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Variable Star By Heinlein and Robinson

samzenpus posted more than 7 years ago | from the when-you-wish-upon-a-star dept.

201

Cam Turner writes "In late August, Slashdot reported that a lost Robert A. Heinlein novel was mere months away from being released. True enough, it was completed and released on October 18th, 2006 by Spider Robinson, himself a distinguished speculative fiction writer. On the back cover, John Varley is quoted as saying "Completing a book from notes by a dead author is almost always a mistake. But apparently Robert A. Heinlein isn't really dead. He was at the side of Spider Robinson as he wrote this book." I'd have to agree. This story is a valuable addition to any speculative fiction collection, even that of a purist Heinlein fan." Read the rest of Cam's review.

In the afterword Spider Robinson describes how he came to be the writer who took Heinlein's eight pages of notes — penned in November 1955 — and turned them into a full length novel released half a century later and 18 years after Heinlein's death. He describes it as "literally the most difficult and intimidating challenge that could be handed to a science fiction writer." However, as a lifelong fan of Heinlein's work, Robinson said "I wanted to read a new Heinlein novel so badly that I didn't care if I had to finish it myself."

The protagonist, Joel Johnston of Ganymede, is a man of his late teens or early twenties. His life as he knows it falls apart when his fiancé turns out not to be who she says she is. As he struggles to regain control of his identity and his direction in life, he decides to join a starship as it travels 85 light years — and 20 ship years — to found the colony on a newly discovered Earth-like planet. Variable Star is the story of his journey, his regrets and the friends he makes en route.

Identifying the antagonist is a little more complicated — as it is with many of Heinlein's novels. It could possibly be his struggle with adapting to his new life in a small colony of only 500 people, his regrets over leaving the love of his life, or his tenuous escape from her family's vast influence. Regardless, the possibilities weave together to create a richly imagined story that is a believable description of how events might unfold for a character in Joel's position on a long journey between the stars.

The rest of the characters are also vivid and well constructed. At no time did they act counter-intuitively to their rich back stories. Certainly each character is revealed and built up over the course of the book, but I found their actions and motivations to be entirely believable and flawed in the way that only humans — even future humans — can be.

Heinlein fans will recognize many nods to the Future History timeline. From Leslie LeCroix being the pilot of the first moonship to the Covenant (and Coventry) that brought enforceable peace and tolerance to the human civilization after the fall of the Prophet. Robinson also incorporates many of the various sexual ideas that Heinlein had in his works like The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and Stranger in a Strange Land, however he doesn't go into as lavish and descriptive detail as Heinlein often did.

As a downside, I don't think that Variable Star is going to be as timeless as some of Heinlein's better works. Robinson managed to work into the Future History (timeline two) nods to both the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the Iraq wars. Reading through them jarred me back to reality momentarily and thus detracted from the story. Robinson is careful not to mention these events by name, but readers for years to come may find their mention distracting. It's true that we'll look back on these events in the future as part of our violent history, but invented wars would have served the same purpose in terms of story development and would have allowed the reader to stay in the imaginary world.

As mentioned, the outline was created in 1955 and, as expected, fits perfectly into the Heinlein Juvenile and Young Readers works of that time. It appeals to teenage boys and furthers Heinlein's propaganda agenda about the colonization of space. It is not what Heinlein would have described as "adult" fiction and has a single, linear storyline and a well defined main thread. Teenage readers will be able to identify with many of the struggles Joel faces through the course of the book and Heinlein fans will get a kick out of seeing how Robinson weaves in numerous references to Heinlein's earlier works. For other adult readers the story is still a fantastic, quick and entertaining read.

In the afterword Robinson makes a point of mentioning that the notes Heinlein left behind contained no climax or ending. Robinson tells the story of how both were inspired by some audio clips of Heinlein interviews in the 80's and extrapolated from his views on the true future of humanity. That said, the climax was not a typical Heinlein climax and was entirely unpredictable up until the exact moment it occurs.

To be honest as the number of remaining pages dwindled I began to wonder how exactly Robinson was going to get where I thought he was going in the pages he had left. I feared a Neil Stephenson-like abrupt ending was the fate of the story and characters I had come to love. I was very happily surprised with what I got. The ending fits the situation, motivations and expected behaviors of the characters so perfectly that, in hindsight, I can't imagine it concluding any other way.

Ultimately I give this book an 8.5/10. Robinson has done an excellent job of writing a strong story with strong characters as well as paying homage to the Grand Master and the vast legacy of richly imagined universes he left behind. Make no mistake, Variable Star isn't of the same caliber as The Moon is a Harsh Mistress or Stranger in a Strange Land, but it certainly holds up against many of the novels that have been nominated for the Hugo or Nebula awards the last few years. It might not win next year, but I'd be surprised if it didn't at least make both of the final ballots.

Lastly, potential buyers of this book should note that profits from the sales will help fund the $500,000 Heinlein Prize for innovation in commercial manned spaceflight, a goal Robert A. Heinlein considered crucial to humanity's long-term survival.

Aside: I haven't yet had an opportunity to read anything else by Spider Robinson, but I am now a fan of his work and intend to work my way back through his collection too. Does the Slashdot community have any suggestions on where to start?

Cam Turner is the author of Beginning Google Maps Applications, an internet software developer, a father and a long time Heinlein fan.


You can purchase Variable Star from bn.com. Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to see your own review here, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.

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201 comments

bought it (1)

thejrwr (1024073) | more than 7 years ago | (#16828044)

This is a good buy, already ordered it

THANK YOU FOR YOUR PROFOUND CONTRIBUTION (-1, Flamebait)

CmdrTaco (troll) (578383) | more than 7 years ago | (#16828370)

It's faggots like you that keep me coming back. Perhaps you hav a blog, where I might find such nuggets as the last video game you bought or how many times you masturbated to gay porn last week.

Yeah RAH (5, Insightful)

stoolpigeon (454276) | more than 7 years ago | (#16828058)

I wrote up a few of my impressions of the book in this journal entry. [slashdot.org]
 
I've thought about the book quite a bit more since. I did not make the same connection to 9/11 that the reviewer made. There were similarities, but the description could have fit another set of events that would be in our future. Heinlein did this himself and so I took it the same way - as referring to events that have not happened yet.
 
I think part of the appeal RAH's juveniles hold is the naivete they present. By mixing in some of the 'worldliness' of the later novels, a bit of that is lost. Sometimes it felt like watching an old Andy Griffith re-run and having Aunt Bea drop the occasional f-bomb. I don't think someone new to Heinlein would notice it, but having re-read those older works many times, it was a bit jarring.
 
I had pre-ordered my copy and read it right away. Of course, you can't really go back. It's not Heinlein, it couldn't be. But it is pretty close and I guess it speaks volumes about how many of us feel, that we would be willing to grasp at those straws. And as excited as I was to have had two 'new' Heinleins come out, I hope they are done and will just let his body of work stand as it is. The great thing is the works we have can still be just as powerful. Hopefully somewhere right now, some young kid is getting chills, just like I did, as he reads about Johnny Rico's combat drops. Or maybe some other kid is closing their copy of The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, and feeling that same sense of loss, and hope that Mike is still alive in their somewhere.
 
