An Anecdotal Observation, Relating to Robert Heinlein and the Youth of Today
Posted on March 12, 2014 Posted by John Scalzi 227 Comments
As it’s relevant to yesterday’s discussion:
About a year ago Athena was wondering what she should read next, and wandered into my office to look at books. Since she was amenable to suggestion, I went ahead and offered her Starman Jones, which is one of my favorite of the Heinlein juveniles. She looked at it a bit skeptically (it was an old copy with typically 80s cover art), but she was willing to give it a try.
And she did — she read a few chapters, and then she put it aside and read something else. I asked her later why she abandoned the book, and she more or less shrugged and said it was okay but it really didn’t speak to her.
Which on one hand made me sad — big Heinlein fan here, and also a fan of that particular book — but on the other hand didn’t surprise me all that much. Athena reads a ton of books and almost all the books she reads have been published in the last decade. The good news is that books in the last decade have been pretty excellent (the occasionally 50 Shades sort of thing notwithstanding — which Athena read, unbeknownst to me, and found less than impressive), so she hasn’t suffered for a lack of good work to read.
The sad news for me, though, is that it means a lot of the books I loved when I was a kid, she doesn’t have much time for. It’s not just Starman Jones, to be clear. Over the years it’s also been the Dark is Rising series, A Wrinkle in Time, The Phantom Tollbooth and a whole other host of books I loved but she… didn’t. In their place were books by John Green, Scott Westerfeld, Suzanne Collins, Margaret Peterson Haddix, Neil Gaiman, and so on. All good books and authors… just not my books and authors. Which is, of course, fine. My daughter also has different music than I do, and different favorite movies and television, and we frequent different places online. It shouldn’t be entirely surprising that her tastes in books also moves away from my own.
It’s also to the point that culture is not static and that every generation wants their own music, books and movies. In the case of Starman Jones, the book was a little old-fashioned when I first got hold of it around 1980, 27 years after it was originally published. I gave it to my daughter to read sixty years after its publication date. Regardless of its charms as a book, that’s a steep uphill climb for any book. It’s not that the book can’t be gotten into. It’s just that nearly everything about it is several steps out of sync with my daughter’s world.
Do I see Athena ever reading Heinlein? It’s certainly possible, if she takes a special interest in science fiction and decides to work her way back from current authors. But I don’t really see him ever being one of her authors in the way he is one of my authors. And while extending out from a single example is always fraught with danger, I have to say I wouldn’t be surprised if Heinlein is today only very rarely a teen’s author like he was my author. I suspect that door is closing, if it’s not already closed entirely.
Well. We still have Shel Silverstein in common. I can work with that.
For those who would ask:
Athena has read one of my book so far: Zoe’s Tale. She liked it very much, which made me happy.
We got lucky: our sons (about a half-dozen years older than your daughter, by estimation) shared a number of cultural touchpoints with us, including BtVS (we watched the originals, they got the DVDs), Lois McMaster Bujold… but old stuff? Not so much (outside of an odd fad that ran through the high school that had them listening to the complete Zep, Who and Floyd catalogs). Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet? Not so much. Pyrdain Chronicles a little better. Niven’s Known Space could not get on their radar.
(afterthought) It never occurred to me to put Childhood’s End in their hands, though.
I have had a lot of trouble getting into nearly all of his books I tried. The one major exception, though, is The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, which is on my list as one of the all-time greatest SF novels. (And a pretty radical stylistically.)
Did you ask her why it didn’t speak to her? I ask because you state it’s a generational difference, but frequently when I say “it didn’t speak to me” it’s code for “I didn’t identify with any of the characters”. It could be because the characters are all male. It could be because the female characters (if they exist) are all cardboard cutouts. It could be because the characters fail to have the sort of internal dialogue or conundrums to draw me into their psyches.
Just for your soul: she may very well read those books when she gets older and like them. It is an age thing more than a culture thing.
I have read several Heinlein, which i cherish a lot. But trying to be objective: his book did not age too well. Times have changed, people have changed and when i read those books, i rather recapitulate my memories of reading them back then. Can’t expect that from someone who hasn’t read it before.
Tempora mutantur, nos et mutamur in illis
I was a big fan of Heinlein in high school (late 80’s), but the majority of scifi fans at my age even back then found most of his (and Asimov, and most of the Golden Age authors) as too old fashioned for their taste. I can only imagine that’s become more and more the case. I found my grandfather’s recommendations often did nothing for me, which was a great disappointment to him.
This post reminds me of a song lyric I heard somewhere, it went: “Each generation sends its own hero up the pop charts.” I think it was The Boss, but I could be wrong.
I guess it’s mainly a generational thing. Did you read/enjoy what your parents liked? I’m a bit sad she didn’t take to The Phantom Tollbooth though – I loved that as a child and it stood up very well (IMV) to a re-read a few months ago.
What LaraAmber said, too. That’s a big hurdle.
Ha! I have had this same experience with my teenage daughter over the past few years, especially relating to books. With music, not so much. She is a musician and performs regularly and always has a bunch of classic rock n roll in her set.
What sort of books did you read aloud with Athena when she was younger? Did you read classic stuff like Treasure Island and The Secret Garden back then or did you usually read more recent books?
I think it takes training, pretty much from birth, to get kids comfortable with reading books published any time before the year of their birth. I think it’s worth it, because it gives them so many more books to read and enjoy, but it is a lot of work.
We listened to an audiobook of Have Space Suit Will Travel on a road trip. Before I put it in, I warned the kids that it was old and parts would seem pretty ridiculous, but that I thought they’d like it . . . and they really did. Though of course, they fell over laughing when they got to the slide rule scene and realized that people had supposedly built a base on the moon, but they hadn’t yet invented a calculater.
@Chad: Paul Simon, actually, “Days of Miracle and Wonder”.
/random knowledge source.
More generally: at least you guys like the same genre. Dad likes spy novels, Mom likes mysteries, neither of them is really a sf person at all. We eventually bonded over TV: Law and Order and West Wing.
I’d just be grateful that she likes to read. In the day and age of lolzcatz and twitterin’, that is a good thing.
I guess this means my nephews will not like The House With A Clock In Its Walls and now I am sad.
I had that with my 17-year-old, Fergus – showed him both Starman (JBridges) and the original Robert Wise film of The Haunting. Neither got much traction … made me feel very old.
Heh, 13 year old daughter and yeah, it’s interesting seeing her develop her own tastes. Of course, she’ll never have the “nothing new to read” (or watch, or listen too) issue as our personal collection of SF/F is much larger than any school or small town library I had access to, not to mention all the e-book stores where we’re more than ready to pick up what she likes. Same goes for TV and music: there’s so much out there. She and her friends find new stuff on YouTube, Netflix, iTunes, etc, and it’s all quickly obtained.
As a kid with coke bottle money, new books were pretty rare (and Walden SF/F shelves few) so I was forced to read anything I could find that as even remotely interesting (GG Marquez, Homer). With all this choice, teens today will grow in different ways, like ivy in zero G.
Some science fiction ages well, some is dated almost as soon as it is published. The vast majority falls into the gap between, where eventually style, culture, and other issues render it less and less relevant. I have trouble reading Dickens because I can’t reconcile ‘masterpiece of English literature’ and ‘paid by the word’; his style doesn’t work for me. De gustibus non est disputandem.
Just now, on Facebook, Cj Cherryh wrote:
What works of science fiction or fantasy that were written BEFORE the moon landing would you recommend to new readers?
Let’s see if we can come up with a list. And pardon me, while Northwest Smith may have slipped into the category of science fantasy, there’s got to be room for it.
The best novel ABOUT a Moon Landing, before THE Moon Landing, by the author who today would be called Assistant Producer or the like of the 1950 George Pal film adaptation: Rocket Ship Galileo is a science fiction novel by Robert A. Heinlein, published in 1947, about three teenagers who participate in a pioneering flight to the Moon… The film Destination Moon, 1950 American science fiction film independently produced by George Pal and shot in Technicolor, directed by Irving Pichel, had the best Moonwalk on screen until THE Moonwalk.
Pretty much the same experience with the stepkids and “Have Spacesuit Will Travel” which is by far my favorite Heinlein. One of them, but only one, really liked “The Puppet Masters,” which is my #2.
Could never get any of them into Andre Norton, whose juveniles I thought were far superior to Heinlein when I was in junior high. (Still do, actually, but nowadays I understand better why Heinlein was the more popular and lasting).
On the other hand, they’ve gotten me into many more books than I’ve gotten them into, which is only fair (they have me outnumbered, and they’re not old grumps filled with excessive nostalgia). They got me into Philip Pullman, for which I’m very grateful, and also John Green. But they were somewhat disappointed that I found Harry Potter too dull to get anywhere near finishing and that I laughed in too many wrong places at Twilight.
On the prehensile tail, they claim to like several of mine, particularly ONE FOR THE MORNING GLORY and TALES OF THE MADMAN UNDERGROUND, which for different reasons are especially pleasing. I have not noticed that they claim to like them a lot when birthdays or Christmas are impending, and am rather forced to take them at their word.
Luckily I got introduced to spy novels and westerns and fantasy and SF and mysteries (though not cosies and classic puzzles like Agatha Christie, so I don’t read those even today). And luckily I grew up in a small town environment, so the libraries stocked a lot of older (not my generation) books worth reading.
And I was a reading machine, so I read stuff from all over the library well before those books were ‘age-appropriate.’ My parents taught us to read before kindergarten and all 3 of us kids became bibliovores, my brother and I still are, my sister is too busy teaching kids to read more at home these days…
“What sort of books did you read aloud with Athena when she was younger?”
Actually, Athena liked reading her bedtime story to us.
Even I find Heinlein’s books too old in ideas and attitude these days. I was a big fan of his ‘social engineering’ work (stranger in a strange land and those kinds) growing up and into my late 20s. But then the sexism and homophobia just annoyed me too much to enjoy. I moved on now to Sheri Tepper as one of my go to books about social engineering style stories. I gave all my nieces ‘The Fresco’ which is my current go back and read book (also the Oath of the renunciates by Marion Zimmer Bradley)
I came to RAH by his juvies, Podkane On Mars” was my first. They were of a time and place I knew and believed in but that place and those times do not exist any more. His juvenile works were very much in the mold of Horatio Alger. That sort of blind faith in hard work and honest dealing does not exist any more because there are too many examples of that not being important but who you are and who you know being the key to success.
Its a shame that some pretty decent stories with some affirming messages have been over run by the world. I feel sorry not as much for RAH but for kids who are too cynical too soon I think.
Yeah, I thought it might be something like that. There are all different ways to raise a reader.
If you want a kid to enjoy House With the Clock in It’s Walls, you pretty much have to read a lot of other stuff to him first. That way the old fashioned pacing and language don’t seem so off-putting.
On the other hand, one of the other Bellairs books scared the living shit out of us on a dark night during a long road trip, so maybe having your kid, or your nephew, miss out on that is not without its upsides.
@isabelcooper – Right song, but the title is “The Boy In The Bubble”, off of “Graceland”.
“It’s a turn-around jump shot
It’s everybody jump start
It’s every generation throws a hero up the pop charts”
I wouldn’t count on my favorites appealing to a young’un — at least, not until they were older, or had had them read to them when they were really too young for them to quite understand. That’s how Alice in Wonderland, The Wind in the Willows, and Gulliver’s Travels survive except as subjects for academics; parents who loved the book being read to them when young themselves. Starman Jones is too tween for that.
No Phantom Tollbooth? Say it ain’t so Athena!!!
My son is more into fantasy in general than science fiction in general, which kind of flabbergasts me. He has read as much Tolkien as I can get in his hands, the Rick Riorden stuff, Christopher Paoli’s stuff, and He just finished with Mira Grant’s (Seanan McGuire’s) Feed trilogy. Every time I try to put a Heinlein juvenile into his hands, it vanishes, and I don’t think he ever reads them. My upstairs hall is lined with 70s and 80s era SF and F acquired through used book stores before he was born, but he ignores most of it, though he loved RA Salvatore’s Drizzt books (but fortunately has not named any RPG characters Drizzt, at least to my knowledge, thank goodness).
I have everything Heinlein ever wrote, at one point in life considering him a father of my heart and reaching for the validation of my intelligence he gave to a too-smart girl who was constantly told that “girls don’t do that”. I don’t understand the “cardboard cutout” complaint of Heinlein’s women and never have. I strongly identified with Friday, even with her stoic response to rape. I am a rape survivor and a therapist and her response, up to and including forgiving one of her rapists and pursuing a relationship with him, is not nearly as uncommon as most people believe.
While it is true that Heinlein was a product of the cold war and of his generation, and he was too patriarchal and white supremacist (in the sense that he believed whites had a superior society and thus noblesse oblige) and sexist (though it could be argued that in the frame of First Wave Feminism, he wasn’t that far off the ruler), he was also a student of people as well as science. He wrote his characters as intelligent and adaptable because he surrounded himself with people like that, and that was one of his strengths. It’s also not what kids today are used to in their heroes.
He didn’t always get it right (Farnham’s Freehold was just AWFUL) but there is a reason so much of modern SF (including your own) owes much to him. He was compelling, and interesting, and thought provoking, and generally fun to read. That’s what writers do.
I grew up with Hitchhiker’s guide to the galaxy as a family staple ( hell we even had Zaphod the cat).
I also grew up with my mother frantically editing the famous five books while she read them to me.
Some works age very well (a lot of the Anne of Green gables books) and some do not, unfortunately Heinlein (and most of Enid Blyton) is in the not category for a lot of people.
I think it’s partly a matter of temperament. Some children gravitate toward old-fashioned stories from the beginning. I always did. Only one of my kids does.
As a “young person these days” (mid-20s), I find that your anecdote matches up pretty well with my own life experience. I’ve read some Heinlein. Not a fan, for various reasons. Mostly his politics and attitudes turn me apoplectic, but his books also don’t speak about anything that I find relevant.
I mean… I get that he’s a touchstone for many people because they read him at the “golden age of science fiction” – twelve years old – and so he made an impact. I didn’t read him then. I was reading what was new and on the shelves at the time (yes, actual, real shelves in a bookstore). My first real science fiction novel at that age was Revelation Space by Alastair Reynolds. Rather a difference between him and Heinlein, no? You can see why my personal tastes tend to differ from someone who read Heinlein at that age.
