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Podkayne is biracial

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

Citizen of the Galaxy by Robert Heinlein

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Although it’s officially a “juvenile” novel, Citizen of the Galaxy is a much more adult story than a novel like Have Spacesuit Will Travel. There are a lot of votes for Spacesuit being one of Heinlein’s top juvenile novels, but I found Citizen to be a way better reading experience. Citizen was one of my favorite novels when I was a kid, and I’m glad to see that it’s held up so well. There’s a case to be made for Citizen being Heinlein’s best novel, period.

Because it’s such a great book, I will put the more detailed discussion below in case you intend to read it (which I recommend) and don’t want the plot spoiled for you.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Lion of the Blogosphere

April 3, 2018 at EDT am

Posted in Books

On Instagram, books are judged only by their cover

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The new marketing paradigm: if it doesn’t look good on Instagram, it doesn’t sell.

Written by Lion of the Blogosphere

March 27, 2018 at EDT am

Posted in Books, Technology

Heinlein and the psychology of guns

This is also a quote from the Robert Heinlein novel Tunnel in the Sky. Rod Walker, the main character, is asking his older sister (a captain in the Corps of Amazons) advice for his upcoming survival test on an unknown planet:

“Uh, Sis, what sort of gun should I carry?”

“Huh? Why the deuce do you want a gun?”

“Why, for what I might run into, of course. Wild animals and things. Deacon Matson practically said that we could expect dangerous animals.”

“I doubt if he advised you to carry a gun. From his reputation, Dr. Matson is a practical man. See here, infant, on this tour you are the rabbit, trying to escape the fox. You aren’t the fox.”
“What do you mean?”

“Your only purpose is to stay alive. Not to be brave, not to fight, not to dominate the wilds- but just stay breathing. One time in a hundred a gun might save your life; the other ninety-nine it will just tempt you into folly. Oh, no doubt Matson would take one, and I would, too. But we are salted; we know when not to use one. But consider this. That test area is going to be crawling with trigger-happy young squirts. If one shoots you, it won’t matter that you have a gun, too- because you will be dead. But if you carry a gun, it makes you feel cocky; you won’t take proper cover. If you don’t have one, then you’ll know that you are the rabbit. You’ll be careful.”

I completely didn’t understand this when I read it as a teenager. It didn’t make any sense. Why would you not want to take a gun if you were going to be stranded for up to ten days on a strange planet with wild animals?

But now, I’m old enough to have the wisdom to understand this advice. For example, if George Zimmerman had not been carrying a gun, he probably wouldn’t have gone looking for the dangerous-looking ghetto black kid, he would have waited for the police, but the gun made him feel powerful, like bigshot who could take care of himself.

A lot of the pro-gun proles who say they need a gun for “protection” just don’t understand this psychology. Furthermore, I believe that owning an AR-15 contributed to the Florida kid going on a shooting rampage. Having the AR-15 made him feel powerful, and he caressed his gun and had fantasies about how he could use the power of the AR-15 to go to his old high school and get back at all the kids and teachers he hated. If he had not been able to obtain an AR-15 in the first place, he never would have had those dark fantasies.

Written by Lion of the Blogosphere

March 19, 2018 at EDT pm

Posted in Books, Proles

Heinlein quote from Tunnel in the Sky

Rod asked curiously, “Sis, would you really give up your commission [as an assault captain in the “Corps of Amazons”] to get married?”

“Would I! I won’t even count his arms and legs. If he is still warm and can nod his head, he’s had it. My target is six babies and a farm.”

The future predicted by Heinlein when women are desperate to marry any man who would ask them never came to pass, at least not yet, and I don’t see any reason why society would move back in that direction.

Yet at the same time, women serving in combat positions in a military organization (albeit a sex-segregated military organization) was a pretty radical idea for 1956.

Written by Lion of the Blogosphere

March 19, 2018 at EDT am

Posted in Books

Citizen of the Galaxy update

I’m about 45% through this book, and I must say that it’s awesome. Although it’s considered one of Robert Heinlein’s “juvenile” novels, it seems to me that the themes in the book are completely adult except that no one has any sex and the main character, Thorby, has an unrealistically naïve outlook towards girls for a guy raised in a rough underclass environment.

The future envisioned by Heinlein is not the Star Trek future where all of mankind lives in peace and harmony with each other and most aliens (all of which look like humans wearing some makeup). Heinlein’s future is a lot more dystopian. The book starts on the planet of Jubbal where there is slavery, no civil rights with respect to the police even for non-slaves, and the government is run by a dictator-like “Sargon.”

When Thorby visits alien planets, the aliens are really alien. One race has four legs, two arms, and two mouths. Another is a race of telepathic slugs with which communication is impossible.

Space travel is much grittier than Captain Picard saying “plot a course, Warp 7, make it so!” Heinlein’s space travel requires many days of high acceleration until the spaceship reaches the speed of light and enters “irrational space.”

Written by Lion of the Blogosphere

March 12, 2018 at EDT am

Posted in Books, Uncategorized

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