Book Review: Tunnel in the Sky, Robert Heinlein

In William Golding’s 1955 novel ‘Lord of the Flies’, a group of students is stranded on an island–and they revert quickly to barbarism.  The book sold millions of copies and has become common assigned reading for high school classes.  Another book, published at about the same time, projects a very different view of human nature and society.

Heinlein’s future world in Tunnel in the Sky has been faced with a crisis of massive overpopulation…a common projected future in books of this period:

…the population of Terra had climbed well beyond that which its farm lands could support.  The hydrogen, germ, and nerve gas horrors that followed were not truly political.  The true meaning was more that of beggars fighting over a crust of bread…Life, all life, has the twin drives to survive and to reproduce.   

Release from the Malthusian Trap was ultimately gained through an invention that opened up new worlds for settlement:  a hyperfold device called a Gate allows people to transition instantly from earth to their new homes light-years away…and, unlike rockets, the Gate technology allows very large numbers of people to be transferred.  There’s a catch, though:  keeping a gate open requires huge amounts of energy, so when the migrants move to a new planet, the gate is relaxed and they are left on their own until such time as they can offer enough trade goods to be worth the energy of reconnecting them…which may be a long, long time.  Hence, old skills have again become relevant…the situation of the settlers:

…made horses more practical than helicopters, picks and shovels more useful than bulldozers.  Machinery gets out of order and requires a complex technology to keep it going–but good old “hayburners” keep right on breeding, cropping grass, and pulling loads.

The book’s protagonist, Rod Walker, is a high school senior who plans on a future as a pioneer and a colonist and hence is taking a course in Outlands Survival.  Final exam time has arrived: the students will be sent to a planet of which they know nothing–the test rules are ANY planet–ANY climate–ANY terrain and NO rules–ANY weapons–ALL equipment.  They will be left on their own for 1-2 weeks, then returned to earth.

The class (which includes girls as well as boys) has a final session with their instructor…Rod is asked to stay after the others and is advised that he would be wise drop the course and skip the test:

Rod, you’re a good boy…but sometimes that isn’t enough.  I think you are a romantic.  Now this is a very romantic age; it calls for practical men…You are way too emotional, too sentimental to be a real survivor type…I’m not sure that you can beware of the Truce of the Bear.

But Rod decides to go, despite the advice and despite the fact that the boy he had intended to team with decides at the last moment to drop the class.  After passing through the Gate and finding himself alone, he discovers one of his classmates–who has been killed.  By a predator?  Yes…but:

Yo’s proud Thunderbolt gun was no longer in sight…The only animal who would bother to steal a gun ran around on two legs.  Rod reminded himself that a Thunderbolt could kill at almost any line-of-sight range–and now somebody had it who obviously took advantage of the absence of law and order in a survival test area.

After surviving for several days, beginning to get oriented, and encountering various local animal species, Rod meets up with Jack, a member of a different class sent to the same survival area.  Over time, they encounter others, and a group begins to develop with Rod as the de facto leader.  Their recall at the end of the test period is delayed–at first, they think it is just a minor technical problem of some sort, but the feeling grows that something has gone very badly wrong, and they may be stuck on this planet for an indeterminate time–maybe forever.


Rod attempts to organize a routine, with individuals assigned to various tasks–but when one group of older boys refuses to accept his authority, the situation becomes violent and Rod barely escapes with his life.  The troublemakers are exiled and warned not to return.  But Grant Cowper, a student-government type (majoring at Teller U in Colonial Administration) tells Rod that the underlying problem is that he (Rod) doesn’t have any real authority…that the group needs to be organized for the long term, with a formal structure and with elections for the leadership.  Rod and his friends don’t see any point in this, but he grudgingly agrees.  It is assumed that Rod will win the election in a walk..but Grant has been active in behind-the-scenes electioneering, and gives an impressive speech, some of which I have quoted previously.  He asks the group: “What is the prime knowledge acquired by our race? That without which the rest is useless? What flame must we guard like vestal virgins?”

There are various answers: “Fire”…”the decimal system”…”the wheel”…but Grant replies:

“No, none of those. They are all important, but they are not the keystone. The greatest invention of mankind is government. It is also the hardest of all. More individualistic than cats, nevertheless we have learned to cooperate more efficiently than ants or bees or termites. Wilder, bloodier, and more deadly than sharks, we have learned to live together as peacefully as lambs. But these things are not easy. That is why that which we do tonight will decide our future…and perhaps the future of our children, our children’s children, our descendants far into the womb of time.  We are not picking a temporary survival leader; we are setting up a government.”

Grant wins the election.  Some of Rod’s friends propose that they leave and set up a separate group, but Rod decides that they should stay together, at least for long enough to give Grant a chance.  There is considerable friction, though, between Rod and Grant.  Rod and others think that Grant is overdoing the formalism, with various committees on everything…also, that Grant is rather high-handed, as with his decision to write a Bill of Rights himself rather than adopting the Virginia Bill of Rights in toto, as others have proposed.  And moreover, the two just don’t like each other.  (Grant, at one point, remarks that government is the art of getting along with people you don’t like)

So does the group stay together, or does it split?  Are the bad actors who were exiled out of the picture for good, or do they eventually return to cause more trouble?  And are the students ever able to return to earth?…and if they can, will they want to?  I won’t tell any more of the story here, because spoilers.  This book is one of Heinlein’s ‘juveniles’, targeted mainly to teenage boys, but it’s good reading for adults as well.  A combination of an adventure story, an essay on political principles and practical politics, and a coming-of-age story, all in one.

