Sunday, July 13, 2008

Ad Astra



I read a lot of Robert Heinlein books as a kid. I discovered Heinlein through his juveniles, that I got from the public library. I remember once, home sick, I lay on the couch and read four of them in one day. Rocket Ship Galileo, Have Space Suit—Will Travel, The Rolling Stones (yes, it's actually titled this) and Space Cadet, among others, were a wonderful way to discover science fiction. Fun, fast-paced, full of action and ideas and written in a style that never dumbs things down for kids. Kids hate that. One of the reasons, I think, that J. K. Rowling has done so well is that she never patronizes her readers. That and she tells a great story. Just like Heinlein used to do, too.

I got to thinking about Heinlein today for two reasons. One, my son said he wants to read some "classic" science fiction this summer, try and branch out of the near-total fantasy epic binge he's been on for quite a while. Obviously, I'm highly enthused about this notion. Immediately, I started blathering about what he should read. Since he's a bit older than I was when I started reading SF, Starship Troopers immediately came to mind. But I don't have a copy on hand, I find, so I'll have to dig one up for him or see if the library has it. Hopefully, they do.

[Interestingly, Starship Troopers was to be one of Heinlein's juveniles, believe it or not, but his publisher wouldn't accept it. So, instead, it launched his career as an adult SF novelist at another publisher.]

The other reason I was thinking of Heinlein was this blog piece I read. It's about why we need to go into space. That's a no-brainer for me, thanks to Heinlein (and Star Trek and countless other sources of inspiration). We have to go because as humans we can't limit ourselves, we can't say "No, thank you - this little planet's good enough. We don't need anything more." I keep looking for it in all the big space opera style SF I read (and that's a style, thankfully, that's making a resurgence), but when it comes down to it all, it's still the thrill I got from those young adult novels of Heinlein's that I'm wanting from a good space story. Smart people facing and solving problems, all the while exploring, learning and expanding upon our idea of what is possible for humans to do and be in the universe.

Ad Astra Per Aspera - "To the stars, by hard means" - I think this was the motto of the Space Academy in one of those Heinlein juveniles. And it's the perfect motto. Going up there won't be easy, but it'll be worth it.

PS As a weirdo liberal lefty anarchist adult, it's a lot harder for me to read Heinlein now. In fact, I tried several times in the last few years and had to force myself to finish even a short novel. His socio-militaristic schema for the world doesn't have much appeal to me, nor does his blatant chauvinism. But I'd still like my son to read him, especially 'Troopers. Then I can give him Joe Haldeman's Forever War with Harry Harrison's Bill, The Galactic Hero for dessert. If I do it really quickly, his head may just explode.

8 comments:

Highlander said...

Bought a copy of 'Stranger in a Strange Land' cheap off eBay following a recommendation from a work colleague. Have never read Heinlein before so I'll see what I think (when I get round to it) ;)

Bucephallus said...

been having a friend of mine who gives me SF to read....all John Wyndham...amazing...."Earth Abides"...amazing! but I have just finished the California trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson....amazing, thought provoking, and recommended for non SF readers too.

gomonkeygo said...

Replying to both highlander and bucephallus here: Stranger... is so different from early Heinlein! It's kind of hard to believe the same person wrote them. Back when I was still a rabid Heinlein fan, my favorite was the gigantic Time Enough For Love. Heinlein wrote good death scenes and this has his best.

Wyndham! Wonderful that folks are still reading him. He was neat. I really dig him and Boyd and Christopher and that ilk. Vastly underrated.

There's a line in The Wild Shore that is so simple and probably meaningless, but struck me dumb at the time and is still with me:

"The dogs barked all night."

Why? I dunno. I really don't. But in the context of the book or just the paragraph or my mind at the time, that line blew me away. I think I stole it years later and stuck it in a poem.

His Mars series is incredible, too.

St. Simon said...

"You make me happy... laughing, glad and... full of glee..."

If your son doesn't like the Heinlein, give him Bradbury. That's the other good place to start.

gomonkeygo said...

He's already read a lot if not all of Bradbury, but I think he doesn't consider him SF. More of a fantasist. And I'd agree. I think he's one of the best fantasists we've ever had. I put him right up there with Lovecraft, Poe, Sturgeon, Collier, Dunsany, Ellison, Pangborn and such. Better than probably all of those actually.

Anonymous said...

I read Delany's "Dhalgren" when I was about 13, that helped widen my reading habits a little bit...

gomonkeygo said...

I bet Dahlgren did! Though I must admit, I've never finished it. Started it three times. Someday, someday...just like the Gormenghast trilogy. I've lost track of how many times I've half-read the first volume.

Anonymous said...

gomonkeygo ma'man, Dave Sez, ya honorary Brit here, just to let you know that alongside Mekons and Television, I run a comprehensive Wyndham archive ...