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Bad Guys 
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Centennial Organizer
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Post Bad Guys
It struck me this morning while I was mulling over the topic of outlawry that Heinlein did not write credible bad guys very often. The closest thing to a Bad Guy was Mrs. Keithly -- and she may be the only one who was really written bad and in full. The next closest thing to a Bad Guy was the Prophet Nehemiah Scudder and his minions -- and of course, Heinlein disposed of Scudder's successor by handing him over to the women.

I considered the fact that Digby was almost certainly a murderer -- and a Good ol' Boy for a prophet. Same with Ponse. The Black Hats were a fog and a figment. The Bugs were -- bugs with non-human motives, not "bad guys".

The Warden was cardboard, and a stand-in for the structure that deported folks to Luna.

In Friday, there were a bad cop, someone who blew up a boat, and some kind of problem about the Shipstone corporation that was hinted at, but never resolved. And a Good Guy Rapist -- let's not forget that appalling piece of bizzaro "logic".

I find it most peculiar when considering the whole.


Mon Aug 03, 2009 10:23 am
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Heinlein Nexus

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Heinlein specifically said that he didn't really believe in villains, which makes his writing, on the whole, more believable than most writers. Villains are highly artificial constructs, and while they can make for fun stories (Darth Vader, anyone?), they don't tend to make for deep storytelling. Sauron was always the most difficult part of LOTR for me to swallow; his followers were usually more interesting...


Mon Aug 03, 2009 10:29 am
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I hesitate to call that attitude "lack of imagination" -- perhaps sheltered amongst kitty cats and butterflies. I used to have access to the records in the National Crime Information Center computer, and I can assure you that there really are "bad guys" of many sorts.

OK, he didn't want to write stories about them -- but declaring that they did not really exist is astoundingly naive. What, Auschwitz was staffed by bunnies?


Mon Aug 03, 2009 10:40 am
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Good points, Tina.

And actually, I think the way to look at this is the idea that nobody thinks of themselves as a villain -- the Nazis thought they were doing the right thing...

That may be closer to Heinlein's attitude.

I'll have to go hunting through the correspondence to find that quote....

RJ


Mon Aug 03, 2009 10:43 am
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In the end, I found Heinlein is finite. Thus, finite analysis is needed.


Mon Aug 03, 2009 10:47 am
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I've always had the impression that Heinlein didn't disbelieve in bad guys, but both thought and hoped that most "bad guys" weren't all bad when you got down to basics. I also had the distinct impression that he preferred to hang out with people he liked, both as a writer and as a human being. I've got a lot of respect for and sympathy with that view. ;-)

I'm rereading Louis Fischer's biography of Gandhi right now. Yeah, strange taste for a Heinlein fan, but I've admired Gandhi since high school and still do. Gandhi and Heinlein were very different kinds of people, but they had in common both a tendency not to assume that their opponents were necessarily bad men, and a hardheaded ability to recognize an actual enemy when faced with one. In Gandhi's life, this is perhaps best illustrated in his reaction to two men he came into serious conflict with -- South African Boer leader Jan Smuts, on the one hand, and British General Reginald Dyer, who was responsible for the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre in Amritsar in 1919, on the other.

Gandhi and Smuts ended up friends. Although Smuts was determined to enforce South African law and not about to let Gandhi upend the system there, he respected Gandhi and his followers. Smuts had no personal animus against Gandhi or Indians in general, and while racist, was not a entirely comfortable with his own racism and did not hate or despise other races. In later years he and Gandhi corresponded. Gandhi gave him a pair of sandals that Gandhi had made, sandals Smuts treasured and wore for two decades at the beach before returning them to Gandhi with thanks shortly before his death.

Dyer was a different kettle of fish. He ordered a massacre against unarmed civilians and defended his actions resolutely to the end of his life as necessary to prevent Asian inferiors from revolting against superior Europeans. As best I can tell, Dyer wasn't motivated by sadism, merely by a near-sociopathic inability to view non-Europeans as fellow human beings combined with military judgment that any lesser measure would not end the growing unrest against British rule. Gandhi never attempted a reconciliation with Dyer, as he normally did with his opponents. In fact, the British government's refusal to punish Dyer or condemn his actions was the final straw that turned Gandhi from agitating for dominion status within the British Empire to demanding complete independence from it.

Heinlein the writer seemed to have the same ability to distinguish between opponents who were nonetheless decent human beings who could be trusted to keep their word, and enemies who were not decent human beings and were never so dangerous as when you thought they were your allies. I've noticed that this ability to distinguish between opponents and enemies is fairly common among military people, especially combat veterans, less so among civilians. IMHO it's a wonderful character trait.

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Mon Aug 03, 2009 12:10 pm
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Mon Aug 03, 2009 11:34 pm
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Question for Bill and Robert: Is either of you aware of any significant encounter Heinlein ever had with a true sociopath, someone utterly without empathy for other human beings? Was he ever the victim of a truly life-altering crime? My guess is that he did not have any such encounters, and that his villains might have been more impactful if he had.

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Tue Aug 04, 2009 9:06 am
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Tue Aug 04, 2009 1:37 pm
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January 7, 1970: Virginia Heinlein to Lurton Blassingame
Some weeks ago, a fan letter came in from the jail in Independence, California. In a burst of generosity, Robert tried to do something about this girl who'd written him. It turned out that she was one of the Manson family. So if we're knifed in our beds like Sharon Tate, it's because of three letters from members of the family. Just tell the police. I'm leaving these notices everywhere I can, in hopes of preventing anything from happening.

So yeah, I'm sure the topic of evil was raised at breakfast a few times.


Tue Aug 04, 2009 3:45 pm
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