A huge difference from the Golding book is that Heinlein’s student group includes girls as well as boys…it is also multi-ethnic, indeed, one of Rob’s closest friends and leadership associates in a Zulu girl named Caroline.  (The female characters, at least Caroline, are better-developed in this book than in some of Heinlein’s other work)  Another big difference is that while Golding’s characters had no idea that they were going to have to go live in an alien and primitive environment, all of the characters in the Heinlein book did have such an expectation, by virtue of the classes they were taking and the careers they had in mind–they just expected it to happen several years later and as part of a group organized in advance.  But they  had devoted some thought to matters of survival, and at least

Grant had devoted considerable thought to the nature of government.

Given the fact that this was published as a juvenile book and also the era in which it was published, there is no portrayal of sexual longings, satisfactions, and conflicts among the teenage and early-twenties characters. There are, however, several marriages and resulting children.  (Early in the book, Rod expresses the opinion that boys and girls need to have separate groups, otherwise: “Quarrels and pretty jeaolousies and maybe a couple of boys knifing each other.  It will be tough enough without that trouble.”)

In 1965, there was a real incident in which a group of students (only boys) was stranded on an island for a prolonged period of time.  The events that unfolded were closer to those in Tunnel in the Sky than to those in the Golding book. Although these students all knew each other prior to the stranding, which may have been a significant point.







46 thoughts on “Book Review: <em>Tunnel in the Sky</em>, Robert Heinlein”

  1. This was one of my favorite books back when I was a juvenile and reading everything by SciFi Holy Trinity, Heinlein, Asimov, and Clarke, that I could find. I’ve read it several times since then. In my opinion, Heinlein’s work has held up better over the years than the others, but that could be because it generally appeals to my liberty-loving ideology.

  2. }}} it is also multi-ethnic, indeed, one of Rob’s closest friends and leadership associates in a Zulu girl named Caroline.

    It’s even more significant in that the lead hero, Rob himself, is black. Probably one of the very first such in US SF history.

    It’s very subtle (Heinlein did this A LOT, to get past the editorial limits of the day — he hid his chars’ ethnic information in a single paragraph somewhere). Somewhere in the text, around that point where he mentions Caroline, is a note that “people expected Caroline and he to pair off ‘for obvious reasons’,” with the subtext reason being that he’s black. RAH acked this at some point in a mildly public manner.

    Rico — Starship Troopers — is Filipino in background, a minor detail tossed off in a reference to Tagalog.

    Eunice Branca — I Will Fear No Evil — is black. I forget where this is but it’s another single-line reveal.

    Friday is posdef black, or at least “chocolate” — in the discussions during the destructive fighting of her group family regarding the daughter who married a Maori, she pointedly asks “Where do you think this ‘built-in tan’ comes from?” I’ve often thought he laughed his ass off when he saw the Michael Whelan cover.

    I believe there are a couple other such in his books… the trick is to watch for them, once you know they exist. You will find yourself going, “Wow, never noticed that line before…” various characters that (assuming you’re white, especially) you just automatically pictured as white (not so much the bigoted notion that another character cannot BE black, but that you automatically tend to picture yourself in all the positive characters, somewhat).

  3. Rob being black…yes, I’ve heard this said. But the “obvious reasons” that people expect Rod and Carolyn to pair off might be only that they spend so much time together, and obviously like each other a lot. Also, at some point one of the troublemaking characters refers to Rod as a ‘cholo’, which might suggest that he is Hispanic.

    One character who seems likely to be black is Rod’s friend Jimmy, who at one point describes himself as “Half Neanderthal and half sleek black leopard”…why would someone pick *black* leopard to describe himself unless he was himself black?

  4. Heinlein was a creature of his times. I rather doubt that he’d write the same things the same way today, were he ratcheted forward a couple of decades. His aspirations of racial harmony and equality were decidedly “not of his time”, and I suspect that he’d have somewhat recalibrated a lot of what he thought and had to say about his thinking, were he someone who’d had the experiences of living through sixty-odd years of “racial equity” and “affirmative action”.

    I know I bought into the worldview and mindset he espoused, hook, line, and sinker. It’s only after a lifetime of observing that things ain’t necessarily so, when it comes to race and race issues, that I begin to consider that it’s probable that my elders were selling me a lie. Same with the rest of the “tolerance and love” brigade–They want you to tolerate and love them, but in return, all they have to offer is hatred, disdain, and disrespect.

    Given that, I’m thinking that it was a mistake of the highest order to have taken the boot off the collective neck of the perverts and the minorities, if only because human nature seems to run against the idea of amity and forgiveness. So long as they’re going to blame me for things done by other people of a similar pantone skin shade hundreds of years ago, well… It’s more than merely stupid and foolish to enable their hatred, it’s absolutely contra-survival. Thus, keep the boot in place, firmly, and indeed, it might even be a really good idea to increase the pressure.

    Not sure that there’s a solution, long-term, other than something that is likely to end in the annihilation of one side or another. I have had to reluctantly acknowledge that the whole line of bullshit I was sold as a kid by idealists like Heinlein only really works if both sides are willing to “forgive and forget”, but since that ain’t the case…?

  5. Tunnel in the Sky is the first specifically sci-fi book that I remember reading.

    To this day, Heinlein is one of my favorite fiction authors, and I still prefer his young adult stuff to his later books. Mostly because these books are fun.

    Fun is an underappreciated reason to read among way too many adults.

  6. }}} So long as they’re going to blame me for things done by other people of a similar pantone skin shade hundreds of years ago, well… It’s more than merely stupid and foolish to enable their hatred, it’s absolutely contra-survival.

    I think you conflate RAH’s views with too many postmodern liberals.