Heinlein is definitely one of my authors. It’s interesting to read your thoughts on this when you’re also one of my authors.
This is something Tammy often crashes into when she’s on “The Greying of the SF/Fantasy Audience, and What We As Greying SF/Fantasy Fans Should Do To Attract Younger Readers” (that’s not what these panels are usually called, but it’s what they mean). Too many older SF fans think “SF for teens” begins with Heinlein Juveniles and ends with Asimov’s “Lucky Starr” books, and “fantasy for teens” is Tolkien – and that’s an end to it! She was on one panel where only one other panelist had even heard of “Tamora Pierce” – and he’d never read her either, but as a school librarian bought her books because “girls like that stuff”….
It’s really hard to convince younger readers into SF, or fantasy that isn’t Harry Potter or TWILIGHT (or marketed as “In the Tradition Of…”, as Diana Wynne Jones’s Chrestomanci books have been marketed as!), that there’s SF and fantasy that speaks to them when all SF fandom can recommend is the half-century old stuff we read as kids. Mind, I love Heinlein’s juveniles – I still re-read them to this day, but I’ll be sixty in a few years! My eighteen-year old niece’s tastes aren’t my own (her Aunt Tammy aside) – for that matter, my 28-year old niece’s tastes aren’t my own.
I loved E.E. Van Vogt and E.E. “Doc” Smith and others when I was a teen, 30-odd years ago, but re-reading the Lensman or SLAN books these days is more an exercise in forensic literature socio-archaeology than a fun weekend. I doubt any teen would pick those books up unless coerced (or fooled by cover art).Obviously fantasy seems to have fared better.
I got lucky in that I infected my now 16yo daughter with the Heinlein at an early age, although she shares with me the “what?” of his last 2-3 novels.
Her favorite, and it warms the cockles of my heart as it was Heinlein not written by Heinlein (spot the trope), is David Palmer’s “Emergence”. Talk about a one-hit wonder.
I wonder if she would like “A Door Into Summer”? That is my personal Heinlein fav and it was the one that ‘spoke to me’ most when I was a younger reader.
When I was getting into SFF, much of Heinlein was already pretty dated. Two that I’ve had luck recommending to younger readers also happen to be two that I still enjoy rereading on occasion: The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and Podkayne of Mars. Athena may be a little old for Podkayne, and not yet able to enjoy it as juvenalia, but Moon has aged better than most of RAH’s other books, imho.
I can’t speak for kids these days (as I am childless/free), but as anectdata, I found that as a kid/teenager, I loved the Golden-age classics: Asimov, Heinlein, Clarke, Miller, etc. Reading anthologies of stories originally published by John Campbell, and similar-era editors. I never really got into later authors like Ellison, Brunner, etc.
It was somewhat of a surprise to find, later on, that the popular authors of my youth mostly wrote before I was born! They were my parent’s influential authors (my father assigned me “Stranger in a Strange Land” as summer reading when I was 10, for instance), and a lot of the books I had available were from used book stores, which had the golden-age classics, and newer books (by the likes of Foster, Gibson, McCaffrey, etc), which I also enjoyed and put on my must-read list.
But, today, I think I’d find it hard to get into the Golden-age classics if I were just getting into SF. In the ’70s and ’80’s, the culture they were written in was similar enough to “contemporary” that things could be written off as “slight differences”. But all of them missed the changes wrought by computers, networks, etc. The world I graduated high school into (in 1989) was already much different than 1959, and now, 25 years later, it’s vastly different again. I think the main enjoyment I’d get from re-reading them now is nostalgia for my youth.
I’m actually so fearful that my kid (age 9) will not be into “A Wrinkle in Time” that I am reluctant to even set it in front of her. Silly, I know.
I’m curious now about other sci fi of the 50s-80s that Athena might prefer/enjoy. Left Hand of Darkness? Cat’s Cradle or Slaughterhouse Five? Ray Bradbury or Isaac Asimov?
My own personal favorite Heinlein was Stranger in a Strange Land, though when he was still alive and publishing in the 80’s I read those titles as they were released.
Let’s see…I don’t remember what I read before my teens. Early teen years were primarily influenced by what was presented by teachers. It was an odd hodge podge of C.S. Lewis, Jack London, history books, and the encyclopedia set from my parents. Mid to late teens I discovered sci-fi and comic books through friends.
Soon to be 34, I still pick up a history book on occasion but it’s still primarily comics and sci-fi. My favorite being J. Michael Straczynski. Our host is firmly entrenched in 2nd place. Sorry John.
I hear you. As a librarian I am much more inclined to hand a teen a Westerfeld book than Heinlein for all the reasons you list above.
I don’t know Athena, other than the bits and pieces you write here and other places, but I do have a fifteen year old daughter of my own at home. And there is simply no way would I put something as juvenile as “Starman Jones” (or any of RAH’s juvenile novels) in Number1Daughter’s hands and expect her to enjoy it. The summer of my fifteenth year (1978) I read “Stranger in a Strange Land”, and I think in many of the ways pertinent to RAH, kids are smarter now. Well, maybe not smarter, but more….I guess “cosmopolitan” is the word I’m looking for.
If I were trying to get Number1Daughter to read Heinlein, I’d give her something with meat on its bones — “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress” is probably a good idea (and now that I’ve thought of it, I’m gonna dig up my old copy for her to read), or “Citizen of the Galaxy” (if for no other reason than to see how long it is before she uses the word “moiety” in conversation). Or maybe I’ll go really old-school and see how she reacts to Bester: “The Demolished Man” has aged well, even if “The Stars My Destination” hasn’t.
Of course, while, Number1Daughter is more cosmopolitan than I was at her age, that still doesn’t mean I’m letting her anywhere near my treasured copy of Spinrad’s “Child of Fortune” any time soon….
Too late for you now, but the secret to my son loving Wrinkle in Time (well, he would have loved it anyway) and Phantom Tollbooth was reading them together. He enjoyed many of my childhood favorite books when I read them to him that he probably wouldn’t have on his own. And it was fun for me, too!
This may also be a generational thing simply because of availability. When I was a kid (and I think several other people here as well) the internet didn’t exist, most places didn’t have cable, and even VCRs were new things that only well-off people had. If you wanted to watch an old movie, you had to wait til it was shown on tv or in a film festival – and if you lived in a rural area there weren’t many of those happening. The same thing with books – when we were that age, you were stuck with what the local libraries and bookstores had (assuming that if you had a lot of books at home you’d already burned through them.) This gave older stuff a bit more cred – you had to work at finding it, so it was special. Now? Between Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, and Youtube, you can watch just about anything you want any time you want. Same thing goes with books – if you want to read a particular thing, you need internet access and some sort of e-reader. Things that are old aren’t “special”, so all the dated clunky bits show through without any sentimentality to blunt them. With audiences for all sorts of media being smaller and more targeted, I wonder if we’ll have another Golden Age of anything again? With all the straight to Netflix or Youtube series that are just starting out it seems like that sort of thing might be possible, but since everything seems much more niche oriented I don’t know if they’ll get the critical mass of an audience to really count.
Context: I’m 57. My kids are 29 and 30.
I read and loved L’Engle as a youngster. Read and LOVED (obsessed over) Tolkien as a teen. Read Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land in my early 20s, liked much of it, though found parts troubling.
Neither of my kids could get into L’Engle at all. Both tried, both gave up after a chapter or so and never went back.
The elder one read LOTR once, and that was enough for her. The younger one immersed himself in all things Tolkien during his teens and still enjoys rereading the books today, though he was never as obsessed as I was (probably a good thing, as I was using books to self-treat depression).
And neither has any interest at all in Heinlein. None. Zero. Zip.
They both loved the Redwall books, which I found mildly interesting but not overwhelming. Both enjoyed Harry Potter (the elder more than the younger), which I have never been able to get into at all. Elder kid likes Mercedes Lackey, younger kid likes Mary Gentle, neither of whom holds any interest for me.
To the extent that I enjoy sharing books I love with people I love, sure, I’m mildly regretful that my offspring aren’t as excited about my favorites as I am.
At the same time, I rejoice in their unique personalities, their perspectives that vary so widely from mine, and deep in my heart of hearts, I am very, very gratified to have brought forth a pair of intelligent and fiercely independent adults who love to read. No, their list of favorites is not, never has been and never will be identical to mine – but they bring thought and enthusiasm to the experience of reading, and THAT is the legacy that I most wanted to give them.
I’m 36, and *I* couldn’t do Heinlein as a kid. I slogged through “Stranger in a Strange Land” at 15 because a boyfriend recommended it, but found it incurably silly. (I think I tried the “Menace From Earth” collection, then called it a day.)
My pet theory is that one of our fundamental origin stories is “I read at a very advanced age and I read all the kids books and was bored and THEN ONE GLORIOUS DAY I pulled a copy of Heinlein off the shelf AND NEVER LOOKED BACK.” (Insert “Asimov” or “Clark” or “Tolkien” or whoever as desired.)
Well, it’s a nice origin story, but it’s fading fast (and gives short shrift to those who didn’t read at a terribly advanced level and had to be coaxed into it.) My teenage reads were “Neuromancer” and “The Madness Season.” Pre-teen was “Clan of the Cave Bear,” Star Trek novelizations and, yes, very early R.A. Salvatore.
At the end of the day, “Watership Down” was infinitely more central a work for me than Heinlein, so Athena has all my sympathy. I’ve got no beef with anybody who likes Heinlein, but yeah, “didn’t work for me” about sums it up.
A few thoughts, here:
For the, like, three people who might care: loved Phantom Tollbooth (really should read it again soon, in fact); couldn’t effing stand Wrinkle in Time.
I believe Asimov would be the real test. Heinlein’s politics are nearly indistinguishable from his stories; Asimov’s stories are indistinguishable from his dialogue.
Related, for the proprietor: of the two, which in your opinion make the greatest contribution to our definition of good SF (if either do at all)?
@Ursula: Heh, yeah. I read at a pretty advanced level, but I was completely weird in terms of the traditional narrative. Read Tolkien at around 7/8 because I’d seen the Hobbit cartoon a million and two times. (At that age, the Mordor stuff is way more interesting than the Rohan/Gondor bits, which are all about grownup stuff like politics and alliances and what the hell was Wormtongue’s problem anyh-oooooh. Ew.) Then read a bunch of kids’ books, and really liked a couple of them (the Harper Hall stuff and the Hero and the Crown) and hey, these people wrote books for grownups, too? Cool! I don’t think I ever gave up reading “kids’ books”, just meandered back and forth across the library.
Also, Drizzt was one of my first crushes. I’m sure that hasn’t warped me for life or anything. ;)
That makes me unspeakably sad. I don’t have children, and it’s looking less and less likely that I will (I’m the same age as John, so I’m getting a little long in the tooth for fatherhood), but one of my great fears has long been that, if I did have a kid, they wouldn’t love or even appreciate all the media that has always been so important to me. That’s selfish on my part, I know… but it is how I feel.
Of course, my mother is a tremendous fan of Elvis Presley whereas I merely LIKE him, so I guess I understand… but still… we want the things that matter to us to last, you know? And nothing really does…
Oh, holy crap, isabelcooper, that’s EXACTLY why I read the Hobbit! Loooooove! I slogged through some of LotR, but skipped all the bits that weren’t Moria, Ringwraiths, and Mordor.
Harper Hall, Hero and the Crown (still a comfort read!) yup yup. Also Clare Bell, who fell into obscurity, and Dragonlance.
I agree that Athena’s probably a bit old for Starman Jones; it’s really a pre-adolescent book. But I haven’t had much luck getting my kid (he’s about the same age) to read Heinlein either. He did like your Fuzzy Nation book a lot, both as a book and an audio. I agree that Moon Is a Harsh Mistress has a better chance of catching his eye at this point, although maybe an audio on a car trip would work for the juveniles.
If you want to try a classic on her, do you have a copy of TARZAN by E.R. Burroughs around? My son found it fascinating — the story, the world view (so alien — especially the prejudices) and the rich vocabulary. Or the Mars books.
But yeah, they don’t have time to read all our childhood books because there as so many new books. Few people went back to read all the Lensman books, after all.
A young bartender friend of mine (we bonded over books) who is 29 reads the same stuff I (52) read, because those were the books her dad had at home.
(While I plundered my parents’ bookcases when I was growing up and got hooked on writers who wrote books long before I was born).
I’m smack in between you an Athena – mid 20s – and I’ve read 4 Heinlein books (Starship Troopers, Moon is a Harsh Mistress, Double Star, and Stranger in a Strange Land – the ones that won the Hugo/Nebula, since I was reading all the winners). Given that they all won awards, I’d expect them to be a good sampling of his work- and they didn’t speak to me. They’re all late 50’s/early 60’s, and they just felt… flat. Better than most of their contemporaries, to be sure, but the characters always seemed to be 2D superheroes to whom obstacles happened and then they inevitably triumphed because they were Right(tm)- and even as a young man, the lack of any character/personality to the women struck me, though I just chalked it up to the era. Compared to my usual diet of 90s/00s SFF, they just didn’t resonate with me.
Though now that I’m looking at having my own kids, the idea that they might not like A Wrinkle in Time is a bit disturbing (though if they don’t like Harry Potter I might pass out), so perhaps that’s what some Heinlein fans feel about people my age not being interested in him.
I do love me some Heinlein — I think I read Red Planet in one sitting the summer after second grade. But that was also in the late 1970s.
Having said that I wonder if part of the issue for younger readers, in addition to some of the more problematic elements, is that he’s writing to a future that just can’t exist any more — kind of a slipstick world where mechanical engineering solves everything and we use our atomic-powered rocket ships to visit the ruined cities of Mars and the jungles of Venus.
One of the significant plot points of Starman Jones was that Jones had a photographic memory and had inadvertently memorized his uncle’s (paper) books of hyperspace ephemerides.
(And now, having said that, I want to go back and reread Space Cadet and Citizen of the Galaxy, amongst others.)
“It’s also to the point that culture is not static and that every generation wants their own music, books and movies.”
