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Sympathy for the Devil 
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Heinlein Biographer

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Post Re: Sympathy for the Devil
No, I think you've got hold of something. So far it looks like a fairly conventional Panshin piece, but a little more obvious than usual. It appears that he actually did make his thesis in the introduction, by setting up a straw man -- was it prediction or was it [something else; I can't find my copy of the first part]. Of course, the correct answer to the question is "neither." It was clearly, in historical context, a cautionary exploration of a dilemma that the U.S. was facing, and all the maneuvering and so forth is simply a way of setting up the situation. That is to say, it was in the best tradition of cautionary sf, modeling the real world in what might be a useful or provocative way. As someone has pointed out in the thread in afh and rasfw, Conklin found it frighteningly plausible -- and in an era where Huey Long was still a fresh memory and J. Edgar Hoover about to become one, it's fairly clear to me that contemporaneous readers found it plausible, too -- or, at any rate, plausible enough.

But setting up the straw man allows Panshin to go vacuously on and on about stuff that is not in the text and has almost no relevance to it -- notice the completely gratuitous insinuation that Manning and DeFries were having a homosexual affair? That brought Herbert Hoover to mind -- and Panshin takes up the example a few paragraphs later -- which reminded me that such tortuous career paths were not then so uncommon as to be unknown or unbelievable. In the third installment he becomes more and more disconnected from the text, wandering off in gaseous speculation.

And as to the How of the straw man Panshin set up, I can't quite understand why the viewpoint of Campbell writing five or six years later to address a particular topical moment in the history of SF (remember, that this was an introduction for one of the very first SF anthologies). should be privileged over the viewpoint of author and reader at the time of its publication. A lot of the stuff Panshin talked about in his "historical overview" simply hadn't happened at the time the story was written. The almost complete collapse of historical perspective here is staggering -- but, I'm afraid, par for the course.


Thu Apr 17, 2008 8:52 am
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Post Re: Sympathy for the Devil
JG: "Other than ignorance-induced peace (we can't hate the barbarians over the hill if we don't know they are there), what other kind of peace is there but stalemate? Without getting too sidetracked, point to any two peoples who lived in peace for, say, 100 years without mutual threat of arms - however submerged - being at the base of it."

Well... US/Mexico, US/Canada, US/Great Britain -- just for a start. What, wasn't 18-teens the last of the British wars? Mexican incursions are also more than 100 past. Canada has always been pretty peaceful. Most of Africa, Asia and South America has spent 100 years staying out of trouble, too.


Thu Apr 17, 2008 3:33 pm
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Post Re: Sympathy for the Devil
Tina, whatever you're smoking, send me a kilo in plain brown wrappers. :lol:

At best, you're overlooking the "mutual threat of arms" qualification.

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In the end, I found Heinlein is finite. Thus, finite analysis is needed.


Thu Apr 17, 2008 4:18 pm
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Post Re: Sympathy for the Devil
As his essay unfolds, I wonder whether Mr. Panshin's ruminations will ultimately exceed the word length of "Solution Unsatisfactory" itself.

Heinlein and Campbell exchanged many letters about this story in 1940 and 1941. The story, like "Blowups Happen," also appears to have benefitted from disussions with Robert Cornog, a beam jockey of the cyclotron era.

Heinlein must have been brooding for years about superweapons and arms races. Campbell noted in one 1941 letter that scientists had abruptly stopped publishing anything about uranium fission. Cornog dropped out of sight and no longer replied to Heinlein's letters. RAH was virtually certain that Americans were working on a uranium weapon, somewhere.

As soon as the Bomb was dropped and the war ended, Heinlein took swift action. He wrote visionary letters urging the Navy to develop manned rockets. He quit his Navy job. He drove across the country and, less than a month after Hiroshima, was in New Mexico talking to Cornog and other members of the Association of Los Alamos Scientists. They gave him a piece of green glass.

Heinlein spent most of the next year trying to peddle articles about the dangers of atomic warfare and the need for international control of the Bomb. He also tried to convince political and military leaders of this necessity. When this didn't work, he went back to fiction (with considerable success), but his messages were incorporated into some of his stories, such as Space Cadet.

Cornog followed him to Los Angeles with the same goals; one of his public speaking engagements lost him his security clearance for several years.

