate concomitants of our office'" (68). This proponent of the "theory of 'legitimate graft'" (137) commits a host of outrages—including, essentially, murder (155-56. 169-70)—proving himself not only a hindering parent but also an unfit human being. By the end of the novel even t he usually placid but always fearsomely just Martians agree, and they use their mysterious psychic powers to "disappear" the man (181).

When Bill Lemer of Farmer in the Sky (1950) considers emigrating to the new colony on Ganymede, his "best friend, Duck Miller, [is] all excited about it and [is] determined to go, too" (19)—until Mr. Miller puts in his opinion. Like young Beecher of Red Planet, Duck Miller then parrots his "old man's" notions:

"My old man says that nobody but an utter idiot would ever think of going out to Ganymede. He says that Earth is the only planet in the system fit to live on and that if the government wasn't loaded up with a bunch of starry-eyed dreamers we would quit pouring money down a rat hole trying to turn a bunch of rocks in the sky into green pastures. He says the whole enterprise is doomed....

"[M]y old man says that it is an absolute impossibility to keep a permanent colony on Ganymede. It's a perilous toehold, artificially maintained—those are his exact words-and someday the gadgets will bust and the whole colony will be wiped out, every man jack, and then we will quit trying to go against nature." (21)

Aside from spouting terrible cliches and, like the father of Starship Troopers, trying to buy off his son with a cushy job in the family business (21), Mr. Miller obviously commits what to Heinlein is the unpardonable evolutionary mistake of misunderstanding the nature of the universe; apparently the elder Burke of Space Cadet foolishly believes the cosmos is a gentler place than it really is, and here the elder Miller believes it a harsher place than it is. Bill's father explains Heinlein's middle ground: "People have a funny habit of taking as 'natural' whatever they are used to—but there hasn't been any 'natural' environment, the way they mean it, since man climbed down from the trees" (21); "Wherever Man has mass and energy to work with and enough savvy to know how to manipulate them, he can create any environment he needs" (22).

In addition to peripheral non-survival parents clearly described or alluded to, there also exist a few cases where flawed youthful characters' parents, though not exactly discussed, nevertheless seem implied. In "Requiem" (1940), for example, when the aged entrepreneur D.D. Harriman, who years earlier financed and developed the first spaceships, begins to liquidate his vast holdings so that he may fulfill his long-delayed dream of going to the Moon himself, he is beset with legal challenges from his relatives. Though the childless widower indeed "has provided generously for his sisters and their children in times past, and... has established annuities for such near kin as are without means of support," these nieces and nephews obviously have been raised by irresponsible parents to become mere "vultures" who somehow believe that they should "be supported in unearned luxury for the rest of their lives" (Past 253). In Tunnel in the Sky Rod is faced not only with the dangers of an alien wilderness but also with the two belligerent McGowan brothers and their two cronies, who hang about the new struggling settlement and yet refuse to work for the common good (98110). Heinlein never writes about the McGowan parents, but the familial nature of the gang—two brothers, the elder of whom is like the overbearing father of the little family—should remind us that such behavior probably comes from parental role models. Similarly, the parents of the sulky redheaded girls who, "noses in the air," abruptly leave an informational meeting about the interstellar expedition in Time for the Stars (1956) never actually appear in the novel; when Pat ironically quips, "There go the Pioneer Mothers," however, he implicitly reminds us of the non-survival parents who have raised girls who "would have nothing to do with anything so unladylike, so rude and crude, as exploring space" (35). In Have Space Suit—Will Travel (1958) Kip Russell's boss at the soda fountain, Mr. Charton, is correct to wonder, "To what extent civilization is retarded by the laughing jack-asses, the empty-headed belittlers" (39). When Kip labels "an oaf called 'Ace' Quiggle" as "an over-age juvenile delinquent" (18-19), then, he by elision reminds us that when Ace really was a juvenile, such damaging behaviors indeed were partially the fault of the parent who should have known better.

Despite Heinlein's use of weak-willed, non-survival-type parents as foils to growing young adults, here and there he does show us supportive parents—and uncle-figures—whose examples and teachings help foster responsible maturity. Often, though not always, such parents are highly trained yet well rounded scientists; often, though not always, such uncle-figures are commonsensical and easygoing soldiers experienced in the ways of the world. Interestingly enough, however, in Heinlein's first novel the supportive parents are for the most part just average people. (3)

In Rocket Ship Galileo (1947) a young atomic scientist who worked on the Manhattan Project now must convince the widowed mother of his nephew and the parents of the boy's two best friends to let them accompany him on a dangerous first expedition to the Moon. Cargraves' sister, whose husband would not "knuckle under to the Nazis," at first simply maintains, "I can't let him go.... He's all I've got" (34). The scientist convinces her, however, by reminding her of her duty as an American—and, indeed, her duty as a responsible, thinking human being: "We have a tradition of freedom, personal freedom, scientific freedom. That freedom isn't kept alive by caution and unwillingness to take risks. If Hans were alive he would be going with me—you know that, Sis. You owe it to his son not to keep him caged" (35). Against such noble reasoning she can make no objection, and she finally tells her son with wonderfully ironic blandness, "You be a good boy on the moon, Arthur" (35).

Morrie Abrams' father, who "rule[s] a large and noisy, children-cluttered household by combining a loud voice with lavish affection" (16), is not fond of the scheme and urges the teenager at least to take another week to make up his mind. He wisely knows, however, that the decision really must be for young man to make: "It has been quite a while since you stood up before the congregation and made your speech, 'Today I am a man—' That meant you were a man, Maurice, right at that moment. It's not for me to let you; it's for me to advise you. I advise you not to. I think it's foolishness" (36). The older man has his own opinion, certainly, but he will not turn that opinion into fiat; he encourages healthy adult responsibility in his son and does not forbid the boy to go to the Moon.

Ross Jenkins' father at first might appear to stand in the way even less, for he is a "retired electrical engineer, even-tempered and taciturn" (16), who "know[s] what [he's] talking about" (37). Yet though he is sympathetic enough to the project that he offers to hire Cargraves an engineering team and a rocket crew to replace the boys (39), he at first will not let his son go. His objection is not the danger, he assures Cargraves—"I let him take flying lessons"—but the delay it will cause in Ross's education: "Ross is scheduled to start in at the Technical Institute this fall. I think it's far more important for him to get a sound basic education than for him to be the first man on the moon" (40). In a nice twist, however, it is the boy's mother, who has worked silently at her knitting through a full five pages of text, who makes the right decision:

"Let him go, Albert!....[L]et the boy go to the moon, if he can. "I know what I said, and you've put up a good argument for me. But I've listened and learned.....I was wrong. We can't expect to keep them in the nest.

"[A] mother is bound to cry a little. Just the same, this country was not built by people who were afraid to go. Ross's great-great-grandfather crossed the mountains in a Conestoga and homesteaded this place. He was nineteen, his bride was seventeen. It's a matter of family record that the parents opposed the move." She stirred suddenly and one of her knitting needles broke. "I would hate to think that I had let the blood run thin." (42)

Whereas Ross's self-satisfied father thinks only of the picayune matters of what semester his son begins college, in this characteristically Heinleinian treatise on responsibility and initiative Ross's mother looks from the past to the future, from the individual to the species.