I used to wonder why Hollywood wasn't cranking out movies based on Heinlein now that special effects are so good. But after what they did to troopers, I hope they stay away from all the rest. I think his biggest impact will be with all of those like Spider Robinson and myself, who found the master at our public library.

Re:Yeah RAH (1)

Mursk (928595) | more than 7 years ago | (#16828168)

And "The Puppet Masters" was not much better. Done right, movies based on Heinlein's works would be awesome beyond words. But realistically, I agree that they should leave them be...

Re:Yeah RAH (1)

kfg (145172) | more than 7 years ago | (#16828266)

I think the combo of Ellison and Gilliam could do it. The problem would be:

a)Getting the project financed
b)Getting it left alone

See the problems Gilliam had with Brazil after it was in the can.

KFG

Re:Yeah RAH (1)

Captain Splendid (673276) | more than 7 years ago | (#16828728)

Negatory good buddy. While Puppet Masters will never win any Oscars, It's as good a sci-fi B-movie as you're likely to see. The pace is tight, the effects clean with little to no CGI, and Donald Sutherland actually bothered to act for once. Definitely worth a rental.

Re:Yeah RAH (1, Funny)

krell (896769) | more than 7 years ago | (#16828258)

"But after what they did to troopers, I hope they stay away from all the rest."

I read "Troopers" right before seeing the movie. I found that it was a rather close adaptation: true to much of the detail and the spirit of the book.

Re:Yeah RAH (1)

geekwithsoul (860466) | more than 7 years ago | (#16828404)

What the hell version of Troopers did you see (or read)? The movie was a travesty -- it seemed like they couldn't make up their minds to make fun of Heinlein's source story or follow along with it. I admit that part of the problem was Heinlein's story -- it was a shoot-em up, but with a lot of subtext as baggage. The movie ignored the subtext and did the shoot-em up part poorly.

Re:Yeah RAH (1)

rucs_hack (784150) | more than 7 years ago | (#16828430)

except that almost all the major characters in the film are dead in the book, and one who is alive in the book is dead in the film, and the officer who writes to him never enlists, and the bugs no longer have allies in the film....

I could go on. It's a good film, great in fact, very entertaining, but has almost nothing in common with the book. I like them both for different reasons, but the book is crying out for a closer adaption.

Dunes another one, David Lynches film was barely similer to Dune the book, and yet both are excellent entertainment.

Dune (1)

stoolpigeon (454276) | more than 7 years ago | (#16828522)

Dune is even worse because it is antithetical to much of what Herbert had to say. Starship Troopers does this too, but not to the same extent. Both movies mock the books. I find myself going back to the movie dune, sort of like when i go back to the fridge and look inside, even though i already know i don't want what is inside.
 
I don't revisit the Starship Troopers film, because as has already been mentioned, everything of substance is completely dropped or ridiculed. Both books, Dune and Troopers are books that I read at least once a year.

Re:Dune (1)

rucs_hack (784150) | more than 7 years ago | (#16829806)

I frequently re-read the dune books, all of them, including the ones his son did, and enjoy them all. The film did suck when it came to telling the original story, but it's not a bad film in its own right.
I tend to expect films of books to be nothing like the book, after all how could they be? I can think of no way that anything but the smallest least interesting of books could be transfered to screen without suffering..

A good aproach is to use the one taken with Blade Runner. An Iconic film only slightly similer to the book (which I also really enjoy) that manages to stand on its own seperate from the original and avoids the usual 'crap film of book' comments. The cynic in me suggests thats because most people have never read the book, but I have, and I'm fine with the differences. Sometimes they just have to take the spirit of the story and run with it I guess.

Starship troopers is probably my favorite heinlein book, closely followed by Stranger In A Strange Land and Friday.

The all time worst conversion to a film for me has to be Running Man. The original Bachman story was entertaining and dark. The film was hidious, it makes me cringe just to think of it. That is an example of a film that will never stand on its own merits, because it has none, unless its merit is a pile of dog turds. /rant

Re:Dune (2, Insightful)

aquabat (724032) | more than 7 years ago | (#16830476)

I liked the film version of The Running Man, probably because I haven't read the book, if what people tell me about it is true.

I think I got the major points the film was trying to make:

1) the shock and horror conveyed by the extreme popularity of torture and murder made into a game show, especially the audience participation aspect.

2) the hipocracy involved in having a hero named Captain Freedom, whose purpose is to distract people from their lack of same.

3) the irony of Captain Freedom's interpretation of his job, and his ignorance of role he plays in the system.

4) the meta-irony expressed by people watching the film, who watch it as a game show. In other words, they get into the superficial story, and miss the deeper issues of the above points. I think film is ideally suited to this effect.

Re:Dune (1)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 7 years ago | (#16831298)

I disagree on the Dune film. It changed a lot of the plot, but it kept the characters very similar to their book versions. Contrast this with the Sci-Fi mini-series which managed to keep the plot quite similar, but turned Paul from a strong character plagued by the consequences of moral compromises into a whiney brat who I just wanted to slap.

Re:Yeah RAH (1)

DragonWriter (970822) | more than 7 years ago | (#16828536)

I read "Troopers" right before seeing the movie. I found that it was a rather close adaptation: true to much of the detail and the spirit of the book.


Sure it kept to the detail and spirit of the book, aside from changing all the details (from the micro-level details like the sex of characters, their relations with each other, the capacities of the troopers, their tactics and employment, etc., to macro-level 'details' like, say, the entire large-scale plot of the movie, the society it took place in, etc.) and radically reorienting the spirit of the book from a serious, decidedly gray, thought provoking look at an alternative society through the lens of the war to a shoddy "cautionary tale" about totalitarianism.

Re:Yeah RAH (1)

Venik (915777) | more than 7 years ago | (#16828634)

I read "Troopers" right before seeing the movie. I found that it was a rather close adaptation: true to much of the detail and the spirit of the book.

Details, I think, they got a fair amount of and then some. As to the spirit of it, seems to me the spirit got lost under all the details. For me watching this movie was like watching "Jurassic Park" after reading Crichton's work: a hopeless disparity between a literary masterpiece and a Hollywood action flick.

Jurassic Park (1)

krell (896769) | more than 7 years ago | (#16828752)

....a book which I found to be an excellent adaptation of an even better movie. Oh wait.... the book came first. But that is how it seems, anyway.

Re:Yeah RAH (1)

Dr. Manhattan (29720) | more than 7 years ago | (#16828660)

I read "Troopers" right before seeing the movie. I found that it was a rather close adaptation: true to much of the detail and the spirit of the book.

For a summary of why the movie was nothing like the book, see here [slashdot.org] .

Re:Yeah RAH (1)

Moofie (22272) | more than 7 years ago | (#16830134)

You're high. I read the book, lots of times. I saw the movie, a very few times.

1) There was no powered armor in the movie. Not any. Zero.
2) There was no coed naked shower scene in the book. Not any. Zero.

