Alexei Panshin's The Abyss of Wonder
An Examination of Two Opposing Viewpoints on Human Destiny, as Presented in The Star Dwellers, by James Blish (Putnam, 1961) and Starship Troopers, by Robert A. Heinlein (Putnam, 1959).
by Robert A. W. Lowndes
At the risk of offending some readers who may resent their inference (not my implication) that they are being charged with ignorance, and boring others who may not want to be bothered with such considerations, I'm going to start with some very elementary propositions.
Many, if not most, examples of science fiction (including the two specimens under discussion) can be likened to problems in Euclidean geometry textbooks: we start with something given. A fundamental rule of the game is that the reader should not start arguing the validity of the given data, however nonsensical they may appear to be at first glance.
We will now leave geometry, since the given is never to be questioned in geometry textbooks, while in science fiction the given must be justified one way or another by the time the story has concluded. We demand further of the science fiction writer that his extrapolations follow with a reasonable degree of logic from his initial premises; and if his starting point is in flat contradiction to what (at present) appears to be established scientific fact, or the best theory, then we shall expect that, somewhere in the story, he will present us with a plausible explanation for this contradiction.* We do not demand that the story wind up with an overwhelming aura of truth so that we shall permanently discard the established scientific facts which have thus been thrown in doubt, but only that the author's fictional dissent be reasonably convincing on its own terms. And we must have similar rigor with respect to his subsidiary propositions: that each one either flow logically from the initial premises, or that any apparent contradictions be satisfactorily resolved, so that (at the very least) while we are reading the story we do not get the feeling that any one of various other possibilities (both as to plot and background logic) might just as easily have been employed.
A story which convinces while it's being read can be considered good in this respect, whatever leaks may be found in contemplating it later on; a story which stands up to rigorous examination after the spell of reading has evaporated rates higher.
For example: in "The Sixth Glacier," by Marius (Amazing Stories, January, February 1929), the justification of the glacier itself goes down reasonably well while one is reading. However, the author's assertion that the great ice descended upon New York with the speed of an express train is justifiable only if there is a special explanation for such un-glacierlike activity: alas, there isn't.
In The World of Null-A it is given that Gosseyn behaves according to the discipline of Korzybski's General Semantics; however, all through the story Gosseyn shows evidence of confused, disordered, etc., semantic reactions -- an outright contradiction of the attitudes and behavior Korzybski proposes as proceeding from successful indoctrination in General Semantics discipline. Van Vogt does not account for the discrepancy.
In these stories, neither
the question of whether there ought to be a new glacial period, or whether
Gosseyn or anyone else ought to follow the formulations of General Semantics
discipline, is a legitimate starting point for assessing the story's value,
as science fiction. One can, and usually does, take sides on the
philosophic, moral, etc., implications of stories, science fiction or otherwise
(and in fact on such implications in any and all art forms -- although
the imputation of moral statements to music, as such, is irrational to
say the least*) but this is a different question.
The first question of importance in regard to any work of fiction is: is
it well done? If the answer to that question is "yes," then we have
a good story regardless of how anyone answers such secondary questions
as, "Was it worth doing?" or "Do you (or should you) agree with the philosophic
propositions presented in the story?" And the question that is almost
invariably asked, "Do these propositions represent the beliefs of the author
at the time he wrote them?" while of psychological interest, has nothing
whatsoever to do with a story's value as fiction.
We have here two novels with the same theme, although the outward differences are so great as to obscure the fact. Each story, in its propositions about the fundamental questions, is in contrary motion to the other, and the second (The Star Dwellers) was to a certain extent planned that way.
The common theme of The Star Dwellers and Starship Troopers is this: Given (1) that human beings are not the only intelligent life-forms in the universe, (2) that Man's nature is such that he must try to expand throughout the universe, (3) that in the course of this expansion he will encounter other intelligent life-forms -- what assumptions ought to be made about such encounters, a priori, and what attitudes and behavior patterns necessarily follow?