Unlike some of the later juveniles such as, say, Space Cadet (1948) or Citizen of the Galaxy (1957), the boys of Rocket Ship Galileo do not quite reach the full responsibilities of adulthood during their tale. Instead, though the youngsters have left behind the parents who finally support and encourage them, they still need the avuncular guidance of Doc Cargraves. The first—and most staid—of a series of uncle-figures that includes the experienced and easygoing soldiers of Starman Jones (1953), Tunnel in the Sky (1955), and Time for the Stars (1956), Cargraves is also one of the most educated. Though Art, Morrie, and Ross are thoughtful and well-meaning young men, they still need more experience and more education before they can act alone. Thus Cargraves enforces study time and tutors the boys in science throughout the project, and because he knows that "There will be times when... lives may depend on instant obedience," he insists that the boys "have to be willing to obey, and do it wholeheartedly and with out argument" (53). Yet there are also times, however, when he wisely "refrain[s] from offering any advice" (72) and thereby encourages the responsibility they will need to carry out their expedition and, indeed, to carry on in life.

In Red Planet when the teenaged Jim Marlowe and Frank Sutton discover a plot to undermine the freedom of the colonists of Mars, it is only with their courage, resourcefulness, and responsibility that they can make their way across the frigid Martian deserts to warn their parents, who eventually lead a revolution against the remote and disdainfully paternalistic "Company." Unsurprisingly, these parents have supported the boys and challenged them to greater responsibility throughout the novel. Although when Jim begins to sense a threat in the tyrannical new headmaster of his school, his first thought is "I'm going to tell my father about this" (58); Heinlein of course makes this impossible. According to Jim, "He always told me to stand up for my rights" (44)—or, in other words, fulfill his responsibility for maintaining what is right—and throughout the book the boy does this.

Perhaps the most visible sign of the responsibility of young adults is the colonial custom of wearing sidearms. Armed against the possibility of encountering a deadly Martian "water-seeker" with its "great scimitar claw[s]" (100), a colonist must be responsible not only to protect himself but also to avoid both hotheadedness and accidents. Jim is "proud of being a licensed gun-wearer," (4) for "it means [he is] a responsible, trusted adult" (16), and when the headmaster of Jim and Frank's school orders all guns locked up, Jim bridles: "I'm not going to give up my gun. Anyhow, I'm licensed and I don't have to. I'm a qualified marksman, I've passed the psycho tests, and I've taken the oath; I'm... entitled to wear a gun..." (55). The gruff Dr. MacRae, whom H. Bruce Franklin correctly terms "a warm-hearted old curmudgeon serving as the author's mouthpiece" (78), believes that "any man old enough to fight is a man and must be treated as such" (153). Though the boys' parents never voice their sentiments quite so strongly—or simplistically—their beliefs obviously are similar, when thinking about the possibility of having to give up his weapon, Jim knows, "Dad wouldn't want me to. I'm sure of that" (55).

According to MacRae, "Twenty-five may be the right age for citizenship in a moribund, age-ridden society back on Earth," but the "frontier society" of Mars has different needs (153-54). Indeed, in this book the teenaged protagonists are responsible young men who, as David N. Samuelson reminds us, "are crucial not only to the revolution, which they set off..., but also to good relations with the natives, whose mental powers are considerable" (100). Until the Company is thwarted, however, such young adults are second-class citizens because of their age, regardless of their intellectual and moral merits. Commonsensically enough, then, though their parents encourage responsibility and independence, when Jim and Frank are wanted by the Company police on trumped-up charges, the adults provide the shelter and support that the youngsters still need by refusing to surrender them to the corrupt authorities.

In Farmer in the Sky Bill Lerner's widowed father is a levelheaded engineer who understands both the dangers and the potentials of the Ganymede colony to which he plans to emigrate. Although George at first is reluctant to let his son accompany him and his new wife and stepdaughter to Ganymede before the boy's education is finished, the two have considered themselves "partners" since Bill's mother died (13); Bill's father thus has encouraged in the boy a growing sense of responsible independence that he cannot deny. On the trip out to Jupiter, Bill proves himself by cool-headedly stopping a potentially disastrous leak from a meteor, earning not only a public commendation but the quiet admiration of the ship's distinguished captain: "That really was a slick piece of work. .... You have a right to feel proud" (83-84). Despite some early inconsistencies of characterization, (5) it is Bill's father who has encouraged the young man on his journey to adulthood.

On Ganymede Bill is hard-working and responsible, and in addition to the advice of his father, Bill also receives guidance from his avuncular neighbor, Johann Schultz. The practical Papa Schultz, who has grown the first tree on Ganymede (133), knows the best place to build one's house (132-33), teaches Bill about farming (136-37), and often sends his sons to help the young man (146, 179). The resourceful Schultzes, Bill's father tells him, "are survivor types" (180), and with the advice and support of the avuncular Papa Schultz, Bill grows into an able, self-sufficient young man. Even after two-thirds of the colonists are killed when a heavy quake temporarily knocks out the heat trap that produces the necessary artificial greenhouse effect, Bill refuses to give up. Rather than joining the non-survival "lugs" running back to Earth, Bill vows, "... I'm not going home, if I ever do, until I've licked this joint" (183).

When in Between Planets (1951) the Venus colonials revolt against the oppressive Federation of Earth, it is only with the determination and responsibility his parents have helped foster that Don Harvey can surmount the new challenges of interplanetary intrigue and war. Though Don technically is a citizen of both planets, overnight he is considered "potentially disloyal" (41), and when his parents try to recall him from his Terran boarding school to neutral Mars on the eve of war, he "[feels] lonely and suddenly older than he should feel" (10). Don's parents, however, well-traveled scientists who "have pursued their researches in planetology in many sectors of the Solar System" (10), have raised him not to shrink from such challenges; as a Martian reminds him later, "'A tall father casts a long shadow'" (148). "Your father," an old family friend assures him, "is a great man, Donald—and so is your mother. When I speak of either one I really mean the team" (22). The pair encourages independent thought and responsibility by sending him a banned book of political and economic theory, "caution[ing] him not to let it be seen" (10). They also trust his capabilities enough to use him as a secret courier of crucial scientific information that will bring victory to "The Organization," a cabal of scientists and others who "belie[ve] in the dignity and natural worth of free intelligence" (153).

On the night before he must leave Earth alone, Don visits Dr. Jefferson, a friend of his parents, who gives him an avuncular send-off. Jefferson surprises the youngster by offering him alcohol (22, 24) and taking him to a nightclub—"You are man high and a taste of the fleshpots wouldn't do you any permanent harm" (24)—where they discuss the scantily clad showgirls in a way that makes the young man "[smile] and fe[el] worldly" (29). Such outward demonstrations of adulthood, of course, merely reflect the deeper adult responsibilities he soon must assume. Like Don's parents, Jefferson is a member of the Organization, and he needs Don's help; when Don admits that he is not quite sure of his "political convictions," Jefferson asks, "would you be willing to string along with your parents for the time being? Until you form your own?" (33). It is significant that even when so much depends on Don's cooperation, Jefferson asks rather than trying to order, and he admits that the responsibility ultimately belongs to th e young man. (6)

Don does "string along," but eventually he takes the responsibility of forming his own convictions and acting upon them as well. In an important scene Don, now a combat-hardened soldier, must decide whether to trust those purporting to be colleagues of his parents. An ancient Venusian "dragon" who has befriended Don asks him earnestly, "Donald, my dear boy, how can I assure you that what we ask of you is what your honored parents would have you do, were they here to instruct you?" Don's reply is telling: "...I'm not your 'dear boy.' I'm not anybody's 'dear boy.' My parents aren't here and I'm not sure I would let them instruct me if they were. I'm a grown man now..." (156). This responsible maturity, of course, is what his parents and Dr. Jefferson have wisely encouraged.