The movie was a mockery of the book.

Re:Yeah RAH (3, Informative)

bcrowell (177657) | more than 7 years ago | (#16828650)

I also disagree with some of what the slashdot review said.
  1. They quote Varley, saying "...Robert A. Heinlein isn't really dead. He was at the side of Spider Robinson as he wrote this book." No way. Robinson's style is extremely different from Heinlein's. Nobody who's familiar with Heinlein's style could read this book and not realize it wasn't by Heinlein. Robinson divides the book 50/50 between slapstick humor and serious stuff, and IMO didn't do a very good job of integrating them to make a stylistically consistent whole.
  2. What the review said about teenagers as the target audience is a little off-base. Some parents might be OK with having their 13-year-old read this book, but others definitely won't. There's lots of no-apologies promiscuous sex (including gay sex), and lots of positive descriptions of drug use (meaning drugs that aren't in the socially approved pharmacopia in the U.S.). I personally wouldn't mind having my daughters read it when they reach their teen years, or even now, but I would definitely want to talk to them about it. In any case, this material is jarringly different from anything included in Heinlein's 50's juveniles.
  3. The reviewer talks about how it fits into the Future History. Actually, the Future History is separate from, and often inconsistent with, the world presented in the juvenile novels, and this book mixes them together. E.g., we have Nehemiah Scudder references, which are clearly dealing with the Future History universe, but also the telepathic twins communicating faster than c, which are a feature of one of the juveniles, and don't exist in the Future History. I also felt that Robinson was far less skilled at making the science plausible than Heinlein would have been. (Heinlein was an engineer, and worked on space suits for the military during WWII.)

Re:Yeah RAH (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 7 years ago | (#16829154)

I've thought about the book quite a bit more since. I did not make the same connection to 9/11 that the reviewer made. There were similarities, but the description could have fit another set of events that would be in our future. Heinlein did this himself and so I took it the same way - as referring to events that have not happened yet.

I picked out the 'modern' references just reading the introductory material available on the web. Between that, and a quick scan once it hit the shelves, it was baldy obvious that this isn't a Heinlein novel, it's a Robinson novel written while Robinson was wearing a (very cheap) Heinlein mask. It echoes his (Robinson's) political sensibilities (very different from Heinlein's) and reeks of Robinson's love of complex puns and allusions (something Heinlein used sparingly and rarely if at all). In that one quick scan, I found half-a-dozen instances where Robinson had (as is his wont) lifted a paragraph from one of his earlier works, rephrased it, and inserted into this book - a habit of his that is among the reasons why I stopped reading him.
 
 
I had pre-ordered my copy and read it right away. Of course, you can't really go back. It's not Heinlein, it couldn't be. But it is pretty close and I guess it speaks volumes about how many of us feel, that we would be willing to grasp at those straws.

It's decidely not Heinlein - and it's not even close. Too much of the novel reeks of Robinson - his ego seemingly too great to write consistently in the style of the Master and his skills too poor to even ape it convincingly when he tried.

Re:Yeah RAH (1)

bcrowell (177657) | more than 7 years ago | (#16829908)

It echoes his (Robinson's) political sensibilities (very different from Heinlein's)
I agreed with most of your post, but on this point, I'm not so sure. The book is saturated with negative references to religious fundamentalism, which is entirely in keeping with Heinlein's point of view, although Heinlein was more apt to treat fundamentalism satirically, and often took a more nuanced view of religion in general. The suspicious attitude toward economic monopolies is pure Heinlein. The lifeboat rules stuff is pure Heinlein. It's also difficult to extrapolate Heinlein's political views from the cold war era during which he wrote to the present era, when the real threat is a regional nuclear war in Asia, or use of nuclear weapons by terrorists, against whom nuclear retaliation is impossible.

Re:Yeah RAH (1)

Poromenos1 (830658) | more than 7 years ago | (#16830218)

Or maybe some other kid is closing their copy of The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, and feeling that same sense of loss, and hope that Mike is still alive in their somewhere.

Well, at least you've ruined that one for me. Seriously dude, courtesy spoiler warning next time.

Open Source Masterpieces. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16828170)

"In the afterword Spider Robinson describes how he came to be the writer who took Heinlein's eight pages of notes -- penned in November 1955 -- and turned them into a full length novel released half a century later and 18 years after Heinlein's death."

Now just think if those notes had been released onto the internet. According to slashdot we would have had a masterpiece much sooner.

Re:Open Source Masterpieces. (1)

Gospodin (547743) | more than 7 years ago | (#16828796)

How many monkey-years does it take to turn 8 pages of notes into a full-length novel?

Re:Open Source Masterpieces. (1)

Guppy06 (410832) | more than 7 years ago | (#16828828)

"Now just think if those notes had been released onto the internet. According to slashdot we would have had a masterpiece much sooner."

No, we'd have five or six as the literary code forked and forked again, not to mention the competing book licenses they'd be released under.

Re:Open Source Masterpieces. (1)

exp(pi*sqrt(163)) (613870) | more than 7 years ago | (#16828848)

But if it had, we'd have many masterpieces by now. And people would have argued over which one was the true continuation of the story, if any. These arguments would become full scale flame wars and would eventually spill over into real wars causing the deaths of millions of people. No, it's better that only one person finish the story so that we have one canonical truth that we can all agree on.

Spider stories (1)

gurps_npc (621217) | more than 7 years ago | (#16828198)

Spider Robinson has some nice stories of his own. I particularly like the earlier Callahan's Place short stories. I dislike the later novels, as he often had the characters make bad assumptions, ignoring other possiblities. In addition, he tended to blame the bad guys for things the good guys did.


But some of his short stories are fantastic, even the ones that had no science fiction in them. One of my favorites was the Time Traveller who used a prison cell as his time machine to the future.

Spider Robinson's work (2, Informative)

foniksonik (573572) | more than 7 years ago | (#16828218)

Is mostly comedy in a recently past setting mixed with a lot (I mean as in a whole several acres lot) of bad puns... and songs with bad puns and puns within puns. Its good sci-fi don't get me wrong but you should know what you're getting into before you start reading Robinson ;-p

Anyways, start with any of the Callahan series and work your way forward or back (there's a lot of time travel so it doesn't really matter which way you go, you'll feel as if you'd been there before regardless).

Most importantly, enjoy the reading... that's why he writes apparently, to entertain which is admirable in this day... oh yeah and all the novels I've read by Robbie are set in the late nineties so expect some feelings of de ja vu... and yet it's still science fiction eh?

Which is actually a good match for Heinlien (1)

Ungrounded Lightning (62228) | more than 7 years ago | (#16829942)

Spider Robinson's work ... Is mostly comedy in a recently past setting mixed with a lot (I mean as in a whole several acres lot) of bad puns...

Which is actually a reasonably good match for Heinlein. Heinlein, like Robinson, would often use puns (sometimes bad ones) to ilustrate a point or as a major plot element - or just for humor.