This, definitely. It doesn’t mean that one can’t appreciate older art, but the current stuff is bound to be more accessible because, well, it’s current.
My own favorite Heinlein is CITIZEN OF THE GALAXY. It used to be THE MOON IS A HARSH MISTRESS, but CotG is just a stronger story to me.
30+ years ago I gave my son a copy of The Star Beast. About a year and a half ago he told me about a new book by an author I’d never heard of Redshirts
My son read Heinlein teen books when he was 11. He liked Heinlein’s silly sense of humor and well designed plot. He’s not really into Asimov’s teens. I’ve tried several. Even though he is a science, math geek he finds the plots too predictable. Perhaps, Athena is too old for Heinlein. My son is 12 now. He thinks things from the 80’s are Epic and isn’t into hipster stuff. He’s the very start of Generation Z.
I really like Star Beast.
I understand that feeling, John. Yes, my daughter did enjoy the books of some of my favorite authors as much as I enjoyed them… but all in the Mystery genre. She was lukewarm about SFF… except we LITERALLY fought over who got to read the Harry Potter books first when they arrived from Amazon. The ones published in June or July (most of them!) she got to read first because her birthday was in July, and they were part of her birthday present. I’d like to think she would have enjoyed Moon Is A Harsh Mistress as much as I do… but I’m realistic. Of the hardcover “classics” on my shelf, I suspect the only one (aside from the Annotated Sherlock Holmes that she’d begun reading) she might have liked is Mists of Avalon. But the fact that she read — and read quite a lot — was good enough for me.
Interestingly, the first Heinlein book I read was Stranger In A Strange Land. I was 9 or 10. I thought it was pretty cool, and it encouraged me to seek out more SFF books at the library. I re-read it again in high school. Oh myyyy, as Uncle George says. Certain things went WAY over my 9/10 year old head… but 15 year old me… Well. Oh myyyy!
For a different reason that those mentioned above, some of my favorite “sf” books are in the Commander Toad series by Jane Yolen – my then-four-year-old loved them. He, however, has moved to the Tolkien camp.
OK, hope I’m not going off-topic here, but I want to say THANKS to everyone in the Whatever Usual Suspects Krewe (WUSK) as well as to our esteemed host for helping me parse out Something About Heinlein I’ve been struggling to articulate for years. And… bear with me, John… maybe this epiphany adds a perspective to Athena’s “Heinlein… meh” response.
Like John & others, I read and like Heinlein even while recognizing the distinctly uneven quality of the writing and the ever-more-obviously-dated conceptual McGuffins. Those don’t bother me. Nor, once I identified the pronounced sociopolitical biases, did they bother me much. I skipped the preachy bits and kept reading The Story, because if there was one thing RAH could pretty consistently do, it was Tell The Story.
But something did always bother me, and was at the heart of my reading less-and-less, and sensing that yeah, some of the critics Had a Point on the “sexism” thing. And you know, I read the Spider Robinson apology, and all the stuff about “But, but, but… SUPERWOMEN! Heinlein’s women had SEX! and MATH! and MINDS! So… he COULDN’T be sexist!”
Looking over the litany of Heinlein Superwomen, though, it occurs to me: None of them has a flaw. Other than temporary, lovable, eccentric twists of personality. Oh, and occasionally being just adorably stubborn and self-willed, except that of course they ultimately Recognize and Trust the overriding wisdom and authority of whatever Heinlein avatar is populating the protagonist role, if it’s one of those stories.
But, none of them is conflicted, wrestles with deep human feelings of self-doubt or resentment, none of them has to overcome unlovable, unsexy flaws like real vanity or selfishness or arrogance or insensitivity. So, they’re still two-dimensional cardboard cutouts, not real women. So… sexist, yep.
Now, Heinlein does this to his *male* characters a lot, too. But not invariably. There are plenty, like Lorenzo Smythe, Waldo, the “Unheavenly” Stone twins, etc., who are real, three-dimensional human beings with serious character flaws that cause them trouble, and sometimes even provoke regret, change, and personal growth.
But finally, all the noodling here about Heinlein over the last couple of days, has made me realize why, for all my appreciation of the great RAH storytelling talent, I just wouldn’t expect a young woman born and raised amid 3rd-wave feminist culture to give him the time of day. There really isn’t much there for her.
Heinlein was one of my father’s favorites, along with Asimov. I don’t know if I found them in the library or he pointed me to them . He definitely pointed me to Moon is a Harsh Mistress and Stranger as two of Heinlein’s best. I’m almost 50 and when I read them he was in his 50s. He had read them when they were brand new.
I had a similar experience with my son. I loved juvenile Heinlein when I was young. Even today I think novels like Tunnel in the Sky and Double Star are better novels than the pretentious adult books he wrote. (The one exception being “The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag which I think is superb.”) So excitedly, I pushed them on him when he was 13 or so. The result was disappointing. It was hard, I think, for a boy who had been raised on the irony of Douglas Adams to be much impressed with Heinlein’s earnest invocations. The only one that “spoke to him” was “Citizen of the Galaxy.”
I will never understand how anyone, regardless of age, can NOT love The Phantom Tollbooth. De gustibus non disputandum notwithstanding.
“Shambleau” is one of the all-time great vampire stories.
@ursulav: Hee! I wonder how that movie holds up these days.
Also loved Dragonlance. Well, mostly. I really liked huge bits of it, but oh my god speaking of issues with women, the only likeable female character in the whole damn thing was flagrantly evil. (Tika was okay except when she was being the Unrealistically Innocent Barmaid and the narrative was burbling on about the “terrible, wonderful mystery between men and women” and speeyak.)
And also TANIS. Dude. For the love of Paladine’s shiny balls, pick a side and SLEEP–I mean STICK WITH IT. And stop fucking angsting. Both sides of your moral dilemma slash identity crisis are conveniently personified by hot chicks, so SUCK IT UP, EMO KID.
…apparently I still have a lot of feelings about this. ;)
My experience is similar to some others here — my daughters are both avid readers, but I’m more likely to discover writers by reading books they love (Rainbow Rowell!) than they are to read and fall in love with favorites from my youth.
As long as they’re reading, I’m happy.
John, if you give Athena ‘The Star Beast’ you might have an interesting conversation about ‘well, why -don’t- kids have the right to divorce their parents yet?’
I pretty much cut my SF teeth on Poul Anderson, but I’d have a hard time specifically recommending any of his books to a teenager. ‘Fire Time’, maybe.
On the other hand, I dug out my copy of Heinlein’s “Space Cadet,” the other day and on the second page, there’s a point where Matt pulls his personal phone out of his pocket and calls his parents to say he’s arrived. I said, huh. And paged back to the copyright page. 1958. (A first printing, too!) At the time of writing, all phones were approximately the size and shape and not far from the weight of a cinderblock. Not to mention wired to the wall. I admire his prescience and wish the rest of his space-related predictions had come true as well.
I find the juveniles quite entertaining as they deal with what seems to me to be universal issues, albeit without a lot of modern angst, and of course all the protagonists are male. Except for Podkayne. But then I’m of a generation where we got used to boys doing stuff. I managed to relate anyway.
I don’t think they’re outdated so much as from a parallel universe. Some people can live there, and some don’t want to. That’s okay. That’s why there’s so much to read, so everyone can find what they want.
I’m a 33 y/o female. I started reading Heinlein when I was about 23. In that decade, I’ve found exactly 2 books of his that I /really/ enjoyed. Moon is a Harsh Mistress and Starship Troopers.
Everything else, while I can appreciate the writing style, I really hated the stories. Is it because I’m female and Heinlein was 1. “a product of his times” regarding women (sad, considering it’s supposed to be speculative fiction) and 2. couldn’t write a woman to save his life? Or is it because it’s just so generationally different? Or perhaps it’s because I read so much before getting to Heinlein that it just didn’t fit with what I knew I already enjoyed? Who knows. But the older I get, the more distaste I have for Heinlein. And OH GAWD the juvees… I have yet to make it all the way through anything besides Red Planet (which was fun).
FWIW, I cut my fantasy teeth on Wrinkle in Time in the 3rd grade, and proceeded to inhale the entire series and all the spinoff series. I’ve been reading quite a bit of YA lately and recently re-read Wrinkle in Time. It was awful. Does not stand the test of time. Or maybe I just have a higher bar for YA fiction now, comparing it to all the newer stuff? Read Dark is Rising series for the first time (never read it as a kid) and hated it too.
Aunti Laura: Heinlein’s ‘homophobia’? As evidenced – where?
Sympathy. My daughters are doing the same thing to me. However, (if she’s willing to try again) maybe try Podkayne, or Citizen of the Galaxy or Tunnel in the Sky? Starman Jones didn’t do much for me either (and I was a girl, too :). My victory of the day — getting reluctant daughters to watch Cosmos with us! And they liked it!
John Armstrong, et al.:
I’d actually like to avoid a very general discussion of Heinlein’s writing, please — let’s keep things more or less on topic.
I’ll agree that the technology in Heinlein’s works hasn’t aged well. The computer in Starman Jones is just Eniac hooked up to a starship, the atomic pile of his Future History series was just an over-sized chemical reaction, and the rolling roads are just the slidewalks from Chicago’s World’s Columbian Exposition writ large. Even the bits of technology that one might reasonably claim he got right (ATMs in the Door Into Summer, shareware in Let There Be Light, rockets in just about everything) were wildly wrong in the details (radioactive checks? Really?).
But the ideas in much of his writing (“What is moral for a society that is immoral for an individual?”, “Who watches the watchmen?” “What is love?”) still resonate today. Fortunately for those who don’t like Heinlein’s manner of asking the questions, there are plenty of authors out there who are willing and eager to rephrase Heinlein’s questions in new ways that perhaps will entertain. I doubt that Heinlein would mind; after all, he admitted that he stole all of his best material from others who stole it from folks before them.
What I do find amusing is that those of us who grew up reading Heinlein are now in the same position as Kip’s father in Have Spacesuit, Will Travel. As you may remember, Kip’s father enjoyed Three Men in a Boat and wanted Kip to enjoy it just as much, but Kip preferred to read other works and do other things. Perhaps Heinlein was having a bit of a laugh at the prospect of his future fandom?
While I find Starman Jones a guilty pleasure, even when I read it back in my Golden Age of Science Fiction (i.e., around the age of 13, maybe less), I had a tough time with the guild system, the readiness of Max to join in with Sam after Sam has stolen the astrogator books, and maybe the most incredible part, the total lack of vision with how we would be using computers in the future. I think that if I were a kid who basically grew up with hand-held computers and computer games, the whole deal with the printed book of astrogator tables, converting decimal readings into binary, etc, would just strain credulity too far. Not every book ages well, no matter which genre it’s in. If I were going to recommend a Heinlein novel to an young teenager, it would probably be Citizen of The Galaxy, Moon is a Harsh Mistress, Tunnel in the Sky or The Star Beast, but even then, I’m not sure how many of them would work for today’s kids.
@isabelcooper Oh my god, Tanis! Arrrrgh! YES. For god’s sake, do or don’t, but don’t WHINE about it!
I was all about Sturm. And Fizban. And Raistlin. None of them ever whined. And I think it was the first series I’d ever read where somebody went “Yup, I’m evil. And I’m okay with that. And nobody can stop me. Ciao!” Ten year old mind BLOWN.
Alas. Some childhood loves are better never, ever, ever, being re-read.
Loved Rose of the Prophet about that era too (talk about problematic–never dared to re-read that one either…)
Thank you, I think I’ve wanted to vent about this to someone for approximately 27 years.
It’s not surprising. Writing techniques have changed, basic assumptions have changed, and so books today are different than they were sixty years ago.
This isn’t bad. It’s just life.
Couldn’t get my son to give Heinlein the time of day, but when Neal Stephenson came along, we jumped in head first together … so although I still wish I could have gotten him to read Citizen of the Galaxy and The Star Beast, I can’t really complain. Actually, I love Starman Jones too, but I think Athena might relate better to the former two.
Actually, in this post-Hunger Games age, Tunnel in the Sky might not be a bad choice …
Reblogged this on Kristin King Author and commented:
Interesting thoughts on Heinlein and authors’ appeal for generations. I am reblogging because it relates to Heinlein’s Rules for Writing which I often see quoted and I blogged them earlier.
Hmm. My home, growing up, had Analog going back before my birth (1965 or so), some Heinlein (and I got the rest at school), a wide collection of the rest (Dune series, most of the Hugo winners from the 70s, etc). Also classics into the 60s, 50s, 40s, and earlier (Jules Verne, “20,000 Leagues under the Sea”, “Mysterious Island”, “From the Earth to the Moon” anyone? HG Wells’ “War of the Worlds”?). All of it spoke to me in different ways at different times; Doris Lessing’s “Canopus” series never clicked preteen or teen, though something tells me I should try again one of these years; Dune was epic on first read. I tried Simarilarion when I was a freshman in high school and came away confused, though LOTR had been enjoyed immensely a few years earlier. Heinlein classics were go-to books in downtime in the school libraries from grade school. I liked mixing “fluff” with deeper things, which I didn’t always get, but at least was aware that there were adult ideas being discussed and accessible as I could start looking at them.
@ursulav: Ha! I know, right? We need some kind of support group.
Kitiara was also fairly awesome. Yes, evil, but evil came with a big blue dragon and an army and a dark elf, which is a pretty sweet benefits package.
I liked Raistlin okay in the first trilogy, but then he was all “I didn’t have a date for the prom so I’ma kill off all the gods and make the universe suck” in the second one, and good Lord. Oh, God, and Chrysiana. WHAT THE FUCK WOMAN. Is there a requirement that one person per trilogy has a Crotch of Opposite Alignment?
I couldn’t get my kids to read much science fiction or fantasy when they were young although my daughter loved and still loves Patricia McKillip – her Riddle Master Series is one of my all time favorites. My son reads everything and introduced us to Patrick Rothfuss and that led us to reading some of the “newer writers” and now I have read all of John Scalzi’s work. I gravitated more towards non-fiction but in the past 5 years have been moving back into exploring the genre as it is proven that the writers today are as good or even surpass who I thought were the “God” writers: Clarke, Heinlein, Asimov, Zelazny, Bester, etc, etc.
