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Philosophical science fiction
http://www.heinleinsociety.org/thsnexus/viewtopic.php?f=11&t=543
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Author:  JamesGifford [ Sun Feb 14, 2010 1:22 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Philosophical science fiction

AYZ certainly has some interesting issues to consider, but nothing that changes my thoughts above. We hardly ever even meet "Jane" and thus know the protagonist only through iterations that might be termed avatars of Panshin's Angry Young Heinlein Man and Wise Old Heinlein Man. All else is window-dressing.

Author:  sergeial [ Mon Feb 15, 2010 11:19 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Philosophical science fiction

But we meet nobody but Jane--it's strongly implied that there may be nobody but Jane. And the Wise Old Man is really a more of a sad and desperate old m... er, person trapped by fate and facing the most existential of loneliness, with no correlation I can see to any sort of Merlin/Obi-Wan mentor figure, and he makes it very clear at the end that he is, was, and continues to be Jane.

Gender isn't the point of "-ayz-"--I don't think that gender is the central point of any of Heinlein's work, with the possible exception of "Delilah and the Space-Rigger." (eta: Upon further thought, no, "Delilah" is mainly about fairness and equal treatment. Delilah could just as easily have been facing racial or religious discrimination, although the plot resolution wouldn't have worked the same way.) "-ayz-" is essentially about the worry that we're each alone in Plato's Cave and that true companionship in that situation might turn out to be fundamentally impossible.

However, "-ayz-" is a great example of the attitude towards gender typically shown in Heinlein's work--that it is essentially a superficial physical characteristic, no more fundamental than hair color (possibly less so, in the case of red-heads anyhow.)

One may disagree with this point of view--most people do. But chalking it up to a failure of technique--that Heinlein would have written gender "better," but didn't know how--seems to me to be a trivialization of an unpopular and unusual, but intriguing, perspective.

Author:  JamesGifford [ Mon Feb 15, 2010 3:49 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Philosophical science fiction

sergeial wrote:
But we meet nobody but Jane

We never meet Jane the young woman except in second-hand accounts by the two male avatars. Thus the portrait is even murkier.

Quote:
But chalking it up to a failure of technique--that Heinlein would have written gender "better," but didn't know how--seems to me to be a trivialization of an unpopular and unusual, but intriguing, perspective.

I'm not sure I follow. I don't think the perspective(s) in AYZ are anything but a cute hat trick with a Rod Serling ending. Trying to make statements about Heinlein's more general handling of gender issues using this story is a sea of soup from a very small oyster. Since we never see anything from a genuine(ish) female perspective, it's a relatively simple reiteration of Heinlein's tendency to hang a frilly dress on a neuter character and call it a female viewpoint - and in the overt presentation, the neuter characters have beards.

You might even say that it's self-deprecating, in that the male writer is churning out pulp sob stories from a female viewpoint and not terribly enthused about it.

Author:  JJGarsch [ Mon Feb 15, 2010 7:16 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Philosophical science fiction

I never thought of the story as taking place in a universe where there was nobody but Jane. To do so, you'd have to think the desk guy he checks in with, near the end, is a yet older version of him/herself. Not out of the question, I suppose - but there is also the note about agreeing to be bought out by his partner (presumably not another version of himself) as well as historical references (the Mistake of '72 and Fizzle War of 1963) that wouldn't need to be named, nor would they have occurred, in a universe consisting only of Jane.

This last point made me think of the wonderfully titled Brian Aldiss story "Let's Be Frank," which for most of its length concerns a shared consciousness (starting in England and spreading over centuries and continents) and the social changes that ensue.

Author:  JamesGifford [ Mon Feb 15, 2010 7:25 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Philosophical science fiction

JJ, I probably shouldn't have to point you to a good thumbnail definition of solipsism, other than to say that the last entry in the definition says, "See: 'All You Zombies...'"

:D

Author:  georule [ Mon Feb 15, 2010 9:58 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Philosophical science fiction

I have to say that I've always admired All You Zombies at an intellectual level much more than an emotional level. More than any other Heinlein I can think of it is transparently a "set piece". This isn't fatal, of course (practically every sf critic I can think of loves it to distraction), but at some emotional level I have less love for it just for perceiving the "Eat that, Damon Knight" factor I perceive in it --that does a little damage to the suspension of disbelief factor I've always treasured in my favorite sf (and why I believe that Damon Knight is more admired by cognoscenti than loved by the masses).

Author:  JamesGifford [ Mon Feb 15, 2010 10:50 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Philosophical science fiction

georule wrote:
More than any other Heinlein I can think of it is transparently a "set piece".

I'd agree (and about intellectual admiration for the clever work-through).

The two pieces that come the closest, I think, are "They" - which is very much of a philosophical piece with AYZ - and, oddly enough, "Crooked House," which is a lightweight exercise in humor wrapped around a mathematical oddity.

Author:  georule [ Tue Feb 16, 2010 12:39 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Philosophical science fiction

Hmm, "Beyond Doubt" perhaps goes in the "transparent set piece" catagory as well, but isn't good enough on its own merits to feel much regret about easily perceiving that fact.

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