    RAH was, at first, a classical liberal, then shifting more towards libertarian. He believed in socialism early but rejected it once he understood more about it and its real-world manifestations.

    I think he agreed with what was happening with regards to race up until the end of the 80s, and would have been offended by the racist crap that got pushed at blacks starting about that time by Jesse Jackson and Al Sharptongue. It was all basically a reorganization of Marxist ideology that swapped fiscal class for racial distinctions to attain success that has/had eluded the classical Marxist doctrine. He would have been offended by the results of that race hatred, and been thoroughly against it and the PostModern Liberalism behind it. RAH would necessarily find himself on the GOP side of things today. As with many classical liberals (which has shrunk to something less than 5% of self-defined liberals), he would find himself unable to remain a Democrat.

  7. I mentioned that Heinlein’s characters in this book were of both genders and multiracial. They were also multireligious…Rod’s family is Evangelical Monist, a religion that came out of Iran; there are also Quakers and at least on Muslim, among others. Yet the group’s behavior on the new planet seems 99% secular: no one seems concerned about avoiding work on their faith’s holy day, or attempting to convert others, or insisting on their right to have more than one wife.

  8. his depiction of the crazy years (the time we are in now) was perhaps understated, and his estate should have sued margaret atwood for ripping off,’ if this goes on’

  9. I think the only Heinlein I read as a kid was Have Spacesuit, Will Travel, which I quite enjoyed. Then as a teen I read Stranger in a Strange Land, which I did…not. I have to say that the overt anti-religious themes that seemed to become more prevalent in the later works of some of the “masters” strongly contributed to my stopping reading sci-fi…

  10. @OhBloodyHell,

    I think it’s a mistake to attribute a political path to Heinlein, that he would have followed had death not intervened.

    The root issue with the man that I have is that while he threw off ideas the way an exploding bonfire throws off sparks, once you sit back and look across the entire oeuvre of his work, you can make out more than a few themes and personal hobby-horses of his–Most of which, like his sexual licentiousness and depravity, are utterly unworkable.

    And, once you’ve done that, you’re drawn to the inevitable conclusion that he was a complicated and extremely contradictory person. You can’t reconcile some of his libertarian work with some of the other stuff he wrote, and when you try, the whole idea of Heinlein as some sort of consistent ideological source blows up. One of the major things that blows right the hell up is visible before us in the disaster that we have in terms of actual race relations.

    Look at all the idealistic lovey-dovey religious amity bullshit that he wrote into things like Stranger in a Strange Land–You’ll see nothing of the actuality of Islamic relations with other religions. All his Muslim characters are enlightened and tolerant, oftentimes demonstrably more so than the other, mostly Christian religious types he writes so disparagingly of. Heinlein had that uniquely left-wing mental illness in which he was never able to acknowledge faults in any but his own, home culture. There was a lot of self-hatred and loathing on display in his writing, when you step back and look at it. It was very much of a piece with the whole of Sinclair Lewis and his disparagement of middle America as being impossibly unsophisticated and backwards.

    Like most of his ilk, in this regard, he wrote with a lot of animosity and angst about his home culture. He mostly despised it, but at the same time, he failed to comprehend that that culture is what enabled him to write and what made him what he was, as a human being.

    I used to worship Heinlein and others of his ilk, taking a lot of my values and beliefs from what they were writing, on the surface. Years later, looking back and re-reading it all with a more mature and experienced mind to enable better understanding and with more ability to pick up on the subtleties lurking in the depths, I have to say that they were all more of a piece with the modernist deconstructionists, men who tear things down yet who have nothing to really offer in return. I also have to look around at the bits and pieces of their ideology which have been put into actual effect, and I note that virtually none of them really work worth a damn–Race and religious relations being foremost among Heinlein’s failures.

    Final analysis? He was another one of those failed idealistic types, whose ideas just don’t work. The amount of racial animosity and religious hatred that we have today is a direct outgrowth of these idiots and their ideas–Just like with the whole “sexual equality” concept, wherein they spread out all the “privilege” and paid zero attention to the obverse side of that coin, that of “responsibility”. The endless propagandizing over the crimes of men long dead, absent the inclusion of the concept of reciprocity in return for the opening up of society…? Again, all of a piece with the naive assumption that it would all work out, so long as the “oppressor” just quit “oppressing”.

    Most of our social problems today stem from the unworldly naivete of these “true believers” who think that unearned civil rights are going to somehow be appreciated by the former underclasses. You can’t “gift” someone something like that, because they’re never going to appreciate it at all–Which is why so many treat these rights so cavalierly. Heinlein and his ilk thought that they could just hand-wave all this idealistic crap into existence, and that’s proven not to be the case.

    I really have no idea about what would work. All I can tell you is that the path these idealists have laid out, and which we’ve been walking on for most of my life? It ain’t going anywhere, and is probably taking all of us off a damn cliff in the near future. I don’t see the social trends like “Black Lives Matter” or any of that other racist bullshit damping out any time soon; indeed, I expect a counter-reaction deriving from sheer survival necessities to be springing up and hitting back, which is just going to serve to increase the polarization and hatred.

    The worst thing about it is, you have all these people like me who bought into the “peace, love, amity” bullshit, and now that we see where that’s taking us, and what the actual price is? The reaction will not be a pretty one. I won’t be one of the leaders of the lynch mobs, but I also won’t be doing a damn thing to stop them, when the time comes. The way I see it is that the various and sundry crooked race- and gender-baiters have earned everything they have coming, and the likely counter-reactive pogroms should serve as a salutary lesson to history. I don’t see any of this crap ending well, at all–For anyone.