Blish does not offer any explicit philosophic rationale for (2), although it is implied throughout the story; Heinlein's Professor Dubois specifically states:
"Man is what he is, a wild animal with the will to survive, and (so far) the ability against all competition. Unless one accepts that, anything one says about morals, war, politics -- you name it -- is nonsense. Correct morals arise from knowing what Man is -- not what do-gooders and well-meaning old Aunt Nellies would like him to be.Blish's constructs recognize the Heinlein definition as partly valid, and show implicit agreement that correct morals arise from knowing what Man is -- but Man is not dismissed simply as a wild animal with the will to survive, etc. And, in fact, Heinlein modifies this definition in practice, inasmuch as he (like Blish) asks: in what way must this wild animal be tamed and trained in order to fulfill its manifest destiny?
We accept the right of science fiction authors to rig their problems and questions, to set up the sort of human societies wherein (a) the sort of illustrative situations desired will necessarily arise, and (b) the sort of behavior desired in meeting the situations will follow logically.
Heinlein further assumes, in relation to (1) that among the intelligent life-forms in the universe which Man will encounter are other wild animals with the will to survive etc.; and therefore such an encounter is bound to lead to inter-species warfare. Blish assumes in relation to (1) that any other intelligent life-form which has a technology capable of waging interplanetary warfare may also be capable of realizing that " '. . . his willingness to kill you also means committing suicide.' " (He does not, however, state that such realization can be considered a certainty.)
The society required by Heinlein in order to illustrate his thesis is a military utopia; and his presentation of this society places Starship Troopers among the great Utopian novels, however the reader may like or dislike the society depicted. It is not presented as perfect:
"Under our system every voter and officeholder is a man who has demonstrated through voluntary and difficult service that he places the welfare of the group ahead of personal advantage. . . .This, then, is Heinlein's answer to the question: Given that Man's nature is such that he will periodically find himself fighting for his continued existence, during the course of his expansion throughout the universe, what is the most rational social order for him? What are the best measures to insure against this social order being corrupted?
The social order we find in The Star Dwellers is not alien to that which we know today. Blish assumes that the continued existence of human civilization at an expanding level of technology involved the subordination of national sovereignties to the control of the United Nations. Diplomacy has successfully staved off intra-species nuclear warfare.
Both novels are juveniles in the sense that the leading characters are young men, under legal age; both deal with the training of young men for responsible careers. In the Heinlein novel, this involves military training and a term of duty in the service, after which the lead, Juan Rico, will be a voter, and eligible for civil authority. In the Blish novel, the lead, Jack Loftus, qualifies for training as a foreign service cadet; he, too, will -- if successful -- be qualified for a position of high civil service, diplomacy, intra-species and inter-species.
In both stories, this highest type of service is voluntary (there are no conscripts in Heinlein's armed forces), difficult to get into, and easy to get out of -- either through flunking or resignation. In both, the training conditions are rigorous: Juan Rico discovers that boot camp was made ". . . as hard as possible and on purpose." The purpose is to discourage and weed out every recruit who does not really want to be in the army, or who is simply incapable of measuring up to the requirements, however willing he may be. (There is a place, however, for the latter.) The end result is an efficient individual soldier, who knows that he can count upon the soldier next to him in a crisis insofar as human frailties allow certain and sure dependence. Thinking is not only permitted the soldier, it is required -- despite the area wherein unquestioning obedience is necessary.
