Lion of the Blogosphere

Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

Impressions of Jordan Peterson

I haven’t finished his book 12 Rules for Life, and I haven’t watched any of his YouTube videos, and I could be completely wrong about everything, but here are my impressions.

Peterson is a secret believer in HBD and a not-secret believer in evolutionary psychology. Peterson is an atheist who sees Christianity as a good thing for providing people with a sense of community and with good moral values like the benefit of monogamous marriage.

Peterson grew up prole in a small town in Alberta (a place totally unlike Cicely Alaska, the fictional town in Northern Exposure), and his goal was to get out of his crappy small town with its stupid people and become an intellectual. But his proleness asserted itself and he was unable to join the groupthink of modern liberalism and believe in crazy SJW crap. Scott Adams and this blogger also come from prole backgrounds, it’s a very common background for independent thinkers of the new right.

Written by Lion of the Blogosphere

May 23, 2018 at EDT am

Posted in Books

Classic posts: Donald Trump vs. Gordon Gekko

I wrote this book review 14 years ago in May, 2004. It’s extra interesting to re-read this because it’s about Donald Trump. At the time I never would have predicted that Donald Trump would someday be President of the United States. So you can see here what I thought about Trump before politics were involved.

* * *

As a birthday present, my sister sent me the book How to Get Rich, by Donald Trump. Sadly, the book did not reveal any roadmap to getting rich, nor even any tidbits of advice that have not already been written before by others.

The book contains a lot of very short chapters, each containing what Trump considers a pearl of wisdom, but none of these pearls of wisdom are the least bit original or eye opening. The book is a mishmash of management advice, lifestyle advice, negotiating tips, factoids about Trump the person, a week in Trump’s life, and an inside (but not very deep inside) look at The Apprentice.

The book only gets interesting when Trump confesses some weird facts about his personal life. I found it very interesting that Trump hates shaking hands, because he says that it spreads germs. I also discovered that Trump is fond of junk food, and he will eat nothing at a fancy dinner, and instead head home and have a bag of pretzels. He also reveals a fondness for McDonalds. Yesterday evening I had Coke and pretzels for dinner, and thanks to Trump’s new book, I felt good about it.

After reading the book, it occurred to me that the movie Wall Street is a better and more entertaining source of information on how to get rich. Most of the important pieces of advice covered by Trump are also covered in the movie.

Wall Street is the story of Bud Fox, played by Charlie Sheen. Fox is a stockbroker who is not doing too well, but who very much wants to get rich. Gordon Gekko, played by Michael Douglas (who won an Academy Award for the role), is a Donald Trump-like tycoon who takes Fox under his wing and teaches him the ropes. One could say that Fox is his apprentice.

Early in the book, Trump writes about the importance of having a good executive assistant, who screens his phone calls among other things. In Wall Street, Gekko’s executive assistant is Natalie, who steadfastly prevents Fox from getting to speak with Gekko. Fox finally gets past her when he shows up at Gekko’s office on his birthday, with a box of Cuban cigars for a birthday present.

It is interesting to note that the sign in Gekko’s office reads “Gekko & Co.”, while Trump’s company is named The Trump Organization. Both Gekko and Trump have big egos, so they both name their companies after themselves. The difference is that Trump’s ego is bigger than Gekko’s. Trump puts his name on everything. Instead of the movie tycoon being a parody of the real life tycoon, the real life tycoon is a parody of the movie tycoon.

The most important theme in the management section of the book is about hiring and retaining the best employees. Gekko also has the best people working for him. During Fox’s initial meeting with Gekko, Gekko introduces him to his trader, Ollie. “Doesn’t look like it, huh? This guy’s the best.”

Donald Trump recommends that you wear expensive clothes, and specifically endorses Brioni. (Have you ever priced Brioni at Neiman Marcus? That stuff is expensive.) Gordon Gekko tells Bud Fox to get better suits. “And buy a decent suit. You can’t come in here looking like this.” This is despite the fact that Fox already wears $400 suits, which is a lot of money for a suit in 1980s dollars.

Donald Trump writes, “I rarely go out for lunch. I still consider it an interruption in my workday.” Gordon Gekko says more simply, but much more memorably, “lunch is for wimps.” If you recall The Apprentice, one of Omarosa’s great failings is that she was often more interested in eating a leisurely meal than working.

