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Our Lady's Juggler 
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Fri Aug 08, 2008 5:00 am
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Fri Aug 08, 2008 1:41 pm
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Heinlein Nexus

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Heinlein is deceptive, because he wasn't interested in having readers distracted by signs saying, "Look at me! I'm being literary! Look -- I'm a symbol!!"

He operated in a commercial market, and learned to craft the well-told tale that sold well.

But he was a master of slipping into that commercial market the thing that must have satisfied him as much as the sale -- an underlying structure, meaning, and unsettling quality that most great art possesses.

People used to think Hemingway wasn't all that much of an artist either, until you start to look at how perfectly crafted his works are (at least prior to WWII, before the manic depression and alcohol began eroding the art).

Heinlein, like Asimov, deliberately chose to construct a simple prose that anyone could read. Asimov was the single best nonfiction writer this country has ever produced; he could explain anything to anybody (I passed all my college science courses by reading him first on the topic). But where Asimov's fiction has begun to age (badly, I might add, with a few exceptions), and rarely rewards re-reading, because what's on the surface is all there is -- Heinlein, on the other hand, has deliberately laid in multiple layers of meaning and questioning that rewards deep reading, and re-reading.

That he could do all that, and still sell commercially, was unprecedented in SF, and most other genre fiction as well.

Robert


Fri Jul 24, 2009 6:52 pm
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Nicely put, Robert. I've never been a big fan of most of Asimov's fiction, although I think "The Gods Themselves" is still worth reading after thirty years. His non-fiction, however, is brilliant and in many ways inspired me in my career path. (I'm a technical writer hoping to become a full-time science writer one of these days.)

Much of Heinlein's fiction, however, remains among my favorites after innumerable rereadings. "Stranger in a Strange Land" was, unfortunately, the first Heinlein book I ever read and completely freaked me out in high school, but now it's a favorite. ;-) "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" is *the* favorite, thirty-seven years after I first read it. (Also in high school.) Ditto so many other books, both "early" and "late" Heinlein. I find something new in them each time I read them.

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Sat Jul 25, 2009 9:58 am
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"The Gods Themselves" would be my choice for Asimov's best work of fiction -- he pushed himself harder and farther in that piece than any other work of fiction he ever created, I think.


Sat Jul 25, 2009 10:32 am
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You know, it's odd - I could barely struggle through TGT and have failed in two attempts at rereading it. I much prefer his short works and the two original Daneel Olivaw novels - iffy on the third.

There are several "must read, best of the author/genre" novels I just can't get a grip on. I don't know why.

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Sat Jul 25, 2009 10:57 am
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Heinlein Nexus

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Jim, it's not unusual for certain novels to not work for certain readers. I like Caves of Steel, but I've had no impulse to go back and re-read it at all; on the other hand, much of the short fiction is getting badly dated, at least for anyone who expects dialogue that doesn't sound like it was being cranked out by a man with a tin ear for names and how people actually talk....

Asimov's gifts were in explaining things, clearly and concisely; there's a reason he largely abandoned science fiction in the early sixties, with rare exception. He knew he was a literary dinosaur, and said so repeatedly; his eighties Foundation novels, bestsellers though they were, are a travesty. Nostalgia for the audacity of the original stories, and a lack of a finish for the series, really drove those sales.

I keep trying to read Philip Dick, and I can't seem to work up any enthusiasm.

Oddly enough, he is now the hottest SF writer for college students, in the way that RAH used to be....

I just don't have any emotional or intellectual resonance for a writer who suggests we have no way of knowing what reality is....trust me, reality kicks us in the ass nearly every day...


Sat Jul 25, 2009 5:28 pm
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I find a lot of Asimov dated - and Clarke, for that matter (although how much of that is, "Gee, this is clichéd," when they invented the cliché?), but I can reread the Foundation trilogy until the end of time (which may be in about 2 years...?)


Sat Jul 25, 2009 7:58 pm
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PeterScott: I have tried every 5 years or so for decades, without success, to get into the Foundation Trilogy. The three separate Doubleday hardcovers were in my junior high library, which also offered Heinlein (not only the juveniles but also the Three by Heinlein omnibus). Also there was Asimov's Nightfall and Other Stories and the Silverberg story collection The Calibrated Alligator, both of which I found nourishing.

Shortly thereafter (early 1970s) I ended up getting a Science Fiction Book Club edition of the Trilogy, and I had Asimov autograph it (just his signature, no dedication) when he appeared at Lehigh University a year or so later. It's still in good condition. If you want it, you can have it for a very nominal price - I don't want to bother with eBay.


Sat Jul 25, 2009 8:56 pm
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Ah, The Foundation Trilogy. Psychohistory. Science fiction holy scripture. It's been years (decades?) since I read it. You guys have prompted me to pull my single-volume Doubleday edition off the shelf and blow off the dust. :mrgreen:

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Sat Jul 25, 2009 10:17 pm
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