Jack Loftus finds that while he is not under the full measure of regimentation one finds in Heinlein's army, he must go through a rigorous course of study which includes dangerous field trips, and must take a vow of celibacy during his training period. Dr. Langer explains:
". . . heuristics -- the theory of learning. It all derives ultimately from a gimmick in the brain called imprinting. In ducklings, for example, the first twenty-four hours after they're hatched are crucial. The first moving object that they see during that period, they accept as their mother -- whether it's a live duck, a rolling ball, or even a man. At the end of that day, you can't imprint a duckling any more -- nor can it unlearn any false impressions it may have gained.* Something of the sort takes place in people, too, but in people it goes on for quite a long time.Both novels demonstrate present-day education of children and young people as insane, considering "education" as total environment, not merely what is taught in formal classrooms. Heinlein's Dubois uses the "juvenile delinquent" problem as his illustration, stating that no man has any moral instinct or is born with moral sense, but that the latter is acquired. Rejecting the term "juvenile delinquent" as meaningless, in that " 'Delinquent' means 'failing in duty.' But duty is an adult virtue -- indeed a juvenile becomes an adult when, and only when, he acquires a knowledge of duty and embraces it as dearer than the self-love he was born with . . .'," Dubois describes the situation thus:
"These juvenile criminals. . . . Born with only the instinct for survival, the highest morality they achieved was a shaky loyalty to a peer group, a street gang. But the do-gooders attempted to 'appeal to their better natures,' to 'reach them,' to 'spark their moral sense.' Tosh! They had no 'better natures'; experience taught them that what they were doing was the way to survive. The puppy never got his spanking, therefore, what he did with pleasure and success must be 'moral.'Blish uses the issues of corruption of taste and censorship as examples of social insanity, and uses popular dance music as a factor in imprinting. Dr. Langer says:
"Of course, music for dancing has to be different from concert music in kind. But in those days it was vastly inferior in quality, too; in fact most of it was vile. And it was vile mainly because it was aimed at corrupting youngsters, and then after that job was done, the corrupted tastes were allowed to govern public taste in music as a whole. . . . The stuff that was being peddled to young people was aimed at exploiting their inexperience in man-woman relationships; the producers knew that their targets weren't very well-equipped by experience -- and experience is the only teacher in that realm -- to tell the false coin from the true, and there was a lot of money to be made by exploiting them. And nothing could be done about it."
Both of these examples are valid, though the Heinlein is weakened by half-truths, and gives the appearance of saying that all we need is not to spare the rod in order to avoid spoiling the child. The Blish analysis is more penetrating; corruption of taste, and exploitation of young people's inexperience, has a far wider effect than debasing the arts, and I think the author is implying this, too.
At first glance, I thought the argument was weakened by exaggeration; the author seemed to me to be saying that certain evil people set out to corrupt youth and, after casting about for a method that would be both most effective and most profitable for business, came up with this one. But discussing the matter with persons well acquainted with the advertising industry convinces me that I'd gotten the order mixed up. The initial question was, "How can we make a lot of money?" Answer: by corrupting youthful taste. The evil lies first of all in the willingness of such people to use such means of making money, and the results are the insanity we see around us (although in many ways we may ourselves be tainted to the extent that we do not recognize it). To recapitulate: the purpose of corrupting youthful tastes is to imprint attitudes which will make consumers for the particular products; the advertisers, etc., are not concerned with other byproducts of the corruption. It's a lot like the Old Dope Peddler in Tom Lehrer's song: ". . . he gives the kids free samples / because he knows full well / that today's young, innocent faces / will be tomorrow's clientele."
The corruption is to a large degree irreversible, and in many instances incurable by today's psychotherapy.
Heinlein does not make it clear (even briefly) just how the revolution in attitude toward juvenile delinquency penetrated to the bottom of society; but neither does Blish, in speaking of his educational revolution; however this is something which we can take as given, particularly where an author does not have the elbow room to develop his society in toto. Blish gives a hint:
"It was already an age that suffered badly from censorship, which is in itself a crime against the mind. They couldn't suppress the trash without putting the same weapon in the hands of people who would have used it against masterpieces. The answer, as they gradually began to realize, was to fortify the minds of the youngsters against trash -- in short, the education revolution."Jack Loftus suggests that they might have ruled that the bad stuff was a form of dope, always a tempting solution; but Langer points out that no one had the power to make such rulings, and that legislation over taste is a cure worse than the disease.
The authors' initial assumptions about the nature of Man and the good society -- that social order best suited for the fulfillment of human potentialities -- result in a fundamental difference in the way men go out into space. Heinlein's spacemen are armed to the teeth, expecting trouble and ready to overpower it; Blish's spacemen are unarmed, expecting that trouble can be handled by rational diplomacy. And both authors have exercised their right of setting up the situation so that their answer is logical and seems to be justified by the events.
Both hedge about the violence question, Heinlein with an ingenious half-truth (Professor Dubois is a master at countering ingenuous half-truths with brilliant half-truths), and Blish with an evasion. Heinlein answers the half-truth objection that "violence never settled anything" with the half-truth that it certainly has, and gives valid examples. What Dubois neglects to mention is that all violence really settles is the question of who can be the more successfully violent, and that resort to violence further changes the subject whenever that is not the original question. (Violence certainly settled the question of whether the Confederate States of America could get away with secession from the Union; it did not settle the question of whether, under the Constitution of the United States, 1860, a group of states legally had the right to secede. Upsetting the chess board solves no chess problems whatsoever.)