The Puppet Masters (1951) is an interesting novel to examine in terms of parenting, for, unlike the juveniles, this book features a fully mature protagonist, a secret agent who is unsentimental and unsqueamish. Despite this, however, we come to see that the man's father, in his own distinctive way, both guides and supports his son and encourages him to greater responsibility as well. Certainly the relationship of "Sam" to his boss, "the Old Man," is a strange one; it is not until a third of the way through the book that we realize they are son and father. Despite the strange distance between these characters, the Old Man is presented as doggedly competent and well meaning:

Not that he was a soft boss. He was quite capable of saying, "Boys, we need to fertilize this oak tree. Jump in that hole at its base and I'll cover you up."

We'd have done it. Any of us would.

And the Old Man would bury us alive too, if he thought that there was as much as a fifty-three-per-cent probability that it was the Tree of Liberty he was nourishing. (7-8)

Perhaps the Old Man's "big hairless skull and his strong Roman nose [make] him look like a cross between Satan and Punch of Punch-and-Judy" (8), and perhaps he is indeed "too tough and mean to die" (175), but he does try to act from the highest of motives.

Despite his facade, the Old Man really does care for his son. When Heinlein first reveals the pair's true relationship by having Sam call the Old Man "Dad," he emphasizes the father's susceptibility to the emotions he usually appears not to feel: "I had not called him that in many years. He turned, his expression surprised and defenseless. 'Yes, son?'" (67); as Sam reminds us, "Dad and I have always managed to embarrass each other" (150). The Old Man may have helped arrange Sam's meeting and marriage with a strong-willed and intelligent woman who is "a great deal like" Sam's mother (67, 132), but he also respects his son's privacy enough to have avoided listening to his enlistment "hypno-analysis" (149-50). Moreover, though the Old Man expects orders to be followed instantly and without question, he also has been grooming Sam for ever more responsibility—not merely that of the competent adult but the even graver responsibility of the head of an intelligence agency so secret that "United Nations ha[s] never heard of [it], nor ha[s] Central Intelligence" (7). The Old Man explains, "I've never promoted you. . . because I knew that when the time came you would promote yourself. Now you've done it—by bucking my judgment on an important matter, forcing your own on me, and by being justified in the outcome" (158). When he thinks his father is dying, Sam sobs, "I can't get along without you," but the Old Man's response is firm: "His eyes opened wide. 'Yes, you can, son'" (173). The Old Man is right, for his efforts have prepared his son to accept the ultimate responsibility of "free human beings": paying "the price for freedom" by joining the twenty-five year expedition to wipe out the parasitic "slugs" of Titan (173-75).

In the rollicking The Rolling Stones (1952) the good-humored parents of "The 'Unheavenly Twins'" (10), Castor and Pollux Stone, obviously have raised their children to take responsibility and accept the challenges of adulthood. Certainly this novel's adults themselves are well-rounded and capable: Mr. Stone, the former mayor of Luna City, is an engineer and wildly successful writer of television space opera, his mother is a pistol-packing lunar pioneer, and his wife is a medical doctor. Cas and Pol may be, as their grandmother admits, "a couple of little hellions, both of them" (172), but when the eager fifteen-year-olds must be reined in, it is only because of their enthusiasm to join this adult world, never because of maliciousness or actual irresponsibility. It is the twins who on the first page of text already are planning to buy a spaceship with their own money and go to the Asteroid Belt—though their father eventually takes responsibility for the "picnic, [the] wanderjahr," by paying for it himself (57 ). It is they who plan to make money by selling bicycles and bootlegged liquor on Mars—though their father responsibly vetoes the latter (67-68). It is they who sell the cuddly yet prolific Martian "flat cats" overrunning their ship to lonely asteroid miners—though when confronted with a little girl whose father cannot afford the pet, they simply give her not only the "flat cat" but their last two candy bars as well (227). It is they who help rescue their grandmother and younger brother when the two are lost on a rocket "scooter" in the Asteroid Belt. Their father is right when, early in the novel, "with a fond smile on his face, an expression he rarely let them see," he thinks to himself, "Good boys! Thank heaven he hadn't been saddled with a couple of obedient, well-behaved little nincompoops!" (61-62). Heaven may have provided the genetic disposition, but Mr. and Mrs. Stone wisely have reinforced it with parenting that encourages initiative and responsibility.

In Starman Jones (1953) when Max escapes from "Maw" and his oppressive new stepfather, it is only with the avuncular guidance of Sam, a world-wise deserter from the Imperial Marines, that he can follow the example of his deceased biological uncle in going to space. When Max first meets Sam in the hills of the Ozarks, the latter is a hobo who "[wears] his rags with a jaunty air and handle[s] himself with a sparrow's cockiness" (26). Though he cannot resist the temptation to steal Max's identity card and his valuable astrogation books, he has enough qualms of conscience to leave a note of apology (31). When the two meet again, at bustling Earthport, Sam "[takes] hold of Max's upper arm in a gesture that [is] protective and paternal, but quite firm" and deftly keeps the boy from being picked up on a charge of vagrancy by a suspicious police officer (46). The gesture is rather symbolic, for despite his "cynical contempt of all sentimentality" (234), the rogue guides Max with the care of any father or uncle through the difficulties of breaking into the restrictive guild system of spacers, adjusting to the complex social organization of a starship, avoiding trouble in the seedy dives of the colony worlds, and staying alive on an uncharted planet. By the end of the novel Max himself is a starship captain—yet, interestingly enough, his assumption of such responsibilities occurs only after Sam dies while protecting his ward from aliens with heroic self-sacrifice, "dropping to one knee and steadying his pistol over his left forearm in precisely the form approved by the manual" (221).

When Rod of Tunnel in the Sky finds himself stifled by his parents, it is his experienced older sister Helen—"an assault captain in the Amazons" clad in chromed "dress armor and kilt and...side arms, gauntlets, and plumed helmet" (24)—who stands up for him and becomes an avuncular surrogate parent. (7) Knowing that growth comes only from challenges, she tries to convince their father to allow Rod to take his survival test; at the man's assertion that Rod is too young she replies, "[F]iddlesticks! Any girl in my company has been up against things as rough and many of them are not much older than Buddy. What are you trying to do, Pater? Break his nerve?" (26). After dinner she "make[s] palaver with folks" in a way that Rod, "feeling affronted," cannot (31). Because of illness their parents grant the young woman guardianship of Rod, and in addition to allowing him to take the dangerous field test, she is able to provide Rod the kind of advice his sheltered mother and father cannot. Moreover, though "she [finds ] with a sigh that being a 'parent' [is] not unalloyed pleasure; it [is] more like the soul-searching that had gone into her first duty as member of a court martial" (36), she overcomes her qualms and encourages him to face the challenges that will make him grow.