  11. one might say he was classical liberal, who were rather anticlerical in foundation, heinlein was generally focused on liberty interests, it’s a shame only star ship troopers and the puppet masters have been adapted, of his vast oevre, there was a notion to adapt ‘mistress’ but the one who got the property, was bryan singer, which is problematic,

  12. I think it’s a mistake to try to extrapolate a writer’s personal philosophy and politics from their fiction. Stories and characters, I’ve been told, tend to take on a life and direction of their own is the writer is any good. The ones that follow some sort of preconceived pattern usually end up being hackery of some sort.

    Heinlein published several books and articles that explicitly said what he thought so anybody that’s really interested has several thousand pages to look at. Especially over a career about 50 years, there are probably more answers than questions.

    From what I’ve read, his private life was pretty straight forward with his second marriage lasting until his death. He wasn’t any sort of recluse and if there are any particularly juicy parts, I haven’t heard them. He wouldn’t have been the only writer that indulged in a lot more license in his books than in the real world.

  13. We’ve probably read a lot of the same material. Heinlein was a great writer for entertainment purposes, but I think that I and a lot of other people read way too much into his works, in terms of philosophy and life-lessons.

    Part of what made him so alluring, in terms of ideas, was that when he wrote, he managed to pull off creating a vision of a world that you found resonating within yourself, and which you wanted to believe in. This creates a bit of a problem when people try to apply that sort of thing to the real world, and discover that the conditions which the author hand-waved away aren’t so amenable to change.

    What Heinlein did in a lot of his works was to create this aura of “this is how things ought to be…” that was sufficiently convincing that many of his readers took those ideas as being given facts of the universe, without recognizing that they were aspirational ideals, not fundamental facts. More than a few of us internalized ideas from him that have turned out to be non-starters, purest moonshine–And, I have to put a lot of his racial, religious, and cultural idealistic ideas into the same box of “nice to imagine, but not how it works…”.

    Spend some time digging through all that aspirational “racial harmony” BS that they had on general offer, back in the days of my impressionable youth. Then, go out and look around you, today, at all the BLM and other such phenomenon, and try convincing yourself that the aspirational visionary types like Heinlein didn’t sell us a bill of goods–Because, they damn sure did. I think we’d have all been a lot better off if the aspirational idealists had kept their mouths shut, and let things work themselves out naturally over the course of time, instead of trying to bring their naive dreams of harmony and amity into being in our lifetimes.

    I’m not entirely sure why the whole project has blown up in our faces, but I suspect a lot of if stems from the fact that their basic ideas were in fundamental error–What we term “racism” is actually a fairly natural phenomenon, and an expression of fundamental cultural conflict that is all to likely to result in existential internecine warfare between those different cultures. You can’t make peace with people that insist on demonizing you because of your skin color, ancestry, or religion–And, despite the mawkish fantasies of people like Mr. Heinlein and the rest of his idealistic ilk, that crap did not and will not go away. Conflicts don’t go away when only one side quits fighting; all that results in is the destruction of the side that quits first.

    Which, I am sad to say, is pretty much the epitaph for race relations in this country.

  14. problems with such an einstein rosenman bridge, is it’s stability, also the titanic forces that must exert in the portal

  15. }}} @OhBloodyHell, I think it’s a mistake to attribute a political path to Heinlein, that he would have followed had death not intervened.

    I can speak on what I’ve read — including the nonfiction essays in Expanded Universe, His letters in Grumbles from the Grave, and the first of the two halves of his autobiography (I have the other, it’s not quite yet made it on top of my queue), and also For Us, The Living which is exceedingly early RAH, and feels as though it comes from a perspective he himself has commented on in places.

    There is no question he was a strong Democrat early on, he worked for a number of local races in the 40s, and also a socialist, again, by things in his biography and his own comments at times. He also wrote things later, such as “Take Back Your Government” and much of his later works also posit a consistently libertarian/classical liberal mesh of ideas.

    I will not dispute, his own position on anything was uniquely his — to say he was ‘x’ is to capture only a tiny part of his views. But depending on the specific issue, he certainly tended towards libertarian and classical liberal on most issues. I do believe he was a complete anti-socialist by the 1970s, if not by the 1960s. Remember, he was IN Russia when the U2-Gary Powers incident occurred. And if he did not speak Russian well, I gather Ginny did for sure. He commented somewhere about her skill with languages.

    }}} Most of which, like his sexual licentiousness and depravity, are utterly unworkable

    Ummmm.. define “depravity”. He certainly believed early on in the whole “free love” notion, though he may have backed off from it later on, but there is little doubt he practiced a certainly high degree of experimentalism with regards to sexuality. I don’t see any indication he ever did it with a man, but I would not be the least surprised if he tried it once. I am pretty sure, either way, he preferred women all the way. You can get this, again, from his two-part autobiography. He was sexually liberal in the 1940s.

    No, I don’t know how this matched up with Ginny, in any way. She seemed (again: Biography) to not be overly interested but left him his peccadillos with other women.

    I also strongly believe that even into the 80s he still believed in group marriages. From my own personal experience, I think they fail dismally because of the tendency towards factionalism in such groups (he does kind of allude to it in Friday, though he still suggests he favors them, it feels like, as does the Pursuit of the Pankera, the alternate form of The Number of The Beast). The benefits of group marriages are outweighed by these issues, while the same overall benefits he argues for — child rearing — are almost as effectively provided for by the “extended nuclear family”, i.e., your “near” relatives — aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. — providing the safety net in the event of catastrophe.

    }}} One of the major things that blows right the hell up is visible before us in the disaster that we have in terms of actual race relations.