In the Blish novel, Dr. Langer notes the matter of violence changing the subject, and acknowledges that the old pacifist problem is a real one: " 'How do you cope with a man who's perfectly willing to kill you to gain his own ends?' " But he doesn't answer this question; he evades it by pointing out that, " '. . . when both sides have nuclear weapons, as is necessarily the case in any conceivable interstellar war, that man has to bear in mind that his willingness to kill you also means committing suicide.' " Fine. But the history of mankind shows that innumerable men have been perfectly willing to commit suicide under just this sort of situation; and since we have no data whatsoever, we have to assume the possibility that human beings are not unique in this respect. Since Blish does not justify his given material at this point, Heinlein comes out a little ahead on the question; his men in space are prepared to use either violence or diplomacy. He postulates a rational military -- one which does not fight for the sheer love of warfare and is not trigger-happy; and despite the preponderance of trigger-happy militarists in Earth's history, some of the best commanders have been rational: the threat of massive violence as coercion was to be preferred to assault whenever possible."
Please note that I have not stated that I agree with Heinlein's answer, but merely that he has given an answer, where Blish did not. The flaw in Heinlein's answer is that when men are ready and able to resort to violence, they will tend to call an end to diplomacy earlier than may be necessary.
Although Heinlein declares that man has no moral instinct, his society is nonetheless rooted in two very high-order moral propositions. Despite the seeming anthill regimentation of the military society, (1) the individual is actually regarded as of infinite worth: one unreleased prisoner is sufficient reason to start or resume a war, (2) "Greater love hath no man than that he lay down his life for his friend." These are commonly regarded as Christian values in our society, although holding them does not automatically make the holder a Christian.
Blish's unstated ethic strongly suggests the principle that it is better to accept the role of victim if violence is perpetrated on one, rather than partake of the insanity of violence, even in self-defense. While the limitation is suggested that this applies to situations where the alternative is nuclear war, it is not clarified as well as it might be. The spacemen go out unarmed. What if they are attacked by beings who do not have nuclear weapons, but are still willing to resort to violence with such lesser weapons as they do have?
Should we take it as given that no intelligent aliens who might possibly resort to violence or threat of violence, but who do not have nuclear weapons, exist? Or is it a question of the self-perpetuating nature of violence -- which, once started, is deemed as such that even lesser weapons must be put aside? These questions are not raised, and very likely in the compass of a novel this length, they could not be raised. The second one involves a philosophical problem which has been debated throughout history, and no man in 1961 can be flunked out for not answering it to everyone's satisfaction.
What we are left with seems to be a "thus far, but no farther" ethic; violence is forsworn, whatever the price, when the alternative is the sort of suicide involved in nuclear warfare. Opposed to this is the Heinlein implication that an interstellar nuclear war might be won by one side, which further implies survivors.
Heinlein's military utopia has a flaw which is almost inevitable with fictional utopias. (I know of none which avoids this flaw, so Heinlein is in very good company.) We are introduced to this ideal military some time after it has been established, and the ad hoc assumption is that the system is still operating at maximum level and will continue to do so because the old evils which caused the irrational and venal behavior in the former societies were eliminated. (Few actually put it quite as baldly as that, and Heinlein doesn't either.)
But what keeps the ideal army from being convincing is the total lack of corruption in it. Not only do we see no evidence of corruption in Juan Rico's experiences (which would not be absolutely necessary in any event) but there's no indication that either (1) any sort of corruption exists, or (2) any sort of corruption is possible. It's not just a case of scandals being efficiently covered up; there just aren't any scandals. Now granted that the rational set-up for this military ought to reduce corruption drastically, and make it less likely at any given point than in any other army (real or fictitious) in human history, the author has not substantiated his given material here.
I am not speaking of crimes committed by military personnel, or evidences of misjudgment, downright stupidity, etc. This is granted; this does happen in the story. But I speak of corruption of the military system itself, either in small or in large. The civil system, Heinlein grants, can suffer corruption.