Though Rod at first does not realize it, he has another avuncular surrogate in Dr. Matson, the crusty instructor of his Advanced Survival course at Patrick Henry High School. The "Deacon" is the classic Heinlein teacher, "squatting tailor-fashion on one corner of his desk and holding forth informally. He was a small man and spare, with a leathery face, a patch over one eye, and most of three fingers missing from one hand. On his chest were miniature ribbons, marking service in three famous first expeditions; one carried a tiny diamond cluster that showed him to be the last living member of that group" (4). Though one student believes that Matson "would eat his own grandmother—without salt"—Rod suggests otherwise: "Oh, come now! He'd use salt" (3). The formidable "Deacon" knows that "your best weapon is between your ears and under your scalp—provided it's loaded"; his task is to produce survivors who do not "[think] of the world in terms of what it 'ought' to be, rather than what it is.... You've got to relax and roll with the punch...not get yourself all worn out with adrenaline exhaustion at the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune" (7). Rod thinks that Matson "[takes] delight in rawhiding him" (5), but it is because the older man has a quiet, paternalist concern that the boy is way too emotional, too sentimental to be a real survivor type" (8). He considers administratively dropping Rod from the course, but he admits almost in dismay, "I couldn't give a reason. On the record, you're as promising a student as I have ever had." His parting advice—"when it gets down to fundamentals, do what you have to do and shed no tears" (9)—and the advice of Helen help keep Rod alive through two grueling years in the alien wilderness.

By the end of the book, through a little authorial juggling, surrogate aunt-and uncle-figures have been married, and the Matsons help Rod acclimatize to the almost-forgotten Earth. The Deacon "chaperon[s]" him through red tape, "[sees] to it that he sign[s] no waivers" (208), and gently advises him to "sweat.. .out" the disorienting changes that his outgrowing of his parents has brought (213). Finally, when Rod's father wishes to transfer guardianship back to himself, Helen stolidly "me[ets] his eyes" and refuses to act against Rod's wishes (213); the boy is a man now, and she wisely knows that no one else can "live [his] life" (205).

The names of twins Thomas Paine Leonardo da Vinci Bartlett and Patrick Henry Michelangelo Bartlett of Time for the Stars (1956) reflect their parents' various capabilities. Dad, aside from being a specialist in "micromechanics," is interested in history, and Mother, though not the pioneer type willing to make "the High Jump" to colonize Mars or Venus or the Jovian moons, at least is interested in art (8). (8) With five children, the fairly well-rounded pair are over their "untaxed quota" of three offspring (7), but they teach their children "about the intangible benefits of being poor—learning to stand on your own feet, building character, and all that" (9). They allow Tom and Pat to raise hamsters, snakes, and silkworms, let the teenagers experiment with a chemistry lab in the bathroom, and are politely tolerant when the underage boys try to run away and join the "High Marines" (9-10). Though the telepathic twins harbor subconscious insecurities and resentment for one another—strong enough that George Edgar Slusser is correct in terming the situation a "psychological drama" (Stranger 2)—Heinlein seems to make this simply a matter of natural sibling rivalry rather than the effect of some failure of parenting. In fact, it is probably his parents' habit of encouraging responsible maturity that helps Tom withstand the pressures of a seventy-one year expedition on a starship traveling at relativistic speeds.

Tom also receives the easygoing chaperonage of his Uncle Steve, who not only helps his brother in law encourage the boys' mother to consent to letting one of them go into space but also coaches them on how to get the decision in the bag": "boys, being a staff rating, I've served with a lot of high brass. When you are right and a general is wrong, there is only one way to get him to change his mind. You shut up and don't argue. You let the facts speak for themselves and give him time to figure out a logical reason for reversing himself" (42). His advice works, of course, and after Uncle Steve wangles himself the position of "Commander of the ship's guard" (65) aboard Tom's relativistic "torchship," he acts like Sam of Starman Jones, providing sage advice and salty comments until he is killed in a valiant rearguard action against alien monsters.

In Citizen of the Galaxy (1957) Thor Rudbek—"Thorby"—has a succession of well-meaning and competent parents. Thorby's biological parents were wealthy businesspeople who came to suspect that their great interstellar corporation was involved in slave trading. It first was thought that their ship was lost in an accident, but, as an officer of the Space Guard reminds him much later, "bosses prying into their employees' sidelines have, in other times and places, burned their fingers. And your father was certainly checking" (236). Though his conscientious parents thus are dead by the time the book begins, the orphaned Thorby, sold into slavery, is purchased by Baslim the Cripple, who raises Thorby to call him "Pop," teaches him to read and write, and instills in him a sense of dignity and self-worth. Baslim is not merely a beggar, however, but a secret agent of the Space Guard's X Corps who is trying to root out the slavery that those on faraway Terra do not even realize still exists. A man who believes that "the way to find justice is to deal fairly with other people and not worry about how they deal with you" (94) and who is "explosively insulted" at the thought that Thorby is his slave rather than his son (108), Baslim gives the growing boy more and more responsibility in helping him.

Yet Thorby is still comparatively young and inexperienced, and when Baslim is captured and then suicides, the boy follows Pop's orders and is adopted by an interstellar Free Trader, the "friendly and gruffly paternal" Captain Krausa (73). Although an anthropologist studying the Free Traders suggests to Thorby that the merchants' customs and rituals bind as closely as any "slave's collar" (125-27), Krausa raises the young man as his own and encourages as much responsibility as his society will allow. Thorby's three sets of parents have guided him well, for when he finally returns to Terra as heir to the Rudbek shipbuilding concern, he knows, "A person can't run out on responsibility" (252). Even if he cannot follow the glamorous option of joining the X Corps himself, Thorby will learn to use the power of his great corporation to stamp out slavery as best he can.

When in the very third line of Have Space Suit—Will Travel (1958) Kip Russell wishes to go to the Moon, his father merely replies, "Certainly" and turns back to his reading. Pressed for a suggestion as to how, the "mildly surprised" Dr. Russell's answer is "Why, that's your problem, Clifford" (5). Though Russell, "the greatest mathematical psychologist of our time" (251), according to a colleague, believes that "a teen-ager belongs with the family" (11), he also advises, "Son, your life is yours, to do with as you wish" (11); "Find out what you want to do, then do it" (27). Thus while providing the intellectual, moral, and financial support a young adult needs, he also still encourages further independence and responsibility.

According to Russell, because "There is no such thing as luck; there is only adequate or inadequate preparation to cope with a statistical universe" (16), "A man almost always gets what he wants badly enough" (21). Though Slusser is most interested in aspects of Calvinistic "election and... destiny" (Classic 50), even he must admit, "Somehow in this novel, the contrary patterns of heroic adventure and predestination reach a moment of miraculous balance" (Classic 51-52). Here heroism seems to come not only from genetics but from the wise parenting that teaches Kip what the father of his fellow protagonist confirms at the end of the book: "'good luck' follows careful preparation; 'bad luck' comes from sloppiness" (250). When Kip wins a secondhand spacesuit in a slogan-writing contest and, later, is kidnapped by a malevolent "wormface" alien in a flying saucer, such advice from his own father has trained him to be as prepared as he can be, both technically and morally. He refurbishes the complex space gear himself and with his own money, valiantly helps his companions escape from Wormface on the Moon and again on Pluto, defends humanity in, as Alexei Pansin wryly puts it, "the Galactic Council where Earthmen Are Judged" (85), and returns as a quiet hero acknowledged only by a few.

Though Kip's scientific reasoning is strong, of course, his moral reasoning is even more important. When Kip and his fellow captive, Peewee, have a chance to escape from the alien ship on the Moon, he is "tried beyond endurance" by the girl's insistence that they stop to look for the Mother Thing, a friendly alien of a different species: "For any human being, even a stranger with halitosis, I would have done it. For a dog or a cat I would, although reluctantly" (73). Yet while Kip wonders, "But what was a bug-eyed monster to me?" (73), he does humor Peewee, and when he finds the benevolent creature, he realizes he has done the right thing. Kip knows that, "contrary to some opinions, it is better to be a dead hero than a live louse" (118).

