Robert Anson Heinlein, (1907-1988) is widely acclaimed as “The Dean of Science Fiction”. A title he richly deserved, after 48 years of high quality imaginative writing.
In more recent times Heinlein has been accused of being sexist or mysogynist but these claims are groundless. Both male and female characters are treated equally; as well rounded individuals with individual differences in character and capabilities.
As in real life, they have their faults too. This isn’t sexist! Indeed, several of his novels have strong female lead characters; there’s the eponymous Poddie Fries in Podkayne of Mars, Friday Jones in Friday and Maureen Johnson in To Sail Beyond The Sunset.
Characters and events in books do not necessarily reflect the author’s beliefs and own character, folks! Only if you believe that the only purpose of writing fiction is to impose your political views on others could you imagine that is the case.
Not a murderer
This is not the same as exploring ideas about characters and doesn’t mean that Heinlein does not expouse his ideas in his work; just that you can’t make a blanket assertion about all he or anyone else writes.
Portraying a criminal or murderer doesn’t mean that the writer believes in law breaking and killing anyone who gets in their way, or every crime writer in the world would need to go to jail)
Let’s take a look at these books:
Poddie, Podkane, is a 15 year old girl who has an 11 year old brother she considers to be extremely annoying. I’m sure my sister knows that feeling; even now she cuts me no slack. In chapter one Podkane speaks about her brother Clark:
“— but there is no present indication that Clark even intends to join the human race. He is more likely to devise a way to blow up the universe just to hear the bang.
Since I am responsible for him much of the time and since he has an I.Q. of 160 while mine is only 145, you can readily see that I need all the advantage that greater age and maturity can give me.
At present my standing rule is: Keep your guard up and never offer hostages.
Podkane is a typical Heinlein character; intelligent, articulate, and who when it comes to it will step up and do what’s needed. This book is not one of Henlein’s juvenile novels, but nor is it a book for adults; it’s somewhere inbetween.
I’ve talked in depth about Friday in this post, but here’s another quote from the book, where Friday Jones is trying to prove that she is an artifact. That is, a genetically engineered human, in a world where she is considered by many to not be human at all.
“ ‘So? See that last bite of tart on your plate? I am about to take it. Slap your hands together right over your plate and stop me.’
‘Don’t be silly’
‘Do it. You can’t move fast enough to stop me’
We locked eyes. Suddenly he started to slap his hands together. I went into automatic overdrive, picked up my fork, stabbed that bit of tart, pulled back the fork between his closing hands, stopped the overdrive just before I placed the bite between my lips”
To Sail Beyond the Sunset
This is the life and many loves of Maureen Johnson Smith, known as Momma Maureen. She is one of the exceptionally long lived Howard family, and mother and grandmother to many of them. This was Heinlein's last book, and quite a few threads from his other works are pulled together here.
This is from chapter one, which is titled “The Committee for Aesthetic Deletions”:
“I woke up in bed with a man and a cat. The man was a stranger; the cat was not.
I closed my eyes and tried to pull myself together — hook ‘now’ to my memory of last night.
No good. There wasn’t any ‘last night’. My last clear memory was of being a passenger in a Burroughs irrelevant bus, bound for New Liverpool, when there was a loud bang …”
“ …So I said to the cat, ‘Pixel, who is he? Do we know him?’
‘Well, let’s check.’ I put a hand on the man’s shoulder, intending to shake him awake and then ask where we had met — or had we?
His shoulder was cold.
He was quite dead.
This is not a good way to start the day.”
Maureen is in trouble, but she doesn’t hesitate to do something about it. A typical Heinlein character who makes things happen, instead of sitting back and letting them happen to her.
All these books are written in the first person. All three of these women are brave and resourceful. These are not the work of a sexist or mysoginistic man.
Podkane of Mars 1963, Friday 1982, To Sail Beyond the Sunset 1987, all by R.A. Heinlein