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Heinlein Biographical thread? 
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Heinlein Nexus
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Post Re: Heinlein Biographical thread?
audrey wrote:
In fact, if you assume Heinlein agreed with the assumptions of his novels he would seem to have a view that tolerated (and possibly advocated) euthanasia for the handicapped. Seems an unlikely stance for someone with a potentially handicapping condition.


Notwithstanding everything else you say, I think it entirely possible that someone with Asperger's would not realize they had a handicap, particularly in an era before the condition was labeled.

I tend not to think Heinlein was afflicted but don't think I have enough evidence either way. The condition also has very fuzzy boundaries.


Wed Jul 08, 2009 8:33 pm
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Post Re: Heinlein Biographical thread?
James Gifford wrote:

I don't find it unusual that Heinlein's characters are, to some extent, idealized versions of his personal vision. Perhaps most authors' are.

I don't really see a "fugitive theme" except that many of Heinlein's characters are Homo Superioris and need to guard their lives and families from the onslaughts of commoners.

None of this points to social deficits; an argument could be made for the contrary, that is, that Heinlein and his characters are so able socially that they have to limit their social contacts.


I see a "fugitive" theme that goes well beyond that of "Homo Superioris". Of course, I myself don't believe in Homo Superioris, though such beliefs are rampant among old school SF fandom (e.g. "Fans are Slans"). I think we're all just people, though some of us clearly make a better recipe from our starting ingredients than others.

Consider for example Max Jones, Rod Walker, or John Thomas Stewart. None of them presented as "Homo Superioris", but all of them fugitives due to various circumstances. Or the protagonists of Between Planets, or the Puppet Masters. And Lorenzo Smythe in his impersonation of the Chief in Double Star. And what of Thorby Baslim Rudbek? He goes from one alien context to another - and when he returns "home" that in some ways is the most alien of all. And Colonel Baslim - living the life of a beggar while secretly a double agent?

And the protagonists of Number of the Beast.

Surely, in each of these stories the fugitive theme is fully justified by circumstances. But this is not the real world we're discussing. Those circumstances didn't just happen. They were deliberately set up, by an Author, to justify how the story would proceed. And in almost all of Heinlein's work, the story proceeds with the protagonist hunted, endangered and, often, misunderstood and mistreated even by his (or her) own family.

Why choose to tell this story over and over, unless it is one's own story?

Surely it is *my* story. Which is way I have always been so strongly attracted to this theme in Heinlein's work, and within SF more generally. And finally, after many years, I know why it is that I have always felt hunted and alone - with no really good objective reason.

To say that Heinlein could vividly and repeatedly portray, accurately, how it feels to be me, because he had those same feelings, is of course speculative. But if he didn't get it from going through life feeling as I have, then where?

-Steve


Wed Jul 08, 2009 8:43 pm
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Post Re: Heinlein Biographical thread?
Well, to start with, you're taking my "many" and treating it as "all." I don't fall for the trap that all Heinlein heroes are the same character, nor do I believe they are all cut from the same - real or fictional - cloth.

"There is something in what you say" but I think you are hammering a wide variety of characters with varying motivations, mindsets and circumstances into too narrow a slot.

One of the reasons I quickly tire of most forum debates is a lack of rigor - instead of putting down a comprehensive argument and gathering all the pro and con examples available, the arguments are selective and slither around from viewpoint to viewpoint in each successive post. Example: You named a series of indubitably "Homo Superioris" characters. When I commented on that subset (as "many"), you switched to his "Joe Everyman" characters in only somewhat similar circumstances. No good - there is a difference between a person/character who CHOOSES to be a fugitive or isolate themselves, and one who is irresistibly forced into flight. Maureen Johnson and Lazarus Long chose fugitive isolation; Max Jones and Larry Smith were forced into it.

I don't think you can make a case for a single thread of the fugitive notion in Heinlein's work. At best, you can say there is a theme of flight under duress (real, imagined or synthetic)... which is common to some very large percentage of adventure-type authors.

I'll also note that all of us here admire Heinlein and undoubtedly see some modeling of ourselves in his work - but that no two of us quite see the same model. :)


Wed Jul 08, 2009 8:57 pm
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Post Re: Heinlein Biographical thread?
Well, I didn't want to get into a discussion of Asperger's, but I see there are viewpoints here that differ from mine more than I would have expected. I'll try to be reasonably brief.

(1) Some may wonder if I can reliably claim to have the condition, as I am admittedly self-diagnosed. All I can say is that if you live with the condition for fifty-some years, always wondering why you are "different" and then see it described, the shock of recognition is unmistakable.