Unlike Jock and Tim, a pair of humans who work for the wormfaces, Kip refuses to be driven by the reductive logic that claims, "a man's gotta eat, don't he?" (132). After the wormfaces with grim irony then eat Jock and Tim as soup— "bones and all," one of the fallen-out turncoats has predicted in terror (l36)—Kip feels a very slight measure of remorse over their deaths. His emotion, however, is checked by the dictates of moral logic:

But I don't hold with the idea that to understand all is to forgive all; you follow that and first thing you know you're sentimental over murderers and rapists and kidnappers and forgetting their victims. That's wrong [I]f there were some way to drown such creatures at birth, I'd take my turn as executioner. (133)

Whereas Jock and Tim think of no one but themselves, Kip knows that "'Die trying' is the proudest human thing" (237), and whether it is to protect a cat or a dog, a stranger with bad breath or the entire world, he will live up to the adult responsibilities his parents have ingrained in him.

Like Rod of Tunnel in the Sky, Johnnie Rico of Starship Troopers (1959) ends up following the example of an uncle-figure he at first did not realize he had. Though the young Johnnie believes that the "snotty, superior" (22) Mr. Dubois who teaches History and Moral Philosophy "never seemed to care whether he got through to any of [the students] or not" (24), his pragmatic message of responsibility and survival—that "The best things in life are beyond money; their price is agony and sweat and devotion..." (76)—is available to any who choose to apprehend it. When a girl claims primly, "My mother says that violence never settles anything," the one-armed veteran grimly suggests that she inform "the city fathers of Carthage" of the notion:

"[W]ouldn't you say that violence had settled their destinies rather thoroughly?.... Anyone who clings to the historically untrue—and immoral—doctrine that 'violence never settles anything' I would advise to conjure up the ghosts of Napoleon Bonaparte and the Duke of Wellington and let them debate it. The ghost of Hitler could referee, and the jury might well be the Dodo, the Great Auk, and the Passenger Pigeon. Violence, naked force, has settled more issues in history than any other factor, and the contrary opinion is wishful thinking at its worst. Breeds that forget this basic truth have always paid for it with their lives and their freedoms." (24)

Heinlein's rhetoric is harsh, but, as I have argued, it "is not a celebration of mindless expansionism but... a call to arms to those who would remain free; he espouses justifiable defense rather than rapacious offense" (54). It means nothing to Johnnie at the time, just as the basic training after enlistment seems "a bunch of crummy, vicious nonsense at the time" (46). Yet when after witnessing a sobering court-martial the demoralized recruit tells himself, "Time to get out, Johnnie, while you're still ahead" (71), it is a letter from Dubois that counters the whining letter of his mother and helps him get past the "hump." (9) Whereas Johnnie's mother cannot believe he has grown beyond "running to [her] lap" (71), Dubois' letter of "delight" and "pride" (73) recognizes him as a "comrade" (74); his mother coddles and hinders maturation, but Colonel Dubois is the surrogate uncle-figure who encourages responsible maturity.

In Stranger in a Strange Land (1961) Valentine Michael Smith, the orphaned human raised by Martians, finds a supportive and challenging surrogate parent in the crusty "Jubal E. Harshaw, LL.B., M.D., Sc.D., bon vivant, gourmet, sybarite, popular author extraordinary, and neo-pessimist philosopher" (80). Jubal's household is governed in a characteristically Heinleinan fashion; as he says, "it combines anarchy and tyranny without a trace of democracy, as in any well-run family, i.e., they are on their own except where I give orders, which orders are not subject to debate" (313). Such "tyranny," however, "never extends to love life" (313), a subject about which Jubal is broad-minded. When Mike becomes famous and receives letters containing "Proposals of marriage and propositions less formal," Jubal stubbornly refuses to shelter the inexperienced young man. Though another guest wants to keep from Mike letters containing "picture[s] which left nothing to the imagination, then stimulated fresh imaginings," the old man knows that Mike must learn about the world: "I'm going to push him out of the nest as soon as he can fly. I shan't make it possible for him to live out his life as an arrested infant" (221-22). Jubal tells Mike's fellow guest and protector that the man from Mars "must take off his shoes in a mosque, wear his hat in a synagogue, and cover his nakedness when taboo requires, or our shamans will burn him for deviationism. But, child, by the myriad aspects of Ahriman, don't brainwash him. Make sure he is cynical about it" (103). The men often discuss philosophy, religion, politics, and sex, yet Jubal consistently pushes Mike to form his own opinions rather than accept those of others.

Jubal encourages Mike's assumption of ever more responsibility in other matters than philosophy and mere social politeness, however. Though "Harshaw wishe[s] to live in lazy luxury, doing what amuse[s] Harshaw" (126), even he realizes, "There comes a time in every man's life when he has to stop being sensible—a time to stand up and be counted—strike a blow for liberty—smite the wicked" (88). Jubal "[holds] that certain feet were made for stepping on, in order to improve the breed, promote the general welfare, and minimize the ancient insolence of office" (131), and he instills his habit of responsible questioning in the young man who eventually shocks him by calling him "Father" (258). Mike comes to realize that by Martian standards, "we are diseased and crippled—the things we do to each another, the way we fail to understand each other, our almost complete failure to grok with one another, our wars and famines and cruelties" (396)—and, following the habits Jubal has instilled in him, he will take respon sibility and "give them the Truth" (408), even if it means his martyrdom.

A feisty mathematician with the curiosity to build a "continua craft" capable of traveling among the multitudinous dimensions of the multiverse, Dr. Jake Burroughs of The Number of the Beast (1980) has raised a daughter who is just as capable. Certainly the novel contains quite a fair bit of talk about genetic inheritance. Dejah Thoris—"Deety"—believes that having a strong work ethic is her "nature" just as it is Jake's (45), and it is mentioned that she is a "peacemaker" like her mother (23). She also has a "killer instinct" in karate (53)—which has been heightened by Jake's insistence that she "get... the best possible training in self-defense" (98). Though both common sense and the evidence of the text thus suggest that such attributes are perhaps more the result of parenting than the result of genetics, Deety also possesses genius-level computer skills and an unexplained "innate time sense... accurate to thirteen seconds plus or minus about four seconds" (91).

Just as important as any inborn capabilities, however, is the fact that Jake and his late wife also have raised Deety to be capable and responsible. After Deety's mother died when the girl was seventeen, Deety "had to grow up and try to replace her" (35). With her father's approval she takes over the complex job of managing taxes to fool the "revenooers," trying to "quit paying for parasites" while responsibly still providing "money [to be] spent on roads and public health and national defense and truly useful things" (46-47). Already at twenty-two she is dependable enough to have power of attorney for her father, and when she decides to marry a man she has met only moments before, Jake trusts her judgment in this respect, too (18). With the levelheaded responsibility her parents have encouraged, Deety is ready to face not only the challenges of marriage but also the challenges of sinister aliens and a multi-dimensional universe that waits to be explored.