Donald Trump advises you to “know every aspect of what you’re doing.” Gordon Gekko says “the most valuable commodity I know of is information.”

Donald Trump writes, “when somebody hurts you, go after them as viciously and as violently as you can. Like it says in the Bible, an eye for an eye.” An important part of the plot of Wall Street is Gekko’s quest for revenge against corporate raider Lawrence Wildman.

Donald Trump advises you to get a prenuptial agreement before getting married. Trump’s friend tells him “Donald, I’m so in love with this woman that I don’t need a prenuptial agreement.” Donald writes, “I didn’t have the courage to tell him what I was thinking to myself. Loser!” Gordon Gekko says that love is “a fiction created by people to prevent themselves from jumping out of windows.” We can be sure that Gekko has a prenuptial agreement.

Trump and Gekko both see relationships as a business deal in which money buys a gorgeous girlfriend, wife, or mistress. Gekko explains to Fox that one of the benefits of being rich is that he will be able to “afford a girl like Darien.” Darien Taylor is the interior decorator played by the very beautiful Daryl Hannah, and definitely the “best that money can buy.” (However, Frank McCourt, the author of Angela’s Ashes, back when he was my high school English teacher, said that Daryl Hannah was “just another tall blonde.”)

Trump’s book includes several chapters of advice on public speaking. He covers the basic public speaking tips, such as to be enthusiastic, entertain your audience, and not to read from a prepared speech. In a scene from Wall Street, Gekko addresses the stockholders of Teldar, a company he is trying to buy out. The scene begins with Cromwell, the CEO of Teldar, giving a boring speech. He stands before the podium, frequently looking down, presumably reading from a prepared text. Then Gekko takes the microphone, and we see Michael Douglas, who plays Gekko, give one of the greatest speeches ever to grace cinema.

Although Gekko isn’t reading from any notes, it may be pointed out that Michael Douglas, the actor, has memorized a written screenplay. However, the difference between a regular person giving a speech, and Michael Douglas giving this incredible performance, is that Michael Douglas is an Academy Award winning actor performing from a screenplay written by professional Hollywood writers. Don’t think for a minute that you can write your own speech, then read it, and be anything but incredibly boring. Even President Ronald Reagan, also known as the Great Communicator, and an actor himself before he became a politician, was at his best when he was ad-libbing and not reading from a teleprompter.

In his book, Trump reveals that he wakes up every morning at five o’clock. In Wall Street, Gekko calls Fox at sunrise, waking him up. Gekko’s first words are “money never sleeps.” Rich people are too busy making money to waste time sleeping. The wakeup call scene from Wall Street is one of many in which it is subtly revealed that Fox just isn’t made of tough enough stuff to become rich like Gekko.

In writing this comparison between Donald Trump and Gordon Gekko, it would be incomplete if I didn’t address the issue that Gordon Gekko was supposed to be the bad guy. A very simplistic synopsis of Wall Street is that Gekko is the crooked business tycoon, and Fox is the innocent lamb who initially falls under Gekko’s evil spell, but eventually, with the help of wise advice from his upstanding father, he sees Gekko for the crook that he is, and betrays him. Fox will probably have to go to jail himself, but those are his just desserts. With Fox’s assistance to the SEC, Gekko will also probably wind up in jail.

That’s the simplistic synopsis. The way I see it, despite the left-wing anti-business message that Oliver Stone may have intended, and one that Michael Douglas may have agreed with, Michael Douglas transcended the screenplay and gave Gordon Gekko his own life and reality. Oliver Stone explains in the additional features that come with the DVD that he wanted to leave the morality of the movie open ended. When the investigator from the SEC tells Fox that he “did the right thing” by helping to gather evidence against Gekko, the audience is supposed to wonder if he truly did the right thing.

Comparing Donald Trump to Gordon Gekko, it is Gekko who seems like the real person, and Trump who comes off as the fictional character. Trump’s big ego and penchant for putting his name on everything seem a tad bit too overblown to be part of the real world. So if Gekko is a villain, what does that make Trump?

Written by Lion of the Blogosphere

May 16, 2018 at EDT pm

Posted in Books, Uncategorized

I Am Charlotte Simmons by the late Tom Wolfe

Classic Lion: My review of I Am Charlotte Simmons by the late Tom Wolfe, which I wrote in 2004.

