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Old 05-21-2020, 01:46 PM
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Heinlein juveniles: how well do they hold up?


I’m thinking of reading the Heinlein juvenile novels again. They’re a reasonable price on Kindle. https://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/d/B075V...oreType=ebooks

How embarrassingly dated are they? The science as well as racial and gender stereotypes.

I’m sure I’ve read them all two or three times over the years. I can’t remember a single plot, however.
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Old 05-21-2020, 01:52 PM
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They're very dated but still enjoyable. The Rolling Stones is probably the best of the lot.
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Old 05-21-2020, 02:16 PM
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They're very dated but still enjoyable. The Rolling Stones is probably the best of the lot.
Weirdly, The Rolling Stones isn't included in the list at that link. They do list Star Beast, Have Space Suit Will Travel, and Tunnel in the Sky, all of which I still enjoy although it's been a few years since I read them. My now vague recollection is that all three have strong female characters, non-white characters, and except for Tunnel in the Sky, non-human characters, and that the gender, race, and species of a character didn't seem to play a large part in how most others treated them. Well, except for Spacesuit with respect to the kidnapping aliens; they were stereotypical bad guys.

Tunnel in the Sky did seem to have issues with some of the older student's assuming that their age and higher education meant they were better suited to lead and letting their "idealism" getting in the way of pragmatism and also with at least one news media character liking to add false details to fit their preconceptions. I don't think that comes under the heading of racial or gender stereotypes. Heinlein liked to paint his heroes (of whatever race, species, or gender) as being smart, quick, and pragmatic, and he didn't have much patience with people he considered to be fluffy-brained.
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Old 05-21-2020, 02:17 PM
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There are some science facts in them that are wrong, mostly in planetology. Venus most definitely isn't a jungle world, and even with supplemental oxygen, you aren't surviving on the surface of Mars in shirtsleeves. Physics, chemistry, and so on, however, mostly hasn't changed in the past 70 years, and Heinlein mostly did a good job with that (with the exception of relativity, which is why I don't like Time for the Stars).

Race is a non-issue. The only time race matters at all for any of Heinlein's characters is when he's deliberately thumbing his nose at racists (for instance, he snuck in clues that the main character of Tunnel in the Sky was black, just so he could taunt Campbell, who would not have willingly published a book about a black guy, after the fact).

On gender, well, by the standards of his times, Heinlein was pretty progressive... by the standards of his times. By modern standards, a lot of his views on gender relations would be considered trogolodytic. This is more or less relevant, depending on which book you're looking at, but should at least be not as bad in the juvies as in his adult novels.
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Old 05-21-2020, 08:01 PM
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As long as you remember that the characters act like Boy Scouts because that's who the stories were largely written for, they hold up pretty well. I can't be arsed to look it up, but a lot of the juveniles were first serialized on Boy's Life.
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Old 05-22-2020, 04:54 AM
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They're very dated but still enjoyable. The Rolling Stones is probably the best of the lot.
Oh, wrong.

All love, but the best juvenile is Have Space Suit, Will Travel.
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Old 05-22-2020, 07:16 AM
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As long as you remember that the characters act like Boy Scouts because that's who the stories were largely written for, they hold up pretty well. I can't be arsed to look it up, but a lot of the juveniles were first serialized on Boy's Life.
I can be, because it's an odd claim. Heinlein's juveniles were written, one a year, to be published by Scribner's (I think for the Christmas market). Some went directly to the book, but some had excerpts published in other magazines (I don't think any were fully serialized -- the stories were trimmed down for the magazines).

Only two of them were thus treated in Boys' Life -- Farmer in the Sky and The Rolling Stones*.





You can find the gory details here -- http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/ea.cgi?29


I think the juveniles hold up pretty well, in the main. Even the first of them, Rocket Ship Galileo, where Heinlein was still working out what the hell he was trying to do with them, and who his audience was. I hadn't read it in years, and a few years ago I picked up the audio edition, read by SF author and uber-Heinlein Fan Spider Robinson, who has an amazingly good voice and reading skill. The book was better than I'd recalled. But the book shows its age in lots of ways. The imagined "future history" it requires hasn't happened, the Neo-Nazis who are the villains didn't seem as far-fetched in the near-aftermath of WWII, and it's hard to imagine someone building an atomic rocket these days, or of using Thorium, with zinc as the reaction mass.
Most jarring of all, of course, is the mechanical computer that runs the rocket ship. It's hard, today, to imagine world without digital computers, or of people trusting their lives to such a mechanical device, but this was the post-WWII technology, based on the Norden Bombsight (with a bit of help from early digital computers like ENIAC), and the book is a reminder (or instructor, if you haven't encountered the concept) of the times. (George O. Smith uses such mechanical navigation devices in his entire Venus Equilateral series, which imagines a future that is equally free of digital computers. At least until he wrote a late addition in the 1970s)