_Stranger in a Strange Land_, for instance, has quite a bit of pun use (and occasionally resulting slapsitck), both in the education of the "Michael" character and in explaining points of both Martian and story-timeline Human societies.

Callahan's Crosstime Saloon (2, Informative)

Nefarious Wheel (628136) | more than 7 years ago | (#16828248)

...and work up from there, building your pun tolerance as you go. Fun guy to read, think I've got them all on the shelf, don't think I've read any of Spider's books just once.

Re:Callahan's Crosstime Saloon (1)

krell (896769) | more than 7 years ago | (#16828290)

"don't think I've read any of Spider's books just once."

Nice wording: the situation applies also to those who have never even seen one of his books :)

Re:Callahan's Crosstime Saloon (1)

Nefarious Wheel (628136) | more than 7 years ago | (#16828382)

Nice wording...

Yes, but I meant the positive root of the equation. I have read all of them more than once.

Re:Callahan's Crosstime Saloon (1)

Jeff DeMaagd (2015) | more than 7 years ago | (#16828766)

I think "just once" implies more than once.

Re:Callahan's Crosstime Saloon (1)

callistra.moonshadow (956717) | more than 7 years ago | (#16828984)

I may give it a try. I have to admit to not being a Heinlein fan. I read "Stranger in a Strange Land" and "Glory Road." I put down "Friday." I studied him in a class about the philosophy of scifi/fantasy. I have problems with authors that for lack of a better way of putting it - don't treat women well, or when they try to, do it badly. Oddly I ended up sticking with female authors for a long time, well past a point that I should have moved on. At least these days I've added the likes of Stephen Baxter, Kim Stanley Robinson, Orson Scott Card, Robert Jordan, etc. into my reading list. I guess it is sad that many other authors might have had more to offer, but a few turned me off for a long time. :(

Re:Callahan's Crosstime Saloon (1)

thePowerOfGrayskull (905905) | more than 7 years ago | (#16829210)

Not to start a flame war -- but what is your definition of not treating them well? I've heard that accusation in the past -- but all that's ever come across to me in Heinlein's work (especially his more recent work) is an near-worship of women.

Ah, well. I suppose it's all a matter of interpretation.

Re:Callahan's Crosstime Saloon (2, Interesting)

EPAstor (933084) | more than 7 years ago | (#16829608)

Disclaimer: I'm male.

It's not that Heinlein actually puts women down. In fact, I thoroughly agree with you that he essentially worships them. However, he does so in a fashion that some modern women find offensive, in that he assumes certain basic aspirations on biological grounds. As I recall (I haven't read Friday in a few years now), Friday is one of his worst books that way, largely because he takes the questionable step of narrating from the point of view of a female protagonist. The result is that the basic prejudices that he had (which, by the way, almost all members of either gender have in their mental conception of the opposite) come through in spades, and end up feeling almost directly sexist.

Where Heinlein differs from modern radical feminism is in his explicit upholding of the view that men and women have distinctly different roles to play in society. This break doesn't appear to be based in prejudice, but rather in his basic feeling that the average woman actually has far more significance, and thereby deserves better treatment, than the average man. Even this is not inviolable for him... several of his female characters break stereotypes right and left.

The primary way to defend Heinlein from these accusations, though, is to highlight how much POWER he attributes to women in each novel... Just as an on-the-fly interpretation, a one-sentence summary might be: "Men die for the world... Women live for it." Heinlein's world could almost survive without men; the essential role of women is beyond question, both biological and societal. The world revolves around women - men are an accessory of the real power. Hell, just look at his rather extreme views on sexuality and marriage... In each case, his societies give far more power to the women involved than the typical modern realization - and much more than did the society Heinlein was raised in! The Moon is a Harsh Mistress presents particularly good examples of this. In this context, and in every one of his non-dystopian visions of the future, one of the most despicable things any man can do is to force his views (and/or actions) on a woman.

Re:Callahan's Crosstime Saloon (1)

bcrowell (177657) | more than 7 years ago | (#16830054)

I have problems with authors that for lack of a better way of putting it - don't treat women well, or when they try to, do it badly.
Huh? In Glory Road, the main female character is queen of multiple universes -- hardly an anti-female scenario :-). In Friday, the real issue is that the protagonist has low self-esteem because she's genetically engineered, and she gets beyond that by the end of the book (which you didn't read). Stranger in a Strange land might support your point more, since the three secretaries are treated more or less like sex objects, but the book is something like 300,000 words, roughly half of it about sex, so you can't exactly summarize everything it says about sex in 25 words or less. The main female character, Jill, gets rid of her inhibitions, embraces free love, and reaches (a satirical kind of) religious enlightenment. The main character (Valentine Michael Smith) is portrayed as experimenting with androgyny via mental control of his own body. I just don't see how you can twist the whole story into some kind of anti-female thing.

Launching into Fictons (2, Informative)

Doc Ruby (173196) | more than 7 years ago | (#16828264)

If you want a great intro to Spider Robinson, try starting with Time Travelers Strictly Cash [spiderrobinson.com] , the hilarious (and poignant) first book in the "Callahan's" series. It's short, fantastic, and has some non-Callahan's short stories.

If you want a great intro to Robert A. Heinlein, try starting with practically any of his dozens of first-rate books published from 1939-73 [wikipedia.org] , during which he defined "science fiction", leading a group of prolific writers. There's some good stuff later, but not nearly as reliably inspired or executed.

Re:Launching into Fictons (3, Informative)

krell (896769) | more than 7 years ago | (#16828342)

Time Travelers Strictly Cash, the hilarious (and poignant) first book in the "Callahan's" series. "

"Time Travelers Strictly Cash" is actually the second Callahan's book from what I recall (and from what Robinson says in the link you gave). It has been a while since I have read them (back then there were only two), so I don't know if the reading order even matters.

Re:Launching into Fictons (1)

Doc Ruby (173196) | more than 7 years ago | (#16828962)

When I read TTSC, there were none in the series ;).

Do you pay strictly cash at Callahan's? (1)

krell (896769) | more than 7 years ago | (#16829050)

You must, because apparently you are a time traveller. As for an experience more typical for the rest of us, I read the first collection, "Callahan's Crosstime Saloon" not long after it came out in 1977. I awaited a sequel, and special ordered "Time Travelers Strictly Cash" when it came out in 1981. You will see the order (for those of us without time machines) here [aol.com] .

Arachnophilia (1)

kfg (145172) | more than 7 years ago | (#16828394)

I'd have to recommend that anyone new to Spider start with Stardance.

However, that said, reviewer's geek card is hereby revoked and he will not be returned to good standing until he knows who Ralph Von Wau Wau is.

KFG

Re:Launching into Fictons (1)

bob_herrick (784633) | more than 7 years ago | (#16828926)

"...but not nearly as reliably inspired or executed."
Get both versions of Stranger in a Strange Land, put them next to each other, and read the first paragraphs in parallel.

"Once upon a time there was a Martian named Valentine Michal Smith" (quoted from memory).
It is a pretty dramatic line, one that grabs the reader's attention. Read the start of the "Authors Edition" that came out a few years ago. Wait a minute and try and recall the first paragraph. Nothing memorable at all.