Part I

It has been a long time since I’ve read a book that was so good that I didn’t want to do anything else but read it until I was finished with it. But along came I am Charlotte Simmons which I started reading aboard an Amtrak train on Thanksgiving morning, and 676 pages later I finally finished it on Monday evening.

Tom Wolfe’s third novel is at least as good, if not better, than his first, Bonfire of the Vanities, and is head and shoulders above A Man In Full. Anyone who has read the first two novels will recognize the framework of Charlotte Simmons. Once again, Tom Wolfe tells the story of several individuals whose lives become intertwined. Each chapter is written from the point of view of one of his main characters, but always Tom Wolfe’s point of view is also there.

Even though there are similarities, Tom Wolfe took a big stretch with this book. In his previous novels, he wrote about the hidden worlds of real estate development, investment banking, and the Bronx DA’s office. (I remember serving an internship at the Queens County District Attorney’s Office, and everyone said how accurately Tom Wolfe captured what it’s like to be a DA in one of New York City’s outer boroughs.) In his previous novels, his main characters were men, but this time, the main character in his book is an eighteen year old girl attending fictional Dupont University (think Harvard, Yale, Princeton, or Duke). What a stretch for a man of 73 to put himself into the mind of an eighteen year old girl. I can’t help but imagine that life in the college dorms was more alien to Tom Wolfe than any other place he ever visited.

But because so many more people are familiar with college, or at least think they are, Tom Wolfe has opened himself up to a lot more criticism. And the criticism has come in droves. It seem like every professional reviewer has been determined to completely trash this book, and even the amateur reviewers at Amazon.com have been highly critical.

The first notable bad review, written by Michiko Kakutani, was published in The New York Times two weeks before the book was even released to the public. How eager the critics were to trash this book before anyone even had a chance to read it.

Michiko wrote, “This time, instead of boldly going where few writers have gone before, he gives us some tiresomely generic if hyperbolic glimpses of student life at a fictional school . . .” The implication is that books like this are being written every day, but I can’t think of any book similar to Charlotte Simmons, and certainly Michiko doesn’t name any in her review. Maybe she’s just jealous of Tom Wolfe’s mastery of the English language, his gift for turning ordinary scenes into the fantastic, and his ability glue his readers to the pages of books where nothing much really seems to happen.

Michiko also wrote, “. . . in the course of a very long 676 pages [, Tom Wolfe] serves up the revelation — yikes! — that students crave sex and beer, love to party, wear casual clothes and use four-letter words.” Yes, this is a common complaint from many of the critics. Everyone knows that college is about sex and beer, what’s new here? But does everyone really believe that life at an elite school (think Ivy League) is really like it’s depicted in Charlotte Simmons?

Yes, we’ve all seen the movie Animal House. (At least we adults who read blogs have seen it. Charlotte Simmons obviously didn’t see it. We imagine that her religious mother didn’t let her watch R rated movies.) But Animal House is a parody, it’s not real. The scenes in Charlotte Simmons are a lot more powerful than Animal Housebecause they are real scenes.

But some people don’t think this is real. In one of the ironies of the negative reviews, while some like Ms Kakutani say “duh! of course that’s what’s happening at colleges,” other reviews criticize the book for being unrealistic. In another review in the New York Times, Jacob Weisberg says that this is a “comic book version of college” and not the real thing.

And I really love this quote from a reviewer at Amazon.com:

If you’re a parent getting ready to send a child off to college don’t panic. “NOT ALL STUDENTS ARE LIKE THOSE REPERSENTED IN THIS BOOK.” I am a mechanic that has made many service calls to several colleges. Most of my calls to colleges have been to Marquette University in Milwaukee Wisconsin. While I am aware that some of the students at this school could be those represented in this book, my experience is that most students are not like those represented in this book. Most of the students I have dealt at Marquette appear to take their chance at a college education as a serious privilege.

This guy thinks he has the expertise to say that Tom Wolfe has gotten college life at elite Ivy League schools wrong because he’s a mechanic who has visited a second rate Catholic school in Wisconsin.

In fact, Marquette University may very well be like the Dupont that Charlotte Simmons’ mother imagined, except with the students not being quite so bright. Marquette University would be the last place that privileged students from elite boarding schools would wind up attending. The students at Marquette are probably from middle class families who bring their conventional middle class values with them to college.