The title character of Friday (1982), like Sam of The Puppet Masters, is a secret operative both supported and challenged by a mysterious, fatherly superior. Though Friday is a very capable adult, she needs such a father figure more than most, for she is an Artificial Person without parents or family in the usual sense. Cloned not only from the self-sacrificing protagonists of the much earlier "Gulf' (1949)—who, a plaque tells us, "DIED FOR ALL THEIR FELLOW MEN" (Assignment 67)—but also "from many sources," including "Finnish, Polynesian, Amerindian, Inuit, Danish, red Irish, Swazi, Korean, German, Hindu, English" (Friday 252), Friday still "misses not having a family tree more than you might think" (32). Although "Boss" calls Friday "child" a number of times throughout the novel, it is not until the two-thirds of the way into the book that his posthumous letter "for [his] own satisfaction, for this] own pride," reveals the precise depth of his attachment: he is "one of [her] 'ancestors'—not a major one but some of [his] genetic pattern lives on in [her]. [She is] not only [his] foster daughter but also in part [his] natural daughter as well. To [his] great pride" (253). While the man was unable to have Friday "reared by selected parents as their natural child" (252), as he had planned, he himself has supported and guided her as well as he can.

Boss, an older version of the jolly "Kettle Belly" Baldwin of "Gulf," in a way controls Friday with his secret missions just as thoroughly as the Old Man controls Sam in The Puppet Masters. Yet like that earlier spymaster, Boss also encourages in the woman as much responsibility as he can. Certainly her assignments require her to think on her own—so much so that in the very third sentence of the book she kills an opponent on a hunch that proves correct (1). Later, when she is puzzled that she could love a woman as strongly as she could a man, Boss again urges her to trust herself rather than conventional wisdom: "You are a supergenius but you are a long way from realizing your potential. Geniuses and supergeniuses always make up their own rules on sex as on everything else; they do not accept the monkey customs of their lessers" (214). Even more importantly, Boss at one point assigns Friday to a very unstructured position as a professional questioner. With a computer that gives her "far richer opportunities than any enjoyed by a student at Oxford or the Sorbonne or Heidelberg in any earlier year," Friday at first is instructed to study whatever she wishes (220). After wandering happily through topics as diverse as philosophy, astrophysics, poetry' and history, she comes to realize that Boss is grooming her "to become 'the world's Greatest Authority"' (223). Her ultimate task, she discovers eventually, is not only to predict when and where the next epidemic of bubonic plague will occur but also to determine how to keep it from spreading to the space colonies (225-29). It is because of Boss's habit of encouraging the assumption of ever more responsibility that she is able to do so.

Finally, in some works Heinlein gives us familial relationships with either the cloying hint or the actuality of incest. The parents who allow such relationships to develop still seem planned as Heinlein's exemplars, well rounded and freethinking. Whether they have been trained as scientists and scholars or simply have evolved their own credos after contact with different societies and customs, they gradually come to believe, as "Kettle Belly" Baldwin of Friday puts it, that the truly competent "always make their own rules on sex as on everything else; they do not accept the monkey customs of their lessers" (214). Though such sentiments come in various novels from what are obviously some of Heinlein's favorite characters—"crusty, knowledgeable, iconoclastic, unorthodox, talkative," to use Diane Parkin-Speer's description of Jubal Harshaw of Stranger in a Strange Land ("Feminist" 117)—these are the types we dare not emulate.

As early as Methuselah's Children (1941) Heinlein makes the long-lived Lazarus Long stubbornly refuse the advances of "one of his granddaughters, four times removed" (Past 763). Though L. Sprague de Camp and Catherine Crook de Camp have remarked that "such a union still seems somehow incestuous" (126), Alexei Panshin is correct to remind us, "The union seems incestuous and wrong only to the hero, not to the other characters, and not to Heinlein" (153). Whereas another character, "look[ing] amazed," exclaims, "Well, goodness me, that's well within the limits of permissible consanguinity," Lazarus merely "shift[s] uncomfortably": "'I know I'm old-fashioned,' he admitted, 'but I soaked up some of my ideas a long time ago. Genetics or no genetics, I just wouldn't feel right marrying one of my own grandchildren"' (Past 763). Heinlein gives Lazarus no argument except his "old-fashioned" feeling, and toward the end of Heinlein's career, of course—two thousand years later in Lazarus' life—the character will act out the fantasies that here have not really been condemned.

Certainly Heinlein has nothing but the usual praise for the parents of Tom Bartlett of Time for the Stars (1956), and, except for powerful sibling rivalry, there is nothing unusually amiss in his immediate family. At the end of the novel, however, through the time dilation occurring from deep space travel near the speed of light, the still-youthful protagonist returns to Earth and marries his great-grandniece, who has been his telepathic link to home base. Though Einsteinian relativistic effects apparently keep the situation from being unsavory enough to force Heinlein's editors at Scribner's to intervene in what Damon Knight likens to the "curious paedophile plot" of The Door into Summer (85), (10) the young woman reminds Tom telepathically, with no little bit of perverse relish, I believe, "I have been reading your mind since I was a baby—and a lot more thoroughly than you think I have!" (187). As Ronald Sarti has observed, "The Heinlein hero—in order to find a heroine worthy of him—must raise her himself, in his image" (116); somehow this novel's premise of lifelong telepathic contact makes such a notion more than usually disquieting.

In Glory Road(1963) Heinlein makes the possibility of incest very clear, but he at least keeps it outside of the narrator's family. When ex-G.I. "Scar" Gordon is recruited from twentieth-century Earth to aid the Empress of Twenty Universes on her multi-dimensional adventures, the hero at one point is escorted to bed by their host's "chief wife and his two favorite daughters" (119):

They...shucked all jewelry and other encumbrances and posed at my bedside, the Three Graces. I had decided that the younger ones were mama's daughters. The older girl was maybe eighteen, full ripe, and a picture of what mama must have been at that age; the younger one seemed five years younger, barely nubile, as pretty for her own age, and quite self-conscious. She blushed and dropped her eyes when I looked at her.

But her sister stared back with sultry eyes, boldly provocative. Their mother, an arm around each waist, explained simply but in rhyme that I had honored their roof and their table—and now their bed. What was a Hero's pleasure? One? Or two? Or all three? (102-3)

Though Gordon refuses the offer, the situation nevertheless shows Heinlein's position on, as the inimitable Alexei Panshin puts it, "the second-rate nature of sex as practiced on [our] planet (Earthmen are Lousy Lovers)" (106). Certainly the invitation takes place not only off of Earth but even in another dimension, yet still it seems intended to have great titillative value to the inhabitants—readers—of our own world. Concerning the potential incest of this scene, at least, James Blish is probably correct in disparaging the book's "irresponsible sexual relativism" (57).

Farnham's Freehold (1964) brings the notion of incest closer to home. Hugh Farnham, self-styled "general specialist" trained in the Seabees, correspondence courses, and work in public utilities and contracting (34) seems to be planned as one of Heinlein's well-rounded and capable parents. Yet Panshin dryly notes the novel's most glaring irony: "look at the family: a lush, a momma's boy and a daughter home pregnant from college. ([L] ater [he is] assure[d]...that the family is not his fault.) If Heinlein is aware of any inconsistency, he doesn't show it" (109). Of these three apparently ruined characters, however, I suggest that only the childishness of his son Duke really can be blamed to the man—and more to the mother, who is probably the source of Duke and his sister's latent racism as well. Farnham may abet his wife's alcoholism, but it is unlikely that he actually caused it, and the sexual experimentation of his daughter Karen at college is hardly as remarkable a thing as Panshin implicitly suggests.

