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Tunnel in the Sky 
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Post Re: Tunnel in the Sky
PeterScott wrote:
Well... prove by counterexample: name convincingly female characters created by other well-known male sciffy authors.

Nonsense. Heinlein is pedestaled for his abilities among these other male skiffy authors.

It's long past time to remove the blinkers and evaluate Heinlein (and main-body sf) in a larger context, and not with endless 'special olympics' rules. If Heinlein is only great* with an asterisk after every claim, then the notion of greatness gets a little suspect.

I believe Heinlein is in the pantheon of great American writers - the larger one, not the one in Hugo's basement. But I don't believe his farts smelled like lilacs.



* Among doctors who chew gum.


Thu Sep 06, 2012 4:41 am
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Post Re: Tunnel in the Sky
JamesGifford wrote:
I believe Heinlein is in the pantheon of great American writers - the larger one, not the one in Hugo's basement. But I don't believe his farts smelled like lilacs.


You're arguing with someone else here. I'm not claiming anything of the sort, just trying to get you to put specifics around your claims. Okay then, name authors among who you think Heinlein's peer group should be in this larger pantheon who wrote better female characters. That's not an assertion that there aren't any; it's exactly what it looks like, a request for information.

And no, you don't get to cite Pearl Buck or Joan Didion or even Tom Wolfe. When we say Heinlein made it into the mainstream we know that doesn't mean he went all the way, just that some of his stuff got to be read by people who don't wear Klingon prosthetics or live in their mother's basement. His peers should be people who wrote equally niche-y stuff that enjoyed the same niche-busting fame. Maybe Ray Bradbury. I don't think Steven King would be a fair comparison, his works pivot on characterization, and he's always inhabited the same niche. Maybe Dan Brown would be a good example: was always in a niche outside the mainstream (latter day Indiana Jones thrillers) but unlike other writers in that niche like James Rollins, busted out with The DaVinci Code. I think his characters are more developed than Heinlein's in general, but the female ones are still relative ciphers. Your turn.


Thu Sep 06, 2012 5:51 am
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Post Re: Tunnel in the Sky
PeterScott wrote:
Your turn.

I think Heinlein has been discussed sufficiently as a niche author, no matter how large you choose to make the niche. That's the underlying point of all my recent comments. If you have to keep handicapping the race to keep Heinlein in front (as has been done for the last 30-50 years), it's all pretty nonsensical.

This isn't a product comparison or a buyer's guide; there's no reason we have to discuss Heinlein only in context of his exact peers or close peers or those in the same price range. I'm not sure there's much use in comparing him with anyone - Twain, Wells, Asimov, Faulkner or Jonathan Lethem. His work is in front of us, as is a better biographical and historical portrait than those of any earlier time. His work can be discussed in absolute terms.

My remaining interest in Heinlein is not in perpetuating the near-mythological claims, but in analyzing his work on a level playing field, without fannish adoration or partisan tunnel vision. (And without grinding axes and personal vendettas for real or imagined reasons.)

Whether or not his 'peers' wrote believable female characters is irrelevant. The question, spurred by decades of claims that he was good at it, is... was he?


Thu Sep 06, 2012 11:58 am
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Post Re: Tunnel in the Sky
JamesGifford wrote:
My remaining interest in Heinlein is not in perpetuating the near-mythological claims, but in analyzing his work on a level playing field, without fannish adoration or partisan tunnel vision. (And without grinding axes and personal vendettas for real or imagined reasons.)


So when do we get to see your analysis of Heinlein's corpus of work, the successor volume to RAH: ARC? I assume you already know what you'd want to say, for the most part.

As for female characters in his stories: I don't have much to say. I liked the first one I was exposed to, when I was 12 - Peewee - as well as Holly Jones of "The Menace from Earth," but I don't recall any female adults who were convincing, for want of a better word. (I have assiduously avoided Podkayne ever since becoming aware of her.)


Thu Sep 06, 2012 12:30 pm
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Post Re: Tunnel in the Sky
JJGarsch wrote:
JamesGifford wrote:
My remaining interest in Heinlein is not in perpetuating the near-mythological claims, but in analyzing his work on a level playing field, without fannish adoration or partisan tunnel vision. (And without grinding axes and personal vendettas for real or imagined reasons.)


So when do we get to see your analysis of Heinlein's corpus of work, the successor volume to RAH: ARC? I assume you already know what you'd want to say, for the most part.

Actually, no. I know what I think in broad sweeps, but the specific questions... I find surprises even in working through my own thoughts on them. I was a much a captive of the Great Heinlein mythos as anyone until quite late in the game; while there is zero chance of me pulling a Panshin, I am interested in taking a fresh pass at the man and his work, as unencumbered as possible by fannish blinkers.

