Sunday, March 29, 2009

Abortions for some, tiny American flags for others!

Robert Heinlein would have been 100 years old this year, if he'd had better cryogenic luck. Brian Doherty pens a cogent appreciation of the crusty one himself here. I thought I would celebrate by taking out the audiobook of Have Spacesuit--Will Travel from the library, only to recoil when the voice of youthful americana that they selected for the narrator was totally without pizazz. It was unlike anything I imagined when I read them in the fusty confines of my middle school library. The voice needed to be corn-fed, knowing, wry, charmingly pragmatic, not callow. I won't say that it made me feel patriotic to read him, but certainly he is one of the few writers (Daniel Keys Moran and Stephen Vincent Benet being the other ones who spring immediately to mind) who could convey a beguiling sense of what it means to be American. This impulse was in somewhat short supply for me growing up during the Reagan years. But Heinlein was also attractive because he was cranky, licentious, and (even to an unsophisticated sixth grader) clearly notorious. So my barely pubescent radical socialist self could cozy up to a rabidly anti-commmunist writer who advocated suffrage for veterans only. (When the pneumatically-endowed actors of Starship Troopers waddled onto movie screens, someone gave Heinlein the faintest of faint praises, saying that he was okay, as long as "he could keep the fascism in check." I winced.

But for me, he was part of that personal pantheon of transgressive adolescent literature (such Piers Anthony and Frank Herbert), who could mix pontification and somewhat more openly frank appreciations of adult shenanigans. Sure, Dune had something serious to say about desert religions, tribalism, and messianism (which, y'know, might by slightly apropos in our current situation), but it also had doe-eyed virgins who got off on prophency. (And enough machincations and intrigue to make Danielle Steele blush, which was a bit intoxicating, as my middle school self would have killed to manage even the tiniest iota of intrigue). Similarly, Piers Anthony had some comments on social superstructures and an unblinking assessment of how human needs played out on a macro and micro scale, but... well, there was an entire book whose title was based on the hue of the undergarments of a female character, so it wasn't all keen sociological insight. There was something for Plath's "the peanut-crunching crowd." But there are worse things to be than a provocateur (even if you could be provisionally claimed by the hippies, Barry Goldwater, or the Manson family). Plus, you have to give him credit for getting more outrageous as he got older. I'd say that being a crank isn't such a bad retirement plan.

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