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Robert Anson Heinlein: the Centennial

Posted by Selene Verri su luglio 7, 2007

Robert Anson Heinlein

Robert Heinlein aurait eu 100 ans le 7 juillet. Petit tour d’horizon de son œuvre, par des Lyonnes survoltées.

Special guest: Pat Cadigan. The original text in English:

I came to science fiction the way most people my age in the US did–keen interest in science combined with a love for exciting stories. We all started  with the same big names: Asimov, Bradbury, and Clarke–the ABCs of science fiction. This is where your taste developed–you discovered whether you preferred the hard science nuts-and-bolts of Asimov or the poetic, lyrical fables, some whimsical and some very dark, of Bradbury, or the futuristic visions of Clarke.

But then there was Heinlein. He gave us the basics and the complexities not just of science and fiction and science fiction, but of life itself.

I learned a lot about life from Heinlein. He snkeaed all sorts of things into his stories and novels–basic ecology, behavioural psychology, sociology, comparative religion–not to mention ethics, honour, and duty.

So where does feminism come in?

It’s hard to explain exactly. On Planet Heinlein, feminism was the default position. Or maybe there was no such thing as feminism because it was a given.

Thirty-one years ago, I was on the committee for the Kansas City world sf convention. One night, the phone rang in my small rented house in Lawrence, Kansas. I picked it up to hear a deep, resonant male voice say, “Hello, Mrs. Cadigan, this is Robert Heinlein.” I had read every word the man had ever written and I thought I understood him. As it turned out, I was right.

I understood that he held humanity, men and women, to a high standard and made no exception for himself or the people he loved. And he did love people, particularly women. He loved the idea of women and he loved the reality of them. Everything about the way he thought about women was compatible with feminism. His manners were courtly, something common to even the most basically educated person of his generation–I saw it in members of my own family.

His wife Viriginia Heinlein, also deceased, served in the military and was an engineer by profession. You might say that she was in the vanguard of feminism, except the word was never mentioned. On Planet Heinlein, the feminist battle had already been won.

No, it’s not a realistic attitude for today’s world. On the other hand, it’s no more counter-productive than any other attitude.

He did develop a few odd ideas later in his life and there were some things that he was just plain wrong about. Do you know of anyone who isn’t wrong about a few things? I don’t. I did not hesitate to tell him that, and to tell him why. Mr. Heinlein had a healthy respect for dissent and was willing to hear just about anyone out, provided they could present themselves in a reasonably articulate manner and had an elementary grasp of logic. Not to mention nerve. You had to have nerve. I.e., courage. Guts.

I understand that’s asking a lot of some people.

When my son was born, his father and I named him Robert Michael–Robert for Robert Heinlein, Michael for Valentine Michael Smith, and I was proud to tell Mr. Heinlein so.

And what does any of this have to do with feminism? Well, I have been less than articulate and basically logical in explaining it. I can only tell you that after reading everything Robert Heinlein wrote during my formative years, I grew up as a passionate and committed feminist–not in reaction against his work but in resonant response to it. Some people inspire. Mr. Heinlein inspired me.

Pat Cadigan


Una Risposta to “Robert Anson Heinlein: the Centennial”

  1. Niccolò said

    Grande Pat, grande intervento! E meno male, Selene, che almeno qualche bell’estratto per noi franco-analfabeti c’e’! 🙂


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