I’ve written about these conventional middle class values before in my essay “Jessica Cutler and the values of Washington.” This is an excerpt:

[T]here is a huge gap between how voters think people on Capitol Hill are behaving, and the way they really behave.

Why should there be such a gap? Didn’t people hear about Monica Lewinsky, Chandra Levy, and a variety of other Washington sex scandals? Shouldn’t they know by now that a large percentage of important and semi-important men in Washington are having sex with women in their twenties? Don’t they know by now that a large percentage of female interns and other low paid female workers in resume building jobs are the opposite of pure and virginal?

No, people don’t know this because it’s not what they want to believe. They want to believe that Washington is full of people who behave consistently with conventional middle class values. These values dictate that you should work hard, be honest, believe in God, be moderate in the consumption of alcohol, remain a virgin until you get married, and thereafter remain faithful to your spouse.

Tom Wolfe, being nearly as brilliant a sociologist as myself (and admittedly a ten times more brilliant writer), has written a book about the exact same conflict of values between the elite and the middle class that I previously wrote about in my blog.

I found a comment left at the blog Critical Mass that offers an excellent observation:

I think Wolfe is a lot more on the mark than older people would like to admit. Let’s call it willful ignorance, but, having recently graduated college, I don’t think people realize how morally, ethically and intellectually depraved a large swath of college students (and, coincidentally, the faculty) really are. Wolfe may be focusing just on one part of the population, but that population may be a plurality on most campuses (even the most respected ones). I knew plenty of people who never went to class, didn’t do any work, drank had sex and did drugs in excess…..everything that runs counter to the “noble academic institution” most people believe college is and should be.

And here’s an excerpt from another review left at Amazon.com, which offers the best commentary that I have yet seen:

I am a huge Tom Wolfe fan who happens to be a girl from a small town who went to/ is still at the University of Pennsylvania. Let me tell you, his descriptions of college life are very accurate. I had thought, going to an Ivy League , I would be with the best and the brightest…I was not expecting to be stuck in a crazy puke-filled dorm where people act like animals, and are loud, drunk, and totally inconsiderate of those around them. To go from a town where people actually ACT like human beings to a college dorm like this is a sad, disappointing journey- one that is not always expected. At least it’s not expected if you don’t live around people who couldn’t live without alcohol. It’s NOT unrealistic for Wolfe to make Charlotte so innocent because that’s how SOME decent college students are before they are exposed to vulgar, barbarian frat boys at college who do things MUCH worse than anything described in this book. To me, and to Charlotte, it is TRAGIC to go to a good school and see people who are such total drunk immature wastes, people who drag others down without thinking twice about it.

Unlike most reviews, here is one written by an actual college student at an actual elite institution who has come from a small town just like Charlotte Simmons did. And she says the book is dead on accurate.

The conclusion of Part I of my review of I am Charlotte Simmons is that the negative reviewers are wrong about the book’s take on campus life. It’s not a comic book look at college, but the real thing. And the hedonism of college life is absolutely notcommon knowledge among the middle class of America.

Part II

Is Charlotte unbelievably naïve?

One of the frequent complaints about this novel is that Charlotte is unbelievably naïve, and this ruins the whole book. How can someone with a 1600 SAT, it is reasoned, not realize that there’s sex going on at college? Doesn’t she have a TV set that picks up the same programs that everyone else in the United States watches?

I found Charlotte’s naïveté perfectly believable, and the fact that some people just don’t get it indicates how big of a cultural divide we really have in America, and shows that there are smart educated people who are completely unable to understand how people from backgrounds different than themselves think.

First of all, yes Charlotte had a perfect 1600 on the SAT, but we all know that there are people who are very book smart yet somehow are completely lacking in what they call street smarts. The Adam Gellin “nerd” character in the book is one such example, and it’s interesting to note that although everyone has been criticizing Tom Wolfe’s depiction of Charlotte, I have not yet read a single review where someone said that Adam Gellin was not a believable character.

And yes, Charlotte has a television, but she wouldn’t have cable television because her parents are too poor. Now think about what shows exist on regular broadcast TV that would prepare anyone for what Tom Wolfe wrote about in his book, and what real college students at elite universities say is an accurate depiction. I can’t think of any!

Broadcast TV is actually the very embodiment of those conventional middle class values that I wrote about in part I of the review. Just about everyone on broadcast TV believes in God, consumes alcohol only moderately if at all, has sex only in a very committed relationship, and of course no one on TV has ever, ever, ever had an abortion.