It frustrates me that in most discussion, even among the very knowledgeable and in the fresh academic pastures now discovering RAH, there is a worshipfulness and an endless willingness to explain away flaw and shortcomings... even make them into assets. Occam's Razor is wished away, and the simple consideration that (in explanation of a negative consideration) the man might have written a bad passage, made a mistake or been an asshole is dismissed out of hand.

It's unlikely that I will ever write anything more about Heinlein other than musings here. Too few useful years left and too many important projects to fill them; I already have back heaps of cherished projects I will never get to, and more Heinlein is somewhere behind them.


Thu Sep 06, 2012 1:07 pm
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Post Re: Tunnel in the Sky
JamesGifford wrote:
His work can be discussed in absolute terms.


Theoretically, yes, but in practice that's quite a tall order.

Quote:
It frustrates me that in most discussion, even among the very knowledgeable and in the fresh academic pastures now discovering RAH, there is a worshipfulness and an endless willingness to explain away flaw and shortcomings... even make them into assets. Occam's Razor is wished away, and the simple consideration that (in explanation of a negative consideration) the man might have written a bad passage, made a mistake or been an asshole is dismissed out of hand.


Once again, I believe you are arguing with someone who isn't here. Please keep in mind that I am not he.

I think it's useful to decide what category you peg Heinlein in because it helps determine whether you're being fair in your assessments. I do think that your judgement pendulum has over swung somewhat. The reason I was asking about comparable authors - and surely it wouldn't hurt you to answer the question anyway - was that it would help at least me, who isn't that good at thinking in absolute terms, determine what depth of characterization would be appropriate for his works.

I'll elaborate. I'll assert that we can measure stories on a continuum with one end being yer mainstream novels and other areas being various niches. At the mainstream end you have slice of life stuff, Doris Lessing, Toni Morrison, Sinclair Lewis, and every chicklit piece ever written. All they have is characters - no plot worth spit. At the extreme end of the s-f niche you have the hard-sf stories like Asimov and Clarke's for which richly drawn characters would be a waste of time, both in the context of the story and in terms of what the audience is able to appreciate.

We know that Heinlein moved far enough out of the s-f niche to attract the attention of some of the mundanes. :-) But no one should be claiming that he moved straight into bed with J.D. Salinger or Jack Kerouac. He didn't go that far. Plot and even science were still pivotal. (Except, perhaps, in "Cliff and the Calories," but let's leave that off the table, shall we?)

Now if I look at, say, Tom Clancy, who's clearly mainstream, if we define "mainstream" as "found in airport bookstores," obviously plot and technology are key. His characters aren't nearly as strongly drawn as an even more mainstream novelist's, neither should they be, it would get in the way of the action. It would be silly to say that his characterization should be better, and I think the same argument applies to Heinlein. Do Heinlein's sales exceed Clancy's? I'd like to know.

That's enough for now. This, by the way, seems like exactly the sort of discussion this forum was born for, and for which the forum is better than FaceBook.


Thu Sep 06, 2012 6:53 pm
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Post Re: Tunnel in the Sky
JJGarsch wrote:
JamesGifford wrote:
My remaining interest in Heinlein is not in perpetuating the near-mythological claims, but in analyzing his work on a level playing field, without fannish adoration or partisan tunnel vision. (And without grinding axes and personal vendettas for real or imagined reasons.)


So when do we get to see your analysis of Heinlein's corpus of work, the successor volume to RAH: ARC? I assume you already know what you'd want to say, for the most part.

As for female characters in his stories: I don't have much to say. I liked the first one I was exposed to, when I was 12 - Peewee - as well as Holly Jones of "The Menace from Earth," but I don't recall any female adults who were convincing, for want of a better word. (I have assiduously avoided Podkayne ever since becoming aware of her.)



I thought Sister Mary was pretty well done, and, of course, I have already made it known that Carolyn from Tunnel is one of my absolute favorite characters in the corpus.


Thu Sep 06, 2012 7:22 pm
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Post Re: Tunnel in the Sky
JamesGifford wrote:
holmesiv wrote:
I thought Mr. Kiku in The Star Beast was a rounded-enough character, given that the novel was comic in nature. I also believe Greenberg was treated appropriately. I disagree that Carolyn in Tunnel is not a rounded character. I've said before she is probably my favorite character in the juveniles.

Kind of a sidelight on the main discussion - the topic isn't 'fully rounded characters,' which is a separate problem with some of Heinlein's descriptions, but whether his attempts to characterize non-white, non-middle American figures succeeds. I think his failures greatly outweigh his successes... especially in that I can't think of any notable successes.

Kiku is a fantastic character, but if you substituted a few adjectives he could be any race, any culture - say, if his meditation focus was on brochures for homes in Peru or Alaska or Indonesia, it would not change the character much. I can't bring anything much to mind about Greenberg except that from his name, he was intended to be Jewish - what other characteristics did he have? Even Caroline, another great character, could be made almost any race or culture with a few adjective shifts.

