Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Time Enough For Love.

I found it fascinating that while the pivotal character in Time Enough for Love, (1976) is male, Heinlein chose female professionals as some of the main protagonists when a male would have done as well. It seems that in most of his books a female is expected to be competent in something other than being female. Even in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress (1966)where a drastic imbalance in the ratio of women to men would seem to imply that the women would not choose productive activities, when men were eager to provide them with anything they might need, some of the women chose productive occupations.

It seems that if you are going to be a female protagonist in a Heinlein novel you had better be competent at something besides wife and mother, although you don't have to skip wife and mother in the process.

Stranger In a Strange Land
(1961) seems to be a bit of an anomaly in this regard. Jill is proactive early but this seems to be a plot issue rather than a role model issue. She is fairly conventional in role in the rest of the book as Mary Magdalene to the preacher/entertainer phase in Mike's Career. The other female characters are also quite conventional although quite capable. I suspect Heinlein felt he was being offensive enough in his main theme without tacking on any feminism issues.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Pay it forward - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Pay it forward - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:

The banker reached into the folds of his gown, pulled out a single credit note. 'But eat first — a full belly steadies the judgment. Do me the honor of accepting this as our welcome to the newcomer.'
His pride said no; his stomach said YES! Don took it and said, 'Uh, thanks! That's awfully kind of you. I'll pay it back, first chance.'
'Instead, pay it forward to some other brother who needs it.'

This is apparently the first use of the specific term in this context. Although the wiki notes that the concept is at least as old as Ben Franklin. The wiki is a nice background piece for the philosophy

Is Pay It Forward a complete moral philosophy?

Perhaps the next Quarterly Panel Discussion.

A recurring theme in Heinlein from Between Planets 1951. where it was first articulated in that form. In The Moon is a Harsh Mistress 1966 the theme recurs explicitly several times.

As you read Heinlein you notice that Pay It Forward is really the moral philosophy that underlies all his writing.

A slight rework of a Religious moral philosophy "Do unto others, as they have done unto you" provides the same flavor. As we go through life, those in our society beginning of course with parents as the only society for an infant but expanding through the extended family, teachers and mentors in school, to those in the larger society do things for us, some of which we pay for but many of which we there is no way to compensate the source of the benefit.

Heinlein as an example has provided the basis for my personal morality, which seems to come down to a Pay it Forward imperative, and obviously I can't pay him back so all I can do is pay it forward, by helping others discover this alternative moral philosophy. As an interesting sidelight I am also paying forward a class I took at Stanford from Prof. Don Davidson as an undergraduate entitled Philosophy in Literature. He forever changed the way I read fiction. I still read the first time for the good story, but in many cases I will spend a much longer time on a second reading figuring out the philosophy that informs the story.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Notebook of J'Carlin

Wait a half! Cap'n, that car belongs to all of us just like Jake's Milky Way bars, we pooled resources." NOB 219.

Female competence.

Overachieving females seems to be the common thread in most of the Heinlein Novels. This is not to say that the men are incompetent, although as noted earlier the men in The Star Beast are almost cartoons in their conventional male pattern conservative bumbling, but the competence of the men is as a foil against which the women show their capabilities and intelligence. A common theme is a male character assuming incapability in a female only to have the capability shoved down his throat in the next paragraph.

Zeb said, "Huh? Sharpie, there's no time for that; there's something dangerous around! You girls get inside before I--"...
"Chief Pilot, there are no 'girls' here; there are four adult humans." The Number of the Beast, 1980. (NOB) 219.

She goes on with a chain of command explanation, she being on top by being the most competent for command by consensus.

The first two thirds of NOB is an exercise in sorting out competence without regard to gender assumptions, and not incidentally how this sorts out in the context of conventional marital expectations. Both wives get pregnant early in the story which adds the spice of continuation of the species of super competent humans to the mix. It is also an extended lesson on how even pregnant competent females can believably achieve their designated roles in an adventure story.

1980 was early in the recognition of female competence, particularly mothers. A the time a male department head in a University was unable to introduce a professor mom on his staff as his native language had no word for female colleague. NOB was a very early exercise in exploring the implications of a pregnant woman in command of a mixed crew in a series of life threatening situations. As usual Heinlein has worked out a coherent philosophy for women taking a productive and reproductive roles in a pioneering adventure story.

Family life issues.

In his later novels Heinlein explores the issues of family life for a competent, economically productive, female who has the normal female drive for reproduction, nurturing and child care. This may be where Heinlein parts company with conventional feminists who seem to think that babies are incompatible with full participation in life as an economically productive adult. His solutions are generally forms of group marriage, with the men selected, it seems for their willingness to take the "pee watch" that is, to accept their responsibility for the care and nurturing of the children. In Heinlein novels preservation and enhancement of the species through reproduction by the most competent, in Heinlein's case usually females, is a given.


