Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Article 17: Super Trooper

Just before reading through this I wondered if my opinion might have changed any, finishing the article, I found it hadn't. We're still on the liberal shit-slide, it's just that the shit is getting deeper...


I've just re-read Robert A. Heinlein's Starship Troopers – a book I originally read when a teenager. What little I remembered of reading the book then, had since been swamped by the lurid images from Paul Verhoeven’s silly but enjoyable film. I probably would not have read it again but for two circumstances: firstly my mother happened to bring home a copy from the charity shop in which she works, and secondly, the strident claims that Heinlein is fascist/right-wing/libertarian from members of the British SF establishment, piqued my interest, for it is often the books recommended by the same critics and self-styled academics that bore me into a coma.

My second reading of this book gave me what I’ll describe as the Dad’s Army effect. When I watched that series as a child, I laughed along with the slapstick and enjoyed it on that level. Watching it later as an adult, I began to appreciate the adult humour. Starship Troopers can appeal to the SF-with-boy’s-toys oriented adolescent just as much as to an adult with the same orientation. But reading ideas of how human rights and privileges should be earned and should be equally balanced by responsibilities, I began to see why Heinlein is disliked by so many, then I hit chapter eight.

There are those who consider his work ironic – satire – when he is describing his future society, but that’s wishful thinking on the part of people who cannot accept that someone who produces such lucid enjoyable work does not buy into their political beliefs. His satire is in fact directed against the society of his time, and of our time, of which he is unstinting in his scorn. Not accepting the cop-out that he didn’t really mean it, it would seem then that Heinlein advocates corporal and capital punishment “…they (wrongly) assumed Man has a moral instinct.” his narrator tells us, this, after detailing how the delinquents of the twentieth century were never really deterred from going on to become full-time criminals. How they never, in the puppy-training analogy he uses, had their noses rubbed in it.

He comments on a death sentence carried out on someone who kidnapped and murdered a little girl: Well, if there was no way to keep it from happening once, there was only one sure way to keep it from happening twice. Which we used. The old liberal platitude has it that the death penalty is no deterrent to murder, which is like saying that hitting a paving slab at 125 miles an hour is no deterrent to jumping off the Eiffel Tower. Well, you’ll only do it once. Of course such arguments are too simplistic for the politically correct and ‘socially aware’, but he has a pop at them as well on the subject of corporal punishment: “…the time-tested method of instilling social virtue and respect for law in the minds of the young did not appeal to a pre-scientific pseudo-professional class who called themselves 'social workers' or sometimes 'child psychologists'. It was too simple for them, apparently, since anyone could do it using the patience and firmness needed in training a puppy. I have sometimes wondered if they cherished a vested interest in disorder..."

Such simplicity is not relished by those who studied psychology, sociology et al at the universities where they also received their political indoctrination. (It’s sad that so many enter the SF world via the same route and consider themselves radical, when really they’re only joining the establishment.) Such people have not so much a vested interest in disorder, but in over-complication, because that way they can wrest control from poor normal plebs. “You must not smack your child, bring him to the child psychologist and if that doesn’t work, we’ll dose him up with Ritalin, then during his ensuing life this severely screwed-up human being can keep any number of counsellors, psychologists, social workers & sociologists in employment.”

Reading about Heinlein’s work I discover that he did not write 'literature' and that his later works were weighed down with didactic right-wing/libertarian tracts. Of course, had those tracts been left-wing/liberal, he would have been on a higher pedestal in Britain than the one he presently occupies – his work branded as serious literature containing much important social commentary. You gotta laugh.

Starship Troopers was first published forty-six years ago. Read chapter eight if you cannot be bothered with the whole book. In the political zeitgeist of today’s Britain Heinlein is not accepted as a visionary, but that will come after the lunatics presently in control of our society have finished shovelling their excrement at the fan, in the time when we have to clean up the mess.



Anonymous said...

You had me worried there, I saw the title and thought you were going to recommend watching "Mamma Mia"

As for Heinlein, I wish more people were of that opinion today. Or perhaps there are, they are just not in positions to do anything about it.


Thud said...

I loved it 35 years ago and I love it and all it stands for today.

bascule said...

Thanks for reminding me. I haven't read any Heinlein for 10 years or more. I am now going to put a few in my "To Be Read" pile.

Starting of course with "Starship Troopers"

bob said...

I read "Starship Troopers" and "The Forever War" back to back every few years. I find the latter more thought-provoking.

packrat54 said...

I had re-read Starship Troopers before seeing the movie - I was glad I did - without those jumpsuits and surgical nukes the movie paled in comparison (though I wouldn't complain about the scene in the tent). The points about how the future handled the the criminals and other low lifes of that time as opposed to what's happening today is to be envied. Also, real dog training does involve immediate correction to get the messages across. Heck, it's helpful in child-rearing as well, go figure.

daniel said...

the forever war was ok, but far from groundbreaking imo (then again i only read it a couple of years ago so maybe it hasn't aged so well).

i read starship troopers as a younger man and, when you consider heinlein's background, you can certainly see what coloured his opinions throughout the book. whatever your stance on that (and frankly i agree with a lot of what he advocated) the book itself is an extremely good piece of science fiction.

Haydies said...

I love Heinlein's work, apart from a few they are all excelent. Starship troopers is one of my favorite books, and I hate that abomination of a movie.

What gets Heinlein his rep is Lazerus Long, the guy will and does hump just about any thing, and is probably married to it and its sister/mother/brother.

vaudeviewgalor raandisisraisins said...

Heinstein would do really well in modern Saudi Arabia given the world flesh out of his worlds/futures. women preggers, caste based voting, guys with cigar collections adding women to the mansion. the good life. kill everyone in your way. what a cornball fuknut. he did all kinds of different attitudes but...
the only thing i really dug was the "Revolt in 2100" even with the idiotic commies are coming undertow. got past that somehow. everything else i read had this sort of shallow, weak man, red head woman kneel -for the man. or that kid stuff "golly roger, pirates!" from the 50s. nothing i'd pass up on a plane ride tho. the last few books were pretty self indulgent half pie, half rocks. unedible, uncooked, paid by the flour and kg yarns made only for the fans (the ones in captain pike straightjackets who memorized the star trek movies to repeat them in crowds to bored bystanders in sf movie lines). the first half of SIASLand/the Grok bok is in a 50s dumbass leave it to beaver episode it picks up with 60s talk (hey daddy im hip to target audience!) halfway thru, very schizo.
had a gal pal try to read Stranger... who would zip thru sf books, found it difficult to get past his george lucas (i met a girl...once) attitude of women. can't win em all with your totally awesome classic lists. bah.

rereading "Warlord of the Air" by Moorcock. he's really got the lingo down pat. that's about all i can say about it.

Anonymous said...

I have always thought that Heinlein's goverment in Starship Troopers was a great model. The right to vote is earned through servitude, service to a greater cause will in the future, on average, bring better decision making to the process.

Neal, when are you going to get some audio books produced?

oblate777 said...

Death sentences would be great if justice was rigorous, accurate, and impartial.

Humans find it very hard to be any of the above.