Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Heinlein On Love


I returned yesterday from a unique weekend immersed in
scholarship and erudite discussion of Robert A. Heinlein,
celebrating the day (7/7/07 ) when he would have been a hundred
years old had he lived.

I learned so much I didn't know! My background and interests are
much more like Heinlein's than I had ever suspected.
And I'm sure I said things others didn't know that changed their
views -- they came up after the panels and asked for my handouts
which contain the URL of the Alien Romance blog.

Frederick Pohl (the editor who bought my first story, the first
Sime~Gen story, for WORLDS OF IF MAGAZINE OF SCIENCE FICTION and later as book editor for Bantam Books bought my first non- fiction project STAR TREK LIVES! and who has written a long list of SF novels) was there speaking fluently, casually, mellifluously, about Robert, his attitudes, experiences, friends, associates, and his three wives.

As I said in my previous post, I was on 6 panels and an
autographing in 2 days -- Friday and Sunday. Saturday I wandered
in and out of panels, and watched a few videos and talked and
talked to people.

The weekend became a blur of significant experiences. But there
was an odd theme running through it all -- love. Heinlein on
love is a remarkably deep topic.

You may think of his later books, Stranger in a Strange Land,
Moon is a Harsh Mistress, Time Enough For Love -- but there are
deeper themes on love in his "juveniles."

The Heinlein Centennial was co-conventioned with the SFRA
(Science Fiction Research Association -- professors who read
papers on SF because they happen to be fans who write academic
papers). So on Thursday evening, I spotted Fred Pohl through a
crack in a door, and crept in to an SFRA panel to listen to the
end of that panel.

It gave me a hundred ideas for things to say on the later panels
I was on, but I only got to say one of them.
Being academics, they were talking (in grieved tones) about
teaching Heinlein's books, and how younger people just WON'T
read Heinlein.

Later at another panel I heard someone who should know state
that when RED PLANET (the animated version of Heinlein's novel)
was aired, children ran to the library searching for more books
by him.

But before I heard that, on Friday at noon I was on a panel
about "Everything I Needed to Know I Learned From Heinlein" --
(which is pretty much true). And there I mentioned this blog and
pointed out how, RAH's themes, ideas, and vision lives on and on
and ON through us.

Young people who read my books (and there are amazingly large
numbers) are reading Heinlein (and Marion Zimmer Bradley, and
Theodore Sturgeon, Hal Clement, etc etc). Even younger people
who are reading Linnea Sinclair are reading Heinlein, which
would be true even if Linnea had never read Heinlein because
she's read my books.

In fact, any modern fan of novels with SF or Fantasy content
that ALSO involve strong characters and plot-driving
relationships is enjoying the legacy of Robert Anson Heinlein.
Linnea is now training new writers, and so the legacy will be
passed on to yet another generation -- and that legacy is,
without love you don't have a story!

It's especially true of Science Fiction -- one definition of SF
Fred Pohl and John W. Campbell came up with was "if you can take
the science out and still have a story, you don't have an SF

Most Alien Romance that I've seen to date passes that test --
there's some science element that absolutely MAKES the story.
But there is also some Relationship (not always romantic love;
parent-child, teacher-student, buddy, sister-sister, oath-bound,
magical geas, etc) that causes the characters to make one plot-
decision and not another -- that drives the plot to a satisfying

And that's what Heinlein invariably did. He showed us the role
of love in society, even alien society, and that to handle
science efficaciously, one must be filled with that love -- love
of humanity (or one's own species), love of town, country,
village, tribe, family, spouse(s), children, teachers, -- LOVE
drives the world.

But learning steers us -- and Heinlein glamorized education to
such an extent that maybe a third or a half of the people who
showed up for the Centennial had advanced science degrees
because of their early exposure to Heinlein.

Reading Heinlein makes you WANT to study -- even if the subject
is boring -- because you can see the use for being educated, as
opposed to "getting an education."