It is this daughter, however, who brings in the potential of incest. The first passing hint of such a thought occurs when Karen wants to place a bet while playing cards and Farnham asks her, "What have you to offer?" Her joking answer—"My fair young body?" (83)—eve on the book's first reading seems an odd response to one's father. Later, after nuclear war somehow catapults the family of four, their black servant Joe, and Karen's sorority sister Barbara into the wilderness of the distant future, Karen asks her father a serious question: "I need advice. Which is worse? Incest? Or miscengenation? [sic] Or should I be an old maid?" (114). Advising against celibacy, Farnham levelly discusses the possibility that she might marry either her brother or Joe or "might have to accept a polygamous household" with one of the men and Barbara (114-15). Karen tells him, however, that except for the hindrance of her mother, it is her father she would prefer over the others as her mate: "I'm a woman and you are the man I would most like to." She adds, almost as an afterthought, "though I might as well say, having said so much, that you can have me if you want me. I think you've known that for years" (116). Karen may remark caustically about her brother's Oedipal complex (109), but she makes no comment about her own Electral complex; Heinlein seems to have tossed it in not for real discussion but for titillation.11

Although Lazarus Long of 1941 may have shrunk from sex with a fairly distant descendant, by Time Enough for Love (1973) he has abandoned such compunctions with gusto. As Ronald Sarti has observed, "the theme of incest runs...deeply through the variations" (131). According to Lazarus, "any sexual act is moral or immoral by precisely the same laws of morality as any other human act; all other rules about sex are simply customs... (170). As if to prove the point, he finally lets himself be convinced to make love to the twin sisters cloned from him, "the prettiest, sexiest—and bitchiest—broads [he has] ever seen" (449). Though they convince him with the slippery logic that "Coupling with us might be masturbation, but it can't be incest because we aren't your sisters" (448), Heinlein conveniently seems to forget that their relationship is closer; after all, despite the genetics, by way of emotional relationship they are not his sisters but his daughters. Then, after traveling back in time two thousand years, he realizes with some surprise that he "ha[s] fallen in love with [his] mother" on the very first night of meeting her; "he [has] never in all his lives been so unbearably attracted, so sexually obsessed, by any woman any where or when" (487-88). Because Lazarus claims that "incest [is] a religious concept, not a scientific one..." the thought of that "tribal taboo" makes his mother seem "more enticingly forbidden (if such were possible!)" (489-90). His mother agrees, and despite believing that Lazarus is her half-brother, she has no scruple about making love with him (551). Lazarus is continually "startled" and "delighted" by her audacity (542).

To Sail Beyond the Sunset (1987) takes us beyond Lazarus' childhood to that of his mother, Maureen. Thinking about the youthful Maureen, the timetraveling Lazarus realizes, "there is no doubt where I got my own audacity—or ruttiness. From you, darling" (TEL 536); in Heinlein's last novel we see that his mother is where he received his ideas about incest, too. Toward the end of her book Maureen claims that she "fearfs] the damage incest can do, both genetically and socially" (394), yet throughout it is the genetic aspect that worries her, not the social one. Indeed, despite the amazing amount of incest occurring in the novel, the only social problems that arise occur because of another's "self-indulgent failure to carry out the parental duty of maintaining discipline" (394). To Maureen, lovemaking between a son and daughter is a problem only because while out of Maureen's household the spoiled girl was not taught that she must share her brother with others.

Maureen's attitudes toward incest come from her father, who—like Maureen herself—seems to be planned as one of Heinlein's thoughtful and well-rounded parents. Certainly in demystifying sex in the otherwise repressive Bible Belt of the late nineteenth century, the secret freethinker Ira Johnson does his daughter a great service. Whereas what little her first lover "knew of sex came from barber shops and pool halls and behind barns—the ignorant boasts of bachelor males"—Maureen "had been taught by an old and wise medical doctor who loved [her] and wanted [her] to be happy" (38). Yet in addition to using medical books to teach her the "numerous and.. . important truths" about human anatomy and sexuality (18), Dr. Johnson also gives plenty of advice on such topics as masturbating oneself and others (100-24), using condoms (45), exercising her vaginal muscles (196-97), committing discreet adultery (31), and arranging a menage a trois (27). He "says that anything two—or more—people want to do is all right as long as it does no physical harm. He fe[els] that the words 'moral' and 'immoral' [are] ridiculous when applied to sexual relations. Right and wrong [are] the correct words, used exactly as they would be used in any other human relation" (121).

Despite the efficacy of much of his advice, Dr. Johnson ends up fostering a relationship that is not merely educative but titillative. Maureen realizes this after her first sexual encounter, when her father gives her a gynecological examination:

I suddenly realized that I had become quite excited.

I tried to suppress it and hoped that Father would not notice it. Even at fifteen I was not naive about my unusual and possibly unhealthy relation with my father. As early as twelve I had had the desert-isle daydream with my father as the other castaway... Those impersonal clammy rubber gloves cooled me down... but I was embarrassed to realize that I was quite wet. I ignored it, Father ignored it. (44-45)

Yet despite a brief nod to the thought that such a relationship is "possibly unhealthy," Maureen seems to dismiss it just as quickly. When thinking about marriage she knows, "what I really wanted was a man just like my father, but twenty-five years younger. Or twenty. Make that fifteen" (56). Apparently she gets what she wants, for her husband, Brian Smith, is described as resembling her father in both appearance and temperament; indeed, he is so open-minded and obliging that he gives the "enticing and amoral bitch" permission to try to seduce her father (168-69).

Unsurprisingly, Maureen's married family life fosters incest as well. When Maureen explains to Brian that their daughter Nancy has lost her virginity, she is tolerantly surprised to find that he has an erection, and he is equally unashamed: "What do you expect? You're talking about Nancy's fancy; did you think I could stay limp? While Nancy's pretty fancy is verboten to me, I can dream, can't I? If you can dream about your father, I can dream about my daughter. Go ahead, hon; get to the good parts" (180). Maureen tells her husband that if Nancy could seduce him, she herself might learn a tactic for doing the same to her "own chincy, impossible-to-seduce father" (182), but, for the moment, at least, Brian still jocularly refuses: "Okay, you redheaded baggage— I'll sniff Nancy and jump you. That'll lam yuh!" (183). Eventually Brian does commit what Maureen believes is "the first incest in [her] family" (375): under her mother's chaperonage Nancy "closed her eyes and opened her thighs and for the first time received her father—then opened her eyes and looked at... me, and grinned" (203). Maureen, of course, is nothing but approving: "I grinned her... What this world needs is more loving, sweaty and friendly and unashamed" (203).

Yet such a comparatively minor event is not the summit of incest in Maureen's family. Later Brian divorces Maureen and marries a different daughter (247-49), and two more of Brian and Maureen's children—Priss and Donnie, aged fourteen and sixteen, respectively—make love to each other first in Brian's household and then in Maureen's (283). When Maureen discovers that her time-traveling lover Lazarus is not simply a distant descendant, as he had told her, but her son Woodrow, her reaction is perversely strong: "I didn't faint. Instead I teetered on the brink of orgasm" (384). She marries him (388-89), and, because she reports, "the greatest disappointment of my life was my inability to get my father to accept what I had been so willing to give him, from menarche till I lost him" (384), when her time-traveling companions rescue Dr. Johnson from death in the Battle of Britain, she marries him, too (424-25).