On the TV show Beverly Hills 90210, the classic show about young people, the Tori Spelling character didn’t lose her virginity until many many seasons had passed, and it was with her high school sweetheart who had been her boyfriend for eons.

Furthermore, who even knows if Beverly Hills 90210 was the kind of show that Charlotte’s mother let her watch? Charlotte’s mother, being the strict heavily religious type, probably censored her children’s TV viewing. I’m sure that she never permitted her kids to see any R rated movies. Although they probably never went out to the movies anyway because they were so poor.

Most kids learn about what other kids are really doing not from television, but from other kids! And Tom Wolfe explained in the book how Charlotte had no friends in high school except Laurie who was also a religious type. Because she was so smart in a small town where everyone else was dumb, she obviously had nothing in common with the other kids, which adequately explains her lack of friends and her inexperience with boys.

We also have to realize that Charlotte had no contact with anyone from the upper middle class or the upper class, and these were the classes to which the vast majority of students at the fictional Dupont belonged. In Charlotte’s small town, she saw only two classes: the middle class (based on values, not family wealth) and the lower class. Because the middle class has so much better manners than the lower class, she extrapolated and assumed that the manners of the upper classes would be that much better! Charlotte didn’t realize that the middle class is actually the most boring of all classes.

It is true that Tom Wolfe uses a naïve main character as a device that allows him to express his own shock at what he saw going on at college. Tom Wolfe may be an old guy of 73, but he’s a whole lot more sophisticated than Charlotte. He’s seen all the R rated movies like Animal House that Charlotte didn’t, and he has even hung out with Black Panthers. If Tom Wolfe is shocked at the outrageousness of college behavior, then someone from Charlotte’s background would be even more so.

I now offer the following passage from an article in the Stanford school newspaper:

[F]reshman Lindsay Reinsmith thought the central storyline — depicting Charlotte’s struggle to adapt to life outside a small town — was a plausible one. Reinsmith hails from The Woodlands, Tx., a small Houston suburb, which she described as “predominantly Christian conservative and very sheltered.”

Reinsmith said many of her high school classmates rarely ventured outside city limits, and she, like Charlotte, was shocked by college life.

“After a lot of my friends left The Woodlands, they were startled by the open way other people dealt with social issues, especially sex, at college,” she said. “They didn’t really know how to approach the issue because they were never taught how.”

Once again, an actual student at an actual elite university agreeing with the accuracy of Tom Wolfe’s characters.

Written by Lion of the Blogosphere

May 15, 2018 at EDT pm

Posted in Books

Tom Wolfe, dead at 88

Worth mentioning, because I’ve reviewed all of his novels at some point in time.

I think that Tom Wolfe started out as a liberal Episcopalian, but as the world changed around him he stuck to the same beliefs he had in college, so over time he became a conservative. That’s a rare personality. Most people, without realizing it, just adopt the beliefs of the group without conscious intent, without any reflection about how radically their beliefs may have changed over time.

Even though Tom Wolfe dressed in a gay manner, I don’t think he was gay. He was married and had children.

Written by Lion of the Blogosphere

May 15, 2018 at EDT pm

Posted in Books

Podkayne of Mars (1962) by Robert Heinlein, review

There are two previous short posts on this novel:

Now reading: Podkayne of Mars (1962) by Robert Heinlein

Podkayne is biracial

Warning: this post has spoilers, but I feel that the plot isn’t the point of this book, so knowing what happens at the end doesn’t make the book any less readable. Also, this book is not on my recommended list of Heinlein reads. However, you have been warned.

Should Podkayne be considered a “juvenile” novel? As you know, most of Heinlein’s early novels were targeted for teenage boys, and they feature a teenage boy as the main character who goes on adventures in space. Podkayne is a little bit different. Although the main character is a teenager, she’s a girl and not a boy. And this is the only Heinlein novel written as the journal of a teenage character, although one chapter of both Tunnel in the Sky and Farnham’s Freehold was written as the journal of one of the books female characters. Once Heinlein got an idea, he would repeat it in several books.

