Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Yesterday's Tomorrow's Past's Future's Imperfect

Robert A. Heinlein
The Past Through Tomorrow
1967, G.P. Putnam & Sons, NY

Rating: -1.3 (Scale -12:12)

If you read SF, then you know that Robert Heinlein is one of those writers. You know, the giants of the field who you can't possibly criticize because they're too influential, too big, wrote too much that was too popular.

In other words, they're sacred cows. You can't touch them, which is funny, because Heinlein spent a significant pile of his career taking down what he saw as the "important" sacred cows in the society of his day.

Picking on the science in old SF stories is easy, and truly unfair. It's not the science that's the problem with reading it. So I'm not going to; it's the equivalent of saying that fantasy sucks because magic doesn't work. That's not the point. The point is that Heinlein's societal views are at best outdated and at worst problematic.

So then, Heinlein's society. What's wrong with it? Well, there are no minorities. Everyone is white. This is occasionally fair, as in the story Coventry, one of the stories in the collection at hand; all of the people who won't submit to magico-psychic treatments so they don't punch other people are sent to a reservation in Wyoming. They're all white. So, this is good, right? We're not ghettoizing minorities, just the whites. But the whites are also everywhere else. He seems to be predicating his society in what America isn't, and even wasn't at the time of his writing.

The other problem is the rampant misogyny in the book. Even female rocket engineers (The Menace From Earth) are depicted as mostly helpless, whiny, and unlikely to be able to do anything other than push their husbands into action through nagging. Since there were plenty of female entrepreneurs and activists in America while these stories were written, the segregation of women into these crappy traditional roles and tropes is, honestly, painful.

There's other problems, too; the road cities that he suggests are dumb. These road cities are served by huge conveyor belts; cars have become obsolete. Cities exist stretched across these giant superhighways. Anyone who has looked at urban planning once the highway system was started in the 30's would have realized that this would never work - roads like Route 1 go through towns because they're constructed from main streets, not the other way around. Controlled access freeways have been the trend from 1930 on; Heinlein's vision of "road cities" seems hopelessly dated, even from when it was written.

The long and short of this book is that women and religion are dumb and that science and men are great. If this is your cup of tea, then you'll probably enjoy this book more than we at Elfstar Industries. If you prefer actual characters, or actual human interaction, then this book is not for you.


Post a Comment

<< Home