A similar flaw mars the convincingness of the assertion that the society as a whole is the most democratic that the world has yet seen. We are told nothing about one of the essential aspects of any social order: what manner of redress is open to the citizen, voter or non-voter, who is victimized by failings (criminal or otherwise) of the administrative and justice process itself? What about the person who is wrongly accused or convicted of crime? One way of assessing the true measure of "democracy" in any social set-up is to determine what means of redress for this sort of wrong are open and legal. Is a man accused presumed guilty until proven innocent, etc.? Is his only recourse revolution? (Irrespective of his chances, of course.*)
Let's recapitulate just what it is I have against Heinlein at this point. Professor Dubois contends that civilians in this military utopia enjoy full democratic rights, and enjoy them in a larger measure than in the former society. But the author's failure to make clear whether or not civilians have at least as full a measure of civil redress against official injustice as we have today makes the contention unconvincing. Just one reference to an example would have made the difference. (In this point, however, as in the earlier point of corruption of the system, all other utopian novels I have read fail, too; Heinlein is by no means alone.)
Blish, not attempting a utopia, but merely a development (melioristic) of present-day society, has an easier task; he gives indications, without going into great detail, that corruption is still with us and that, irrespective of failures of justice, that sort of redress I am speaking of is present in the structure of society.
And, assuming that suicidal irrationality is a strictly human trait, the aliens his heroes meet are necessarily rational and open to diplomacy. Diplomatic skill is, in fact, Man's only weapon in dealing with other species. It succeeds; a mutually acceptable compromise and treaty issues from contact with the Angels, one of the most fascinating lifeforms encountered in science fiction.
Heinlein's bugs are no less fascinating and convincing.
And it is made clear (as many military writers have made clear in dealing
with terrestrial wars) that while the nature of the antagonists leads to
conflict, the extension of it is due to the failure in communication.
Not only communication failure, but inability to communicate in the first
place. Earth does not want the war to continue to its mutually disastrous
finale -- the total destruction of the respective worlds in question.
But only establishing communication can possibly bring about any sort of
armistice; scientists labor on this problem -- meanwhile, the army must
Is inter-species warfare the only acceptable alternative when communication fails, or cannot be established, and the "other side" won't give way? Blish, as we have seen, evades the question. Heinlein's basic assumption about human nature suggests that the answer is "yes" -- but it is not clear whether, in this instance, Earthmen had the opportunity to avoid conflict by withdrawal from bug territory or whether what Blish calls the Patrick Henry syndrome settled the question: the Patrick Henry syndrome, emotionally stated as Give me liberty or give me death, but at the bottom meaning only Agree with me or I'll kill us both. In relation to the bugs, the "liberty" would be the liberty to expand throughout your territory as we will.
(In the mouth of a pacifist, the same phrase could mean, If I cannot live on my own terms, I choose to die, without requiring any death other than that of the speaker. But this is not the Patrick Henry syndrome.)
The characterization in Starship Troopers is especially vivid (in The Star Dwellers it is good, but not outstanding), and Professor Dubois, who is the vehicle for a preponderance of the philosophic background, stands out. He is a master of the propaganda trick, who seems to believe what he says, and someone whom I would not want to meet in argument: brilliant, witty, biting, and strongest at making the opposition argument look like idiocy and the holder of such opinions an object of pity, at best; for all this, there is a great deal of genuine warmth in Dubois.
Major Reid, who takes over Rico's education later on, is also interesting as a worshiper of symbolic logic -- which seems to be the most charitable way to put it -- and appears to be ecstatically unaware that all propositions are not accessible to proof or disproof by such means. Note that "appears"; it might be that Reid's frequent instructions to "bring a proof in symbolic logic to class tomorrow," in relation to some proposition which won't even stand up to semantic analysis are an attempt to get the student to see for himself that the assignment is impossible, meaningless, or both. As with Professor Dubois, I'll give Major Reid the benefit of any doubt -- but a mark should be chalked up against the author for not clarifying later on.
