Double Star by Robert A. Heinlein
During a period in which Heinlein was mostly writing science fiction for teenage boys, there is this novel from 1956 aimed at an adult audience, with a focus on politics.
An out-of-work actor, Lorenzo Smythe, is conned into taking on a job to impersonate the leader of a political party, John Joseph Bonforte, because that leader has been kidnapped, yet he must attend an important ceremony on Mars otherwise he will offend the Martians (these are extraterrestrial alien Martians, not humans living on Mars) and the opportunity to have peace with them will be closed off.
One of the twists is that the actor is racist against Martians and passionately hates them, while the politician he is to impersonate wants to give Martians the right to vote. A common theme in many of Heinlein’s novels is that there is a message against bigotry and discrimination using extraterrestrials (or mutants in the novel Orphans of the Sky) as stand-ins for the known human races of the 1900s.
And how is Lorenzo convinced to do this job and attend a Martian ceremony when he even finds the smell of Martians to be absolutely repugnant? The answer is that he is hypnotized by Bonforte’s personal doctor to find the smell of Martians pleasant. I am pretty sure that hypnotism can’t do that, especially not in a single session in which the patient is hypnotized unwillingly, but hey, that’s why it’s science fiction. But what practical advice does it give us for overcoming problems of bigotry in the present given that hypnosis isn’t an option? I plan to write more about Heinlein and race in a future post.
This book has one important female character (which is one more than in some of Heinlein’s other early novels), Bonforte’s personal secretary Penny. Penny is presented as very competent at her job, but unlike the male characters she is much more emotional, and even faints in one scene after hearing bad news, something that the male characters would never do. The message from the novel is that women can only flourish in important jobs under the direction of a strong male like Bonforte, or eventually under Lorenzo.
The main message of the book is that a politician is more than just himself, he is also his inner circle of advisors. The politician himself can be replaced by an impostor, and if he’s a good enough actor, it would be the same thing: or perhaps even better because the actor is better at giving rousing speeches. It should be noted that Heinlein wrote this eleven years before Ronald Reagan became governor of California. And of course we know that Ronald Reagan eventually became President. So although Heinlein was bad at predicting the kinds of technology we’d be using in the future, he was prescient in predicting that actors would become politicians because of the expanding role of television which was at its very infancy in 1956.
There was a scene in the book in which a guy fired from Lorenzo/Bonforte’s team tries to tell the world at a press conference that Bonforte isn’t Bonforte, but that he’s an impostor. This is a lesson about what happens when you don’t give someone the respect they think the deserve; sometimes they seek revenge. So Lorenzo gives the media his fingerprints and challenges them to prove it. Lorenzo than figures that’s the end of it and he’s going to be found out, but what he didn’t know was that someone from his inner circle had already taken care of that problem by replacing the official records of Bonforte’s fingerprints with Lorenzo’s. This reminded me of Obama being able to present a birth certificate to “prove” that he was born in Hawaii. Even though I personally think that speculation that Obama was born in Kenya is pretty stupid (why would a girl in the 1960s travel to a third-world country with third-world medicine to give birth?), I still think the circumstances around the birth certificate were pretty suspicious.
The psychology of being boss: Lorenzo is hired by Bonforte’s inner circle, so initially he takes orders from them. But we see that as time goes on, the power position begins to switch and they start taking orders from Lorenzo. By acting like a boss, this makes everyone think of him as the boss.
At the very end of the book, we learn that 25 years later, Lorenzo has almost forgotten his previous life as an actor and thinks of himself as Bonforte. And Penny, who loved Bonforte and hated Lorenzo for pretending to be him, is now happily married to the impostor. A PUA type of person might say that Penny had the hots for the alpha male, and once Lorenzo became the alpha male, Penny’s affections switched over to him.