Bill Higgins
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Fri Apr 18, 2008 4:30 am
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Post Re: Sympathy for the Devil
What I may have that might contribute to the conversation would be a very old edition of Readers Digest published in the 40s with an article on the atomic bomb stating that the genie was out of the bottle and would not be put back in - meaning that although we were the only ones that had the bomb now it would not/could not be too long before other countries acquired and/or developed their own. It was an entirely non-fiction piece and it might talk to the thoughts of the time of the people who considered such things.

I have to locate this particular edition of Readers Digest (I found it at a estate sale for 1.00 and bought it specifically because of its age and this article) and then see how long it is and consider how to transfer the printed page(s) to an online doc.


Fri Apr 18, 2008 7:18 am
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Post Re: Sympathy for the Devil
In today's installment, Mr. Panshin points out that Groff Conklin's book prefaced "Solution Unsatisfactory" with three paragraphs from the government Smyth Report explaining that the Manhattan Project investigated the possibility of a radioactive dust weapon, but did not build one.

It also added this:

"PUBLISHER'S NOTE: This story was written in 1940."

And he describes the conflict between Conklin's misgivings about the story and his publisher's enthusiasm for it.

Here's an interesting sidelight. Not long ago, I found a document at <http://www.lanl.gov/history/atomicbomb/pdf/Radioactive%20Poison.pdf>

In a declassified 1944 letter to General Leslie Groves, Capt. William "Deak" Parsons, ordnance boss of the Manhattan Project, worries about what the Germans might be loading on their rocket (or more probably V-1) vehicles.

There's no evidence that "Solution Unsatisfactory" influenced his thinking, but it does indicate that the threat Heinlein discussed was taken seriously.

Bill Higgins
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Fri Apr 18, 2008 8:55 pm
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Post Re: Sympathy for the Devil
There's little point in discussing Alexei Panshin's analysis of the technical aspects
of "Solution Unsatisfactory" — basically, he doesn't seems very interested on the actual
state of the art, either in 1940, when Heinlein wrote this text, or in 1945. His approach,
as always, is strictly literary. And as always, that's his major flaw when considering
Heinlein's SF.

But as always — well, often enough — Panshin also makes an interesting point,
from this limited, literary point of view.

"Solution Unsatisfactory" is usually considered straight science fiction, quite hard
and on the cutting edge of a (then) new science, possibly even "prophetic" to some
(Campbell included, although Heinlein himself repetedly denied it). Not a part
of the Future History, but close enough in spirit. Emphatically NOT fantasy.

As hinted in the title of his essay, Panshin proposes an alternate reading.
What if commissionner Manning was really, literally, the Devil ?
(or possibly the Glaroon ?).

I'm not 100% convinced, but it sure is an intriguing point, and perfectly legitimate
as far as literary criticism is involved. This would bring "Solution Unsatisfactory"
closer to "The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag", "The Devil Makes the Law"
or even Job. Heinlein has been known to tell a story from a naive point of view,
letting the reader draw his own distressing conclusions from raw data — think "Gulf" ;
And it would be quite like him, while presenting the very model of hard SF, to have
left a few windows open for metaphorical interpretations, other levels of reading...

(Yet... the point would have been far more powerful if made in a couple of pages !)


beamjockey wrote:
I Here's an interesting sidelight. Not long ago, I found a document at
<http://www.lanl.gov/history/atomicbomb/pdf/Radioactive%20Poison.pdf>

Interesting indeed, thanks !


Tue Apr 29, 2008 1:04 am
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Post Re: Sympathy for the Devil
Eric Picholle wrote:
"Solution Unsatisfactory" is usually considered straight science fiction....

As hinted in the title of his essay, Panshin proposes an alternate reading.
What if commissionner Manning was really, literally, the Devil ?
(or possibly the Glaroon ?)....

This would bring "Solution Unsatisfactory"
closer to "The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag", "The Devil Makes the Law"
or even Job. Heinlein has been known to tell a story from a naive point of view,
letting the reader draw his own distressing conclusions from raw data — think "Gulf" ;
And it would be quite like him, while presenting the very model of hard SF, to have
left a few windows open for metaphorical interpretations, other levels of reading...


Yes, that sounds like the Heinlein I know and love. Limitless possibility and unending uncertainty. The Bird is Cruel! but isn't it grand?!?
My favorite naive pov is in If This Goes On -- . I suspect the Glaroon may be lurking, at least as potential, off stage even now....

