I have started this task of reviewing every book I have read since childhood. It is a ridiculous notion. I can’t remember every book I have read. Just now, I thought of one; a bear, and I am pretty sure an otter, has an adventure or two (no, it’s not what you’re thinking). I think it was a series. I loved the books, but they were paperback, and I trashed them in a fit of organization. Still, I am an author now. The Fundamentals is moving to publication, and as for sharing my love of the written word I have been mum.
Reviewing my list, I decided that grouping the historical works by author would save time. Another problem with dredging up memories of old books is the desire to read them again before putting a finger on the keyboard. No problem, I have decided to cheat. I will piece together recollections from what others have said and make up the rest.
Unfortunately for me, I was born about thirty years too soon. The endless parade of science fiction, fantasy, and superhero material available today would be a feast for my preteen and teenage self. For me, midafternoon reruns of Star Trek and Lost in Space, were the extent of SF on television and mass-market paperbacks from authors like Asimov, Clarke, and Heinlein were dug from the bottom of grocery store bookshelves.
Asimov, Clarke, and Heinlein are the triumvirate authors of my childhood. Their works are mostly a snore. Of the three, I enjoyed Asimov’s the most as a teenager, and Heinlein’s work as an adult.
A Heinlein Book I Couldn’t Put Down
Sometime after my high school graduation, I found a hardcover, large print edition of Job: A Comedy of Justice on clearance at a mall bookstore. I flipped through the pages, got a chuckle on one, and decided the price was within my limited budget.
I remember finishing the book in under a week, laughing at every chapter. I remember reading it a second time because I could not afford another book. I still have the copy. I have not read it again. I tried to give it to a neighbor once. He was suffering from poison ivy and could not work. He wanted something fun to read, but his Christian sensibilities would not let him read Heinlein. Score one for Loki.
Many years later, Time Enough for Love, Volumes 1 & 2 made it to my iPod through my Audible subscription. Time Enough for Love was originally published in 1973. Given its content, I can’t imagine it would have made its way to my small Kansas town. Puritan criticism of the book center on the sexual relations of Lazarus Long. Under various Nom-de-plumes, he sleeps with everyone related to him. He even skips back in time to fall in love with his mother, completing the circle of life, and tying a bow on his long-winded story. I wonder whether the same critics root for Jaime Lannister, tune in for the latest royal scandal, and insist on purebred dogs.
Lazarus’s need to interbreed is part of the Howard Families storyline, a group choosing mates based on their lifespans, all with the goal of producing Woodrow Wilson Smith, the man who would live forever.
If you can get past your puritan outrage at the stories framing, you find a work that meanders like The Brothers Karamazov. It could end with a single sentence, but you don’t want it to. You enjoy the tales from this man’s extended life and want to hear more.
At its core, Time Enough for Love is Heinlein’s framing of several stories he wanted to tell. The tales Lazarus relates could stand on their own as shorts, or even novels. Like Dostoevsky’s Karamazov you know how it is going to end, how it must end, but you enjoy the ride all the same. Unlike The Brothers Karamazov, I have not read Time Enough for Love a second time.
Heinlein’s Influence on Science Fiction
What else I have read by Robert A. Heinlein? He serialized most of his work in magazines and abridged novels before I was born. I imagine my first discovery of his work was in the public library, a compendium of his serialized work, or as a reprint in one of the many issues of Analog or Astounding Stories, my friends kept around. I spent my allowance on comics and the three newsmagazines: Time, Newsweek, and U.S. News and World Report. Don’t judge, I was on the debate team.
The Puppet Masters may have influenced the creation of the orhatea, but only through the Goa’uld of Stargate and not because I have bothered to read the book. I tried to read Starship Troopers, but found the film more entertaining. And there in lies the problem with the triumvirate of science fiction authors we are supposed to worship; many of their stories are boring, with just enough plot to frame the social or technical boundary they were trying to upset.
My biggest criticism of Heinlein is that he suffered from the lazy use of the first-person narrative. A connivence that gives the author permission to limit characterizations to that of the narrator. We never know what the world around Lazarus Long is like without himself being the center of it.
On the other hand, the first-person narrative is perfect for Alex in Job: A Comedy of Justice. Locked into his thoughts, we must suffer his fortunes and misfortunes until he understands that his love for Margrethe is a greater reward than the ones heaven had for him. Maybe that’s the point of Lazarus’s story as well; put away those preconceptions and love.