Heinlein's earlier writing on sexuality has been criticized—and correctly so—for being "coy and clumsy" (Scholes and Rabkin 58), for being "not even titillating" (Parkin-Speer, "Novelist" 221), and for failing to "describe sexual relations directly" (Panshin 151). As we have seen, however, at the very end of his career, Heinlein discusses erections and orgasms both with humor and with aplomb. Indeed, in a few instances he "leer[s] and lick[s] his lips" at the thought of incest as much as Brian does (1100). For example, when Maureen tells Brian about the way Nancy satisfied a brother's curiosity about 'just how girls are different from boys," Heinlein no longer uses the clinical descriptions of Dr. Johnson; according to Maureen, the girl "lay down, pulled up her robe—she was just out of her bath—spread her thighs wide, pulled her lips apart, and showed him her baby hole. Probably winked at him with it" (183). Years later, when Maureen discovers the incest of the teenaged Priss and Donnie, the language is perhaps even more explicit:

The room reeked of sex—male musk, female must, fresh ejaculate, sweat. I am an expert in the odors of sex, with many years of wide experience. Had I not known better! would have judged that this was the site of a six-person orgy.

I must add that some of the odor came from me. Perhaps it is perverse that I should be sexually excited by catching my son and daughter in the most scandalous of all sex offenses. But volition does not enter into it. From the moment I recognized those [bedspring] squeaks and deduced what and who, I had been flowing. (285)

Despite her matter-of-fact recognition of the sounds and smells of sex, Maureen is aroused—as, I believe, Heinlein intends the reader to be. Her response is representative of Heinlein's complementary attitudes toward incest—factual and titillating—throughout the entire book.

Sarti is correct to find that because the "scientific manipulation" of Time Enough for Love "accounts for a sexual improbability," the book's "examples fail to offer insights into the human factors that make up so many of these problems" (133). (12) By To Sail Beyond the Sunset, however, incest does not occur across millennia because of time travel and cloning but instead occurs among fathers and daughters and brothers and sisters actually living together in the same household. If, as Sarti reminds us, "the complex psychological and emotional elements that make up sexuality are ignored" in Time Enough for Love (133), that failure of psychological realism is even worse in Heinlein's last novel. To remark merely upon "the serious antirepressive theory behind the novel's clinical talk about sex... and its shameless exercise," as Leon Stover does (10024) is superficially correct, yet such a statement ignores the dangers of the incest that the book validates—even glorifies. Robert Plank's criticism of Stranger in a Land, that it panders to "primitive sexual fantasies" with "no evidence... of any attempt to transcend them" (103-4), seems applicable here. Regardless of the dictates of the perhaps-arbitrary social conventions that Heinlein criticizes, surely raising our children to be our sexual partners is psychologically unhealthy in both cause and effect.

Though Heinlein works from useful premises with his main two types of parents, the incestuous type, obviously, is a model we should avoid following. Despite this, however, across nearly half a century his prolific fiction otherwise has given us many valuable lessons on parenting. Robert A. Heinlein is correct: to raise wise and capable children we must have both the intellectual resources to guide and support them and the moral strength to encourage them to take ever greater responsibility. If we fail in our parental responsibility to guide without stifling and to support without coddling, we fail not only ourselves and our children but our species as well; if we succeed, we may sail beyond the sunset in the knowledge that we have done right.


A briefer version of this article was presented

(3.) Of course, Heinlein's very first sympathetically portrayed parents are the doomed Hartleys, who make a brief but crucial appearance in "Life-Line" (1939), his first published story. They are followed by such stock heroic parents as Dr. and Mrs. Lans of the equally minor "Successful Operation" (1939) and Johnny Dahlquist of "The Long Watch" (1949), such stock pioneering parents as Dr. and Mrs. Appleby of "Columbus Was a Dope" (1947) and those of "A Tenderfoot in Space" (1958), and such stock intelligent yet easygoing parents as those of the lightweight "Poor Daddy" (1949), "Cliff and the Calories" (1950), and "The Bulletin Board," and those of "The Menace from Earth" (1957). Heinlein's first uncle-figures occur in "Water Is for Washing" (1947), in which a motorist almost phobic about drowning and a tramp who has robbed him selflessly protect a pair of lost children during an earthquake and catastrophic flood.

(4.) In fact, Heinlein actually opposed such gun control as licensing. The original manuscript version of the text has Dr. MacRae, he of "salty comments and outrageous observations" (17), objecting to "the pantywaist nincompoops" who require "a free citizen... to go before a committee, hat in hand, and pray for permission to bear arms" (Grumbles 253). After Alice Dalgliesh, Heinlein's editor at Scribner's, required such sentiments removed, Heinlein wrote her a rather cool letter explaining his grievance: "You required... a complete reversal of evaluation. I have made great effort to remove my viewpoint from the book and to incorporate yours, convincingly—but in doing so I have been writing from reasons of economic necessity something that I do not believe. I do not like having to do that" (Grumbles 55).

(5.) Inexplicably, when George is first introduced, this capable engineer and sturdy pioneer is an "absent-minded" bumbler (11) who often "foul[s] up the account book" for the all-important food ration (16). This, I think, is a mere plot contrivance to give Bill more responsibility from the beginning, and Heinlein either somehow does not notice the incongruity or simply ignores it.

(6.) Because of this attitude—not to mention the brevity of his appearance in the book—it may be somewhat overstating the case, I think, to label Jefferson "a senior guiding figure," as Frank H. Tucker does (175); he seems to encourage rather than actually guide.

(7.) To consider Helen merely as "add[ing] local color," as Damon Knight does (85), misses her parenting role; her outlandish dress may be local color, but her words give Rod the Heinleinian advice on challenges and responsibility that he needs.

(8.) Perhaps, however, Heinlein wishes this interest in art to be less well-rounded than airy and impractical. The boys' political-type given names, after all, take precedence over their artistic-type names. Moreover, according to the knowing Uncle Steve, whereas the boys' father "is a reasonable man," their mother—his sister—"is not" (42); when told that the expedition to the stars may last a century, she faints (41).

(9.) The training is grueling, certainly, but to assert, as John Clute does, that it is "so intense that brainwashing pales beside it" (129) seems a ridiculous hyperbole.

(10.) In The Door into Summer (1957) it is not actually an uncle but a friend of the family, a surrogate uncle-figure, who reports, "Ricky had been 'my girl' since she was a six-year-old... I was 'going to marry her' when she grew up..." (24); hibernation and time travel end up making this possible, of course.

(11.) Heinlein gives a situation somewhat reminiscent of this in The Number of the Beast, for in a joking discussion with her new mother in law Deety turns serious: "Pop has never laid a hand on me. But if he had... I would not have refused. I love him" (37). Despite the book's great amount of casual nudity, however, the notion of incest goes no further than this. Heinlein's first instance of the quasi-incestuous nudity of this book seems to occur in "Where To?," an article written in 1950 but apparently not published until 1952; here the somewhat improbably female reader of Galaxy sunbathes nude with her granddaughter of fifty years in the future (Expanded 317-20).

(12.) In "'—All You Zombies—'" (1959) time-travel, hermaphroditism, and a sex-change operation provide a similarly improbable chance for incest. In this story, however, Heinlein does at least try to look at psychological aspects.

Works Cited

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-----McGiveron, Rafeeq O. "Starry-Eyed Internationalists' versus the Social Darwinists: Heinlein's Transnational Governments." Extrapolation 40 (Spring 11009): 53-70.

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Rafeeq McGiveron teaches in East Lansing, Michigan. His Heinlein essay here is the latest in a series that have appeared in Extrapolation and in Science-Fiction Studies.

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