Would be nice to get my granddaughters to read sci fi/fantasy but so far it’s been a losing battle.
As others have commented, I think the gender issues are likely to be the biggest hurdle. Much of that era of Sci-Fi has issues with gender roles being so completely outdated now (in progressive parts of society, at least) that almost none of the characters are ones I identify with. The military stuff holds up the best for me, because I can still believe in a world where the military is a bastion of machismo… but I think even that will feel really dated in a decade or two.
Its not just Heinlein, by any means. I was reading Le Guin’s Word for World is Forest recently, and the gender dynamics just felt like a historical piece. I found myself reading it the way I read a medieval primary source rather than as a novel.
In many ways I think the way to get younger people to read much of the classic stuff is likely to be as history rather than as pure enjoyment, assuming that they are at all historically minded. You can learn a lot about why modern things are the way they are from reading how they used to be.
I am reminded of my own discovery of one of my early SF reads back at my hometown library where I first read it. Asimov’s Lucky Starr series do not hold up very well.
Would you suggest someone re-writing some of the Heinlein juveniles like you did with Fuzzy Nation?
I love Shel Silverstein, grew up on him and Suess!
But I fall more toward Athena’s camp than yours. My reading tastes are very modern and I have less than no interest in the classical forms. I have fought my way through many of them, either for class, for friends, or to be able to say ‘I’ve read that,’ but in the end, it’s Artimes Fowel, The Sight, and Animorphs that got me into reading. The Name of the Wind and The Warded Man keep me here.
I wonder what others think about books that have, or will stand the test of time.
It seems to me the right stuff is will probably include
1. largely free of current cultural, social & political context.
2. The technology must be a) in the background or b) unlikely to be superceeded in the near term real-world
SciFi Allegory is probably safe on both counts.
I really liked Heinlein as a pre-teen and teenager (40+ years ago), but doubt that I could read him now with any real enjoyment. I haven’t tried in decades. However, during my college years I was fairly fond of, and impressed by, H.P. Lovecraft. I read some of his work over again (and some stuff I’d never read) within the past decade – and discovered to my surprise that, heretical as this may seem in some circles, Lovecraft is a really bad writer. I expect the same may apply to Heinlein, in addition to which his right-wing ideology would annoy me a great deal more today than it did four decades ago. It’s not just youth taste that changes over time.
You do realize that Heinlein has become a guilty pleasure for many of us “oldsters (59 here).
John, we see the point, but many of us see the failings, and are now unwilling to admit that we like hem (accept to folks our own age).
Science fiction? 
Asimov’s Foundationtrilogy has stood up surprisingly (if a bit … odd from a cultural perspective)
but as “aged beyond all expecations” goes I’d hand the prize to Schmitz’s Hub tales. He came closer to the Internet and a lot of information-technology social aspects than just about anyone from the time around 1960.
Dune. Stop there — the sequels retroactively redefine everything and, not only in my opinion , for the worse.
After that, Piper’s Paratime stories have aged quite well. His space fiction slightly less so, but still quite readable.
Anderson’s Technic Civilization has done pretty well. Some very good stories in there, but I was always a bit disappointed by the feeling that he could have written an absolute Best Ever — and didn’t quite bother to.
Garrett’s Lord Darcy tales.
Sprague de Camp’s just-about-anything
Depending on taste, Howard’s Conan and Kull tales. No subtlety but fun.
Somewhere in between:
McCaffrey’s Pern tales. Publication order.
Most of my library is packed up for moving, else …
 Bear in mind that quite a few of these are in my library as original magazine serials. Eat your hearts out.
 Hunt down P. Schuyler Miller’s review of Dune Messiah — which he published in Analog, which also published Dune and many of its sequels. Props to Campbell for encouraging the disagreement — but that old bastard always did love an argument.
What works of science fiction do I still feel are as fresh today as they were when published?
Well, at the top of the list are the Zenna Henderson “People” stories.
Cordwainer Smith’s work, some of Bradbury’s stuff.
Possibly Stasheff “Warlock” stories.
Surgeon. Dockson’s “Childe” books.
that’s a start..
@ Kevin (The one exception being “The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag which I think is superb.”)
That is a good one. In lesser hands the Sons of the Bird would have been hokey as hell, but that story still resonates.
I’m an old Heinlein fan (60 this coming August) who enjoyed pretty much every word RAH ever wrote. I started with The Rolling Stones, which I discovered in elementary school after devouring the Tom Swift Jr. books as a preschooler. I jumped straight to the Future History from there, wandered back through all the juveniles, and then came to the Moon is a Harsh Mistress — my favorite of all Heinlein books and perhaps my Favorite Book Ever. I wanted so much to live in Heinlein’s Luna City. I still do.
I don’t have problems with things like tables of numbers and slide rules for astrogation, atomic piles driving near light speed space vessels, or other things some of your kids have found quaint or off-putting — any more than steam-powered flight and difference engines bothers me in a steampunk story. Those books are from an alternate reality now — one that can never exist. But in most cases I don’t see they’ve lost their ability to entertain.
Maybe when we present favorites to our progeny (of which I have none, so take this with an entire 40-pound salt lick, if you wish), we can’t help but telegraph what we think they should like about them. Even knowing the fact that these stories are important to us changes the way the next generation looks at our old favorites. They may return to these books later, though, and see different things in them than we saw.
Meanwhile, I think this thread has made me want to go back and reread all the juveniles again. I hope they are all available in eBook format these days…
Citizen of the Galaxy ages well in part because of the lack of technological detail, and in part because there really aren’t any foreground women. The secondary ones are either matriarchs or dungeon guides.
Tunnel in the Sky does OK precisely because of the reversion to primitive society. It’s easier to accept a stone-age social order when people are forced to revert to the stone age. (Also the usual Heinlein woman isn’t really front and center for long.)
Surprisingly, though, my sons inhaled the Doc Smith space operas (and damn near everything else) before they were twelve — and that’s over a thousand books. Heinlein? Yeah, they got read too but curiously the older stuff was more to the kids’ taste. By the time they were ten they were inhaling Honor Harrington and more modern military SF.
My daughter? Loves most things with strong female protagonists (no shock if you knew her — no patience for anyone who isn’t front and center when the bell rings.) Which, alas, leaves out an awful lot of SFF even today. She does utterly love Patricia McKillip, though. Now that she has her PhD and MRS I’m planning the reading list for the grandkids she’s threatening me with.
My son did enjoy the Heinlein juveniles, not so long ago (he’s 19 now), so they haven’t completely aged out, at least for male readers. He liked the Lloyd Alexander Prydain series better.
We (mostly I) read The Hobbit and the entire Lord of the Rings to them as bedtime stories when he was in 2nd grade. LotR took about 4.5 months as a chapter or so each night. Mostly, it read very well, except for the long committee meetings (one in each story) and a few longer high-falutin’ speeches in the last book.
One trick for read-aloud stories — read something harder than they can read themselves. They can understand more complicated words and ideas than they can read for a while. So stretch those young brains and make them want to read more complicated stuff.
I read Heinlein in my mid to late teens (back in the 1980s), and my introduction to Heinlein was actually through a lot of his doorstops rather than the juveniles. I think the first book of his I read through was “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress”, which remains my favourite simply for the way he portrays a very different culture and the way he gets the “damned colonial” mindset right (I’m white Australian – our culture and history are the nearest thing this planet gets to the loonies, and yeah, he struck the right cultural echoes there). Plus the way he played with language and dialect was very interesting and believable.
But yeah, I didn’t actually get around to reading the juveniles until much later in my time reading Heinlein (I ploughed through the doorstops and a lot of the newer stuff first), and when I did get around to reading them, I actually found them disappointing (too “Boys Own”, a lot of them). I think the only one of the juveniles I actually liked was “Time for the Stars” (if that’s the one based around the illustration of the “twin paradox” of faster-than-light travel with the telepathic twins). “Podkayne of Mars” was okay, but Poddy came across as somewhat silly, and it didn’t take much reading to realise the real “hero” of the story was her obnoxious younger brother. Given I’d been raised Christian, and I’d spent a lot of my childhood reading about the triumph of obnoxious younger brothers from Abel on forward, and given I was the older sister with an obnoxious younger brother myself… well, it kinda lost me at that point.
So, given my own experience, I’d suggest maybe handing her stuff like “Stranger in a Strange Land” or “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress” or even “Job: A Comedy of Justice”. The juveniles… well, I’d leave those until she’s old enough to understand the nostalgia buzz people get from watching re-runs of “Lost In Space” or the old William Hartnell episodes of “Dr Who”.
 As a kid who’s actually growing up in Bible Belt USA, she may find this one rather more relatable than I did.
@isabelcooper Oh, older and wiser me that no longer finds angst cute wouldn’t give him the time of day. But that one did have Bupu, and I’ll give ’em props even now for the key to an evil wizard’s soul not being the love of a Lawful Good woman, but a gully dwarf with a magic dead lizard.
But yeah, they were big on doomed love, weren’t they? Either somebody was EEEEEEVIL or somebody was secretly a dragon. Nobody ever just got to go on a date.
@Tom: By your criteria, I’d say most of Heinlein’s early pulp “Future History” stories would qualify: aside from the odd anachronisms like slide rules and everyone smoking cigarettes, I think a modern reader could very easily see the stories within their own frame of reference.
John, would it be OK if I link to my comment in the other thread on Heinlein’s homophobia, to answer John Armstrong’s question? Not to have that discussion here, just to say where we found it? I won’t unless you give the goahead.
I spent recess from 4th grade on hunched over a book – often, but not always, a Heinlein juvenile. My dad and I really connected over Bradbury; I read The Illustrated Man, and when the movie came out he took me to it, even though it was rated R and I was 9. We bonded again over LOTR.
Xopher: linking would be fine.
My wife was trying to talk my eleven-year-old son into reading A Wrinkle in Time this evening. Her school is doing a big project on the book, so it is fresh in her mind. My son is currently uninterested, even though I am certain that he would like it. The situation is fixable, as a long car ride and an audiobook often cure literary reluctance.
John Armstrong, this comment gives a couple of examples of Heinlein’s homophobia. Start with the third paragraph (“As for Heinlein…”).
It may have already been mentioned elsewhere in this thread (if so, then consider this vouching for that comment):
Some people will grow into books outside of their generation later. At least I did. Some books I didn’t “get” as a teenager I liked more when I revisited them in my 40s. Heinlein is a good example. I didn’t get all that much out of him in 9th grade (which was two years after Star Wars came out). I got more out of him in college when I read Stranger In A Strange Land (which I loved). And I’m now reading some of the juveniles I didn’t get into as a teen (including Starman Jones) and mostly enjoying them.
Oddly, I always preferred Heinlein’s short story collections–The Man Who Sold the Moon and The Green Hills of Earth–to his novels, this despite reading Rocket Ship Galileo in the second grade. Not sure I’d recommend The Door into Summer to a teen-aged girl. Heinlein’s sexual politics are a particularly squicky in that one (sexually mature stepmother=evil, pre-adolescent girl=good=future bride…).
On a side note, does anyone else remember fondly the old Groff Conklin anthologies? My school library had a ton of ’em, and I think I read them all, along with Kingsley Amis & Robert Conquest’s Spectrum series.
My son liked The Phantom Tollbooth quite a lot, but I was heart-broken when he dropped The Chronicles of Prydain right in the middle of the series. I’d waited to give those books to him when he was the same age as me when I fell in love with them.
He likes his own thing. He used to be crazy for Greg Van Eekhout’s stuff, like Kid vs. Squid. At the moment, it’s Hyperbole and a Half.
As for my books, he can barely get past the second chapter of my first novel and hasn’t tried another since. Tough room.
I think A Wrinkle in Time and the Dark is Rising books are ones you have to get into as kids. My mom taught me to read with them (and Prydain) and when I read them I feel connected to my childhood self. People who came to them older are just reading them, and can see the flaws without the glow. My plan is introduce the books when he is the same age as the youngest protagonist. I also sort of left it at those 3 for awhile and devoured my parents giant National Geographic collection until my mom brought home Alanna the First Adventure. After that I LIVED int he SF&F section of our local library- which was actually quite extensive and very pro ILL so I was very lucky there. My son will be able to just borrow the ebook for many books at the library- pretty cool I think.
I mostly spend my time at anime cons now and I have noticed that friends I have that are much older fans are often people who both kept reading current SF&F and Anime/Manga and were as willing to try my suggestion as theirs; even if we don’t always like the same things we still share our excitement over them with each other.
It is definitely a course I hope to follow in introducing my son to books, though it will likely be harder than I think when he dismisses a favorite of mine with stronger words than ‘not that one Mommy’ I hope he’ll like some of them- My friend teaches elementary school and when she got moved to 4th graders she found they were very into First Test (the first Kel book from Pierce) and it filled us with glee. I hope I’ll get that feeling with him on at least a few books.
A correction to the parental unit:
Actually, while the first books I ever read were Smith, the books which I feel were most formative for me were from the late-40’s through the mid-60’s, as opposed to the pre-War stuff. Heinlein (just the Juveniles, though; none of that later… stuff), Piper, Clarke, Schmitz, Niven (again, the early stuff and especially the short stories), Laumer, and Asimov were all names for which I made comprehensive sweep of lumbercartel’s (rather large, often boxed, and almost never sorted due to parental politics) library, and city and county libraries when that failed. Piper and Heinlein, in particular, remain in my top five favorite authors of all time. The modern stuff never really influenced me like the older stuff did (with the possible exception of Weber). Heinlein’s ideas and explorations, Asimov and Piper’s heart, Schmitz’s ambiance and whimsy, Laumer’s humor, and Clarke and Niven’s concepts… All of these are what form the standard by which I judge science fiction. Quite frankly, I find stuff from that 30-year period far more… fulfilling than the more modern stuff.
Not That Frank @ March 13, 2014 at 1:20 am Not sure I’d recommend The Door into Summer to a teen-aged girl. Heinlein’s sexual politics are a particularly squicky in that one (sexually mature stepmother=evil, pre-adolescent girl=good=future bride…).
