Earlier this year Manticore Press published Science Fiction Seen From the Right, my essay taking a look at 20th century science fiction from a traditionalist point of view. Many authors are covered on the 378 pages but if there is one that somewhat hovers above them all, it’s Robert Anson Heinlein (1907-1988).
“Heinlein, tu prends la première place dans mon livre” would be a fitting dedication. That is, “Heinlein, you take pride of place in this book of mine.” Heinlein, along with defining modern sf, also defined the conservative strain of sf. Going backwards in Heinlein’s catalogue as for viable conservative numbers, we can begin with Glory Road from 1964 where the hero is a patriotic misfit in the affluent, conformist, left-leaning society of the early 1960s. Then he’s translocated to a fantasy world where he can wield a sword and lecture a young man on the importance of willpower, drive and perseverance.
In Starship Troopers (1959) Heinlein delineated a governance uniting authority with responsibility. It was a viable conceptualization of “the Responsible Man” and as such, this figure returns in many a good Heinlein novel, like Starman Jones, Time for the Stars and Space Cadet. The latter, from 1948, is a delight in the first chapters, condensing what responsibility, self-restraint, ambition, the need to take tough decisions and be loyal means, all within the framework of a complex operation like commanding a ship. It tells us the meaning of this, in the future and now and forever.
Thus Heinlein educates the readership in book after book. It’s true that there’s a particular Voice to get used to, a sometimes “lecturing, hectoring” voice in Heinlein’s books — but I have personally grown to like it after 30 years of reading the man. And so have many others. Even Philip K. Dick, hero of the 60s “New Wave” of sf, considered Heinlein the master.
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Heinlein takes pride of place in my book. Chapter 1 is dedicated to him, delineating the conservative slant of stories like Gulf, Lost Legacy, Coventry, Time for the Stars, Glory Road, Space Cadet and Beyond This Horizon. Then, in chapter 32, I look at the subject of “sf and war” and in this Heinlein has a lot to say, not only in Starship Troopers but also in Sixth Column and The Man Who Sold the Moon, stories teaching us how to run complex organizations with sizeable staffs.
20th century sf and fantasy is a veritable treasure-trove of myth, idea and passion. Many writers have contributed to the genre. However, on a personal note I’d say that when writing the book — Science Fiction Seen From the Right — one of the most inspiring things was re-reading the Heinlein works relevant to it.
Heinlein is the introduction to the world of traditionalist sf and fantasy — and from then on the book, Science Fiction Seen From the Right, takes a look at other conservative fantasists like Frank Herbert, C. S. Lewis, Tolkien, Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard and Ray Bradbury. There are also deliberations on authors of a more “mainstream” disposition, however, the angle is: what do they say about traditional values? Thus the study can also capture fish like Orwell, Boye, Zamyatin, J. G. Ballard and Jorge Luis Borges in its net.
Apart from this the study looks at the development of the sf genre as such, it covers sf film and comics and it discusses the future of the genre. My conclusion as to the latter is: sf has to allow more spiritual themes if it is to survive. It can’t go on pushing reductionist science as a gospel. In this respect, widening the agenda into more spiritual matters, Heinlein himself was showing the way in the story “Lost Legacy,” discussed in detail in Chapter 1.
All this, and Carlos Castaneda, you’ll find in Science Fiction Seen From the Right.