(We should give the characters the benefit of doubt, in cases like these, in order to avoid what P. Schuyler Miller calls the Oliver Wiswell syndrome -- the automatic assumption that an author's characters necessarily reflect the author's own convictions, opinions, etc. While they do at times, the principle of proof beyond reasonable doubt should be invoked in the author's defense -- particularly when the opinions, etc., are ones you, personally, consider loathsome, irrational, etc. Nor is the fact that the author himself, at one time, may have expressed similar opinions as his own to be considered as proof positive. It's relevant, surely; but a previously held, now rejected, viewpoint may certainly be useful to an author for the purposes of fiction.)
Of course the term "juvenile delinquent" is technically a misnomer; there is nothing essentially wrong with Dubois' definition of responsibility in this relation. But what his argument conceals is that (a) the way the generality of people use terms now is more relevant than any dictionary definition, and (b) the term represents a rational progression from an earlier position of looking upon children as miniature adults and treating the young offender in the same manner as an adult criminal.
The distinction between discipline and punishment is so carefully blurred by Dubois that I may be falling into a semantic trap myself by charging him with maintaining the false and irrational proposition that delinquency and criminal behavior are correctable by punishment -- thus charging him with ignorance of their being symptoms of illness, illness needing healing. Punishment is always injury, always vengeance; discipline is healing, and while the process may be painful, the manner can avoid injury.
This sounds pretty dogmatic, so let me qualify. After all, we see many people around us who certainly fit the description of moral imbecility and make Dubois' assertions seem valid. But what has been generally established in psychology is that this is a very good description of the psychopathic personality.
(See Lee Steiner's Understanding Juvenile Delinquency, Chilton, 1960. The author notes, in describing the psychopathic personality: "There is a total lack of feeling for people; lack of closeness to anyone; a total disregard of responsibility; bizarre thinking, and a pathological amount of egocentricity. . . . These are the people who fill our courts and prisons. The characteristic that gets them into trouble with the law is that they cannot postpone their wishes. All desires must be immediately gratified, regardless of consequences. Characteristic also is that punishment has little or no effect other than to make them vindictive. They do not learn from experience. . . . Usually their antisocial behavior is caused by their inability to coordinate their wishes with the rules of society. Their way of thinking admits of little or no consideration of the rights of others. . . . There is no known therapy that will lift this disorder." Mrs. Steiner goes on to note that such personalities often are combined with a high degree of leadership qualities such as to make them irresistible to persons whose moral sense might be described as weak, but who generally do not get into criminal behavior unless they are led into it. Whether the condition is actually incurable, through any means of therapy known today, may be a moot question; but it certainly seems to be beyond cure in most instances, and there is no doubt that punishment does not work.)
Are they born that way? No, it would rather seem that the psychopathic personality arises from early imprinting, possibly a permanently-established identification between punishment and discipline. Loosely speaking, you might call the infant a psychopath -- but with discipline he can go beyond that stage. Some, as we see, never do; early experience fixes them there.
Is this the same as Heinlein's saying that human beings have no moral instinct? I don't think so. What this is saying is that human beings have the capacity to respond to discipline (love), but in some cases this capacity is destroyed in early life -- and we do not know of any way in which it can be restored, no medical or psychiatric techniques, that is.
Punishment, as noted above, is always injury, always vengeance, and you cannot heal a person by injuring him. This raises the question of how discipline (which is often as painful as punishment) can be distinguished from punishment. To oversimplify, the difference lies in the manner. The man who is being punished is rejected; the hatred (and guilt) of those administering punishment are projected upon him. The man who is being disciplined is not being rejected; there is neither hate, nor vengeance, nor the projection of guilt from those administering discipline. The manner of the process includes reassurance that the subject is not being condemned or rejected.
Obviously, calling punishment "discipline," or discipline "punishment," is not going to make any difference. The difference lies not in the words used, but in the unspoken attitudes revealed (although what is said may play an important part). Note what happens when Juan Rico is whipped. He is badly hurt; he is made to feel that his actions have been bad -- but he has not been rejected. His worth as a person and as a member of the group has been reaffirmed, not denied. While the particular manner of it may be crude and debatable, this is still "hurting for the sake of healing"; however primitive the method may be, love, not hate, is being expressed. Rico is able to endure this and come back stronger later on because he has understood the difference between the whipping he received and the whipping that others, who were being rejected and cast out, received. Rico was disciplined; the others were punished.