While I agree about evil stepmother part, note that it should be “pre-adolescent girl=good=past and future bride…”. He knows for a fact that they are already married in the future when he goes to the past so she can propose.
It seems to me that books that are more _obviously_ date hold up better than something that feels like “the past’s idea of the future”. I feel (and my 18-year old nephew agrees with me) that Verne has aged much better than Asimov. Both of us actively disliked RAH, by the way. (*BURN THE HERETIC!*)
There are exceptions, of course. My nephews and I bonded over our shared love for Arthur C Clarke (Rendezvous with Rama, the Space Odyssey books) and worshiped at the altar of Tintin.
Perhaps we should wait for another few decades when RAH / Asimov / Clarke become as old to then-readers as Verne is to us today. They should find new readers just as Verne found one in me.
Definitely an interesting observation. I remember raiding my parent’s bookcase when I was an a pre-teen and teen in the 70s and early 80s. Some of the SF and F books there spoke to me (and launched me on a lifelong love affair with the genre), while others didn’t so much. In hindsight, a lot of the books I got into were more recently written at the time (I found CJ Cherryh, Ursula K. LeGuin and Anne McCaffrey there). Many of my favorites were women, but I also loved Fritz Leiber and the Elric books. I do remember enjoying the Heinlein Juveniles when I was younger (purchased for my brother who never liked reading much), though his treatment of girl characters was a bit annoying. But Jack Vance and Pohl Anderson, two of my dad’s faves? I just didn’t get into them as much. Not sure why. They didn’t speak to me, I guess.
I’ve tried to pass some of my own childhood favorites on to my nieces and nephews. Some they’ve liked, but not all are. I’ve also tried to send them some newer kids’ SF and F books. Coraline was a hit.
So yeah, each generation will probably have their own taste, though some classic books still sell well and have a wide audience. So kids vary in which of the older ones they like too. I teach at a college, and I’m actually surprised by how well versed many of my students are in the pop culture of my own intemperate youth. Some even get passing Monty Python and Hitchhiker’s Guide references. I suspect the internet and the 24-7 cable TV cycle has something to do with this. It was a lot harder to get our hands on older books, music and movies when we were younger. Now most of it’s just a mouse click away.
Your daughter’s taste may converge more with yours as she matures also. I know I like a lot of stuff now that I wouldn’t have been caught dead listening to, reading or watching at 16, or even 30. The older I get, the more I find I have in common with my folks.
I think A Wrinkle in Time is one of my formative books; I always come back to it as the pinnacle of simple, powerful, imaginative, spiritual-without-being-preachy storytelling. I distinctly remember coiling clay around a styrofoam ball to fashion IT for a report; it was probably 1997, and I was in 7th grade. Her other ones are great, but I always preferred the Murry/O’Keefe books to the Austins. I remember reading The Dark Is Rising over a while, but it uses one of my least-favorite tropes: having the heroes forget about the adventure. Aaaaall that character development, out the window. UGH. Read Phantom Tollbooth in 6th grade. I remember liking it a lot, but I never reread it.
I don’t think those books were any less out-dated in the ’90s, but I guess the YA landscape has changed, so maybe they are. Don’t lose hope! I sometimes go back and read YA books that seem interesting; she might come back to them someday with new eyes. I read Margaret Peterson Haddix’s Running Out of Time back in the day; I wonder if it inspired Shyamalan’s The Village? (I haven’t seen The Village.) Haven’t read her new stuff.
Just be glad she’s not reading Piers Anthony; that’s what I found in my library in high school. I don’t think I ever want to revisit those: my first foray into grown-up-ish fantasy. Mercedes Lackey- hers are very hit or miss, although the Bedlam’s Bard series is fun, as are The Black Swan and the Elemental Masters. Get her on some Diana Wynne Jones- Dark Lord of Derkholm takes on fantasy tropes hilariously. The Enchanted Forest Chronicles are some of my favorite nostalgic ones; Mark Reads is doing them and it is taking me back something fierce. Major fantasy subversions, best female characters, the works. Kickass heroines today probably owe a lot to Cimorene. (Not really sci-fi? The definitions are so fuzzy. I was always more interested in princesses acting outside of their well-worn story roles than sci-fi.) Is she a Pratchett fan?
I didn’t read my first Heinlein until very recently: Stranger in a Strange Land. I enjoyed it, but felt like he was trying to make a point I’m not sure I got, with the swinger kind of attitude in it.
Anyway. I love getting nostalgic about the books I loved. Maybe someday more will cycle back around.
I have to admit I really hated most of Heinleins juvenile books, Starman Jones was actually one of the better ones. Contrary to that I loved most of his adult novels with the exception of Farnhams Oasis…. I never managed to get through the whole book because each character is someone I would hate to meet.
The reason was rather simple: I do not mind a male protagonist but the way almost all female characters are presented (silly, non-thinking girl, antagonistic mother), and the only young strong female character I can remember in his juveniles (Podcayne) has to die because of her moronic brother….. beware a girl ever actually achiving her aspiration to become a “spaceman”
One issue is that the kids who read Heinlein were only a few years from leaving school and going into the world of work (for my generation in the UK university was still only for 10%), and all the juveniles are about entering the world of work. For Athena that’s possibly a decade away.
I loved the juveniles. Someone has said “no women” in Starman Jones, but of course that’s wrong. One of the things I loved about them is that the heroine *didn’t* marry the hero: first love is not final love.
I’ve quickly scanned the comment thread, so if someone’s already mentioned this and I missed it, apologies –
I’d recommend checking out Janet Edward’s Earth Girl and Earth Star books as good, current, relevant-to-teens SF.
I think a lot of things have changed (obviously) between when Heinlein wrote and nowadays. Social context is the obvious one, but I think another difference is writing *style*.
I mean, my introductions to fantasy and sci-fi were Narnia and Animorphs, respectively. And even given the wildly differing subject matter, there are very distinct differences in how the books were written. Narnia tended towards omniscience; Animorphs was a lot tighter to the individual (which couldn’t be helped, since they were written in first person — but the narrators didn’t do a lot of theoretical rambling, it was all about the action). I noticed it with Tolkein, too; there’s a very clear sense of…detachment, I guess. Whereas more modern stories seem more personal, and if you grow up reading that kind of writing, then the older stuff just seems tangled and dense.
Besides which, Animorphs taught me to expect well-realised female characters in the main cast, which may have hampered my ability to get into older fiction of any sort.
I have maybe the opposite problem. I grew up in libraries, which mean the vast majority of books I read were older. The “new” fiction I was reading was mostly a decade old. Which means that I’ve grown up with clear tastes and preferences for 1980s style of fiction, and don’t really enjoy the current trends because of it. I’ve seen my generation’s books and don’t really enjoy most of them.
BTW, Spawn, I think 30 is finally an age where you can be trusted with the Astounding collection. Once I get moved and you finish the MS, I’ll set up a reading room where you can check them out.
No-one has mentioned William Tenn for some reason, so I thought I would.
Joy Chant’s Red Moon and Black Mountain uses that trope at the end — and then destroys it in one of my favorite speeches from all of fantasy:
Come to think of it, Athena might like that one.
I find myself picking up more and more YA authors and loving them as an adult. Especially John Green (misspelled in the post above), Riordan, Suzanne Collins, and Neil Gaiman – the last of which has books for every age imaginable. I’m starting to read Gaiman’s kids books to my four-year-old. I love keeping abreast of the new talent that’s out there, and I’m very interested to see what my children end up loving and exploring it myself someday.
Re: Dark is Rising: Yes! Stephen King does the same thing a lot, and while I like his books in general, I loathe that trope. Especially in IT, where it makes me cry.
@ursulav: Yeah, Bupu is solid awesome.
And yes! I also remember finding the dragon/humanoid romance completely doofy back then–They’re giant lizards! We’re tiny and squishy and hairy! How is any sexual attraction happening here at all? Are the Noble Pure Silver Dragon Chicks actually the dragon equivalent of that guy who “married” his horse?*–which is…ironic now, to say the least.
Loved Phantom Tollbooth. That and David and the Phoenix were the books Dad tried to read to us, and failed not because we lost interest but because I found where he hid them and read the rest of the story myself. Take *that*, delayed gratification! (Mom had more success with the Borrowers novels, and indeed the first Prydain book, but Mom is generally more devious.)
*I now want a scene where Pyrite (I think? Fizban’s gold dragon…) talks to Silvara with the sucked-teeth “YKIOK, I…guess…but…maybe don’t talk about it so much?” expression of someone whose conversational companion is really into scat or extreme piercings.
Auntie Laura: I was going to make the same post a few days ago, when the Heinlein discussions started. I read Stranger multiple times as a high school and undergraduate boy in the 90s. But I tried to read it again last year and there’s just too much baggage. It’s interesting that so much of the 1960s sci-fi can be technologically ripe yet culturally expired.
John, if you want to have some real fun with her, you should hand her the Skylark of Space! I first read that back in the mid 70s when I was her age and I remember thinking “this whole thing is completely ludicrous”, but I just couldn’t put it down – it was kind of a deer in the headlights thing. And after that I punched through the whole Lensman series as well (which really gets out there near the end). They didn’t really “speak to me”, but they’re so over the top, “jumping the shark” with such abandon, that they become a type of art all their own. I’m reminded of something Orson Welles once said to Johnny Carson one night on the Tonight Show: “I hate television. I hate it as much as peanuts. But I can’t stop eating peanuts!”
Yeah, I couldn’t get into a lot of old science fiction because I had a higher enjoyment threshold if a book or series was going to be sexist or misogynist. I can’t get into heinlin. Couldn’t continue with xanth or pern after the third books. Oddly enjoyed reteif because it is so over the top. (Though I think I’m finally getting rid of the series instead of saving it for my kids.)
I loved a wrinkle in time age six. Not so much rereading it age 35. Obviously it was influential, but after reading smoother stuff that borrows from it, it seems hopelessly clunky without the mind-blown payoff. I remember it as being much better. So amazing as an intro to the genre, only of historical interest if you’ve already read widely.
Jay, I think you may have discovered the uncanny valley of SFF: stuff that’s really, really dated reads fine because you have no choice but to read it in the context of its time (Jane Austen, Longfellow, etc. same principle.) Stuff that’s just a bit dated, on the other hand, is disturbing — you keep reading it as contemporary but the anachronisms jar you as you go over them.
I’m afraid now to re-read Advise and Consent and To Kill a Mockingbird for that very reason.
I don’t find it that strange that kids aren’t very interested in 60 year-old SF that was already showing its age 30 years ago, but it seems to me that they are also less willing to read stuff that is 30 years old than I was 30 years ago.
I suppose that one reason might be that quite a bit of the future happened in those 30 years. Bujold’s Vorkosigan books are still taking place in a world where wireless devices are for voice, and machines for accessing data are plugged in.
I also suspect that there is simply more newer stuff to be had than there was 30 years ago.
I also get the feeling that there is more expectation of newness now.
I worked with a guy who is 10 years younger than me who just didn’t understand that I sometimes enjoyed music and movies older than me. The notion that something might be classic just bounced off.
Is the Harry Potter of 1997 already ancient history?
Maybe everyone who enjoys Mozart is a vampire.
In 8th grade, my favorite teacher read Lloyd Alexander’s “Book of Three” series with us. Did voices for all the characters, often way over the top. We were all probably of an age where this should have seen a lot of snarky, sarcastic responses from hormonal 13 year-olds. Fortunately, the teacher’s love of the material, and just the fact the he was an awesome teacher, left the class fascinated.
I was really excited when I read the book to my 10 year-old, and she couldn’t wait to dive into the sequels.
Don’t be so sure. One of the other spawn took copies of my music CDs to school with her (yes, pre-iPod) and was bopping along listening between classes. A friend asked what she was listening to, so $DAUGHTER passed the earbuds. Friend listened for a bit, started tapping toes on the threshold of dancing, then reluctantly passed the earbuds back.
“What is that?” asked friend.
“Some of my Dad’s music,” replies $DAUGHTER
“What’s the name of it?”
“In the Mood, by someone called Glen Miller.”
There’s sales resistance to “old stuff,” but that doesn’t mean people don’t like it when they’re exposed.
I am surprised to see that Jack Vance has not been mentioned on this comment thread yet. I think his works are true timeless classics, especially the Demon Princes pentology.
I also think that Philip Jose Farmer’s Riverworld series has a lot to recommend it; having the characters mostly be heroes of the past is a wonderful conceit.
Van Vogt I think ages better than Doc Smith, because the books are written more tightly.
As far as my favorite Heinlein, I think “Assignment in Eternity” is a great entry to the man’s work. I still like reading about secret cabals who work together to increase their brain power.
TImely post, as I recently introduced my own 11 year old daughter to the Heinlein juveniles. She reads a lot of fantasy and enjoys science, so I suggested trying some science fiction. (Curiously, although there is a lot of middle-grade fantasy there is not so much SF.) She started out with RED PLANET, followed by FARMER IN THE SKY, then HAVE SPACESUIT WILL TRAVEL. All of them she enjoyed a lot. The juveniles are all available for the Kindle which makes things easy. Oddly, I never read the juveniles myself — I went straight to DOOR INTO SUMMER as a teenager.
Just my own experience, but I’m in my 40’s and didn’t get around to reading Heinlein until I was in my mid 20’s. I worked my way through all of the Heinlein books that my local library and my older brother had, largely to be sure I wasn’t missing any hidden gems that my friends had been assuring me for years I would find. Reading them when I did, I came away thinking, “What’s the big deal?”
I enjoyed and bought a copy of Farnham’s Freehold, and found a few others to be nice, light fare for plane trips, but most of his books I didn’t care for, and a few of them I actively can’t stand. Obviously, my experience differs from a lot of others, but I do think some of the attraction of Heinlein may depend on when you start you reading his stuff.
I have had the same experience with my boy / girl twins, 9 years old. They are both avid, advanced for their age readers, but the majority of books I recommend to them don’t interest them.
In particular I have tried some of my old favorite Heinlein juveniles, The Rolling Stones and The Red Planet. Left to sit on the coffee table after a chapter or two. Many other older authors as well, not just Heinlein.