    Sorry, I don’t believe anything we currently have in race relations has anything to do with race, per se, but everything to do with manipulations by a number of self-serving demagogues and charlatans — Jesse Jackson and Al Sharptongue in particular. Starting in the very late 1980s, and surging into the 1990s, they set the pattern in this direction. It was anything but inevitable, and if liberals weren’t already even then transitioning into PostModern Liberals from Classical Liberals, then the whole thing would have been rejected outright instead of welcomed, as the society destroying insanity it so clearly has always been.

    }}} Stranger in a Strange Land–You’ll see nothing of the actuality of Islamic relations with other religions. All his Muslim characters are enlightened and tolerant, oftentimes demonstrably more so than the other, mostly Christian religious types he writes so disparagingly of.

    Dude, this was the freaking 50s and 60s — Islam was well on its way at that point to becoming a civilized religion. The backsliding since then has entirely been enabled by … again, those prick motherfucking PostModern liberals and their cocksucking “moral relativism” — which makes Islam in any form just as good as any other… and encouraged the fanatics to embrace their fanaticism rather than stomping on it like it always should have been.

    And as to his attitude towards Christians, he had enough of that shit in his own personal face, given his history growing up in the Bible Belt, his own personal sexual preferences no doubt hacking the craw of many Christians of same-said Bible Belt variety. He saw from the inside how many Xtians are Xtians in name only, who Jesus could walk up to with Matthew 5 -> 10 in his hand, whack them across the head with it, saying “READ IT, YOU MORON!” and who would turn around and argue with Him about what He meant by it. He KNEW they had their fanatics all over the place, STILL.

    }}} wherein they spread out all the “privilege” and paid zero attention to the obverse side of that coin, that of “responsibility”.

    I grant that those around him were often of this type, but to attribute such to RAH is to fail utterly at reading him. He was ALWAYS about personal responsibility for one’s own actions being the primary guide towards personal conduct.

    }}} The endless propagandizing over the crimes of men long dead, absent the inclusion of the concept of reciprocity in return for the opening up of society…? Again, all of a piece with the naive assumption that it would all work out, so long as the “oppressor” just quit “oppressing”.

    Not only can you NOT point to any of this in his own writings, fiction or nonfiction, he specifically addresses the issue in question in one of the class lectures in Starship Troopers, and points out how wrong it is. So nope.

    }}} Most of our social problems today stem from the unworldly naivete of these “true believers” who think that unearned civil rights are going to somehow be appreciated by the former underclasses. You can’t “gift” someone something like that, because they’re never going to appreciate it at all–Which is why so many treat these rights so cavalierly. Heinlein and his ilk thought that they could just hand-wave all this idealistic crap into existence, and that’s proven not to be the case.

    For RAH, this is so absolutely not true it’s not even funny. I mean, FFS, this is what Starship Troopers government and the citizenship classes his schools offer is all about. He’s expressly talking about how you must TEACH social responsibility. As well as tying the right of franchise expressly TO the explicit demonstration of that social responsibility.

    Was he idealistic? Yeah, on some levels. But to put him in the same class as the yammering idiots who created this mess is to miss everything his writing was about once he got relatively unfettered by editors and publisher limitations.

    I don’t idealize the guy — I personally think he was egregiously wrong on sexuality and group marriage, but that’s the main thing he was wrong on.

    The other issues you’re complaining about, those run directly against almost everything he openly espoused, because the last 50+ years have all been about abandoning your personal responsibility for everything, not accepting ANY of it. Feminism, esp. 3rd wave and later, is certainly about eliminating all personal responsibility for women entirely. The issues with race relations are the same — “you’re not responsible for your shit life — your life is shit because of ‘systemic racism’ and ‘opppppppppppppresssssssssssion’.”

    That’s absolutely NOT anything of RAH — not one iota. And i think you need to re-read RAH after and including Starship Troopers if you think otherwise.

  16. as the “oppressor” just quit “oppressing”.

    (Insert missing end italic here in the above)

    Not only can you NOT point to any of this in his own writings, fiction or…

  17. Again: I want to express — Y’all are ignoring the undeniable undercurrent of “personal responsibility” which has always been at the core of his writing, from Space Cadet to Starship Troopers and on and on after that.

    The current problems in race and gender and all the rest largely stem from the push by PostModern Liberals to utterly undermine all forms of personal responsibility and reject any expectation of same from people.

    ALL the problems, every fucking last one, ties directly and unquestionably into that abject failure.

    And that clearly is utterly anathema to Heinlein. If you don’t agree with that last sentence, then you really really failed at reading comprehension, and I suggest you go back and re-read his entire ouvre, as it is hardly easy to miss and I can’t see how you managed it at all.

  18. Public school discouraged me to develop ant fondness for reading, with assignments like these. The latter two gave me the impression that high literature was by definition bleak.

    The Great Gatsby: A tale of useless rich people.
    The Catcher in the Rye: Arrested development told in first person, effectively subjecting the reader to the personality of the crass, antisocial, and emotionally weak protagonist, who really deserves to get stuck in an elevator with Dr. Gregory House.
    A Separate Peace: There’s a big ugly melodrama coming slowly down the track, but the reader must sit fast and face the inevitable like Matt Decker in the Star Trek episode “The Doomsday Machine” because there’s a test next week.

    I was introduced to Heinlein in early adulthood and learned to appreciate reading.Many of the early works shared a common theme: ordinary people building lives in extraordinary settings. One of the easiest predictions to make about anything is that “Farnham’s Freehold” will never be adapted for film or TV :-) The two most modern books of his I’ve read are his classic hippie-era books “Stranger in a Strange Land” and “Time Enough for Love.”