The idea of a Lost Lunar Civilization is a wonderfully out-of-left-field speculative stunt that Heinlein tried to use frequently. His idea that lunar features were the result of an atomic war is similarly provactive, although I think highly unlikely even when he wrote it. His reminders of the uncertaiinty of the origin of lunar craters -- so obviously seen as impact events today -- really does reflect the uncertainty of the times.


Of course, Heinlein wasn't alone in his characterizing Mars as a dry, dusty, dying world (still capable of having life), or of Venus as a misty, swampy world. Those were the standard images of those planets in pulp SF from before the 1930s through the 1950s. Heinlein stubbornly held onto the notions, continuing to defend them not only in his essay Where to?/Pandora's Box in 1950, and in his successive updates of it in 1965 (The Worlds of Robert A. Heinlein) and 1980 (Expanded Universe). But that doesn't ruin the stories themselves, as far as I'm concerned. They were products of the knowledge (and hopes) of the time.

What really do stand up are Heinlein's insistence on basic principles, critical thinking, the importance of science, and of honor and duty. I might disagree with him on points, and diverge from him, but that's the case with a lot of writers whose work I generally like and admire. I still find myself picking up one of his juveniles from my bookcase and getting hooked after reading just a short passage.




*I've never really thought of Farmer in the Sky or Starman Jones as Heinlein juveniles, since they wasn't published in paperback by Ace with a Steele Savage cover, like the others were. They first appeared in paperbacks by Dell, then later in Balantine/Del Rey editions. But they meet the other criteria
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Old 05-22-2020, 08:27 AM
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How embarrassingly dated are they? The science as well as racial and gender stereotypes.
The juvenile novels were, as others have noted, actually very progressive—if a bit lecturing—for their day in dealing with gender and racial stereotypes. If written today they would probably be regarded as regressive or even offensive, but that is a reflection of how much those views have changed in the intervening sixty-odd years rather than innate prejudice. As noted, Heinlein often snuck these sentiments in despite the views of editors and publishers, and was considered one of the more subversive of the ‘Golden Age’ authors for doing so.

Although Heinlein was an engineer, the ‘science’ of the juvenile novels, such as it is, is mostly bunk aside from fundamentals about ballistics and astrogation, but again that is a reflection of how much technology has developed in unexpected ways, and how science fiction should really be about how the characters and societies they live in adapt to a hypothetical scientific revelation or technology rather than trying to literally predict actual developments. Heinlein clearly respected science as a discipline, but he never let the limitations constrain his stories; teleportation, telepathy, ‘exotic’ chemistry, et cetera were all invoked to fulfill the needs of the story without spending an excessive amount of effort trying to justify them on some rationalist basis. (That Mars and Venus are not as habitable as he described them in the juveniles is excusable because even many people in the nascent field of planetology had what turned out to be totally wrong ideas about the environments of those worlds.)

So, at least in the context of juvenile literature, his novels hold up pretty well, and I think you could retool them to be published ‘as new’ in the current environment with a minimum of alterations mostly concerning technology.

His adult novels on the other hand...well, let’s just say there is a strong ephebophile vibe to many of them, as well as that the gender fluidity and dynamics that come off as more patronizing than progressive and his authorial voice grew into a generally patronizing and often sneering tone. It became clear with his later novels that he was doing less to develop characters than simply writing his own idealized self as the protagonist and all other characters as either adjuncts or foils, which arguably started with Stranger In A Strange Land but at least Jubal Harshaw makes sense in the context of the story; in later works he completely takes over characters (even female ones) to essentially voice his own personal quasi-Randian views and contempt for people with whom he did not agree. And I have no idea what Time Enough for Love was supposed to be about.

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Old 05-22-2020, 08:43 AM
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Oh, wrong.

All love, but the best juvenile is Have Space Suit, Will Travel.
Actually I think my second favorite of the lot.
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Old 05-22-2020, 09:22 AM
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Was the story where they get lost in space, and have books of astrogation tables that convert numbers from a readout into binary for someone to set switches, one of his? I remember a major plot point being that they lost the books with the tables in, and had to rely on someone's memory of it.