There have been a few successes though. Some of Harry Harrison’s Stainless Steel Rat books, and David Eddings Belgariad and Mallorean series were hits. Come to think of it, a common theme with my successfull suggestions seems to be a certain type of smart ass humor.
Xopher – thanks for the link. To the point of discussion here, If I think about it, I have much the same reaction to the early Golden Age or just pre-GA SF. I can’t see why it’s so loved, though many writers I admire greatly feel about it the way I feel about RAH and the Campbell/Astounding era writers I fell in love with when I was a kid. Or friends who love pulp-era stuff. I can’t read it at all.
Hard to believe Wrinkle in Time has trouble resonating today. That really makes me feel old, that and the sudden deduction that I read it 40+ years ago.
As the lady said when she kissed the pig, it’s all a matter of taste. That and the relentless march of the years
I had pretty much the same reaction to the Heinlein juvies: OK, but they didn’t really speak to me.
And I’m not only older than Athena is, I’m older than her father is.
So this may not be entirely a generational thing.
Youth of today… I’ve tried (without success) to get my 11-year-old interested in The Phantom Tollbooth, A Wrinkle in Time, even The Eyes of the Dragon, but nope. I’ve had limited success with older books that I love — he did enjoy The Hobbit and the Narnia books (mostly). Maybe these older books have a timeless feel that the books of my youth haven’t achieved — yet? He’s just started the 1st book in the Dark is Rising sequence… and does not seem impressed, although he hasn’t given it much of a chance yet.
Heinlein books are the warm blanky I snuggle under when I want to be comforted – my dad gave me Podkayne to read in middle school (I don’t know my exact age) and I raced through the rest of his books. I have Heinlein-blinders – I know there are issues with some themes and stories he wrote, but I don’t care.
Reading this made me think about how delighted my dad must have been when I loved one of his authors. He passed away a few years ago, and the tick tick tick of Poddy’s heels always reminds me of him.
Athena might enjoy some of L’Engle’s more adult books and work her way back to A Wrinkle In Time someday when she gets around to it. Or maybe via Vicky Austin, although I suspect those books are under her reading level.
I just hope when my kid gets older, we can read Hitchhiker’s Guide together. And we use Shel Silverstein poems as bedtime stories now and then.
Just FYI, I’m 26, I didn’t start Heinlein until I was 21, and I adore him. I just don’t think it is correct to decide whether or not a writer of his magnitude is “accessible” based on your generational identity. People may like or dislike or worship or despise him but that is, as with everything else, a matter of taste, and there are good, meaningful aesthetic, substantive, and contextual justifications for all of those positions. But it just has never made sense to me to say “oh, you’re young, you must not like Heinlein.”
Setting aside the work of true geniuses like Dickens or Moliere, what about, I don’t know, Walker Percy? His writing is intimately bound up with America at a cultural-malaise turning point and I didn’t live through that experience at all, he’s basically writing what amounts to science fiction for me, but I love his books maybe precisely because they allow me to access and examine that distinctive and different worldview, context, place-of-mind. Or even inside the genre, why do we obsess about whether Heinlein has aged and not ask the same about Clarke? Why do we think speculative writing has these impenetrable, hermetically sealed periods when no one would ever suggest it’s impossible for “the youth of today” to read Laura Ingalls Wilder or, I don’t know, Sideways Stories from Wayside School?
When I was in about 4th or 5th grade, my dad started me reading sf by giving me a copy of The Star Beast. I was hooked. He had most of the Heinlein juveniles in paperback, along with a lot of back issues of Analog. So I started in SF by reading a lot of what are now considered the classics of the genre. At the time the sexism didn’t bother me because in the 1960s, well, Heinlein’s women were, if anything, MORE pushy and adventurous than was expected of ‘proper young ladies’ of the time.
Looking back at them, and the rest of those novels now, what I find interesting is not so much what the authors got right, but which cultural norms, technological advances, etc. they didn’t foresee. The sexual and social mores that were so inbuilt into most people at the time that they really couldn’t get their heads around the fact that they might change.
Some of Heinlein’s later novels I could barely read when they were published, and never read them again. Some of the junveniles I know I won’t be able to stand, so won’t re read them. But there are quite a few I still enjoy, and now have on either my iPad (epub) or my Kindle. And there are other writers I loved up through college and shortly thereafter that I couldn’t stand to even finish the first chapter of any more… Sigh. The authors whose works from that period that I still enjoy and still re-read include Schmitz, H Beam Piper, and some of EE Smith’s works (while I used to be a big Lensman fan, it’s now some of his lesser known works that I enjoy the most.) And I read more current authors as well, although many of them would be considered older authors by the teenagers of today…
I love Heinlein!!! (probably why I love some of your stuff) I really like the focus on individual choice and competent teens and adults and ignore the obsolete technology issue. I have shared the Rolling Stones and the Green Hills of Earth with my 12 year old and “eh” was his response. I think that part of the appeal of the old science fiction is that there just wasn’t that much options for us. As a female, yes Heinlein has issue, but compared to his contemporaries he was amazingly open minded. I probably reread something of his every other year and still love it.
One thing that I also have seen is the more I love a book and want to share it with my kids, the less chance they will like it.* I have discovered so many amazing new authors by looking for books for my kids, though, that I will forgive them. However, there is an amazing riches of books out there. Artemis Fowl, World War Z, Percy Jackson, Hunger Games, Harry Potter, etc are all really, really good books. If I had the choice as a 10 year old between Heinlein and Percy Jackson….well I would really be good at mythology.
*Tamora Pierce, Lord of the Rings, and Enid Byton are exceptions so far….
I first read and loved Heinlein’s juveniles as a elementary school kid in the early 60s, so I’m probably close to the demographic he was writing them for. (And I wish I could somehow thank those elementary school and community librarians who bought his books for circulation). I aged at about the best rate to read his books as he wrote them throughout the 60s, 70s, and 80s, although as both he and I moved through time I liked his “current” novels less and less.
The problem with Heinlein today is that as all authors do he wrote using his own time, culture, and place as the baseline he departed from. Even though he wrote “speculative fiction” the starting point he used in his projections and extrapolations was the world as it was when he wrote–a starting point that has become increasingly distant and different from today’s world, which has made his extrapolations equally distant and different.
Think of the original “Star Trek”, 1966-1969. Outstanding TV for its time–but what youngster today would sit down and really enjoy the original despite the plots, storylines, and characters that exist today? The sets, special effects, language, cultural allusions and so on of the original pretty much guarantee that no 8-12 year old would consider those shows to be great TV today. I look at Heinlein much the same–great stories/plots, but the extrapolation of 1950s middle class America and its views into the future, coupled with the almost archaic technology, social relationships, and similar aspects makes him difficult to appreciate as a fun read for pre-teens and older today.
And how many other 60 year-old books are read and appreciated today (aside from “great literature”–Hemingway, Faulkner, Salinger et al–taught in school)? How many mysteries, best sellers, political thrillers from the 50s circulate today, and who would expect a relatively young reader to pick up one from that era today and enjoy it?
I read and enjoyed Heinlein when I was a kid (I’m 45 now). Have Spacesuit, Will Travel was my favourite back in the day, but I’m afraid it would be wince-worthy now. Likewise Asimov and his Foundation series– liked them when I was in grade 7, but I know that if I were trying those for the first time today, they would be quickly returned to the library as completely lacking in believable characters, believable dialogue, etc.
As for authors from the deep past, Jane Austen wears very well. What a totally different world she describes (and satirizes). I’ve read a couple of Dickens (Great Expectations, Bleak House), but when I tried Trollope’s Barchester series, I hit and bounced after the first chapter. YMMV, I guess.
 For some values of ‘deep’
To be honest, John, that actually makes me feel better. See, I have a 14 year old son and what interests us rarely seems to intersect. Maybe that’ll change when he hits 18 or maybe I’m being maudlin. Certainly, we do have common interests, but video games and paintball aren’t usually forums for deep philosophical discussion. Then again, he’s 14 and perhaps I need to cut the poor kid some slack. We do have fun at times, and for that I am very thankful.
I wonder if “The Lord of the Rings” will prove to be less era-bound because its prose was so intentionally (and beautifully) archaic to begin with? If so, it might bode well for D.M. Cornish and his Half-Continent tales.
Maybe fantasy as a whole will fare better than sci-fi, just because it’s more distant from reality, and sometimes not related to it at all.
I found Doc Smith’s “Lensman” series at a book sale (for 25 cents each!) and decided to read them for the historical insight. It really did shed new light on the original “Star Trek” TV series, which looked surprisingly progressive in comparison (and I watched those eps first-run when I was in grade school).
Maybe that’s a worthwhile purpose for older sci-fi: reading it less for its story and more for its message. Hmmm … something to think about.
Science fiction doesn’t age that well. I think part of it is that science and technology is advancing so fast that older science fiction books don’t give the same sense of the future today that they did back in the day. Also, science fiction books used to be alot shorter. I believe this was because they were designed to be read on trains or buses so they needed to be able to be finished by the time the train pulled in. I can’t remember where I read that.
Today the books are larger and deeper. There is a down side to this. Many books need more editing and many authors get lost and go on and on (and this is coming from a Robert Jordan fanboy). I have read some science older science fiction and I found them too short for what they were trying to do. They don’t go deep enough into the subject matter or develop the story enough.
Fantasy on the other hand seems to age well. It doesn’t seem to be really affected by changes in science and technology.
D. C. Sessions: I think you’re correct that Heinlein et al. aren’t yet “really, really dated” enough to be appreciated as classics, on the order of The Time Machine. However, some stories from the 1950s and ’60s don’t become “dated” in quite the same way because of the particular kind of storytelling involved, such as Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles or Vonnegut’s “Harrison Bergeron.”
(All three of those works were assigned reading in school for one or both of my daughters – one of whom reluctantly got through my own first two Heinleins, Have Space Suit and Citizen; the other wouldn’t even try those, and both also rejected, to my dismay, Schmitz’ Witches of Karres. Of course, they’re both generally up to date on present-day YA genre authors.)
Re: Heinlein — I read Stranger in a Strange Land in college and possibly also The Cat Who Walks Through Walls. I wasn’t particularly tempted to read more.
One of the thrills of my life as a parent has been sharing books I love with my daughter (age 9, almost 10. I agree with others who’ve suggested reading the book aloud (or listening to an audio book) as possible gateways. I read The Secret Garden, The Wizard of Oz, and Anne of Green Gables to her. One of her birthday gifts this year will be a hardcover of A Wrinkle in Time, a book my 5th grade teacher read to us. There are other L’Engle books that I now love more, but that one, being my first, holds a special place. I have the graphic novel (which I thought was well done), so she may enjoy that format, too.
gottacook, it’s a pity about Schmitz — as above, he holds up better than just about anyone I can recall in SF. I think we all agree that fantasy has an easier time with age.
As the Spawn commented above, sometimes it’s just a case of kids being willing to read anything they can get their hands on. $HERSELF  and I have been of the “read the labels on paint cans out of the trash if there’s nothing else available” set since well before first grade, and so are Spawn and his siblings. The big difference is that they had my library to raid, and the rest is ,,, well, there are report cards in there someplace.
 Not, for the record, Mother of the Spawn. Although their mother is another insatiable reader.
I’m late to this thread, but I just had to note my pleasure at seeing our host’s list of “his” books, since I gave my son that *exact* stack (The Dark Is Rising, The Phantom Tollbooth, and A Wrinkle in Time) for his 9th birthday two months ago. He’s only read The Dark Is Rising so far (he’s otherwise focused on Harry Potter and How to Train Your Dragon), but I’m happy to say that he enjoyed it and wants to continue the series.
I don’t remember that book’s plot at all, though I have a very solid view in my mind of the hardcover version of it I took out of the elementary school library. I agree with the others who think she’s probably too old for the book.
On the aging of SF, one thing I’ve discovered in going back and reading my favorites from the 70s and 80s is the more “message” there is, the worse they read. That goes for both sides of the political aisle. I’m an rabid feminist partially because I read Marion Zimmer Bradley as a teen, but picking up Thendara House and reading a scene where the Free Amazons gather together for a complete 1970s consciousness raising group is the definition of agony.
Skimmed the comment thread, but the major takeaway seems to be: each person has their own entirely unpreditable preferences, and liking (A) is no indication of whether or not you will like (B).
Personally, I’m taking this post as a warning that my kid (presently 2, a big fan of Dr. Seuss and books involving Elmo) may not like the books that I loved, and may even like books that I don’t like. If he likes books at all, when he’s older. (Please let him like books.) I’ll try not to take it personally.
So henceforth I’m going to curate my overflowing collection with an eye towards what I want to read again and again, vs. what I want my kid to read later on, because as previously stated he may have his own ideas, and goodness knows he should be working on being his own person anyway.
Thanks for the parental bookworming insight.
(FWIW: was given Phantom Tollbooth, Wrinkle in Time, and Dark is Rising as a kid; loved them tremendously. Found Heinlein on my own as a teen; loved his stuff tremendously as well; did not notice the sexism despite being myself a female who later became an engineer. Verne, Wells, and Clarke never did much for me though. Could have been the generational thing. Or just that everyone’s different.)
I didn’t want to say Heinlein sucks if you are a woman, so someone else said it for me. It would be nice if we could vote a comment up! Also Disney movies about a boy and his /dog, horse/ coming of age are dreary beyond belief.
When my dad was trying to get me to read Phillip K. Dick, I loved the short stories but never got through any of the novels because I couldn’t relate to (or, in some cases, remember) the characters. When I think of the older science fiction novels he gave me, what I remember are the ideas that drove the story; creating a memorable character was less important than getting the setting right, creating a believable piece of future-tech, or pulling off a perfect twist. There probably were more character-driven stories out there, but in his opinion a good story didn’t require a memorable character. I still recall plot twists and futuristic technology from Heinlein and Asimov as well, but I can’t remember anything about the protagonists.
Now I’m reading a lot of recently published novels where character development is one of the most important parts of the story. I think my generation holds authors to a very high standard in that regard, especially when it comes to romance (I know shipping predates me, but I doubt Heinlein ever dealt with the same level of fan outrage when the “wrong” couple got together). And even well-rounded characters can make a story feel old if there’s been a shift in how younger generations think about relationships, work, and so forth.