  19. Didnt he saw he wrote starship troopers as an explicit reply to einsteins pacifism yes in the 50s islam was quiescent but ramadan a leader in the brotherhood and mawdudi were making progress

  20. }}} Public school discouraged me to develop ant fondness for reading, with assignments like these.

    Yeah, when I was in fifth grade, one term, I got flunked in “reading”… because I refused to read the boring crap they assigned.

    This is at the same time I was reading, with occasional struggling and asking adults about a passage once in a while — 2001: A Space Odyssey (the movie had just come out… yeah, dates me, don’t it. :-P )

    Clearly, reading was not MY problem.

    I tend to concur — modern schools try and turn reading into such a deadly dull chore that by the time you get out, even if you can do it, it is associated with pain and dullness and boredom, so you want to never do it again. The notion of doing it for “pleasure”? What planet are YOU from?

    They failed to beat the love of reading out of me, partly because I already loved doing it before they got their hooks into me. It did also help that the local public library had a very good “young readers” section and a very good librarian in charge who “read kids” well and recommended stuff they enjoyed… rather than todays’ “push the agenda on ’em” crowd. I recall, when I was about 12, having two kids that were the kids of a friend of my mothers over, in my room. There was a stack of books, 10 IIRC, that being the checkout limit, which I’d gotten the day or two before. They commented on them, and I noted that I’d already read *two* of them. :-D They didn’t want to believe me. I convinced them i had done so.

    }}} Didnt he saw he wrote starship troopers as an explicit reply to einsteins pacifism yes in the 50s islam was quiescent but ramadan a leader in the brotherhood and mawdudi were making progress

    I am unaware of any direct connection to ST and Einstein. Not saying it isn’t there, but I don’t recall ever hearing of anything — I think he was just responding to the overall anti-atom-bomb anti-war undercurrent that was already floating around in the 50s.

    The seeds of modern Islamofascism were certainly there, but they flowered only because we backed off on the idea that we were doing things right and they were doing things wrong. The whole “Multiculti” crap, the notion that one culture is just as good as any other — is at the heart of the backwards movement in Islam

    I mean, these pix are from Kabul, and you can assert, easily, that the advances hadn’t yet spread to the surrounding parts, but FFS, it shows that Islam can be, and was, civilized.
    (if any pic doesn’t load, try refreshing the page)
    These pix could easily be anywhere in the then-modern world.

    The real fact is, it backslid, “AND HOW”, because we stopped telling them that Islam had to grow up, and to police its own people to constrain the fanatics. Now the fanatics run the show, and the minority true moderates are afraid to speak up (>50% support Sharia Law, which rejects any kind of moderation possible, even if only 20% will actually “do terrorism”, they are enabled by the other 30%+ Sharia supporters… and the Leftist idiots who also won’t say anything against them).

    The Fact is, Christianity has been mostly tamed. We police ourselves — if some Christian fanatics blow up an abortion clinic — probably the most “hot topic” internal issue we currently have in US society, almost all Christians would turn in the bomber to the police, if they knew who it was. The ones who would fanatically support said bomber are probably less than 1% of 1%. It’s not that even a small fraction of Christians don’t think abortion is seriously wrong, the vast majority just don’t believe violence is the way to fix any problems, if it can be avoided.

    Islam was getting there… by the 50s, it had become strongly modernized, as the pix from Kabul show, with fanaticism and extremist factions on the wane. Now it’s not — because the Left keeps feeding their fantasies that their squalid lives are not their own responsibility.

  21. the government went too secular in afghanistan, and the deobandi influence, grew in places in pakistan, spread by ft leavenworth trained officers like General Zia, and our Saudi friends, socalled, in Yemen under the Crocodile,

    heinlein was generally protesting the test bans versus the Soviet nuclear testing, we have that to look forward with Iran, sigh,

  22. I’m no RAH expert, but my reading of the man and (a lot of) his work is the same as OBloodyHell’s. I didn’t recognize Kirk’s portrait at all–and even if I had I think it’s misleading to lay responsibility for vast changes on one scifi writer, or even the lot of them.

    Scifi is “What If?” Heinlein was good at setting up those up and working them out, which was enough for me, who read more military history than anything else by far. (There was a definite overlap between scifi readers and milhist geeks/wargamers back then–late 60s-70s.)

    Our public school libraries (lily W/white schools almost the whole 12 years) were actually not that bad for the Big Three (RAH-IA-ACC) and similar, and there was a brand new public library branch within an easy bike ride. Once I proved that I could read adult stuff to the lady librarian (a passage she selected at random from “The Ploesti Raid” IIRC) I never stopped.

    The less said about the Required Classics of the approved curriculum, the better.

  23. As far as I remember, SF readers were almost all boys in the 50-60’s. Girls had their books too but there wasn’t any overlap. Harry Potter was notable because he seemed equally popular with both boys and girls. As far as I can see, it’s always been that way with the girls books generally being more “civilized” and the boys favorites much rowdier. Guess who generally sets reading assignments and which sort they tend to pick?

  24. As far as Islam goes, its premises and those of secular liberalism are fundamentally incompatible. The West’s dominant faith fractured and when the energies and passions unleashed were over, the Christian factions had broken their teeth and dulled their claws against each other so much that they agreed to disagree, and move on with new-fangled things like Science and Technology.

    Islamic writers as far back as Al-Hajj Al-Afghani, Muhammed Abdu, Rashid Rida, and of course Qutb all had initial infatuations with the West, and wanted to adopt what was adoptable, but they all realized eventually that that circle couldn’t really be squared and opted for the faith.

