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Heinlein Biographical thread? 
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Post Re: Heinlein Biographical thread?
James Gifford wrote:
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.)


I guess I owe you somewhat of an apology. I had misread your responses as a denial of the significance of the "fugitive" theme.

I do feel you have somewhat misunderstood my intent - perhaps my fault, as my idea was not as well articulated as it might have been. To a certain extent, I'm falling back on the proverbial "I know it when I see it". I had assumed, perhaps unwisely, that others would recognize it easily once pointed out.

I'll try to clarify a little. WHat I'm referring to is more accurately described as a "mood" - although I referred to it initially as a "theme".

Let's look at a few very diverse characters ant see if we recognize a commonality.

Rod Walker, alone (initially) on an alien planet - unsure of whether any human he might meet would be friend or foe.

Lazarus Long, returned to the time of his boyhood, taking all precautions to conceal his identity and status from bot ucasual acquaintances,m and his own first family.

The Howards generally, living the "masquerade" to conceal the fact of their long lives.

Maureen Johnson, concealing her sexual practices from her Bible Belt neighbors.

Lazarus and Dora as pioneers on New Beginnings - especially in their confrontation with the Montgomery clan.

John Thomas Stuart up in a canyon trying to figure out how to conceal Lummox.

Max Jones, leaving home as a runaway, and then shipping in the Asgard with fake papers.

The protagonist of "Ordeal in Space" living under an assumed name. This one is especially interesting, as there is arguably little to be gained dramatically by including the assumed identity as a story element.

Thorby Baslim on the run after the death of Colonel Baslim. On the run again, as he "escapes" the Sisu to be put abpard the Guard cruiser. On the run yet again as he must commit various subterfuges
to regain his legal status as Rudbek of Rudbek.

The protagonist of The Puppet Masters while on the ground in infested territory.

And, of course, Friday Jones/Marjorie Baldwin, obsessed with her presumed inhumanity.

Am I saying that these characters are somehow "the same". Not at all. Is there a common quality in their presentation. I suggest yes. And I further suggest that it is difficult to believe that this quality could be presented so well - from "the inside" - and so pervaisively in such a variety of contests, had it not been part of the writer's own mental experience.

This last sentence is surely extremely debatable - but I think it's important to get it on the table.


James Gifford wrote:
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.


Actually, if you read carefully what I posted. I do not claim and have not claimed that Heinlein had Asperger's. I put forward a possibility clearly labeled as speculation. My "claim", such as it is, is that "It would explain a lot".

The kind of evidence I would regard as convincing either way may in fact not be available. I would like to see someone who knew Heinlein reasonably well an a variety of contexts, and was also quite familiar with Asperger's, discuss what they saw in Heinlein's personality that would tent to confirm or disconfirm such a speculation. This is unlikely to occur, if only because those closest to him during his life would probably choose to remain silent out of respect for his memory.

I will tell you, that if one lives with Asperger's for many years, there are a lot of contexts in which it is simply not obvious. There are social contexts which I have emotionally defined for myself as comfortable. In those contexts I can be witty, gregarious, and quite socially adept. I've had people say "You're shy? - I don't believe it". (I have been painfully shy my whole life and remain so) And all I can say is "You've only seen me around people I'm comfortable with". Get me in a situation where there are neither bonds of freindship to make me feel comfortable, nor a well-defined structure that I can navigate according to known rules, and you will observe me sitting in a corner incommunicado. Context is decisive.

James Gifford wrote:
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 have not said and do not say that Heinlein, Van Vogt, or others "must be Aspie" (a term I happen to personally dislike, BTW). I do say that the circumstantial evidence is suggestive.

I strongly suspect that the incidence of Asperger's is wider than commonly believed, especially since the condition only became familiar in the English language literature sometime around the mid-seventies.

I would ask you if you have ever met any bright perceptive teens who were "well-adjusted" in their social relationships. I think such people exist - say for instance an academically talented college student who is also a popular member of a fraternity or sorority.

I think an interesting question might be what distinguishes these well-adjusted smart kids from their socially awkward counterparts. Could it be that the awkward paranoid and oppressed are disproportionately subject to Aspergers - or at least somewhere on the "autistic spectrum".

I don't think there is an obvious answer to this question, but I think it is an interesting one to consider.

For me, learning of the existence of Asperger's was somewhat like discovering a new color, and realizing that I *was* that color. The first thing one wants to do is go out and look everywhere to see what else is that color.

Could be my suspicion about Heinlein is completely wrong. But I think it deserves a good look.

James Gifford wrote:
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.


This is not unreasonable. Unfortunately, I have a day job which I'm shamelessly neglecting even as we speak. I simply don't have the resources to proceed as you suggest.

And have no doubt. It would be a formidable task. And I'm actually not sure we'd know a lot more at the end than we do already. We're all pretty familiar with Heinlein's work, and it's not that difficult for each of us personally to run over stories in our head and note that they do or don't give us that sense of "on the run" or "in hiding".