As an adventure story, it’s not as good as Heinlein’s earlier “juveniles.” But as I’ve stated before, I think that Heinlein is so important not merely because he was one of the founding fathers of modern sci-fi, but because his political philosophy has had a strong influence on a certain strain modern conservatism that is not fully credited to him. I keep seeing Heinlein-influenced comments on my blog all the time, even if the commenters are not aware of the source of the influence. So although this novel is not so great as an adventure story, it does have a lot of Heinlein’s philosophizing and opinions in it.

But before I get into the philosophy and opinions, a comment on the story itself. Although Podkayne is the main character, she is more of an observer than someone who does stuff. Her poorly characterized 11-year-old brother, Clark, is the main driver of the story. Even though Clark is supposed to be a genius, he comes off as too genius, too physically strong and capable and self-confident to be a realistic 11-year-old. Did Heinlein ever meet any real-world 11-year-olds, even ones who are exceptionally gifted?

Is the brother supposed to have Asperger’s Syndrome? That’s probably a syndrome that Heinlein never heard of when he wrote the book. I think that Heinlein believed that girls are naturally social and loving, while boys have to raised well by parents to become like that, and because Clarke’s mother was too busy being an engineer to have time to be a proper stay-at-home mother to her son, Clark turned into an asocial brat and perhaps even a little monster. The mother’s selfishness in pursuing her career was a rant by Podkayne’s Uncle Tom in the original published ending of the novel. How anti-feminist of Heinlein! People today would call him “misogynist” because he believed that women should quit their careers once they have children. Yet at the same time, in this book as in many other Heinlein books, Heinlein tries to tell us that girls can do anything that boys can do, even be good at math or be an engineer or a spaceship captain. Except that girls should hide their competence from boys in order to “snag” a desirable one. And that girls are even better at taking care of babies than men, so a sensible distribution of labor is for girls to that when the time comes instead of the other stuff they do as well as boys but that boys can do just as well without any harm done to babies.

Mars is presented as a prudish society compared to Venus. Venusberg is a satirical over-the-top version of Las Vegas. Thus the story is told from the point of view of virginal and sexually naïve Podkayne, but Heinlein drops hints that her great-uncle Tom is sexually interested in her, and Poddy might even welcome it if Tom only acted on that. Given that Heinlein wrote approving of incest in Farnham’s Freehold and that it happened and was approved of in Time Enough for Live, I am sure I didn’t misread the hints.

About satire: Heinlein was unable to avoid satire in his later novels. I was annoyed by the satire at the end of Tunnel in the Sky, and Stranger in a Strange Land is more satire than serious science-fiction (as well as Heinlein’s worst novel of those I’ve read).

On libertarian politics, Heinlein believes in small government. We learn from Tom that Mars would lose its freedoms if it lost its independence and joined up with Earth. Tom believes that the solar system is better off if Mars, Venus and Luna all remain independent of Earth, and Tom is one of those characters we find in every Heinlein novel who speaks with the voice of Heinlein.

Regarding the ending, there is very little difference between the two endings. In the ending originally written by Heinlein, Podkyane is killed by Clark’s nuclear bomb because she went back to save the baby “fairy,” a species native to Venus that is more intelligent than chimpanzees but far short of human intelligence. Clark considers them mere animals, but the baby fairy aroused Poddy’s maternal instinct which overcame her logic. It’s interesting to note that in Star Trek, we never encounter any subhuman species like these Venirian fairies. In Star Trek, all aliens are at least as smart as humans. Some aliens can be superior like Vulcans, but never can they be inferior. Even the Ferengi were shown to be smart but merely morally bankrupt, and the Ferengi Nog was able to overcome his inferior culture and become a morally enlightened Starfleet officer.

The publisher made Heinlein change the ending, so in the ending originally published in 1962, Podkayne is seriously injured by Clark’s atomic bomb, but not killed. But it’s in the altered ending where Uncle Tom rants against Podkayne’s mother for pursuing her career instead of being a proper mother to her children.

My advice is to skip this novel. Farnham’s Freehold is the best example of 1960s Heinlein, that’s the one I recommend reading.

* * *

I don’t know if I intend to read any more Heinlein novels. If I do read another one, it would either be Time Enough for Love or another one of his “juveniles.” Right now, Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life is next up.

Written by Lion of the Blogosphere

April 23, 2018 at EDT pm

Posted in Books

Podkayne is biracial

Halfway through Podkayne of Mars by Robert Heinlein.