@Hunter: I don’t think that the issue here is that people below a certain age find it impossible to enjoy thing X; I think the issue is that there’s a far lower chance that a younger person will enjoy thing X, and it’s hard to accept that, even a genre as (allegedly) forward-looking as sf.
FWIW, I’m nearly 30, and, while I read just about everything in my (aging) public library during my Wasted Youth, in retrospect, I don’t remember enjoying Heinlein *that* much. I knew I was *supposed* to enjoy him, but his work definitely felt fairly archaic even then. (Then again, so does much of the work from that era. This is definitely another flame war in the making, but the Space Age near-future sf that Heinlein often wrote is sad for me today in ways most analogous to, perhaps, socialist utopian literature — it’s so *earnest* in its anticipation of a wonderful future that’s never come. It’s not the slide rules and soda jerks that need to be forgiven; it’s the promised colonies on Mars. And, on the gripping hand, I’m a cynic.)
I have four daughters and I can’t imagine them getting all the way through LOTR, for example, as a cold read. They did get through it, however, because I read it to them, 30 minutes a night, when they were in their early teens. When we got to Sam saying, “I’m home,” we all had tears in our eyes.
… and, on second thought, if that last digression is OT, feel free to cut it.
My kids are 6-10 years older than Athena. It took me several times, but I recommended “A Moon is a Harsh Mistress”. Finally, in the last year, 3/4 read it. I think that one, from the moon, makes it easier. For Athena, “Starship Troopers”? It is a movie. “Rolling Stones”? Can’t remember the name of it, but RAH had a few juveniles with female protagonists!
@Guess – I actually think it’s as much worldview, theme and tone as anything. Most SF doesn’t get all that deep into the science, partly because most SF authors have only a shaky grasp on it themselves.
However, a lot of older hard SF, in particular, had central themes and conflicts that might not necessarily age well. Particularly I think a lot of the technology angst themes don’t have the same resonance with younger audiences. I think the whole “lone hero being lone and heroic” ethos you have in a lot of older stuff has become something of a dated cliche. I also think that while having a human universe have sexism, racism, homophobia, etc. is pretty typical, it’s gotten stale for those elements to also be unquestioned or unexamined.
You also have a lot of tone in some of the older books that doesn’t play well with modern young readers. There are exceptions, of course, but a lot of the books that do age well, with young adult readers have some similarities. In particular, they tend to be less heavy-handed or self-consciously serious (like the Dark Is Rising) or whimsical (like the Phantom Tollbooth), than some older books can get.
Plus, especially with seminal works, you’ve had so many authors building on what they did in the intervening years that it can be hard to appreciate the earlier steps in the evolution. Sometimes you just like the way following generations dealt with the same themes better, or like the characters they created better, or their world-building, or any number of crafty details, even if they only could do it because a Heinlein or an Asimov went there first.
For myself (again, back in the 1970s/1980s) I loved Heinlein, loved Edgar Rice Burroughs, couldn’t get into E.E. “Doc” Smith. Wonder if Doc might have been the falling into the “uncanny valley” referenced above.
The takeaway I see from all this is simply : Art is inexplicable.
I think this is because Science Fiction is frequently about the future, and there comes a point where the future described can’t ever be. There is no danger that a Wilder character will whip out a slide-rule and start fiddling with the cams on a ballistic computer.
See the TV Tropes entry for Zeerust.
I include the link here, but be warned, it can be easy to fall into the site for quite some time. If you do visit, do note the photo.
My suggest for an old SF tale that hasn’t dated itself much is A Canticle for Leibowitz, though the part about the blue-prints might be puzzling.
I also reread Niven & Pournelle’s A Mote in God’s Eye in the last five years. It doesn’t do badly, even if oscilloscopes have CRT tubes, and the characters are using their iPads to interface with a central server that appears to be less powerful than an iPad.
I didn’t get around to reading most of the juveniles until the last 5 or 6 years. One of the things I really noticed in The Rolling Stones was when the kids wanted to go out on the hull of the rocket and Dad admonished them to use two safety lines and to stay away from the nuclear reactor.
A helicopter parent around these kids should be wary of Stinger missiles.
This is why I see Leslie Fish’s “Hope Eyrie” as a sad song when it wasn’t supposed to be.
Parents often have fantasies about introducing their children to all the things they loved as kids. It’s too easy to forget that kids are their own people with their own tastes. You have to accept that some of the things you loved, they’ll take to. Some they will think are crap. That’s the way it is.
I have distinct memories of, as a child, my mother breathlessly introducing us to “The Wizard of Oz” the be met with yawns. I didn’t even sit through the whole thing.
Some things I show to my son and he takes to. Some things he doesn’t. He’s currently devouring the muppet show, but looked at me like I was crazy when I tried to get him to watch the original Star Trek. Tolkien he loves but how only got a couple chapters into the Pratchett we push on him. So it goes. He mostly devours fantasy YA novels that I’ve no clue about, just like I read SF golden age masters that confused my mother.
I think it’s possible I fall into the Older crowd (I’m 29 now), but I LOVED Heinlein’s books when I was a kid. They sparked an interest in writing in me, and I continue to go back to some of them today. When I went to graduate school, the first paper I wrote was a critical examination of Stranger in a Strange Land. If I ever have kids, and it’s nice to think maybe someday I will, I would love to introduce some of his books to the little rascal at some point. He’s not without some problems, but he’s a damn fine writer and is canon as far as I’m concerned. You don’t have to like Dickens, but you do have to acknowledge his importance, and for SFF, I’m pretty sure Heinlein falls into that camp.
@ucblockhead Yup. My mother did not do SF in any form and wanted me to read Jane Eyre. She begged, she cajoled, she scorned my taste in reading material. “Garbage in, garbage out!” she would cry, as I shoveled down Trek novelizations.* “Just read the first chapter!”
I write SF for a living now and STILL haven’t read Jane Eyre. I suspect it’s best not to get emotionally investing in your children’s reading material matching yours.
*She has apologized for this several dozen times now, incidentally. She was trying…
Notwithstanding LMM’s “digression,” sometimes it is the soda jerks. I had to explain the very concept to my son when he was making his way through “Have Space Suit, Will Travel.” The ordinary-to-the-point-of-boring life that Kip (the protagonist) comes is more alien to a kid today than the space ships and interstellar courts the story eventually encounters. That damages the structure of the novel enough to make it a much narrower taste than it would have been back when Heinlein wrote the story.
This sort of distancing is expanding. In particular, any plot that depends on the non-existence of mobile phones has to be read as a period piece to young folks today. It’s a good thing,that there is still some worthwhile writing being done. From, y’know, time to time.
I find the concept of canon not hugely helpful in making choices about what books I want to read, and even less helpful if it is part of a package which tells me that, in order to choose the books I read, I must not only have read x, y and z, but also thought that x, y and z were utterly awesome.
Particularly when the package is designed to make me buy a specific set of books; as marketing ploys go, turning Heinlein into canon may help Baen to sell Heinlein lite but it doesn’t help me to find books which I want to read.
Of course, I do feel that anyone who hasn’t read everything Roger Zelazny wrote has missed out, and much the same about Robert Sheckley, but that is a very different thing to believing that not reading them and not loving them makes you an inferior person who must therefore be banished henceforth from the charmed circle of the cognoscenti.
Incidentally, the parenthood thing has many surprises in store for you; my somewhat purist SF and fantasy tastes were forcibly enlarged by my daughter’s passion for the X Files, Babylon Five and Deep Space Nine. We didn’t actually come to blows over who should read the Harry Potter books first, but that’s because she’s a martial artist and I would have lost…
Heinlein Juveniles are laden with references to slide rules. I at least know what one is. I have a couple of my father’s slide rules, an elegant tool for a more civilized age? I haven’t quite figured out how to use them properly.
Do kids reading these stories today even realize that they are an actual thing and not a futuristic science device made up for the story.
I really like your “uncanny valley” point, and will have to remember that for discussing some of my tastes in reading material. There’s a reason why I can cheerfully read a Plautus comedy, where most of the humor spins on torture threats and sexism and slavery and comedic failed rape attempts, but start twitching when I’m reading a science fiction novel written in the 1960s that assumes a woman on a spaceship is there to pour coffee for the strong-jawed (white) male engineers.
I find that in general the more dystopic science fiction ages a little more gracefully. Which makes me sad, because I prefer more optimistic science fiction… But if the story is already presenting a setting as a Terrible Place You Would Not Like To Live, it’s much easier for me to accept sexism and racism and homophobia as aspects of what makes it terrible. The bright new future where the only role for me is pouring coffee? That’s a much harder sell. (This is also, I think, why Citizen of the Galaxy retains more fond memories for me than Podakyne of Mars does, though I liked the latter far more on my initial reading.)
UrsulaV: “My mother did not do SF in any form and wanted me to read Jane Eyre. She begged, she cajoled, she scorned my taste in reading material. “Garbage in, garbage out!” she would cry,”
My own mother always told me that reading science fiction would rot my mind, ruin my morals, and lead to my hanging around with disreputable people. Thank God, she was right!
It might be worth noting that (at least) the first three books in the Dark is Rising sequence are despite surface details incredibly different. That is, Five Find An Eldritch Device, Chosen One Gets Chosen, and Greenwitch are not the same book with different beats.
And the reason that I think it’s worth noting this might be that I certainly didn’t notice it when I read them as a child, or when my wife bought me the omnibus a few years back, when the film came out and I mentioned how much I had loved it and she noticed that, but when I read them to my daughter. Who loved the family relationships as much as anything else where young me would have only wanted to know what happened next, and who helped me move towards understanding just why Greenwitch is the best of them if only because it doesn’t have a problem with Susan. If you had asked me I might have said Cooper was one of my authors, and I would have been sad if we had read half of Over Sea, Under Stone and shut it. But once we had read it she became one of our authors because of what I had learned through my daughter, which I think is a prize worth the risk.
My sons were happy to devour all the Zelazny Amber series and enjoyed all the known space tales from Larry Niven, but the Heinlein novels did not please them as much. They did like The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, Starship Troopers and Podkayne of Mars however. I liked the fact that I was able to share any of my old stories with them. They both loved the Retief stories as well – the zany humor in them are great for young boys.
One series that they liked much more than I had was Diane Duane’s wizard series. The children in them seem true to life, and they approach their problems head on. They also got me to read Patricia Wrede’s dealing with dragon series, which I enjoyed as much as they did.
As someone said above, I’m just glad that I raised a couple of kids that really enjoy reading. They find good books for me and we can share the modern series like the Vorkosigan or the Harry Dresden novels.
To Lizerati–Thank you thank you. Your remark “I have Heinlein-blinders – I know there are issues with some themes and stories he wrote, but I don’t care.” is just what I was trying to put together in my head here and on the other Heinlein/Baen thread. I’ve also come to the realization that I enjoy the short stories more at my age–tried to re-read some of the juvies but just can’t do it.
I have an abundance of nieces, nephews and now great-nephews/nieces (how did THAT happen?) that I hover over and if someone looks like a reader–pounce with my favorites. Only to have one of my nephews turn ME on to Harry Potter.
Oo oo, I get to share my anecdote about Heinlein now :D. If it makes you feel any better, I’m 24 and Heinlein is definitely one of my authors. I can’t remember if I read To Sail Beyond the Sunset or Stranger in a Strange Land first, but Sunset will always have a special place in my heart. I was pretty obsessed until the gender issues were pointed out to me and I had to go “yeah…. but… I still love the sci-fi!” (I’m female for the record, I just apparently glossed over the issues and Maureen was one of his better characters for that I’d say.) I probably won’t get back to his other works any time soon since I’m trying to keep up with the new stuff these days, but maybe someday. I also think that Maureen was a really important character to me when I was going through teen stuff, so maybe that would be a better book for your teen daughter?
I’m probably going to regret defending The Puppet Masters, but it was the first Heinlein I ever read, probably at the age of 11 or so. At some point I recommended it to my son, in 7th or 8th grade at the time, because the brain parasites were very similar to the Yeerks in the Animorphs series, which we both read and bonded over. I’m pretty sure he never picked up the book.
I disagree with the characterization that Heinlein was targeting homosexuals in the novel. In an early chapter, the female agent—Mary—is trying to get past a male security guard by flirting. When he doesn’t respond, she reports to her boss (“The Old Man,” a Jubal Harshaw type) that something is wrong with him. This leads the team to realize that certain humans are reacting out of character, so to speak. At some point early in the novel, those possessed by parasites are referred to as “Harem Guards,” if I remember correctly, but pretty quickly the behavior is identified as possession by the alien slugs.
Mary was in many ways a typical Heinlein heroine: strong, pretty, but way too submissive to the males around her by a 21st century viewpoint. “Sam,” the hero, is typically heroic, though not a super-leader for the most part (although there’s a bit toward the end where he alone figures out how to kill the parasites). There is an interesting sequence where Sam refuses to take the parasite back into his brain for interrogation. Mary volunteers, and it’s a bit of manipulation on the Old Man’s part, but Sam is a bit of a jerk throughout the whole thing.
I do dispute the whole idea of “Heinlein’s women flash their bodies to detect aliens,” and the idea that it’s meant to represent an anti-homosexual attitude. Like I said, it’s about Mary’s intuitive reaction to the alien invaders’ reaction early in the invasion, not a general profiling strategy throughout the book.
The Puppet Master and Double Star were my first intro to Heinlein, and Double Star remains another of my favorite books. I still hope my son will read The Puppet Masters someday and see where the Yeerks really came from.
I too have gone through that phase, but when I hit thirty I read Glory Road one last time and consigned it to the charity shop.
Every so often I re-read Damnation Alley; it’s dystopian, beautifully written, and I really like the hero, though Hell Tanner would probably object to being called a hero…
I forgot to mention that as an 11-year-old, I probably really appreciated all the nudity involved in trying to make sure the slugs weren’t hiding anywhere on anyone’s bodies. Which I now know was one of Heinlein’s things too.