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Tue Apr 29, 2008 5:08 am
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Heinlein Biographer

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Post Re: Sympathy for the Devil
The problem, Eric and Sharroll, is that the supposition that Manning is anything other than what he appears to be is entirely an artifact of extra-textual speculation made possible by a critical operation that is the equivalent for litcrit of dividing by zero. Panshin has noted that no supporting story apparatus is provided for one particular view of the materials, and then posits some kind of story apparatus that might have been invisibly in the background and then says "that's what the story is all about."

The proper thing to conclude from the absence of apparatus, is that the author didn't think that particular apparatus was needed in the story -- other things being equal (i.e., the story stands up well enough to be, for example, collected and discussed over and over again) so it's not an obvious flaw.

The question then becomes why did the author believe this apparatus wasn't needed -- and the answer is because it wasn't the kind of story Panshin wants it to be at all. The dichotomy of choices Panshin offers at the end of the introduction -- prediction or blueprint -- is a polemical strategy, rather than an observation about the story, for it's fairly clear in the context that it wasn't intended as either of those, but rather as the kind of posing of speculative problems and working out of consequences that SF does at its best -- i.e., it's a kind of model for thinking about a problem, and in this case the problem Heinlein wanted to focus on was America's relations with the rest of the world -- i.e., its "foreign policy."

The mechanisms by which Manning came to power are set out as the kind of handwaving that was acceptable in pulp circa 1940-- it happens somehow, how is not important. The story is about other material.

OK now Panshin comes along nearly 70 years later and wants to make it "about" the elements Heinlein specifically has told us (by implication, rather than by parole) the story is not about. Technically, I suppose one could say Panshin is trying to read the negative space of the story as if it were on an equal footing with the positive space of the story -- except that all this gaseous speculative material is not actually part of the space of the story. He has made it up out of thin air.


Tue Apr 29, 2008 1:48 pm
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Post Re: Sympathy for the Devil
Bill Patterson wrote:
extra-textual speculation made possible by a critical operation that is the equivalent
for litcrit of dividing by zero.

Let's call it non-standard literary analysis, then ! ;)

(which is kind of what I did myself in reducing my commentary of Panshin's many-page essay
to a single intriguing idea, even if the title suggested it was important)

Quote:
Panshin has noted that no supporting story apparatus is provided for one particular view
of the materials, and then posits some kind of story apparatus that might have been invisibly
in the background and then says "that's what the story is all about."

Panshin is being Panshin, with his own dialectics.
Aren't you tired of following him there ?

Quote:
The proper thing to conclude from the absence of apparatus, is that the author didn't think
that particular apparatus was needed in the story -- other things being equal

Indeed.

Quote:
so it's not an obvious flaw.

Of course not.

Quote:
The dichotomy of choices Panshin offers at the end of the introduction -- prediction
or blueprint -- is a polemical strategy

I'm not very interested in this part of his discussion — actually, I don't care much either for
Panshin's understanding of the history of sciences and techniques, or for his political opinions,
and even less for whatever he might deduce about the author's personnality from his writing.

I think that most of us on this forum basically agree on the importance of "Solution Unsatisfactory",
and Heinlein's primary objectives in writing it. But he might, or might not, have added a few twists,
including the one pointed out in Panshin's essay, and that's worth discussing !

Quote:
OK now Panshin comes along nearly 70 years later and wants to make it "about" the elements
Heinlein specifically has told us (by implication, rather than by parole) the story is not about.

Uh... Who's dividing by zero, now ?

I'll refer you to your own Martian Named Smith, to establish that a Heinlein fiction can be "about"
many different things simultaneously, some of them left to the sagacity of the reader, even when
the author has specifically discussed other elements...

Quote:
Technically, I suppose one could say Panshin is trying to read the negative space of the story
as if it were on an equal footing with the positive space of the story

I'm not sure. He's certainly trying to read an unexplored part of this negative space,
but after the positive has already been discussed to death — and, in my opinion,
thoroughly enough to be considered as well understood now. No comparison.

Quote:
except that all this gaseous speculative material is not actually part of the space of the story.
He has made it up out of thin air.

Actually, he emphasizes a single sentence :
In SU, Robert Heinlein wrote:
I left what soul I had in that projection room and I have not had one since.

A lot of soup from a single oyster — but definitely not zero, nor the kind of phrase (if any) Heinlein
would have placed in a fiction by accident.


Wed Apr 30, 2008 12:49 am
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