Heinlein likes having characters of different races in his novels to teach his white American readers in the 1950s and 1960s that racism is wrong. He also tries to show that females are capable of performing in traditionally male occupations. Therefore, it’s really a travesty that Heinlein is hated because he’s supposedly racist, misogynist, and fascist. That’s what he gets for trying to address certain topics in what seemed like a progressive manner for the era in which the books were published.

Podkayne’s great-uncle Tom is Maori (the indigenous people of New Zealand), which would make Podkayne herself one-quarter Maori, even though she has blonde hair and blue eyes.

Heinlein normally doesn’t give detailed physical descriptions of his characters, but in this novel we get a lot of very specific information about Podkayne, who is 5’2” and 110 pounds. She also lifts weights with barbells that weigh approximately 60 to 70 pounds given the gravity differential. She sounds pretty strong for a small girl in the early 1960s, a time when I presume lifting weights was something that 16-year-old girls didn’t do. Heinlein once again trying to be progressive.

Going back to race issues, Heinlein shows that while Mars is free from prejudice about such things (with Podkayne’s Maori uncle being an important Martian Senator), the people from Earth (at least the old rich women on the spaceship traveling from Mars to Venus) are still racist and look down upon non-whites and race mixing.

Written by Lion of the Blogosphere

April 17, 2018 at EDT pm

Posted in Books

Now reading: Podkayne of Mars (1962) by Robert Heinlein

I remember this as not being one of my favorite Heinlein books when I read it in my youth (possibly in middle school the first time around).

The novel is presented as a journal written in the first person by Podkayne, a 16-year-old girl from Mars who takes an interplanetary luxury cruise with her bratty genius 11-year-old brother and her Uncle Tom who’s a Senator in the Mars equivalent of Congress.

So far, the weirdest idea presented in the book is that in the future, people on Mars get married young, then have a bunch of babies, but instead of raising the babies right away they put the babies into suspended animation, and the babies are held in cold storage until their parents are ready to raise them. That way, the parents can build their careers, and then raise their children when they are more established but older than the optimal biological age to get pregnant and give birth. Heinlein doesn’t say what happens to babies that turn out not to be wanted. Are they given away for adoption? Left in suspended animation forever? Unplugged?

An interplanetary space cruise is Heinlein’s stand-in for cruise ships of the 1950s, a time when old rich people went on cruises. Not at all like the cruise ships of today filled with 30 to 50-year-old middle-class people, often traveling with their children.

Podkayne is mostly into using her feminine wiles to get personal attention from the cruise ship officers. Meanwhile her bratty genius 11-year-old brother is up to something illegal, but she doesn’t know what.

So far I get the impression that the book is a vehicle for Heinlein to tell us what he thinks about stuff rather than an adventure story, which would explain why I didn’t like it as much as Heinlein’s older “juvenile” novels.

Written by Lion of the Blogosphere

April 15, 2018 at EDT pm

Posted in Books

Comey and Indian body odor

Comey’s relationship with Trump is like my relationship with Indian body odor.

Comey has a deep and burning hatred for Trump, but instead of saying anything about that to Trump when he had the opportunity, he stoically kept quiet, and now he complains about him in a book.

I hate the disgusting odor of certain Indian IT workers, but instead of telling them that they smell and they should shower and use deodorant and wear clean underwear everyday, I just complain about it on my blog. (Recently, one Indian guy whom I know smells really bad said he would come to my desk to discuss something, but I was successfully able to head that off by calling him on the phone. One small victory against Indian B.O.)

Therefore, it would be hypocritical of me to complain about Comey.

Written by Lion of the Blogosphere

April 13, 2018 at EDT am

Posted in Books

Heinlein was so wrong

https://www.citylab.com/equity/2018/04/how-your-social-class-affects-where-youll-move/557060/

America’s geography continues to be reshaped by this giant sorting machine. With their vibrant labor markets, large numbers of talented young people, high rates of productivity, and high levels of amenities, expensive coastal metros continue to lure the talented and the privileged. It is this basic fact of our modern knowledge economy—the self-reinforcing clustering of talent in a handful of winner-take-all metros—which spells the deepening spatial polarization of American society.

That’s the total opposite of the future envisioned by Robert Heinlein in Tunnel in the Sky in which talented young people wanted to leave crowded cities on Earth to become colonists on rural worlds.