One which notably does not, IMO, would be Starship Troopers.

Another part of the problem is that Asperger's *is* a little hard to define. The term "autistic spectrum" is a tacit recognition that conditions of this sort do not have well defined boundaries and shade imperceptibly into one another and into the "neurotypical" (another term I dislike) around the edges.

Perhaps the best we can do is agree that it is an interesting question which will be difficult to answer definitively

-Steve


Sat Jul 11, 2009 1:07 am
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Post Re: Heinlein Biographical thread?
scrocker1946 wrote:
James Gifford wrote:
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.

This is not unreasonable. Unfortunately, I have a day job which I'm shamelessly neglecting even as we speak. I simply don't have the resources to proceed as you suggest.

Ah, thanks - you couldn't have done better if you were a planted shill in the audience. :)

You've nailed one of the major purposes of Heinlein Nexus.

When we pulled off the Centennial, it was at huge personal expense for each of the four or five of us at the core. It damn near killed some of us. So part of the delay in bringing out a sequel was the discussion about how to continue these efforts in a more controlled and distributed way.

Heinlein Nexus is about everyone in the community - it's just an organizing center, with a steering committee, not a formal foundation or research group. This question interests you, a community member, deeply; you are the one who should run the answer to ground. Yes, you'll have to do it around other life interests, just as we're doing things this time without setting family, jobs, etc. aside.

And you have resources - all the resources at our collective fingertips! HN is about bringing all the community members - like you - with good questions or ideas about adding to the collective knowledge of the community - like you - together with others who share the curiosity and perhaps the resources to work out the answers.

I think we might need a "research" forum, but I hesitate to expand things so soon. For now, I'd start a thread in the Advanced Heinlein thread, outlining (tightly) your premise about the Fugitive theme in Heinlein. List your own examples, and invite others to add to or argue against more examples. Eventually you'll have to run down every suggested character and situation in the original, but the community memory and suggestion should simplify the effort.

I'd be interested in seeing a thoroughly worked out investigation of this topic.

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Sat Jul 11, 2009 10:50 am
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Post Re: Heinlein Biographical thread?
JamesGifford wrote:
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.

Just the fact that the Aspergers theory brought this to light is justification enough, IMHO, for continued pursuit of definitive answers, though the question is interesting enough without answers.
Having grown up in the backwoods just a couple hundred miles south of RAH's early stomping grounds, I remember well how stutterers and stammerers were teased and bullyed throughout school by the more brutish children in the pack. That alone could explain the alienation theme, or make a sympathetic person feel for the other alienated individuals they met (or imagined) throught life. I wouldn't be surprised to see other explanations come to light. There might be several small things, rather than one overwhelming cause. Fascinating to consider, as I'm sure we have all done for years. Fresh insight -- I love this site!
(That's weird -- I came back to edit because, on review, 'throughout' read 'throught' but, when I got into Edit mode, it was keyed correctly.)

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Mon Jul 20, 2009 8:42 am
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Post Re: Heinlein Biographical thread?
not to be a killjoy, but my whole purpose for suggesting this thread was to focus on the cold, hard FACTS of what we know about Heinlein's life and views. I didn't read all the posts here about Asperger's, but... come on. Unless there's a bit of written evidence, then we're hardly talking biographical data here.

Plus, my suggestion has always been to ignore totally theories that are based on Heinlein's written fiction, as he has always indicated that his fiction shouldn't be taken to be biographical. I think we owe the man that much. So theories about Heinlein's stance on topics like euthanasia seem irrelevant as well (at least for this thread) unless we have evidence for it. Am I wrong? If we are to study the man himself, should we really base our theories on the decisions made by some of his characters (therefore ignoring contradicting viewpoints by his other characters)? Sure, Heinlein-the-man shared qualities with some of his characters-- particularly rationality. He also didn't share some of their traits, like being 2000 years old, living on the moon, etc. In other words, they are FICTION. I vote we let Mr. Heinlein speak for himself, which he did in numerous articles, letters, travelogues, radio and television appearances, etc. And if we want to speculate, then we can speculate all we want. But a biographical thread seems a weird place for it.

If I ever have a couple weeks free, I'll type up an extensive list of Heinlein facts that I've wanted to explore. I think a good list, properly cited, would be awesome. I'm sure Bill Patterson has already essentially done this in note-form for the biography.


Wed Jul 22, 2009 10:29 pm
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Post Re: Heinlein Biographical thread?
The question of how to use a writer's fiction to decide events in their biography is an extremely touchy one, fraught with peril.

I just finished reading Michael Reynolds' four-volume biography of Hemingway, and he sets issues clearly in that context more brilliantly than any biographer of a writer that I've ever read. He very, very carefully pins everything he can to letters, particularly since his research shows that most of what Hemingway wrote was imaginary, and not lived, as most of his readers (including myself, at times), believed. Given that many authors tend to be liars in their letters and their conversations, the danger is significantly increased.

Having said that, I do think there is one tactic that tends to be revelatory of an author's true feelings, and that is when you look at what the author chooses to happen to his characters. Plot is an extremely undervalued literary merit for much of the past century of literary criticism, but what an author chooses to do with his characters, is, in fact, his or her own choices, which are almost invariably based on their interior beliefs (even when they choose to have something happen because it makes a better story, the fact that they choose to go for that better story does say something about their belief system).

Also, when an author repeats positions in book after book, one does tend to think this is closer to the author's heart than a single book would indicate.

For example, the issue of Heinlein's take on government is an extremely important one to many people, and one that Libertarians in particular cite. They consider him to be a hard-core libertarian, which isn't an unfair position to take. But when you consider that Heinlein speaks admirably, in numerous places, both nonfiction and fiction, of the value of government, you cannot discard the idea that Heinlein felt government was necessary, sometimes even in large doses -- the Depression and WWII for example, when we know for a fact that Heinlein backed FDR's New Deal (even while wanting it to go further) and the war effort (after being shocked out of an essentially isolationist pov by Pearl Harbor). Any author who has created Mr. Kiku cannot be totally opposed to bureaucracy -- an author who thought government NEVER worked would, in my opinion, not create an admirable bureaucrat.

As for Heinlein's best statement about his own political beliefs, and my summation of them, see my afterword to "For Us, the Living".

Robert


Fri Jul 24, 2009 12:17 pm
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Post Re: Heinlein Biographical thread?
AlexHergensheimer wrote:
not to be a killjoy, but my whole purpose for suggesting this thread was to focus on the cold, hard FACTS of what we know about Heinlein's life and views. [...] I vote we let Mr. Heinlein speak for himself, which he did in numerous articles, letters, travelogues, radio and television appearances, etc.

It's only been in the last few years that I realized I couldnot trust what Heinlein said about himself in his jacket blurbs and interviews -- the whole bit about the short story contest, etc. What a writer says about who he really is cannot necessarily be considered any more factual than the admitted fiction he writes. I'm not saying I don't see the justifications (finances, privancy, etc.) for this; I'm just saying that it may not be as clearcut as the quote above indicates.

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Fri Jul 24, 2009 1:59 pm
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Post Re: Heinlein Biographical thread?
The question of why he fudged information is tangled. Part of it was simply not remembering correctly -- we all do that, as memory is a slippery thing at best. Part of it was as Twain said -- never let the truth get in the way of a good story. And part of it was eliding the facts to bolster his creds, like claiming he went to UCLA, which he did, for a few weeks at best -- but the impression was left that he went there more substantially.

And part of it was simply that he drew an extreme line between his private life and his public life, and he was more than willing to lie -- extensively, if need be -- to protect that privacy, and/or to make a point (such as the time he told an anti-Semite he was good friends with that he was, in fact, Jewish, and left the dinner party to let the bastard stew in his own stupidity...).

Robert


Fri Jul 24, 2009 2:08 pm
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Post Re: Heinlein Biographical thread?
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And part of it was simply that he drew an extreme line between his private life and his public life, and he was more than willing to lie -- extensively, if need be -- to protect that privacy, and/or to make a point (such as the time he told an anti-Semite he was good friends with that he was, in fact, Jewish, and left the dinner party to let the bastard stew in his own stupidity...).


ROFL! I haven't had the opportunity to pull anything of that sort with Judaism, although I've done it with smug anti-Christians and the occasional raving nutcase anti-Muslim. With the growth of antisemitism in left-wing academia, however, I hope to have the opportunity one of these days. :roll: If Heinlein were still among us, I'd say it was following in the footsteps of the master, and watch him react. :lol:

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Post Re: Heinlein Biographical thread?
RobertJames wrote:
... look at what the author chooses to happen to his characters. Plot is an extremely undervalued literary merit for much of the past century of literary criticism, but what an author chooses to do with his characters, is, in fact, his or her own choices, which are almost invariably based on their interior beliefs (even when they choose to have something happen because it makes a better story, the fact that they choose to go for that better story does say something about their belief system).

Also, when an author repeats positions in book after book, one does tend to think this is closer to the author's heart than a single book would indicate. ...

As for Heinlein's best statement about his own political beliefs, and my summation of them, see my afterword to "For Us, the Living".
I agree. For all Heinlein's range, there is a striking consistency of what we might call the plot's attitude to life.

I just went to reread your afterword to For Us, the Living, and found it (again) clear and enlightening. If Heinlein could encompass California politics in the 1930s, fractional reserve banking, and rocketry (to name a few), to understand and appreciate him it behooves us to know something about those topics.

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Sat Jul 25, 2009 4:22 pm
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Post Re: Heinlein Biographical thread?
Thanks for the compliment.


Sat Jul 25, 2009 5:18 pm
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