(2) Asperger's is not unambiguously a handicap. Audrey counterposes it to being "gifted". Au contraire, being extremely academically talented is a not uncommon "symptom". Whether the syndrome as a whole is a "handicap" or a "gift" is as much a matter of perspective as anything. Indeed, this very issue is a persistent subject of debate within the autistic/Asperger's community.

(3) Asperger's involver a process of development - just like any other life circumstance. I was in my twenties before I actually realized in my guts that other people were actualy conscious. "Let's get together sometime and have a go at solipsism."?

As life went on, I worked on the problem of understanding and empathizing with others, much as one with a physical handicap might seek to develop compensations. I've actually progressed to the point where I have begun to write a story with a 14 year old female first person viewpoint character (and surprised myself!). But I didn't come by such understanding as I have by the "normal" path. It involved a lot of workarounds.

(4) Asperger's is replete with paradox, as is life. For instance, a typical symptom is compulsive literal-minded honesty. And I have always had that. However, when I'm convinced of the necessity to lie, (very rarely) i'm *very* good - as I suspect only a compulsively honest person can be.

Have fun,
-Steve


Wed Jul 08, 2009 9:03 pm
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Post Re: Heinlein Biographical thread?
James Gifford wrote:
Well, to start with, you're taking my "many" and treating it as "all." I don't fall for the trap that all Heinlein heroes are the same character, nor do I believe they are all cut from the same - real or fictional - cloth.

"There is something in what you say" but I think you are hammering a wide variety of characters with varying motivations, mindsets and circumstances into too narrow a slot.

One of the reasons I quickly tire of most forum debates is a lack of rigor - instead of putting down a comprehensive argument and gathering all the pro and con examples available, the arguments are selective and slither around from viewpoint to viewpoint in each successive post. Example: You named a series of indubitably "Homo Superioris" characters. When I commented on that subset (as "many"), you switched to his "Joe Everyman" characters in only somewhat similar circumstances. No good - there is a difference between a person/character who CHOOSES to be a fugitive or isolate themselves, and one who is irresistibly forced into flight. Maureen Johnson and Lazarus Long chose fugitive isolation; Max Jones and Larry Smith were forced into it.

I don't think you can make a case for a single thread of the fugitive notion in Heinlein's work. At best, you can say there is a theme of flight under duress (real, imagined or synthetic)... which is common to some very large percentage of adventure-type authors.

I'll also note that all of us here admire Heinlein and undoubtedly see some modeling of ourselves in his work - but that no two of us quite see the same model. :)



I'll admit to having argued substantially as you describe. However, I don't agree that it significantly weakens my point. My point is that there is a common theme. (And I didn't try to indicate uniformity of characterization. I think you've got me confused with a better known commentator. :) Okay, maybe "common theme" is not the right term. Common mood? Whatever. It's there. Do you seriously want to assert that it's not?

And if you will acknowledge that this mood or theme is both real, and pervasive in Heinlein's work, then where do you suggest it might arise from. I might consider other possibilities for why Heinlein's work has the "fugitive" character. I will not accept that I have merely imagined it. Heinlein writes about the covert. He does it a lot. He's extremely good at it. Dare I suggest he enjoyed it?

If not because this reflects a mood of the covert in his own mental life, then why?

-Steve


Wed Jul 08, 2009 9:16 pm
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Post Re: Heinlein Biographical thread?
Name, say, five well-known books with an adventurous or thrilling theme that do not involve flight or subterfuge on the part of the main character.

It's possible you can, but you'll undoubtedly have to work at it and discard many, many others that do involve flight, hiding, deception and subterfuge on the part of the protagonist... because it is a very basic literary theme and makes a fascinating hook on which to hang a story. In some ways Heinlein was a very ordinary, workmanlike writer, and his frequent use of a character in trouble and running/hiding is nothing significant.

I've seen a naive argument that too many books "just happen to begin just as something extraordinary happens to the character." Well, of course they do... if the point is to tell an interesting story and not spend half a book describing a character's daily life before the mugger or asteroid or alien shows up. I think it's a similarly misplaced argument to claim that a story following a character who evades danger or jeopardy is somehow unusual. We want to read about interesting happenings, not ordinary events. Heinlein (and many others) answered that desire by taking an unusual character and throwing them to the wolves... see next chapter. :)


Wed Jul 08, 2009 10:13 pm
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Post Re: Heinlein Biographical thread?
James Gifford wrote:
Name, say, five well-known books with an adventurous or thrilling theme that do not involve flight or subterfuge on the part of the main character.

It's possible you can, but you'll undoubtedly have to work at it and discard many, many others that do involve flight, hiding, deception and subterfuge on the part of the protagonist... because it is a very basic literary theme and makes a fascinating hook on which to hang a story. In some ways Heinlein was a very ordinary, workmanlike writer, and his frequent use of a character in trouble and running/hiding is nothing significant.