Written by Lion of the Blogosphere

April 11, 2018 at EDT pm

Posted in Books

Tunnel in the Sky by Robert Heinlein

How much Heinlein gets wrong about the future! Or rather, the future envisioned by Heinlein seems a lot less likely today than it did in the 1950s.

Heinlein correctly predicted that women would serve in the military, but was wrong about them being separated into women-only “Amazon corps.” Separate but equal? In fact, throughout the book, Heinlein veers between trying to show that girls can do anything boys can do, and then writing stuff which today would be viewed as sexist or even “misogynist.”

The main character, Rod Walker, is said to be non-white, but even knowing that beforehand I missed the hint that’s dropped. Rod’s appearance is never described (with that one possible exception) so the reader can imagine him as being anything they want to. I am sure that when I first read this book when I was in middle school, I thought of him as white, and to be honest, I still do.

Heinlein imagined a future when the Earth was so overpopulated that people were desperate to get off and move to new planets. In the 1950s, the birthrate everywhere was above the replacement level and in some parts of the world very much above it, but today people are more worried about people having too few children and that the population of developed countries are declining (without immigration to solve the “problem.”) Declining population is something I find hard to worry about after reading so many old science fiction novels with dystopian overpopulated futures. If people are having fewer children, it seems like more of a blessing than a problem.

(Global warming also falls into the category of things I don’t worry about, given that when I was a kid no one worried about global warming, but there were a few people worried about the next ice age coming.)

It’s hard to believe that there would be much of a demand to move to frontier planets. Today, it’s perfectly plausible to move to places in the United States like Wyoming or Alaska that are pretty much empty, but where there’s still internet and cellular service, but everyone would rather live in the crowded cities. But in Heinlein’s imagination, everyone would want to leave Earth to live as a farmer or something like that in the boondocks.

In order to be allowed to have a leadership position in these “outland” migrations, one must pass an outlands survival class, which is taught in high school. The final exam for the survival class is to be dropped onto an unknown planet via a stargate (they aren’t called stargates in the novel) and survive alone for up to ten days before being picked up. The survival test is so dangerous that some kids don’t make it. It’s hard to imagine a high school course today where some students die taking the final exam. The teachers in charge of such a curriculum would be put in jail!

In the first few hours on the planet Rod is transported to, he comes across the corpse of one of his fellow classmates. I wonder if that would be acceptable in a modern book markets to teens or pre-teens?

The theme of survival would be repeated again a few years later in Heinlein’s novel Farnham’s Freehold. There are also some other themes in this book that are repeated in future novels. The curmudgeonly Deacon Matis, Rod’s survival teacher, seems like a precursor to the even more curmudgeonly teacher in Starship Troopers. Government is an important topic in this book, a precursor to Heinlein’s more adult book about future government, The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress. The ridiculously satirical treatment of the news media at the end of the book when they are rescued is a precursor to the satirical treatment of the news media in Stranger in a Strange Land. In my opinion, Heinlein’s satire sucks, and his books that have heavy use of satire, like Stranger, also suck.

Another thing that Heinlein does which I think lessons his books is that he uses stereotypical names for his characters. In this novel, the character who is a bad apple is “Jock McGowan,” and the other members of his group, “Chad, Bruce and Dick” also have unintellectual-sounding names. In other novels, he used the name “Duke” for this type of character.

Tunnel still manages to stand the test of time pretty well because the bulk of the story takes place on the planet where the kids and young adults take their survival test and get stranded. Thus we don’t notice the absence of smartphones because no one would take them on a survival assignment to a planet without electricity or cell towers. It’s a pretty enjoyable adventure and survival story, one that someone of any age can enjoy, although I have to admit that when I read this as a teen or pre-teen the book somehow seemed a lot bigger, the planet more mysterious, than it does upon re-reading it as a cynical middle-aged adult.

However, all although the book has some interesting ideas, it’s not as interesting or as mature as Citizen of the Galaxy which I’ve previously reviewed. But still one of Heinlein’s better “juveniles” and a recommended novel if you are looking for classic sci-fi that’s quick and easy to read. Plus there’s some interesting exploration of the values of democracy vs. authoritarianism, how to deal with criminals and miscreants (Heinlein’s futures are not the everyone-get-along future of Star Trek), and what sort of government is needed for when a few high school classes are stranded together on a planet.

Written by Lion of the Blogosphere

April 9, 2018 at EDT am

Posted in Books

%d bloggers like this: