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1,101, January 17, 2021

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Escapist Literature: A Few more good Heinleins
by Jeff Fullerton
tcmajorr62@yahoo.com

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Attribute to L. Neil Smith’s The Libertarian Enterprise

It’s been a pretty manic week in human affairs. Namely the continuing fallout from the Capital Riots from the previous week and the continuing onslaught of the Covid 19 Pandemic that is surging again. So much for the hope that 2021 might be better than 2020. The way things are going I’m sorely tempted to shut off the sewer pipe of the newsfeed coming onto my phone least I drown in the misery and despair that surrounds me. And escape.

Into my Florida Room project which is also a nice refuge from the general misery of winter and also a source of growing satisfaction in life as a close in on the finish of the two remaining aquarium to cage conversions. There is nothing like the joy that goes with creating something with one’s mind and hands—and I have a very strong conviction that such enterprises have great healing potential for people and even nations and that almost became my theme of the week to contribute to this journal. But my other interest choice of escape: science fiction literature won out.

In particular—three really good works of Robert A. Heinlein which I’ve been following via audiobooks streamed to my phone during the last couple weeks on the drive to and from work and sometimes when I’m out and about town.

The first was Citizen of the Galaxy which is Heinlein’s other slavery themed novel that starts out on an oppressive backwater planet on the fringes of human expansion in a far future age.

The second is Starman Jones which I first read in junior high school—which is so long ago that I can’t quite recall whether I borrowed it from a teacher or the school library. It was for me a memorable adolescent reading experience about a young man who escapes an abusive rural home life in pursuit of a career as a starship astrogator struggling against the corrupt system of trade guilds and union politics and some really nasty workplace bullying. And strikes up a relationship with a pretty girl and then a navigation error by an incompetent captain that maroons them in unknown space where they put down on planet that at first seems like paradise but is populated by a hostile race of carnivorous centaurs who think humans make for a tasty meal!

Then there is Revolt in 2100. This book which published in the early 1950s is based on a novella called “If This Goes On”—which is combined with two other short stories; all set in the timeline of America rebelling against the yoke of a religious dictatorship in the 21st Century. I first read it in the late 1980s—ironically about the time the major sex and corruption scandals concerning several prominent television preachers and a few politicians thrown in.

It seemed a good time to revisit that one now that many people on the Left are convinced that we just narrowly averted such a scenario in this nation—the theme of the novel In Heinlein’s time was that it might not necessarily be the commies who get us—but a wave of right wing Christian fundamentalism led by a charismatic preacher who installs himself in place of the Presidency as the First Prophet and dictator of the United States. Of course leftists are going to say it was Donald Trump.

But now in light of current events is could very well be the incoming democratic administration which is right now among my deepest fears. I remember Mr Heinlein and also Isaac Asimov saying that a religious dictatorship might very well happen in the wake of another Great Depression. Both writers were alive when a horrible economic calamity brought Hitler and the Nazi Party to power in Germany so it would be easy for them to envision such a scenario.

In the current era we are now going through a similar cycle of history—but it looks like the radical Left is in a better position to do the same. Which makes Revolt in 2100 a great read. In part for the precautionary warning that is hallmark of most dystopian science fiction. You might think I’m contradicting myself having just said I need to escape from the world—yet here I am reading stories about some of the very ugly aspects of the Human Condition. The filthy habit of slavery that some people look to beat others over the head with and unjustly blame for in a world where such has been mostly abolished for more than a century—that was the theme in Citizen of the Galaxy and Farnham’s Freehold which I wrote a full blown review about many years ago! Or how the combination of toxic relationships and tragic incompetence can cause a ship (or nation) to loose its course; in Starman Jones. Or the tendency of human beings with an itch to meddle in the affairs and regulate the behavior of others that is the root of problem in addition to an economic crisis that led to the religious dictatorship in Revolt in 2100.

That revelation is the best thing that can be gotten out of these novels. Especially the critique of the religious zealotry of wannabe moral thought police that is given treatment in Revolt in 2100. That can easily be applied to the politically correct McCarthyism of the Left which has been working overtime in recent years to smear and even crush those who dare dissent from the partisan line. Among Heinlein’s most famous quotes is one about how human beings divide politically between those who want to control others and those who want to be free of such. This is the fundamental break between collectivism of primitive human societies and individualism that created technology and civilization. The people who favor the former often embrace orthodoxy—either in social customs, religion or ideology—and can be very unpleasant or even dangerous to be around. The latter; Heinlein argues make much better neighbors.

So all three of these Heinlein works and most of his other stories always good for both escaping and understanding the awful times in which we live. They are mostly stories with adventure and excitement that explore strange new worlds which is a form of escape—as is the expose of human frailty, tyranny and hypocrisy which we see all around us in everyday life. It’s nice to read fictional stories about the follies and improprieties of preachers, professors and politicians—the 3 Ps!—and even nicer to hear about it in real life. I enjoy seeing the high and mighty brought low. They may have succeeded in bringing down President Trump—but eventually their turn will come too. Nothing lasts forever and you can’t get away with doing bad things and lying about it forever.

Funny thing about the author; Robert A. Heinlein is that he stated out in his early days as a utopian socialist who worked for the campaign of Upton Sinclair who was the Bernie Sanders of his time back in the 1930s. During the post World War II era and through the course of the Cold War he had a wake up call seeing the reality of life in the Soviet Union and he began to evolve a libertarian philosophy and celebrated freedom and individualism in his writings. By the 1960s he’d gone from supporting Upton Sinclair to Barry Goldwater!

In the course of my life I had a similar evolution from more or less the cargo cult mentality of the Rust Belt that always hoped for another good Democrat the likes of FDR or JFK to get the country moving again—to the realization that we were lucky Reagan won in 1980 and again in 84. That’s probably why I like Heinlein so much. It kind of follows that old saying about the young man who isn’t a socialist vs the guy over 30 who is not a conservative. It makes for both good storytelling and understanding of the human condition and politics. It’s also spells hope that many of the younger generations currently embracing the irrational appeal of socialism will see the folly of such as they mature. That often happens to people as they move upward and start to realize the impact of someone else picking their pockets. Or if conditions stagnate or deteriorate and they get tired of broken promises or repressive government.

Reading a good Heinlein novel can also help with this. His influence certainly shaped my life for the better!

 

Books mentioned in this review, to be found at Amazon.com:

Citizen of the Galaxy

Starman Jones

Revolt in 2100

Farnham’s Freehold

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