This comparison shows the value of good editing even for a serious author like Heinlein. My thesis is that when an author becomes more and more popular, he or she starts to feel above the editing process. That is when bloat creeps (or stomps as the case may be) in.

I found bloat to be the case in the last several books that Heinlein wrote. Another place to see the effect is in the later works of Tom Clancy (His stuff, not the group projects).

As for Spider, I am in the minority. I had to force myself to finish Variable Star. The fundamental characteristic of Heinlein juveniles, to me, is a compentent, optimistic hero who perseveres though force of character. Spider's hero was a disappointment in that regard.

Also, if it were me 'collaborating' with RAH, I would have lost the puns. Love'em in the Callahan series and elsewhere, but they were out of place in this work.

Re:Launching into Fictons (1)

Doc Ruby (173196) | more than 7 years ago | (#16829074)

I agree about the editorial cycle's declining contribution to most "great" authors' late works, especially in SF. Douglas Adams might be the worst loss to that permissive process.

Re:Launching into Fictons (1)

Tumbleweed (3706) | more than 7 years ago | (#16831074)

I haven't read any of Robinson's Callahan books, but I remember really liking his post-Apocalyptic book, "Telempath." Good stuff. I'm always a sucker for a good post-Apocalyptic story.

I just don't get it (4, Interesting)

jbrader (697703) | more than 7 years ago | (#16828294)

I have read a ton of SF over a huge range. Everything from the genre's most literary (Olaf Stapledon and Phillip K Dick) to the really fun but maybe not so deep (Alastair Reynolds and Ben Bova) and from way back in the 19th century (Wells, god I love The Time Machine) to stuff published within the last couple of years. I can't even begin to estimate how many hundreds of novels and thousands of short stories I've read since I was 11 or so and discovered Arthur C Clarke (the author who got me started down my geeky path).

But, for the life of me I cannot understand the appeal of Heinlein. I've tried s few of his novels (Stranger in a Strange Land, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and The Number of the Beast [that's the right title I think, anyway it was so bad I actually tore it in half before i used the pages to get the kindling going in my fireplace]) as well as a number of short stories in various collections. Where he's not ridiculous he's offensive, and I'm usually very difficult to offend. And his politics strike me as something that would come out of a bright but not terribly nice 14 year old.

So can anybody clue me in? What am I missing?

Does anybody else agree with me or am I the lone voice of geek dissent out here?

Re:I just don't get it (1)

stoolpigeon (454276) | more than 7 years ago | (#16828454)

It's art. Some people like it and respond to it in a positive way. A lot of people love RAH - but some don't. And probably the number of people who've never even heard of him is larger than both of the other two put together. No big deal. I don't get ballet. Doesn't mean it isn't meaningful and worthwhile, it just isn't for me.
 
RAH's libertarian philosophy is a bit beyond that of a 14 year old I think, but when you consider that his target audience was 14 and younger, I think your critique falls in his favor. As for not nice, well, I don't think so.
 
Offensive? I can see that, especially some of the later stuff. But once again, we are talking about personal preference. I cut my teeth on his juveniles which were very sanitary and inspiring. Horatio Alger kind of stuff. As a young geek it was escapism that I could really enjoy. I read Have Spacesuit Will Travel many times over, each time seeing how that could be me. Same with a ton of his other titles (Starman Jones (except for the memory part), Rocketship Galileo, and so on).

Re:I just don't get it (1)

jbrader (697703) | more than 7 years ago | (#16829660)

It's art. Some people like it and respond to it in a positive way.

I agree absolutely. What I'm wondering is what is it about this particular art that people find so attractive because it's utterly lost on me.

myth of RAH as a Libertarian (1)

Tumbleweed (3706) | more than 7 years ago | (#16831108)

I think you should keep RAH the writer separate from (some of) RAH's characters. I really think that RAH was much more of a rational anarchist (ala Professor Bernardo de la Paz) than a Libertarian. I think Wikipedia has a good bit on this, but it may have been somewhere else I read about this.

Re:I just don't get it (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16828488)

I'm guessing you're missing about 20 or more years of growing up in the Cold War with parents raised in The Depression.

Not meant as a slam, just an observation.

Re:I just don't get it (1)

jbrader (697703) | more than 7 years ago | (#16828876)

That's true but I like a lot of other stuff from the same period.

Try a few more books (2, Informative)

DG (989) | more than 7 years ago | (#16828508)

Starship Troopers is brilliant stuff; utterly unlike the irony-laden movie of the same name.

Glory Road is a happy and entertaining romp with a nice twist at the end that'll get you thinking.

Friday is very similar; a good yarn with some things that'll get you thinking.

And I also like J.O.B. as a morality play of sorts.

Try those ones on for size and then report back if you've changed your mind.

DG

Re:I just don't get it (1)

erotic piebald (449107) | more than 7 years ago | (#16828550)

... or am I the lone voice of geek dissent out here?

Yes, you are.

Re:I just don't get it (2, Interesting)

Nefarious Wheel (628136) | more than 7 years ago | (#16828696)

So can anybody clue me in? What am I missing?

I think it might help if you think about the era Heinlein was born into -- culturally WWI and environs. Although his style is archaic by modern mores it helps to consider him as a bridging phenomenon -- we got where we are today by shifting from where we were then, and it's great to have some record of the steps in thinking between then and now. For example, in his day the military was the only visible source of integrity, people didn't challenge authority and women were perceived as without any career path beyond mother, nun or nurse.

Heinlein challenged everything, including the reader and most definitely himself. His SF was as real as he could make it -- before the advent of ubiquitous computing he and his lady sat in their room working iteratively through mounds of spherical trig functions by hand in order to get his orbits believable. That's character, that is. My wife says he's the most eminently readable author she's ever violently disagreed with.

Re:I just don't get it (2, Informative)

jfengel (409917) | more than 7 years ago | (#16828724)

Number of the Beast is definitely not his best work. I'm totally sympathetic with tearing it in half. But if you've read Stranger and Moon is a Harsh Mistress, then you've read most of his best stuff. If it's not to your taste, I really wouldn't try to change your mind.

The thing to notice about Heinlein is that he's really more of an ideas guy than a character guy. There are at least two others you might consider reading: Time Enough for Love and Starship Troopers. The former is really a collection of short stories, and in his short stories he gets to do the speculative-sci-fi without his failures as a character writer becoming too apparent. The latter is more in the vein of Moon is a Harsh Mistress, which is really about political systems with a sci-fi frame.

If the short stories appeal to you, his future-history series has some interesting entries. Technologically they're way out of date, but they have a good deal of pulp appeal, and a few of them are genuinely touching.

So what's to like about Heinlein? He had some interesting thoughts on politics, with some nice foresight into the way technology would allow changes in society. That's very classically sci-fi. He spans that period from early pulp to the beginnings of sci-fi with real literary merit, with Stranger as a kind of pinnacle from a literary standpoint. If nothing else, Stranger was incredibly influential at the time, though I'm sure it seems outdated today. (I haven't read it in years.)