    Westerners often make the mistake of thinking that all Islamic critique is from ignorance but it’s worse–they know us very well, as Bin Laden proved by provoking us into righteous but ultimately self-defeating anger and vengeance.

  25. the first schism was the Orthodox, the Reformation was a much more violent affair, the subsequent wars were mostly protestant powers at war, for the next 100s of years, this led to the hecatomb of the last two wars which smashed a generation even among the winners, and led to the dark faiths of fascism and marxism to enter the world,
    when heinlein say faith, like American evangelicals that seems to be the template he envisaged, see “If this goes on’ he had a faith in American technology and determination,

  26. Turkey was the prototype for the secular Moslem state. The Kemalists explicitly excluded religion from the political sphere and making it stick for nearly 80 years and showing the difference. It’s taken Erdoğan less than 20 to run it into the ground in the name of righteousness.

    It’s not like there aren’t whole centuries known for Christians burning and otherwise murdering other Christians over the finer points of theology.

  27. wouldn’t have happened without gulen, his accomplice in crime, the trotsky to his stalin, after ergonokon 1, the purge of the ‘ubiquitous’ grey wolves, teycep turned on him,

  28. Tangentially related to “Tunnel in Sky” is Alexi Panshin’s “Rite of Passage,” in which youths must survive a year (IIRC) on a primitive planet before returning to the stars. Many don’t. I likened it to the survival training in Alaskan schools, but exaggerated for syfy effect.

  29. Can Islam be civilized? Let’s reframe: can society which practices cousin marriage progress to a machine, then industrial, then computerized society without outside support?

    Reading Heinlein is nice, but he seems to think anyone can be anything, and—in my opinion—this is demonstrably false in our own day. Non western people cannot adopt the cultural solutions of Europe because they haven’t the genetics of Europe.

  30. Interesting review. Hope you don’t mind a bit of pedantry, but the author of Lord of the Flies wasn’t Goldman but Golding. And he based the book on his own observations of boys when he taught in an English prep. school – over here, that’s a private school for children between 8 and 13.

  31. The prep school dynamic that Golding missed for some reason is that the bullies survive and thrive by sucking up to, and being protected and deputized by the teachers. In the wild without the adults to provide cover, there might tend to be more unfortunate accidents.

  32. Yeah, they’ve run the experiment with real kids, and the results did not match Golding’s imaginings. Look up that crew of Polynesian kids that got lost at sea.

    Lot of the problem you have with these things that have become memetic is that they’re based on the lurid imaginings of people who’ve already got a distorted view of things, and who’ve generally had little experience of the real world. They’re also often very self-hating, and loathe their own home culture, because the sort of “intellectual” that writes dystopian novels usually isn’t a happy person or well-adjusted.

    Which becomes a self-reinforcing cycle in culture. Everyone believes that boys on an island would replay Lord of the Flies, but the reality is, probably not. Unless they were English public school boys, who’re already fairly well barbarized by the experiences they have had inflicted on them by adults. Which, in and of itself, is one reason that the British Empire went the way it did–The upper classes were not raised normally, in that the children were rarely nurtured by their own parents, and went off to boarding schools which were horror shows of pederasty and bullying. Is it any wonder that the products of that environment were disturbed people, and unable to relate to the people they were put in charge of, who didn’t have the “advantage” of having been raised like that?

    You read some of the stories out of that milieu, and talk to people who grew up that way, and you’re left entirely aghast at the low-level endemic child abuse. I remember talking to one upper-class Brit, and he described never having had a conversation with his father or mother until he was well into his twenties, and then it was a situation where they had nothing to say to each other. He and his sister had been raised by servants and boarding school staff, entirely–No real interactions with his parents or other family members, whatsoever.

    The wonder is not that the British Empire collapsed, but that it lasted as long as it did.

    The other wonder is how much people have allowed things from that milieu to influence other cultures and institutions. Creatures like Golding have had enormous and entirely unjustified impact on our culture.

    Ever want to see some other, similar effects? Go look up the German socialist theories on child sexuality, and then trace out their impact and influence on American culture of the 1960s and 1970s. All of this took place behind the scenes, out of the public eye, but those “theorists and intellectuals” were enormously influential in a lot of surprising ways.

    Of course, nobody wants to talk about any of that, ‘cos it’s “disturbing”. What I find disturbing is how deep the rot is, and where it came from…

  33. Thanks, Sue, I will fix. Re English boarding schools…in France in 2001, I spent half a day with Francis Cammaerts, who in WWII had been the Special Operations Executive organizer for a wide area in southern France. He mentioned his boarding school school experience and was quite vehement about how bad it had been; said that he was never going to respond to their solicitations for money.

    OTOH, another SOE operator said that boarding school had been useful training, because it taught you ruthlessness and distrust.

  34. Kirk…”I remember talking to one upper-class Brit, and he described never having had a conversation with his father or mother until he was well into his twenties, and then it was a situation where they had nothing to say to each other.”

    Churchill, IIRC, was much closer to the woman who had raised him than to his actual biological mother. I’ve wondered if this is general a characteristic of aristocratic societies, but don’t think it is in France, for example..of course, that country not a formal aristocracy since the Revolution, but still a lot of people holding on to their titles for social cred, I believe.

  35. Oh, yeah–Two names to research in reference to that German bit: Uwe Sielert and Helmut Kentler. They have their disciples here in the US, as well–There was a whole school of “scientific sexology” that basically amounted to child sexualization with “scientific” justification. You could find their books in a lot of the edgier communes, and the mentality was relatively pervasive across a much broader swathe of the “counter-culture” than people like to admit or remember. Part of the theory was that people were “squares and assholes” because they were sexually repressed from childhood, and so it was better to sexualize the kiddies so they’d grow up “normal”.