Friday reread from a perspective of gender philosophy causes cognitive dissonance until you realize that Friday is simply a James Bond type larger than life heroine with all the human foibles that larger than life characters normally display including a tendency to use sex as recreation and manipulation. Put the artificial person Friday in a male case and change the gender of all the other characters and you have a fairly conventional spy thriller, with the hero bedding all the interesting characters of the opposite sex.

Heinlein at least gave a nod to STDs by having Friday immunized and sterilized so that promiscuity which was a designed in characteristic of her artificial personality would not have unwanted results. Heinlein is turning the design aim of female artificial persons as doxies, upside down in Friday's case as she uses her sexuality and sexual favors for manipulation as well as her own gratification. But like a conventional male hero her own sexual gratification is accepted as a integral part of the story line.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Heinlein's Female Troubles - New York Times

Heinlein's Female Troubles - By M. G. LORD - New York Times : "Given Heinlein's apparently feminist ideas, you'd think he would be enshrined as a champion of women's rights. And had he stopped writing with his young-adult novels, he most likely would have been. But the sexual revolution took a toll on him, tainting some of his post-1970 novels with a dated lasciviousness and impairing his ability to create three-dimensional women. In Heinlein's earliest stories - the ones in which lady scientists used their initials - Heinlein eroticized his women. But the prim conventions of 1950's fiction precluded doing this explicitly. By the 1980's, however, he felt licensed to reveal more - or, in the case of Friday, to describe sexual experiences from a woman's point of view. Friday is an 'Artificial Person'; she was conceived in vitro and brought to term in an incubator, which in the book's fictive world is a terrible stigma. To today's AIDS-conscious reader, however, Friday bears a worse stigma: she is a brazen disease vector, recklessly promiscuous, with a bizarre weakness for male engineers. (Heinlein trained as an engineer.) This gives unintended meaning to the idea of Artificial Person; Friday exists only as a mouthpiece. Heinlein has so thoroughly objectified her that her subjectivity falls flat.

Sometimes I wish Heinlein were a less complex writer, that I could cheerlead for his early novels"

As a result of this paragraph I am rereading Friday. So far MG's criticisms seem a little dated and shrill. I find his later novels, while sexually explicit in conformance with the popular fiction of the time, Heinlein was above all a popular fiction writer, still had that unusual emphasis on females as competent fully participatory humans, who just happened to be the half that got pregnant. I think some of the problems feminists have is that Heinlein's women are interested in having babies. Many of his explorations of family structures are setting up child care situations for women who are not dedicated child care providers. In all his families in the later novels, the men are expected to be involved in child rearing coequally with the women. Radical for the time.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Heinlein Bibliography

Probably more useful here than in a Firefox tab.

Wiki's Bibliography

The Feminist Philosopher

Note: I am starting this blog as a working outline for an upcoming panel discussion on the above title.

A little background I grew up in family of strong, independent, intelligent women going back at least three generations. My great Grandmother supported a large family as a writer, composer, and nursery school operator at the end of the 19th century.

The first Heinlein I remember reading was an ugly duckling rework in F&SF that turned into the The Star Beast (1954) which I bought as soon as it came out in paperback in the mid 50's. I resonated with the idea that the main (human) protagonist in the story was a young woman who overcame the prevailing attitude that women were basically ignored as adjuncts to the men in the story. Teen Betty Sorenson was introduced to the story to take charge of a bunch of men, adults and her boyfriend, who were botching an accidental disaster caused by the large bored extraterrestrial Star Beast. The rest of the story is about Betty making fools of the cartoon men in the story to save the world by making friends with the Queen of the powerful extraterrestrials. Much of the story was playing with the conventional role models of males and how 2 strong, competent females can use feminine social and nurturing solutions to solve problems.

In many of his early works the obligatory male protagonists seem to be continually bailed out of trouble by females who are strong, competent, and continually violating the traditional female role model of subservient companion. "Jack" in "Tunnel in the Sky" Maggie in If this goes on... Eldreth in Starman Jones.

Robert Heinlein - Modern Philosopher

Robert Heinlein first and foremost wrote rollicking good stories that sold well. He was a commercial writer whose publishers made sure the story line made people keep turning the pages and buying the stories. He was very successful.

From his earliest works, even the Juveniles, he had a consistent philosophical basis for all of his works that in many respects was quite different of the prevailing popular philosophy of his time. This blog will explore those philosophical underpinnings of his stories.