Was Dubois actually expressing these thoughts after all? We have to bear in mind that he is known for intentional obscurity. His purpose is to provoke, irritate, sometimes seduce, cajole, and exhort his students into thinking. And whether or not Dubois-Reid = Heinlein, the purpose behind Starship Troopers is to make the reader think.
There are no such semantic pyrotechnics in The Star Dwellers. Dr. Langer is also trying to get his students to think; but when he explains he aims at maximum clarity. Let's go back to the question of legislating against bad taste. Jack Loftus has said that they might have ruled that the bad stuff was a form of dope -- which, in effect, it is. Langer replies, after pointing out the unfeasibility of determining just what is "bad stuff " by law or administrative decree:
"The very worst way to deal with dope is to make the traffic in it a crime. Addiction is a sickness; if you make it a crime, you can't get the victims to submit to treatment, and you run up the price of the stuff until it becomes so profitable to deal in it that some people are delighted to break the law to make their fortunes. The same goes for literature. Tell me, have you ever read any books with really wild sexual material in them?"In both novels, the lead character, being a juvenile, would not ordinarily play a star part in historically crucial events, and this is one of the problems the writer of juvenile novels has to solve. His leading character has to take over in the main crisis; the situation where this opportunity arises has to be plausible, and the fact that the lead is capable of doing the job has to be made believable. In the good juvenile, the author has so worked out his entire novel that this assumption of authority on the part of the lead proceeds naturally; in the poor juvenile, it becomes clear that certain peculiar events (or behavior on the part of other characters, or situations) have occurred just so that the hero can step into the starring role.
Heinlein's set-up is made to order; in military service, promising young men are groomed for positions of authority and a place in the chain of command as soon as possible -- and once a man is in the chain of command, any emergency may thrust him into the star position. Thus, Juan Rico's rise is convincing at all times, both in the fact that it is a normal occurrence in this frame of reference, and in that the author has been working toward it convincingly all along.
In The Star Dwellers, the crisis and command-taking are plausible and the single arbitrary contrivance did not strike me for what it was until after I had finished the story. ("Arbitrary" in the sense that while the event is justified in the long run, it does not have the full flavor of inevitability.) To specify would be to give too much away to the reader in advance.
To summarize: the mere act of writing a novel in contrary motion to a recognized masterpiece (and published by the same company in the same series of books, within five years) requires courage. Comparisons are bound to be made, and examinations will be more rigorous than usual otherwise. It does not demean The Star Dwellers to say that it is not a masterpiece; on the contrary, to say that it comes out as a good work under these circumstances is to rate it highly. And very good it is.
--(Reprinted from Warhoon, No. 13, October 1961)
As published in The Proceedings of the Institute for
Twenty-First Century Studies #141, November 1961.
* Making allowance for theories considered acceptable when the story was written, The Hayden Planetarium shared the author's preference for the dustbowl theory of Venus (as described in The Duplicated Man) at the time of writing. [Back]
* The question of predictable affective results of a particular performance of a given work of music is another matter entirely. [Back]
* Blish gives the permanent damage to the nervous system resulting from the conversion of left-handedness to right-handedness in early childhood as an example of imprinting that cannot be unlearned. Whether the side-effect of stammering is (or will remain) incurable remains moot; but the fact is that, according to today's knowledge, there is no cure for such stammerers. Another side-effect (which may or may not be universal, but is known) is permanent confusion between right and left: such persons are unsafe drivers and may also have considerable mechanical disability. [Back]
* See Liddell-Hart's Strategy; some of the greatest military victories have been achieved with the least fighting, and not a few without any clash whatsoever. The enemy, outmaneuvered and in a hopeless situation, resigned from the game. [Back]
* On the surface, this point
may appear to have been covered in Professor Dubois'statement that the
civilization recognized no disabilities on the basis of race, sex, or creed,
and his demonstration that advancement in the army is on ability only.
However, it is possible to have all these desirable features in a society
without the type of civil redress against miscarriages of justice, etc.,
mentioned above. There may be full democracy of opportunity and a
citizen may still be guilty just because some official said he was.