I've seen a naive argument that too many books "just happen to begin just as something extraordinary happens to the character." Well, of course they do... if the point is to tell an interesting story and not spend half a book describing a character's daily life before the mugger or asteroid or alien shows up. I think it's a similarly misplaced argument to claim that a story following a character who evades danger or jeopardy is somehow unusual. We want to read about interesting happenings, not ordinary events. Heinlein (and many others) answered that desire by taking an unusual character and throwing them to the wolves... see next chapter. :)


Actually, the exercise you propose is trivial if correctly considered. One need only cite examples of stories of flight and pursuit that are told from the point of view of the pursuer rather than the pursued. These are sure to be many - though I'm not so familiar with adventure literature as to be able to name them right off. But that's irrelevant anyway. Heinlein gets inside the head of the pursued, the hidden, the (human) alien in a way which is not entirely unique, but which is more common in SF than in other literature and of which Heinlein is a master. Slan is a non-Heinlein example of the similar mood. Diehard, in contrast, is emphatically not.

I'm beginning to think you are merely arguing pro-forma. Do you actually deny the quality I claim to see in Heinlein's work? Interestingly, you haven't actually said so.

And the fact that a similar quality is found in the work of others, Van Vogt is conspicuous, does not really weaken my thesis that much.

Heinlein is surely not the only member of the SF community that might reasonably be suspected of Asperger's. Throw that rock at a con and you could bring down a flock. Such tendencies are rampant in SF culture generally.

You have focussed on showing that I argue poorly, and perhaps I do. But that's different from showing that I'm wrong.

-Steve


Thu Jul 09, 2009 3:32 am
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Post Re: Heinlein Biographical thread?
I don't think there's anything particularly pro-forma about my posts. I can discard all the supporting comments and boil it down to two statements:

1) What you point out as a running theme in Heinlein's work is valid, interesting and worthy of more rigorous investigation. It is, however, not unique to Heinlein - not even unusual - and I think you are greatly overstating the case by fitting a number of very different characters into a narrowly defined category. But I haven't rigorously evaluated all the instances, so I could be overlooking something. (See below.)

2) Right or wrong, it is specious to try and use this narrow bit of selective interpretation to claim Heinlein had Asperger's, when the evidence of his great social ability, personal ease, and empathic perception (all completely contrary to a diagnosis of even mild Asperger's) is plentiful. This claim reminds me of the many JFK assassination theories that discard great quantities of observed fact to try and hang a conspiracy on one perceived flaw.

3) Arguing that Asperger's is common in the SF community is nothing I would debate, from personal experience. But extending that general claim (and at least tentative fact) into the specific claim that Heinlein, van Vogt and others "must be Aspie" because they have paranoid, fugitive characters and stories is going to need a lot more development and proof - and in Heinlein's case, at least, I can put forth mountains of evidence to the contrary. Remember that classic sf is also the literature of the disaffected adolescent, who is also subject to paranoia, out of place feelings and social awkwardness without a trace of clinical Asperger's in sight. I've known few sf fans who didn't think they were Slans or some other "special" but oppressed group... because most bright, perceptive teens I've known were special and oppressed. You'll need to differentiate the two situations before you can make sweeping claims about Asperger's being a factor.

I suggest that the place to proceed from here is to list and characterize all of the examples of "fugitive" characters in Heinlein's work - but do so in a complete, organized and formal manner rather than in the slippery inconsistency of anecdotal discussion. Creating an organized table of such things often shows patterns that are not readily observable in casual review. Write it up, in other words... and then we'll have a common frame of reference for further discussion.

N.B. the forum is not the place to post such a thing. We will have a "public library" function on the website sometime soon, for 'publication' of member-written essays and critiques. Just ping me when you have something ready. (And do carry on with the idea; my casual counterarguments should be no barrier to your making a more organized presentation of your idea.)


Thu Jul 09, 2009 7:35 am
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Post Re: Heinlein Biographical thread?
Yes Steve, do please develop your ideas - I may not agree with them, but they do get the mental juices flowing, and what more can one ask?

As grist for your mill, note that Heinlein had a stuttering habit that he expended great effort in overcoming.


Thu Jul 09, 2009 1:00 pm
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Post Re: Heinlein Biographical thread?
Wasn't he more a stammerer? Stuttering tends to be the inability to get past a single syllable; stammering is getting hung up on a word or phrase. (I have no ingrained speech problems but frequently stammer when my brain runs faster than my mouth can handle.)

Heinlein's trick to break a stammer was to stop and whistle softly. You can see him do it a couple of times in the 1976 Worldcon speech tape.


Thu Jul 09, 2009 1:18 pm
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