My own tastes run to his middle works. His early pulpy stuff is often too juvenile, and the sexual liberation that he examined in Stranger became rambling and unfocused in everything after that. (Though his finale, To Sail Beyond The Sunset, struck me as a remarkable throwback and a fitting capstone to his works.) Try Time Enough for Love and Starship Troopers; at the very least as light sci-fi you should be able to read them pretty quickly.

Re:I just don't get it (1)

ZorbaTHut (126196) | more than 7 years ago | (#16828858)

My own tastes run to his middle works. His early pulpy stuff is often too juvenile, and the sexual liberation that he examined in Stranger became rambling and unfocused in everything after that. (Though his finale, To Sail Beyond The Sunset, struck me as a remarkable throwback and a fitting capstone to his works.) Try Time Enough for Love and Starship Troopers; at the very least as light sci-fi you should be able to read them pretty quickly.


This is pretty much what I was going to say, although I suspect my tastes lean more towards the early stuff - even in Stranger I felt he was spending too much time with sex-for-sex's-sake. The guy's a dirty old man, basically, in much the same way as Piers Anthony is. His early work was more distinctive and interesting than Piers's, and he came in on the forefront of scifi instead of the trailing edge. (And he didn't get trapped into writing an endless series of Xanth books.)

But his late stuff . . . man, it's worth reading for the hilarious constant-sex factor, but I can't say I'd recommend it past that. I read a full bibliography of his once, and with a few extraordinarily notable exceptions I honestly don't think it was all that good. :(

Re:I just don't get it (1)

chreekat (467943) | more than 7 years ago | (#16828798)

It goes both ways for me. I agree that Heinlein can be juvenile, and his characters are often very sexist. The Number of the Beast, in particular, was extremely hard for me to read; I only had the strength the skim the last chapter and couldn't even tell you what the resolution was.

That might say more about me than it does Heinlein, though. :) Sometimes, I get the feeling that the sexism is tongue-in-cheek, as if to simply show how silly sexism is. As for the political statements, I think it's clear that he is 110% pro-capitalism, and doesn't see some of its flaws. But I'm sure worse could be said about a writer -- especially a sci-fi writer, who often deals with best-case scenarios anyway.

Further, a lot of his writing was periodical-style. That simply has to be appreciated in context, imho. :) The short stories of Heinlein and Asimov are some of my favorite pieces of fiction, because I love the format. Namely, take a neat idea, extrapolate a little, and ask your audience, "What if... ?". Dialog and plot are simple, because they aren't the point. I do prefer Asimov here, but Heinlein definitely had an impact on the genre.

Finally, I see that you didn't mention Starship Troopers. That is, by far, my favorite Heinlein book. I'd check it out.

Re:I just don't get it (1)

Gospodin (547743) | more than 7 years ago | (#16828930)

Anyone who thinks Heinlein is "110% pro-capitalism" has not read his novels very carefully. In particular, you should read "For Us, the Living". While he's a fan of private enterprise (and was a famous advocate of private enterprise leading the way into space), he also has no problem postulating a world government (many of his juveniles use this premise). He's an anti-bureaucrat, but this includes corporate bureaucrats as well as governmental ones.

Re:I just don't get it (1)

DragonWriter (970822) | more than 7 years ago | (#16828818)

So can anybody clue me in? What am I missing?


Liking art is a matter of taste. If you need to view "not getting" something other people like as a matter of doing something wrong, I suppose I could suggest that you may be getting "too close" to the material: viewing its descriptions as straightforward advocacy. At least, that may be why you are offended. I can't talk about the ridiculousness part: that's really a matter of where your personal suspension of disbelief gets thrown off, and there's not much I can say about that.

Does anybody else agree with me or am I the lone voice of geek dissent out here?


Hating Heinlein, especially (IME) among liberal geekdom, is fairly popular, so I doubt you are the only one.

Re:I just don't get it (1)

jbrader (697703) | more than 7 years ago | (#16829778)

Of course it's a matter of taste, and if my earlier post made it sound as though I think his fans are doing something wrong or have wrong opinions that was not my intention. If you like it, that's cool enjoy. I'm just saying I don't like and I was wondering why others do.

Are you perchance female ? (2, Interesting)

EMB Numbers (934125) | more than 7 years ago | (#16829010)

Are you perchance female ?
I have known several women who called Heinlein a misogynist. He certainly had unconventional ideas about gender roles and complex relationships. His widow must be a saint.

Heinlein has also been criticized for only having one character, and that character is recycled for both heroes and heroines. One woman I know calls Heinlein's heroines "femaleins."

I love Heinlein, and I think it is ironic that Lois McMaster Boujold (a woman and my favorite author) has in some respects picked up the mantle for Heinlein IMHO. For those who enjoy Heinlein, you will love Boujold... It is Heinlein with more distinct characters.

Bujold (1)

stoolpigeon (454276) | more than 7 years ago | (#16829240)

just in case anybody goes looking - Bujold.

Re:Are you perchance female ? (1)

jbrader (697703) | more than 7 years ago | (#16829706)

Nope, I'm a dude.

Re:Are you perchance female ? (2, Interesting)

WalksOnDirt (704461) | more than 7 years ago | (#16831116)

I find Bujold ok, but a little boring. Probably too much characterization, of which Heinlein had plenty for me. If fact I'd love to find some more science fiction authors like Doc Smith and Keith Laumer: No time wasted in character development by them at all.

Re:I just don't get it (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16829020)

yes, it's even simple to explain. You missed the important Heinlein, and have only read the "later" Heinlein.

The impression most people have of RAH is formed by starting with his juveniles. The Rolling Stones, Have Spacesuit, Will Travel, Red Planet. Then, progressing to his early adult fiction, Starship Troopers, etc.

The later Heinline, including Stranger and Mistress are works by a man who grew up in post WWI Kansas City, Mo, and lived to be idolized by geeks in the 1960's.

To understand RAH, you have to read the early works that co-existed with those early Clarke's you fed on.

And, you may be too old now.

-_ Rick

Re:I just don't get it (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16829450)

Well, I didn't read heinlein until I was 22 and he swiftly became my most favorite author. Maybe by your terms thats young enough to still be affected by the juveniles, and certainly I am more able to appreciate juveniles than many other people... so maybe there is hope for him!

Re:I just don't get it (1)

bob_herrick (784633) | more than 7 years ago | (#16829148)

Let me add this thought. In addition to the points raised earlier (two good pieces, two weak pieces, for example), and assuming that your taste is sufficiently different from mine that you just wont' appreciate RAH, one big difference between you and most of the other posters is that you started with works at the late middle and end of his writing career.

I started reading RAH in the 50's, and when I read Stranger in a Strange Land (for the first of well over 20 times)it was just published, I was in college, and it was so totally different from the SF of the day, and from RAH's prior work (except for the Jubal character. He's in every book somewhere) that had elements of epithany.

I am hard pressed to think of things that I have read in my life that I can to this day recall so vividly - possibly the scene in Catch-22 where the nurse swtiches bottles on the Soldier in White comes close.