On Saturday, I learned that Heinlein had, as a very young man,
memories of 2 or 3 past lives. That could easily explain the
level of mature genius he evidenced throughout his whole life.
But by his thirties, those memories had faded to memories of

Still it gave him an awareness that science doesn't study the
whole of our real universe -- an attitude I have always had.
Maybe I was born with it, or maybe I absorbed it with RAH's
novels, or my upbringing -- but it pervades my life to this day.
Science is absolutely necessary, but it doesn't apply to
everything of importance in life.

Heinlein had read James Branch Cabell (fantasy writer of the
1920's and 1930's) who influenced the field markedly and then
fell out of popularity. And Heinlein knew L. Ron Hubbard, and
some associates of Madame Blavatsky -- who had at the time moved
her operations to India.

This mystical view of the universe blended into his scientific
view of the universe in every book he wrote, but became more
pronounced in later years -- after the feminist revolution of
the 1970's and the influence of Star Trek on the SF/F reading
population when he saw he could publish stories about what he
had originally wanted to write about. (we have a "manuscript
found in a drawer" that's recently been published to show this
is true.)

Also on Saturday I saw all at once, without commercials, the
cartoon film made of his novel RED PLANET -- which was a major
love of mine. It's a story about motherly love, and a rite of
passage story for a boy and his sister. The boy makes best-
friends of a young Martian while Earth is terraforming Mars
(something they're now talking about actually doing).

Of course, since it's a juvenile, the boy and his Martian friend
save Mars and change the course of history. That's the "great
man" theory of history, and one I use in my own novels because
sometimes it's true that apparently insignificant people make
huge contributions because of their personal emotional life.

But for me, the book has always been about the intense love and
understanding between the boy and the alien-child.

The significant story development, for me, is the scene where
the alien (after sticking with the human boy through many life-
threatening adventures) tells him that he must hibernate and
morph into his mature form, which will take longer than the
human boy's entire lifetime.

That leave-taking, that parting scene, is for me THE defining
moment of SF as a genre. I internalized it so greatly that I
barely remembered it until I saw it on the screen.

The animated version tag ends the story with a scene where the
Martian, as an adult, is telling his best-human-friend's
grandchild about his childhood best friend. It's a cartoon! I
cried my head off!!!!

On Sunday I did 4 panels and hardly had a moment to sit and
listen to other panels. I was on a panel titled "I now pronounce
you" -- which turned out to be about people who are actually
living Heinlein's model of the "line marriage" and the "group
marriage" from Moon Is A Harsh Mistress.

I did two panels on Heinlein's Heroines, and got into a number of discussions
challenging the view that Heinlein's writing is male chauvinistic (it's not -- but those who don't understand the nuances can't tell the difference.)

One thing about this convention that was really odd. There were,
I think, fewer than a thousand people spread over two huge
hotels with multiple tracks of programming going all the time --
and despite all that, all the panels I did filled the room. It
wasn't ME or the celebrities I was on with. It was that people
came to the event in order to go to the panels!

But I also had a few people who had seen me at a panel on Friday
following through to all the panels I did on Sunday -- people
who hadn't read my books and didn't know who I was. I had three
or four long conversations in the hallways, too.

I was on a couple of panels with J. Neil Schulman, an SF writer
who is forging ahead into film making. He's written, produced
and directed a feature film which is an Action Comedy starring
Nichelle Nichols (Uhura on Star Trek: The Original Series).

The film, titled Lady Magdalene's, is being marketed for theater


"Jack Goldwater, an IRS Agent on load to the Federal Air Marshal
Service, is relieved of field duty after insulting a powerful U.
S. Senator, and finds himself exiled to a humiliating desk job
in Nevada as the Federal Receiver managing a legal brothel in
tax default. Where -- with the help of the brothel Madam, Lady
Magdalene (Nichelle Nichols) -- he uncovers an Al Qaeda plot to
unload a nuclear bomb sized crate at Hoover Dam. " Runtime 117

Watch theaters for that film - it'll likely be a landmark.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg


  1. Heinlein has always been and continues to be one of my favorite authors of all time. One of my favorite rejections I ever got was from an agent who said I wrote too much like Heinlein and other "old" science fiction writers and that my stuff would never sell in today's market. High praise indeed in my mind.