I used to love Have Space Suit, Will Travel, although I haven't read it in a few years now.
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Old 05-22-2020, 09:24 AM
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I can be, because it's an odd claim. Heinlein's juveniles were written, one a year, to be published by Scribner's (I think for the Christmas market). Some went directly to the book, but some had excerpts published in other magazines (I don't think any were fully serialized -- the stories were trimmed down for the magazines).

Only two of them were thus treated in Boys' Life -- Farmer in the Sky and The Rolling Stones*.
One other juvenile was adapted into a graphic story in Boys' Life - "Between Planets" https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Between_Planets#Cartoon - of course, this was decades after the book had been originally published by Scribners.

Last edited by Andy L; 05-22-2020 at 09:28 AM.
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Old 05-22-2020, 09:35 AM
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Was the story where they get lost in space, and have books of astrogation tables that convert numbers from a readout into binary for someone to set switches, one of his? I remember a major plot point being that they lost the books with the tables in, and had to rely on someone's memory of it.
That's Starman Jones. The technology in that one is definitely pretty dated.
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Old 05-22-2020, 09:46 AM
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That's Starman Jones. The technology in that one is definitely pretty dated.
If I recall correctly, they could not use electronics during spaceflight because of *handwaving rationale* so they had to use mechanical calculators, reference books, and the astrogation version of a sextant. It’s a necessary conceit of the story to make Max a crucial part of the story rather than intended to be a specific prediction about the future, similar to how Frank Herbert excluded “thinking machines” from Dune so he could introduce Mentats and their crucial function in society. Any science fiction story more than a couple of decades old is bound to have some howlers if extrapolations of technology are taken as literal predictions, so I don’t think that sort of think alone obviates the validity of a story as still being relevant.

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Old 05-22-2020, 09:59 AM
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Personally, my favorite of the lot is Space Cadet. I love the rigorous selection process, focusing mostly on integrity because everything else the cadets need can be taught, and the whole bit about learning just why the rules are important and when to eat pie with a fork, and the traditions like calling the roll and answering for the Four, and all that.
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Old 05-22-2020, 10:00 AM
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Personally, my favorite of the lot is Space Cadet. I love the rigorous selection process, focusing mostly on integrity because everything else the cadets need can be taught, and the whole bit about learning just why the rules are important and when to eat pie with a fork, and the traditions like calling the roll and answering for the Four, and all that.
Yeah, Space Cadet is a favorite of mine.
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Old 05-22-2020, 10:06 AM
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It'd be interesting to compare them to modern children's spaceship science fiction, except for the problem that modern children's spaceship science fiction is almost nonexistent. Outside of Star Wars properties, the only entry into the genre I can think of from the past decade is Dragon Pearl.

Having loved the genre as a child, I wish it were more active today.
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Old 05-22-2020, 10:11 AM
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No, the best of the juveniles were Citizen of the Galaxy and The Rolling Stones!



Actually, the best of the books is the one that Scribner's rejected: Starship Troopers.
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Old 05-22-2020, 10:18 AM
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There really is no handwaving rationale offered in Starman Jones for why they don't just use electronic computers. Basically, they don't use electronic devices because the book was written in 1953, a time when "electronic computers" were still rooms full of vacuum tubes.

"Dated" doesn't mean "stupid", but for a reader who didn't grow up reading these stories, the dated technology may be a little jarring. People can still read and enjoy even Jules Verne and H.G. Wells, of course--well, I assume they can, anyway--but a new reader (or even an old reader returning to the stories after many years) is probably going to need to adapt a certain mindset to enjoy them. I think the need will be more acute in Starman Jones than in some of the other Heinlein juveniles precisely because the very dated tech is so central to the story, and yet its necessity is never really "explained" to a 21st century reader's satisfaction, on account of Heinlein not being a psychic or a wizard. For some of the other stories, there's less dated "tech", but more dated planetology, and so forth. That doesn't mean they weren't good stories.