It is almost certainly too late for you to start where I did, but that is, I think, the explanation.

Re:I just don't get it (1)

Gospodin (547743) | more than 7 years ago | (#16829390)

Epithany, n.

1. A terse revelation. "John's epithany was like a bolt of lightning."

2. A book of epithets. "The Notebooks of Lazarus Long is Heinlein's fictional epithany."

Great sniglet...

Re:I just don't get it (1)

bw-sf (937673) | more than 7 years ago | (#16829374)

I'm with you. My contempt for Heinlein is the reason my Karma here is so terrible -- people are religious about it. He's just awful, offensive, nasty, talentless and boring.

Re:I just don't get it (1)

wolfemi1 (765089) | more than 7 years ago | (#16829650)

I must agree with some of the other posters: Starship Troopers is one of my favorite books of all time, and I think that should be required reading for anyone wanting to get a feel for his work.

I am a Heinlein fan, and I think Number of the Beast is pretty bad. I heard from my father that Heinlein switched medications somewhere in the middle of this, which could account for its meandering nature and lack of resolution to any of the infinite silly plot threads it introduces.

As for the morality aspect, I would say (at least, for Stranger in a Strange Land) that society has moved on from when the book was published. I suspect that it was a very revolutionary book when it was published, and nowadays doesn't have the same impact due to a slightly more jaded, cynical, and liberal society.

In any case, give Starship Troopers a try, and if you don't like it, well, I'm in no position to dictate taste to you. I really enjoyed it, and if you don't then at least you don't feel that you have to pretend to in order to fit in :)

Re:I just don't get it (1)

JDAustin (468180) | more than 7 years ago | (#16829792)

"I am a Heinlein fan, and I think Number of the Beast is pretty bad. I heard from my father that Heinlein switched medications somewhere in the middle of this, which could account for its meandering nature and lack of resolution to any of the infinite silly plot threads it introduces."

Number of the Beast is bad because Heinlein intentionally wrote it that way. Read the following article and it really explains the entire book...

http://www.heinleinsociety.org/rah/numberbeast.htm l [heinleinsociety.org]

Re:I just don't get it (1)

LordLucless (582312) | more than 7 years ago | (#16830358)

I've actually read almost the same set of Heinlein books (Stranger, Moon and Time Enough for Love), and come to almost the same conclusion. I quite enjoyed some of the concepts he raised in the books, especially Stranger and Moon, but the way he constantly presented his socio-economic and sexual ideologies as utopian ideals really irritated me. Bringing up the concept in a book and examining the pros and cons is one thing, but all of those books brought them up, generally multiple times. It felt like he was telling an allegory rather than a story, and that annoyed me.

Speculative Fiction? (2, Insightful)

glrotate (300695) | more than 7 years ago | (#16828314)

Come on. It's sci-fi.

Dumb euphemisms for scifi (1)

krell (896769) | more than 7 years ago | (#16828390)

"Come on. It's sci-fi."

You got that right. "Speculative fiction" is a dumb euphemism anyway. Technically, Tom Clancy's book(s) about all-out war between the US and USSR are "speculative fiction".... but they sure as hell aren't scifi.

Re:Dumb euphemisms for scifi (1)

MrFlibbs (945469) | more than 7 years ago | (#16829318)

According to wikipedia, the term "speculative fiction" was actually coined by Heinlein in a 1948 essay. Today, it implies a super-set of science fiction that includes fantasy and horror. A speculative world is one beyond the one we know. Traditional sci-fi usually takes place on a future Earth or some other planet, but with this term you can include more whimsical worlds under one umbrella. Tom Clancy's books don't qualify because we're already familiar with the setting.

I'm not sure I like the term myself. In some sense it doesn't really matter where/when/how a setting is defined as long as there's a compelling story. Arthur C. Clark once said that all possible plots had already been written. That's not literally true, of course, but his point was that a sci-fi story doesn't need ground-breaking new physics to be good -- it just needs to make you care about the characters. Sci-fi stories take place in some fantastic locales, but eventually it all comes down to the characters.

Re:Speculative Fiction? (4, Funny)

Jeff DeMaagd (2015) | more than 7 years ago | (#16828842)

That's what I thought. I wonder who the first prick was that suggested using "speculative fiction". To me, it sounds like some ego thing, snobbery and such. Maybe that's the topic of a Google search some other day.

It was Heinlein. (2, Informative)

Grendel Drago (41496) | more than 7 years ago | (#16829086)

Re:It was Heinlein. (1)

zhez (906323) | more than 7 years ago | (#16829478)

Which is exactly why I used it instead of "sci-fi". I agree that Science fiction is better, but I'll use Heinlein's words to describe his own works. It's only fair.

Re:Speculative Fiction? (1)

LordLucless (582312) | more than 7 years ago | (#16830392)

Speculative Fiction isn't a euphamism for Sci-Fi, it's a general term for all genres that deal with an altered universe - sci-fi, fantasy, horror, etc.

Heinlein is from Mars, Robinson is from Venus (3, Insightful)

Dachannien (617929) | more than 7 years ago | (#16828320)

He'll never truly be discorporated, as long as we continue to grok him.

Re:Heinlein is from Mars, Robinson is from Venus (1)

Gospodin (547743) | more than 7 years ago | (#16828738)

And unlike Valentine Michael Smith, Heinlein is plenty salty.

My personal favorite Spider novel (1)

Ethanol (176321) | more than 7 years ago | (#16828496)

...since you asked, is Time Pressure, which is a companion to the almost-as-good Mindkiller. (I say "companion" instead of "sequel" because some time travel is involved, so the books are actually both sequels of each other. Doesn't much matter in which order you read them, but if you're particularly spoiler-averse, you should probably go with Mindkiller first.)

And the Callahan's Bar stories are terrific too, but they take a nosedive after the third book.

Re:My personal favorite Spider novel (1)

Ethanol (176321) | more than 7 years ago | (#16828684)

And, good golly, I'm shocked that I momentarily forgot to mention the staggeringly great Stardance and its worthy sequel Starseed. (The third book, Starmind, I can take or leave.)

Spider's uneven, but when he's on, he's wonderful.

Re:My personal favorite Spider novel (1)

naienko (969628) | more than 7 years ago | (#16829256)

I find it ASTOUNDINGLY odd how few people who rave about the Callahan books even know the Stardance trilogy exists. I was introduced to Robinson via those books, and I've yet to find any book that made me think more than Stardance.

RAH as written by SR (2, Funny)

autophile (640621) | more than 7 years ago | (#16828770)

"Computer, we have to get out of here!" yelled Joel, "Quick, what's the haversine of 0.6?"

"Well," replied the computer, "I'd haversine right on the dotted line, just look at those luscious legs!"

"Why, thank you, Computer!" simpered Friday, "I knew wearing high heels on a spaceship was a great idea!"