    Thank you for your insights into the centennial and everything that happened. Wish I could have been there but you make it seem so real, it's okay to have missed it.

    Sort of. :)
    Vicky B

  2. Thank you, Jl, for another fabulous essay, and for the reminder that I really must pick up another Heinlein, and refresh my memory.

    Until then, Asimov's The Gods Themselves remains my favorite.

    Rowena Cherry

  3. Awesome report, Jacqueline.

    I've been reading DREAMSPY, by you, and Robert A. Heinlein's STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND just arrived today. I'm planning on talking about them on my Enduring Romance blog this Thursday, July 12th.

    The interesting thing is reading DREAMSPY and seeing the roots of GAMES OF COMMAND by Linnea Sinclair. Very cool. The legacy lives on.

  4. Because I didn't start reading Heinlein until adulthood, he didn't influence my formative years. Nor can I claim he had any direct influence on me as a writer. Nevertheless, he's one of my all-time favorites, whom I've read over and over. One aspect I wish I could emulate as a writer is his wonderfully lucid style, his ability to make any topic both understandable and entertaining. As Isaac Asimov probably said somewhere in connection with his own writing, a "plain" style is MUCH harder than it looks. While I disagree in many respects with Heinlein's politics and philosophy, he's always thought-provoking, and his essay on Patriotism (first delivered as a lecture at the U.S. Naval Academy) never fails to bring tears to my eyes. I was so disappointed in the STARSHIP TROOPERS movie that I've never watched it all the way through since first viewing. The director and writer used the plot elements of Heinlein's novel (with some neat visual effects, such as the delightfully horrific queen bug)to create a film that completely distorts and sometimes outright contradicts the principles and message of the book. This travesty has probably ruined any chance of the book's being done right on film, because the powers-with-money doubtless think "why bother, it's been done already." Any Heinlein fans out there who haven't read Spider Robinson must do so right away! Start with the "trunk novel" Jacqueline mentioned, which was completed by Spider Robinson. Then read his own work, esp. the Callahan's Bar stories.

  5. Oh, about RED PLANET: In its "bouncer" form, the hero's cute Martian pet is actually a she, not a he. Anticipating the Martians of STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND (maybe they're actually meant to be the same), these beings change sex from female to male at maturity. The sad farewell must be in the movie only. The book, IIRC, ends with the Martian "pet" incubating a clutch of eggs. I'd love to see that animated film. Is it for sale anywhere?

  6. Margaret:

    Yes, "plain" style is also something Marion Zimmer Bradley used -- the writer is to be invisible to the reader, not to flaunt her erudite style and sparkling wit, but to tell the story.

    Yeah, I recommend Spider Robinson, too!

    No, actually the messed up STARSHIP TROOPERS film may spur someone to do it right.

    On the other hand, from the Ursula LeGuinn EARTHSEA TRILOGY on TV, we learned a very clear lesson.

    The ONE THING that must be changed when converting a novel to a screenplay is the THEME -- i.e. what the book SAYS.

    To eliminate that problem, the writer has to construct the book to conform to screenplay criteria. That is a creative straight-jacket most won't want to try on!

    But I do think Heinlein's books can still make great films if converted by a trufan!

    Vicky b -- yes, there is some kind of commercial problem marketing Heinlein today. I haven't got an exact handle on it myself yet, but will no doubt explain it in this blog when I figure it out.

    But Heinlein wrote to compete for "beer money" -- he was selling entertainment tailored exactly to HIS readership.

    To write "like Heinlein" you must research YOUR readership and tailor your work to compete for their beer money. Your readers aren't his readers!

    But the process is the same.

    At the Centennial it was said many times one characteristic of Heinlein was that he would research any subject into submission.

    He did his research and hit the big time -- so do yours and you will too.

    Jacqueline Lichtenberg