Robert Heinlein

heinlein


Do you remember Scholastic Books? Jake, one of my student employees, informs me that they still exist. They sell cheap paperback books to public-school students. (In my day, it was maybe twenty-five cents. Jake tells me that, in his day – maybe ten years ago – it was more like $1.99. Still very cheap.)

 

 

Around the sixth grade or so – when I was ten years old – I acquired a Scholastic Books copy of Robert Heinlein’s “The Green Hills of Earth.”

 

 

It was my first science-fiction book, and it blew my ever-lovin’ ten-year-old mind.

 

 

It is a book of short stories, set mostly in the 21st century. Earth has colonized the Moon and Mars and Venus. It’s full of –

 

 

Well, but was I remembering the stories correctly? I didn’t have my old copy to refer to, so I went on eBay and bought a cheap copy.

 

 

It turns out that I remember it very well.

 

 

It is extremely sexist. (A woman’s competence is summed up this way in one of the stories: “She can count to ten.”)

 

 

It manages to be xenobiologically racist. It describes the Venusian (alien) natives as silly amphibians who will do anything for tobacco, which they call “thigarek.” (“Cigarette.” Get it?)

 

 

Men are the heroes in these stories. They are burly, and they brawl. They have names like Sam Houston Jones and Humphrey Wingate and Johnny Dahlquist.

 

 

But there are glimmers of hope in these stories. The first story in the collection, “Delilah and the Space-Rigger,” is about how a woman can do as well as a man in space. Another, the title story, “The Green Hills of Earth,” is a subtle story of how the image of a rough Whitmanesque space poet was romanticized for the sake of the media.

 

 

But the best story is the last one: “Logic of Empire.”

 

It’s the story of a Earthman who gets shanghaied and shipped to the Venus colony against his will, after claiming that the Earth government can’t possibly do such evil imperialistic things.

 

 

Most chillingly of all, it predicts that American culture will be taken over by a Christian religious dictator, the “Prophet,” Nehemiah Scudder.

 

 

When I read this in the 1960s, the story seemed outrageously unlikely on all counts.

 

 

How does it sound to you now, kids?


 

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About Loren Williams
Gay, partnered, living in Providence, working at a local university. Loves: books, movies, TV. Comments and recriminations can be sent to futureworld@cox.net.

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