That's the point, really. Heinlein wrote a very narrow range of character types, all of which were pretty damn Northern European/US Midwestern, and mentioning the war bonnet one wears doesn't make him a convincing Sioux.


I won't disagree with that, as Heinlein apparently had an ideal character in mind that he probably believed was racelss. As a conservative gentleman, his only concern with a man or woman would be their characters. That's the way he wrote.
The fact that he wrote a character like Kiku or Carolyn in the mid-50s says something about his own character. He could have avoided the issue of race altogether. And remember, he once cussed Campbell out over his racism.


Thu Sep 06, 2012 7:27 pm
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Post Re: Tunnel in the Sky
PeterScott wrote:
Once again, I believe you are arguing with someone who isn't here. Please keep in mind that I am not he.

I'm not sure when you decided this was a one-on-one debate, although the scarcity of participants could make it seem that way. :)

I answer your posts in passing as I have something relevant to say in reply, but this is a multi-party discussion, as are pretty much all in this venue. Some parts of my answers apply to other comments, and some parts are new exposition explaining why I'm saying what I'm saying. What follows is more of that.

As for the remainder of your comments, it's only necessary to do a comparative analysis if you're trying to peg a writer on a relative scale. I've already conceded the general point... by considering Heinlein to be among the great American writers, I've put him above all but a few hundred 'peers.' We don't need to debate Heinlein v. Asimov or Clancy or Le Guin or the Patterson clan - none of those even approach the 'great' tier except in the same very constricted sense; fine, Clancy is the absolute grand master of shiny-bolts technoporn.

The remaining debate (that's of interest to me, at least) is about how Heinlein handled certain specifics - so "_____ wrote the best stories about _____ ever penned, even if s/he was lousy at _____" is a side argument and again an attempt to rank authors on some overall scale - or to continue to excuse an author's faults.

If we're talking about Heinlein's handling of a specific topic, the discussion can be much more confined. If we're going to discuss how Heinlein handled gender and race in his characterizations, his abilities with gadgets, plotting, concept etc. are interesting but at most a framework for the topic at hand. It's not an either/or and we're not here to say that a work is "the best story about _____ ever written even if his 'female' protagonist is pure cardboard." We're (I'm) not here to champion Heinlein's overall greatness while making feeble excuses about things like cardboard heroines. That cardboard is the topic.

I think it's WAY past time to drill down past the generalities, excuses, OTOHs and free passes and take hard looks at some of the things Heinlein may not have been so great at. If the consensus here is to continue these general, talk-nice, yes-but, praise-the-virtues discussions as they've gone for literally more decades than most of us have been around, fine, I will leave you to it. My exhaustion with such discussions might give you insight as to why I moved on to other interests... when even the "new generation" of academic writers largely continues this faintly adoring, downcast-eyes Gosh-Mr-Heinlein approach, the odds of anything but a recycled discussion are few, no matter how long the words or the citations list get.

If I had an hour with Heinlein, it would be pretty adoring and awestruck. If I had a second hour, I'd have some hard, hard questions for him. Which hour do you want to discuss?


Fri Sep 07, 2012 4:31 am
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Post Re: Tunnel in the Sky
JamesGifford wrote:
I'm not sure when you decided this was a one-on-one debate, although the scarcity of participants could make it seem that way.

I don't see the other participants being as uncritical as you imply. I think you're reliving some of your lengthy past battles with someone who hasn't participated in this discussion, that's all.

I don't think there's any debate (among the people here) that all Heinlein's characterizations are pretty thin, especially females and ethnicities. What I am inquiring into is whether his stories would have been better if the characters had been more developed. Because if not, there is insufficient evidence to argue that he could not have done better; it simply wasn't the playing field. Your argument for absolutism sounds like a barrister berating a witness: "Mr. Ferrari, answer the question: Does your sports car design include provisions for wheelchair ramps, yes or no?"

Quote:
I've already conceded the general point... by considering Heinlein to be among the great American writers, I've put him above all but a few hundred 'peers.'


Here you've outdone me in admiration for Heinlein. I would call him great, but I wouldn't give him such an exalted position when more people know the names Danielle Steele and Harold Robbins than Heinlein. Either there are many more than a few hundred writers above Heinlein on that list of all genres plus the mainstream... or there are going to be other names on that screed of greatness whose characters aren't any better developed.

More to the point, I don't believe he was great for the same reasons as the other authors in the mainstream that we keep saying he crossed over to. He challenged us to think; he challenged the established order; he challenged sacred cows. Tom Wolfe is all the literary master you're evaluating Heinlein as but he never did those things. If Heinlein had developed his female characters like Charlotte Simmons I contend that would have obscured rather than intensified the essence of his stories. So I think criticizing his characterizations is like complaining that his stories do not give me specific instructions on how to repair my refrigerator. The statement is vacuously true.


Fri Sep 07, 2012 7:03 am
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