A story like The Star Beast would probably be a better bet for a new reader/returning old reader trying to get into/get back into the Heinlein juveniles than Starman Jones (very dated tech) or Between Planets (very dated planetology), for all that Starman Jones and Between Planets still have very good bits in them from a literary point of view. Even in The Star Beast there are some quick references to a Venus that seems to be very different from the real world Venus, but they aren't central to the story. Of course there are things in The Star Beast that are quite impossible (FTL travel) but those are impossibilities that are still accepted in modern science fiction stories in a way that "jungle-planet Venus" or "Alas, if only someone had memorized those printed books full of logarithms that we rely on for interstellar astrogation!" aren't. I would say Citizen of the Galaxy and Have Space Suit--Will Travel also hold up pretty well--inevitably, there are going to be some anachronisms and "Zeerust" because, again, Heinlein wasn't a psychic or a wizard.
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Old 05-22-2020, 10:42 AM
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No, the best of the juveniles were Citizen of the Galaxy and The Rolling Stones!



Actually, the best of the books is the one that Scribner's rejected: Starship Troopers.
I never considered Citizen of the Galaxy one of the juveniles. Is it really? It is an outstanding book.

We agree on The Rolling Stones and Starship Troopers might be his second best book after The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress (which is imho the greatest Sci-FI book of all time).
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Old 05-22-2020, 11:01 AM
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I devoured those Heinlein juvies as a juvenile and still haul them out on occasion, and they hold up pretty well, I think. I have a soft spot for "Have Space Suit, Will Travel."

We got Boy's Life at the house when their comic strip serialization of "Between Planets" was running -with artwork by Frank "Apartment 3-G" Bolle - and they got past Mars & Venus being hostile hell-hole environments by moving the entire story to the Proxmia Centauri star system, which may have eliminated some scientific inaccuracies, but didn't help the narrative flow much.
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Old 05-22-2020, 11:06 AM
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Old 05-22-2020, 12:04 PM
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I devoured those Heinlein juvies as a juvenile and still haul them out on occasion, and they hold up pretty well, I think. I have a soft spot for "Have Space Suit, Will Travel."

We got Boy's Life at the house when their comic strip serialization of "Between Planets" was running -with artwork by Frank "Apartment 3-G" Bolle - and they got past Mars & Venus being hostile hell-hole environments by moving the entire story to the Proxmia Centauri star system, which may have eliminated some scientific inaccuracies, but didn't help the narrative flow much.
As I noted in a recent thread, that's the dodge people have used when re-telling stories from the 40s and 50s -- take something set on "desert" Mars or "swampy" Venus and replace it with an extrasolar planet. That's what Leight Brackett did with her Eric John Stark stories when she started writing new ones in the 1970s, and what Robert Sheckley did when he rewrote is 1950s story "The Humors" as the novel Crompton Divided.
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Old 05-22-2020, 02:23 PM
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While The Star Beast doesn't have much in the way of dated science or technology, somehow the overall feel of the story seems a lot more rooted in the 1950s than for many of the other juvies. Though there's nothing in particular I can put my finger on.

And while there are some books that don't fall on the Official List of Heinlein Juveniles, so far as I'm concerned, all of the stories with a teenaged or younger protagonist and with the sex and politics toned down to a level acceptable for middle-school libraries are "juvies".
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Old 05-22-2020, 02:35 PM
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While The Star Beast doesn't have much in the way of dated science or technology, somehow the overall feel of the story seems a lot more rooted in the 1950s than for many of the other juvies. Though there's nothing in particular I can put my finger on.

And while there are some books that don't fall on the Official List of Heinlein Juveniles, so far as I'm concerned, all of the stories with a teenaged or younger protagonist and with the sex and politics toned down to a level acceptable for middle-school libraries are "juvies".
One of the things, to my mind, that pegs it in the early 1950s is the reference to "Pidgie Widgie", the kids' show that people had to go home and watch. Aside from the fact that such a thing might be a podcast or something on a streaming service these days, that you could watch any time, it's become clear ro me that this was inspired by Bob Clampett's puppet TV show Time for Beany, which was immensely popular with a lot of adults.

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Albert Einstein was a fan of the show. On one occasion, the physicist interrupted a high-level conference by announcing, "You will have to excuse me, gentlemen. It's Time for Beany."[5] Musician and composer Frank Zappa was also a fan,[6] as were Curly Howard, Groucho Marx and Brian Wilson.[citation needed]
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Time_for_Beany

Nothing quite like it has been around since. Bill Scott, who wrote for it, went on to Rocky and Bullwinhkle. MST3K, of course, was puppets and had an enthusiastic adult following. But this was a first, and was disproportionately popular and influential because of that.

You could substitute "Time for Beany" for "Pidgie Widgie", but trying to substitute "Mystery Science Theater 3000" just ain't the same.
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