I admit I don’t spend much time thinking about Robert Heinlein, but when I do, I always have the same reaction, which is that shivery “Bleach! Get it off me!” response that the bug-phobic have to spiders and cockroaches.
There’s a reason for this, though.
I read Stranger in a Strange Land in high school, and liked it well enough. I no longer remember it that well, honestly. Then in college…
Well, see in college, there was this guy. He wanted me and my boyfriend to have a polyamorous relationship with him. Because he really wanted to have sex with my boyfriend, who he’d known for a long time, and he was interested in having sex with me. Okay, whatever. I knew I wasn’t suited to polyamory, but I was in my “I am a reed, bending in the wind, willing to do whatever I am told to do” phase, so I said, “I don’t know; let my boyfriend decide.”
That was an easy thing for me to say, on account of boyfriend was either A) really not bisexual at all, or B) chill with gay people, but really not chill with any gay feelings he may have felt. So he was not going to go for this polyamory proposal.
Indeed, he did not. This was conveyed to amorous guy. Who then decided that what was needed in this situation was more wheedling.
So he sent me a book.
The book was TIME ENOUGH FOR LOVE.
Let me start by praising this book, as I remember it from when I was 18. It was funny. It was a fast read. It was involving. It had at least one fantasy I was super down with–I wanna be immortal like Lazarus Long. It had one memorable scene which I still recall, wherein Lazarus Long sits down with his descendents and explains the dangers of incest by means of a metaphor involving a deck of cards.
And then there was the polyamory. Specifically, there was a wide-eyed, subjectivity-less, hot-hot-hot female character named Hamadryad who nurtured others with her healing sexuality…
And all of a sudden? I was no longer wishy-washy bend-like-a-reed on the subject of polyamory. In fact, I was no longer wishy-washy on the subject of Heinlein. I now had a distinct opinion of Heinlein: read Heinlein, said this opinion, and lose your lunch.
I am not particularly interested in reading more Heinlein. Yeah, yeah, I know, “read the classics.” Well, I tell you what, in the event I ever get through reading every other book I want to read and should read, I’ll then go back and start reading the books by the guy whose novels were used to try to seduce me by proxy. Also, at the same time, you have to go read all the things you think are boring or obnoxious.
However, my experience of TIME ENOUGH FOR LOVE may not really be representative of all of Heinlein’s work. I get that. A) He wrote lotsa books, and many may be less obnoxious, and B) When one is not being skeezily hit on, even the obnoxious portrayal in TIME ENOUGH may not be quite so “oh, please, godDAMN.”
I reserve the right to call the portrayal sexist, though. No matter how people argue to the contrary, this is actually an observation on par with noting structure and school–it’s a textual analysis. Was Heinlein himself sexist? No fucking clue, don’t really care.
Meanwhile, Heinlein? Brrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr getitoffme.
*While writing this post, it occurred to me that I use Heinlein interchangeably to mean “the individual Robert Heinlein” and “the body of works by Robert Heinlein.” If I were to say “Heinlein is sexist,” I’d mean the latter. I wonder if this is the substance of some of the miscommunications b/w Heinlein-defenders and Heinlein-questioners; I don’t think I’m unusual in using the author’s last name to denote his body of work. By the same token, though, I wonder if people also react to observations/reactions to the body of work as if they are observations/reactions to the individual, so the potential for inappropriate condensation of writing and writer, as well as the potential for straight-up misunderstanding, abounds.