    There was a lot more of this stuff going on back then than people knew about, in general. Possibly still going on, but not on the same scale–We were talking earlier about Marion Zimmer Bradley, and if you do the reading, her and Walter Breen cited some of these German “theorists and intellectuals” as justifications for what they did.

    You go looking for this stuff, and it’s a disturbing dive into intellectual depravity and outright insanity. It’s also really disturbing how much went on, under the radar, with nobody really paying attention or doing anything about it. I dipped my toes into this the first time, getting to know a young lady who’d grown up in one of those “counter-culture communes”, and it was surreal when you talked to her about it all–Like a circus-funhouse view of childhood and all that. The thing I had found hardest to believe was her telling me about all the background theory on it, and how it was all there, literally “in the books”. Something I found hard to believe until I found some of them, and read them for myself… Seriously disturbing, for someone from my comparatively “innocent” background. I think I can date an awful lot of my cynicism and dislike of the “intellectual milieu” to that experience, now that I think about it.

  36. I think English boarding schools are (were?) like places like Oberlin. The lunatic students are the ones allowed to rule the place by the lunatic “adults”.

    Lord of the Flies should be viewed like things like The Lottery and The Tragedy of the Commons–literary devices made to prove a philosophical point, not to have anything to do with reality.

  37. Yeah, well that’s a huge problem across our culture: People taking literary devices and theories out of philosophizing works and trying to make them work in the real world. Few look at the background of the authors, or their track records–They see a shiny theory they like, they adopt it, and then it’s decades before we find out just how flawed it was, when applied outside the pages of a book where the author has total control over everything.

    Never ceases to amaze me, the human capacity for ignoring pragmatic cautions with things like this. It’s like with Marxism–Marx was a guy who never actually did anything. There are no lasting institutions out there with his name on them, that he founded in accordance with his theories and then guided to long-term success. It’s all a mess of theories that have never actually been made to work, and yet…? Explain his popularity and the incredible faith that his adherents have in his works and principles. A rational person would, perhaps, start out from the premise that Marx produced a mass of untried theories, never verified on any sort of rational and scientific basis, and then run some low-level experiments to see if they could validate his theories on a small scale, and work upwards.

    No, that never happens: The “true believers” have to erect their mighty edifices of social reform utterly absent any form of experimental validation or common sense, and then act all surprised when the entire enterprise collapse under the weight of the contradictions…

    You would think we’d learn, but…

  38. RE English boarding schools — English public schoolboy Wilfred Thesiger went on to lead an active fascinating life (1910 – 2001). He was an excellent writer, producing such highly readable books as “Arabian Sands” (1959) and “The Marsh Arabs” (1964). The part relevant to the current discussion is that late in life his writings were anthologized in a volume “My Life & Travels” (published in 2002). Despite all the amazing events of his wartime service in the SAS and life in Arabia and Africa, he still bore very bitter memories of being caned unjustly in his public school by an older boy (name given!) who had been dissatisfied with Thesiger’s “fagging”.

    English public schools did seem to make a lasting impression on their pupils — sometimes positive, often not positive.

  39. Now do German kadettschulen.

    Harry Flashman is the archetype English public school bully; practically every Brit of note that I am familiar with up until about 1980 or so was educated in such a place.

    I found it to be true that the American public high school is excellent preparation for the stupidities and injustices of American adult life.

  40. Oh, I think that you could find fault with most of the human race’s pedagogical institutions. It’s not something we do well, at all.

    However, some are worse than others, even within the same general grouping. There are American high schools that are complete and utter horror shows, and then there are others that aren’t. I think a lot of it has to to with the underlying local culture, which influences the conduct of the children through the values they pick up from their families. Of course, there are also the individual behaviors, which often have nothing at all to do with their families–The worst bully I remember from one of the high schools I attended was from a family of (well, seemingly…) really nice people that were stalwarts of the community. His sisters were nothing like him (again, outwardly…), and it was inexplicable to any of his victims where all of his animosity and cruelty came from. You understand the big, awkward kid whose dad is an abusive alcoholic–The one who comes from the Cleaver family is just plain confusing.

    I think the common thread through a lot of this disfunction is the idea of taking a bunch of kids, gathering them together, and then letting nature take its course. That’s not how we did things, back when we were hunter-gatherers on the steppes of Europe, or so one would think. The older methodology of raising kids probably looked a lot like what we see in primitive societies today–Childhood integrated more with adulthood, one-on-one adult/child tutoring and mentoring. Leaving things to groups of unsupervised children strikes me as a recipe for disaster, if only because those groups are going to be working to their own internal goals and desires, which are unlikely to be in alignment with the needs of society as a greater whole.

    People today don’t integrate with their kids, very well–They outsource child-rearing and education, then act all surprised when the people they did that with, all unsupervised, turn out a work-product that’s at odds with the parent’s desires. You want your kids to have your values, your mores? You’d better be willing to spend the time, teaching those values and mores to them.

  41. my alma mater’s most infamous alumni ’45, thanked the faculty, but turning into a military barracks, they relocated on shore, yielding a president of the Coca Cola company, one Water gate burglar and some other ins and ends,

    the problem is the zombie ideology that had insinuated itself into the body politics, and that’s worse than any corona virus,

  42. > reveal

    There’s another in “The Cat Who Walked Through Walls”, in the part about the cloned leg.

    And, of course, Podkayne of Mars, who was explicitly “mixed race” as they call it now. It comes up several times during the story.

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