And that's Heinlein and Spider, right there :(

--Rob

Best stuff by Robinson... (1)

32Na (894547) | more than 7 years ago | (#16828956)

is the Stardance trilogy: Spider collaborated with his wife Jeanne to write about taking the art of dancing into space (free-fall), with all the associated challenges.

The first title is here:
http://www.fantasticfiction.co.uk/r/spider-robinso n/stardance.htm [fantasticfiction.co.uk]

Spider's Callahan books (1)

ripcrd (31538) | more than 7 years ago | (#16829024)

I think these are the only books of his I've read and I have to say they were tons of fun. He could've easily written these comedies and based them in the old west. I think the Star Trek Captain's Table series plays off these books of his. Anyway, I discovered Callahan's while in college and it was a great distraction from all the homework and required reading.

Only a few years too late for me. (1)

Grendel Drago (41496) | more than 7 years ago | (#16829206)

I devoured the complete works of Heinlein (with one or two exceptions) my first semester in college. (It mght have been my second; it was a long time ago.) Thank goodness for interlibrary loan. It seemed like the greatest thing in the world to me, like Asimov's robot stories had a few years earlier, but the prospect of more Heinlein seems about as exciting as more Ayn Rand at this point.

It's not like I'm trashing everything I read back then; I'm re-reading Godel, Escher, Bach and enjoying it just as much as I did the first time around. But something about Heinlein hasn't aged well for me.

Save $3.49 by buying the book at Amazon.com! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16829226)

Barnes and Noble is selling this book for $19.96, but Amazon.com is only selling it for $16.47! Save yourself $3.49 by buying the book here: Variable Star By Heinlein and Robinson [amazon.com] . That's a total savings of 17.48%!

very enjoyable read (1)

UID30 (176734) | more than 7 years ago | (#16829348)

i've read some RAH ... but am by no means a RAH expert. wife picked this up for me as a b-day gift ... and i was floored. enjoyed the work quite a lot ... i felt many times that RAH himself would have approved very strongly of the work. imo, SR paid RAH his highest compliment by attempting such a project ... and succeeded in writing a book i will treasure for years to come.

my beagle loved the book too ... at least its binding back cover. *sob* have to spring for another copy now... worth it tho.

It's a turkey (1)

Animats (122034) | more than 7 years ago | (#16829386)

"Variable Star" is a disappointment.

It reminded me of "Paris in the Twentieth Century", which Jules Verne wrote a century ago. Verne showed the manuscript to his friends and literary agent, all of whom agreed that it was too lousy to publish. So Verne put it in a box. A century later, one of his descendants found the manuscript and published it. It still sucks.

Spider Robinson is an OK writer, and Heinlein did great work, but Robinson trying to be Heinlein just doesn't work. Somebody more in tune with Heinlein's worldview, like David Weber, might have done a much better job. Weber, like Heinlein, does drama. Robinson does comedy. It just doesn't fit.

Worse, the book runs out before the plot does. This is mostly an anachronism; SF books today are longer than they were in Heinlein's early days. And today, you can do series. Heinlein's ideas for Variable Star could have been built up into a three-volume series with huge scope. Weber might have done that. It wouldn't have read like Heinlein, though; Heinlein keeps the focus on the main character through most of his books, which today is regarded as too limiting for a big story. The result is wierd; aliens blow up the earth, but that's a subplot to the main love story. Yes, George Lucas made that work, but he had special effects and a symphony orchestra to support it. And besides, at the point Variable Star ends, the human race is losing. Yet the ending is upbeat.

It's not Heinlein. Face it. If you want to read Spider Robinson, get one of his Callahan books. If you want to read good Heinlein, read "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress". But Variable Star? Skip it.

Re:It's a turkey (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16830402)

Dude, if you don't mind, when you throw spoilers out, mark them as such.

Callahan's Crosstime Saloon (2, Interesting)

brassman (112558) | more than 7 years ago | (#16829640)

The article author hasn't read Spider's other books? Hasn't heard Spider sing "A Boy Named Spider" (his own Weird Al retelling of Shel Silverstein's "A Boy Named Sue")?

Wow, you got some good reading ahead of you, fella.

Spider has something else in common with RAH -- and I'm glad I got to tell him so, on a CompuServe chat one day:

Why Spider Robinson Has My Eternal Gratitude http://brasscannon.com/rah.html [brasscannon.com]

By co-incidence... (1)

igb (28052) | more than 7 years ago | (#16829748)

I've only been to Disneyland Anaheim once. I went round with Spider Robinson and John Varley, inter alia.

ian

Speculative fiction? (1)

Omeger (939765) | more than 7 years ago | (#16829918)

Here on Earth we call it SCIENCE FICTION.

Having never read a Heinlein book before... (1)

coldmist (154493) | more than 7 years ago | (#16830866)

It was ok, but the two things I hated most about it were the slow middle, once he gets on the ship, and the Deus Ex Machina used in the end to resolve the book in about 5 pages (and I'm not sure how the reviewer missed it).

I'm sorry, but it really didn't come across as a "good" read. The first 8 chapters on the website were the best part of the book.

"Speculative Fiction" (1)

fm6 (162816) | more than 7 years ago | (#16831096)

I always groan when I hear the term "Speculative Fiction". Writers use it to distance themselves from the pulp fiction reputation of Science Fiction. It's a way of saying, "I'm not a hack — I write real literature." That's fair enough when you're a mainstream writer who's dabbling in genre fiction. (Margret Atwood and Oryx and Crake come to mind.) But more often it's used by people like Harlan Ellison, who really are hacks, and seek to deny it with a lot of pretentious prose and hyperbole.

Now don't get me wrong: there's nothing wrong with being a hack. It just identifies a writer with a different set of priorities than the "literary" writer. Some of my favorite writers are widely considered hacks, and even refer to themselves as hacks. Robert Sheckley often refers to himself as a "renaissance hack", because of all the different kinds of genre fix he does.

I'm not going to try to apply the "hack" label to Heinlein. But I do know the man hated pretense, and he certainly would have sneered at anybody who described his work with pretentious labels like "speculative fiction".

Citizen of the Galaxy (1)

wytcld (179112) | more than 7 years ago | (#16831104)

Variable Star is structurally and inversion of Citizen of the Galaxy. In both you have an outsider coming to encounter a family of dynastic wealth. In Citizen that outsider travels from the farthest reaches to Earth; in Star from Earth to the farthest reaches. In both there is serious corruption associated with the wealth. In both there is an anthropological interest in the differences of character which go along with differences of occupation.

The other inversion is that where Heinlein wrote some of the best beginnings in the business (e.g. Glory Road or even Number of the Beast) his endings rarely had the same degree of suspensful surprise. Robinson in Star has written an Heinleinesque beginning - really he tries - but it's yet not the equal of the master; on the other hand the ending is one of the best in fiction - as good as any mystery written, and tighter than any RAH pulled off (unless I'm forgetting one - I've only read some of his works thrice).

Big Difference in Personalities (1)

airship (242862) | more than 7 years ago | (#16831206)

Heinlein was the ultimate Libertarian military jock.

Robinson's a frickin' hippie.

I just don't see how that works...
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