@offthekuff -“days of miracle and wonder” is a line from the chorus of “Boy in the Bubble”, so you’re basically in violent agreement. :)
I look at books I loved as a kid – and when I look back, some of them are not what I remember. The ones that have lasted are ones where there is something more than the story; Ray Bradbury, Theodore Sturgeon, Cordwainer Smith etc- where there’s a more “literary” approach to the writing. The straightforward tales of thud and blunder age faster once the science and the social milieu are somewhat dated.
And of course I’m a more demanding consumer now- I’ve read more *other* writing, and I’m less tolerant of cardboard characters and stilted dialogue and massive infodumps.
It only occurred to me in later life that e.g. Asimov had a completely tin ear for dialogue, and that Doc Smith’s characters were invisible in profile.
I’ve tried to guide my daughter somewhat in her reading – I managed to “ruin” Twilight for her by pointing out how *wet* Bella is. Challenged to find something better, I got her into The Hunger Games trilogy and went from there. And in fact I’ve discovered some new authors myself this way.
I can’t for the life of me get her to read “The Hobbit”, mind. She’s fine with the films, just finds the writing style unapproachable (and it’s not an age thing- she can reel off chunks of Shakespeare that she’s learned for Speech & Drama lessons); it doesn’t speak to her.
I, too, cut my literary teeth on Susan Cooper and Madeline L’engle (and C.S. Lewis, Tolkien, and Lloyd Alexander, but you didn’t mention them). I actually didn’t start reading Heinlein until I was an adult. I also read a lot of YA and even MG these days. See what Athena thinks of Monica Hughes, or Z for Zachariah (O’Brien?). Heinlein, though fab (IMHO), isn’t too kind with his female characters. He was a man of his time. Those attitudes are embedded. Maybe a female character that doesn’t otherwise fit the mold is what she’s looking for.
I totally do not grok how someone could thoroughly hate A Wrinkle In Time. I’m not disputing anyone’s right to do so, or to say that they have no taste for hating it; just that I do not see it at all.
About those slide rules. I wanted to buy a slide rule from the gift shop when I went to the Kennedy Space Center last year. Not only were there none for sale, the only employee who knew what they were was the manager – who was in his 60s and a retired NASA employee. (headdesk)
Why not try Podkayne of Mars or The Star Beast or Citizen of the Galaxy? Those might be an easier slog for a girl than jumping into Starman Jones with both feet.
She might be more interested in some of the non-juvenile books. I’m thinking Glory Road, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, The Cat Who Walks Through Walls. Maybe Job: A Comedy of Justice? But particularly Glory Road. Those have some good engaging stories and far less of the regressive/”interesting” stuff that’s in some of the others.
Maybe Friday? Maybe not? I left that for my one Heinlein fan to find on her own.
Or I’d get her into Tamora Pierce. I have enjoyed those with my girls for years. They didn’t dig Anne McCaffrey as much as I did but you can try those, too.
As far as Heinlein, she may get them later, or it just may not be her thing. You never know.
Out of four kids, all of whom got raised listening to me read them old pulp novels as bedtime stories (just the “Good Parts” editions a la The Princess Bride), I got one giant fantasy/sci-fi fan, one military fiction/action fan, one manga fan with a horrible addiction to Piers Anthony, and one American comics fan with a horrible addiction to George R.R. Martin. There’s a lot of cross-over for all of them, though. They all loved Glory Road, for example, each for their own reasons. The first 2 are boys, the second 2 are girls. They all, by the way, dearly love the actual Princess Bride book. If she hasn’t read that, I’d definitely get that out there for her.
And, FWIW, leave her some things to find on her own. I had a list of stuff that I wanted to share with the kids, and it was hard to wait until they found it on their own, but I think it was good for them. It didn’t help that half of it got re-booted or remade while we were waiting, but at least it was theirs.
And let her find you stuff, too. I bet you’d enjoy those Tamora Pierce books (the Terrier series and the Trickster books in particular).
John Cowan: I disagree with the characterization that Heinlein was targeting homosexuals in the novel.
Later, Like I said, it’s about Mary’s intuitive reaction to the alien invaders’ reaction early in the invasion, not a general profiling strategy throughout the book.
Not only, and not for the whole novel, no. The novel is a pro-McCarthy polemic; different bits of it are designed to attack different groups that were viewed as aiding the Communist takeover of America that McCarthy (and his allies, like Heinlein) feared. It’s a profiling strategy used for the section of the book where Heinlein is defending McCarthy’s purges of homosexuals from the government and military.
At some point early in the novel, those possessed by parasites are referred to as “Harem Guards,” if I remember correctly, but pretty quickly the behavior is identified as possession by the alien slugs.
Harems were (reputedly at least) guarded by eunuchs—unmanly men, in other words. You’ve seen the right-wing characterization of the left as “wimps,” right? And to überhawks like Heinlein, people who advocated peace (with the Soviet Union) fell into the same category.
Later, they establish “Project Sunshine” (if I recall correctly; I’m not willing to hunt down a copy of this vile book to check the details), where everyone has to go around naked. This isn’t Heinlein advocating nudism; it’s Heinlein arguing against the 4th and 5th Amendments, in view of a national crisis. If people are allowed to keep anything private (like the woman with the parasite in her purse), we’re all in danger. People have to be forced to name names to HUAC, don’t you see?
And just in case anyone missed the point, at the end they discover that the aliens took over the Soviet Union almost immediately. I don’t remember in what form of words Heinlein says that the Soviet habits of thought made the takeover a snap, but that’s in there.
Lois McMaster Bujold has said “Plot is what the book is about. Theme is what the book is really about.” The Puppet Masters is about an attempted alien takeover of the United States. It’s really about the Red Menace, and the queers, wimps, and liberals who, knowingly or not, were its “allies.”
Xopher: Yeah, I certainly agree with the interpretation that The Puppet Masters connects to a McCarthyist vision of a communist takeover. But I can’t agree that it’s a “vile” book. Problematic, maybe, for some of the reasons you cite and that I tried to address as well. It’s certainly written from a Cold War standpoint, and your point about the slugs taking over the Soviet Union quickly is certainly correct. Also there’s a sequence where the narrator describes a group of humans trying to “negotiate” with the enemy, and they’re portrayed as fools.
But I respectfully disagree with the sole idea that “It’s really about the Red Menace, and the queers, wimps, and liberals who, knowingly or not, were its ‘allies.’ ” It’s about aliens invading the Earth (not just the U.S., although that’s where the action of the novel takes place). It speaks to our horror of being robbed of free will, and it sets the stage for the arrival of the Borg and other similar beings in the SF universe. That’s what I responded to, and as a godless liberal who votes Democratic, I’d have to say that the rest of the theme, whatever Heinlein intended, didn’t influence me one bit.
I don’t think there is anyone I’ve given a Tamora Pierce book to that hasn’t liked it. I think because the protagonists of the different series are so different you can find one the person will identify with and get them hooked. Though for all my childhood obsession with Alanna Kel is my favorite. Not sure if I want to be her or to marry her more, but she my favorite now. Maybe someone one else or someone not yet written will be when I’m 60. But back to my point her series have so many different well fleshed out characters that its easy to find a starting point for someone you want to love it to start with. I also find this in Diana Wynn Jones. I hope this makes sense my phone is only letting me see 3 lines of text at a time.
I first read Heinlein via short stories, was not especially impressed, and then had to read The Moon is a Harsh Mistress as part of a science fiction class in college. I think I was more put off by the small core of fanatic Heinlein fans in the class than by the book itself (although, really, line marriage is the bestest? *eyeroll*), but it didn’t make me want to run out and buy more. Oddly, the point at which I tossed Friday aside wasn’t the rape scene, but when Friday out-arm-wrestles a man who then becomes an enemy. Because even in a far-future world where no prejudice existed except against ‘artificial persons’, he still couldn’t imagine a woman being stronger than a man as anything other than an aberration against which masculine pride rightfully rebels. Whatevs, Bob.
I’m always amazed people cite SIASL as somehow a Heinleinian touchstone, as it’s both a bit of a oddball AND a flat-out Fantasy. (Heaven, people? Angels?) For me “The Moon Is..(etc)” was THE classic.
And even as a kid, I loathed “A Wrinkle In Time”. I was cheering for It.
If one is going to give children dated material, go for something that’s INTENTIONALLY antique-ish: Jack Vance.
(sorry for the double post, but wanted to do something more on-topic)
Haunting the library for SF as a kid, I saw the good treatment the publishers gave Ray Bradbury, but his stories BAFFLED me: might have been the very very MidWesternishness of them.
For sharing, rather than novels, perhaps collections of stories are better: IMO, RAH’s stories are far FAR superior to his novels, on almost all fronts. “The Man Who Traveled in Elephants” still makes me mist up. “Gulf” was chilling. “The Unpleasant Profession of …” was trippy. Don’t get me started on “All You Zombies”– epic. And of course most of Bradbury’s output, IIRC, was short stories.
Slipsticks…sigh. Used a slide rule in high school. Basically had to buy a calculator for college. For a calculator that only added, subtracted, multiplied, divided and did percentage calculations, my parents spent over $100USD. They were by no means cheap when they first came out.
Thirty plus years later, I am an assistant curator at the local county museum. In one of our exhibits, which includes surveying equipment, there is a slide rule. I had to explain to the curator, who is about 15 years younger than me, what a slip stick is and what we used it for. Made me feel really, really old, let me tell you.
This post brought to mind Jo Walton’s, “Among Others.” I’m curious what, if any, impact a read of that would have on Athena’s tastes in the classics. There is a connection between the main character Moiri and her books that is described so beautifully and might create a context where Athena would be more willing or interested at engaging with the books that are discussed.
I read Heinlein when I was a kid, largely because several of my relatives were huge fans of his work. The juveniles did nothing for me. “Farnham’s Freehold” nauseated me; I’m not sure I finished it. The only Heinlein I could reread now would be “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress”, and only if I skipped all the parts with Wyoh.
We read our kids The Hobbit as bedtime stories, and they’ve all read Lord of the Rings. All of us like Dr. Who and Star Wars (with varying opinions on when shark-jumping has occurred). But in general I’ve had a lot more success bonding with them over more recent publications (Harry Potter, Young Wizards, Hunger Games, and, ahem, Redshirts). Partly because a lot of the stuff I devoured in my youth has been visited by the Suck Fairy; partly because there’s a hell of a lot of good stuff being written now. A notable exception to this pattern is that my youngest kid (age 22) is passionate about Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and War of the Worlds (the books, not the movies), as well as anything written by Ray Bradbury. But I only introduced her to Wells; Bradbury and Stevenson she found for herself.
Whenever someone says “What Sci-fi should I read?” I always without fail say “The Number of the Beast”. One day someone will bite and I’ll get to see their reaction :) Disclaimer. I actually love the book. Warts and all. I’ve also read Hubbard’s Mission Earth series 3 times without a gun to my head.
I’ve always liked sci-fi for as long as I can remember but my first initiation into adult sci-fi was when my dad brought home a box of Asimov books he’d been given. I started with Robots of Dawn because I liked the cover and spent months inhaling the rest. I never stopped after that. My uncle gave me a Stainless Steel Rat book. I ploughed through E.E.Doc Smith and will love that stuff forever. I have a massive fondness for golden age sci-fi and I have a massive fondness for Heinlein at his most bonkers.
I’ve also read Hubbard’s Mission Earth series 3 times without a gun to my head.
Okay, that’s just wrong.
Yeah. Very wrong. I can’t help it though. I just like them :)
These days I much prefer reading modern sci-fi. Reynolds, Hamilton, Baxter, Stross, Egan etc.
The one and only Heinlein I ever enjoyed was “The Puppet Masters”, and I have a sinking feeling that if I tried to read it now, a good fifteen years after I first picked it up, I might be a little horrified. I never got more than halfway into “Stranger in a Strange Land” or “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress”, hated “Starship Troopers” with a fiery passion, and all his juveniles left me cold.
I also, being a precocious child who pored over my dad’s SFBC hardbacks when he wasn’t home, first attempted to read “Stranger in a Strange Land” at age ten. He found me reading it and making faces, and suggested “Dragonflight” as a more viable alternative. Thanks, Dad.
My 13-year-old son is like Athena in that he doesn’t get into the books I loved when I was his age (and still do) but gets into contemporary authors like Collins, Haddix, etc. But–it is certainly my impression and experience, as I browse the YA shelves these days, that there is a large amount of quality science fiction and fantasy out there for the “digital native” and post-Cold War Kids These Days–more selection than I had available at his age. So, what I think I’m saying is that rather than turning my kid on to Heinlein, he turned me on to the Hunger Games.
Don’t give up on the future for Heinlein just yet! I’ve barely got one toe into adulthood, and I love reading Heinlein and other old science fiction. Frankly, when someone suggests a book to me, it actually makes enjoying the book more difficult. There’s added pressure when I know someone close to me loves it. The best way to get me to read a book is to set it down within my field of vision and just wait. Curiosity has led me to many of my favorite books, and I have faith that new readers of my favorites will find them in the same way (with a little help from me strategically leaving them in my friends’ vicinity).
I enjoyed Heinlein somewhat – Glory Road was my favourite, and I read a bunch of the juvies that I don’t really recall now (I’m 44, for context, and female). I remember enjoying Job: A Comedy of Justice and Friday, and somewhat Stranger in a Strange Land. But I never grasped on to him as “wow, this is what got me into it.” I reread Glory Road lots, but probably not since I was in my 20s, so I’ll have to give it another whirl and see if I can stand it now.
I found a lot of the pre-70s sci-fi hard for me to get into, and really never even thought about trying to get my kids into most of it. Though I’ve got thousands of books lying about the house for them. Two are readers, one is sort of, and one really isn’t but reads some (which I’ve found is more than a lot of people), and they all have interests that intersect mine and their stepdad’s but they all have done what Athena did too — forge their own path and find their own stuff. I never stopped reading ‘kids’ books’ or ‘YA’ stuff so I often introduced them to the ‘next new thing’ but sometimes they introduced me! It’s fun.
The other half and I were talking about this last night, and he was surprised no one mentioned Stephen R. Donaldson. For him that was pretty formative in developing reading preferences too. I also remember getting my copy of Lord Foul’s Bane, ripping through it, and getting the others as they came out. I struggled with it because it was the first time I had read a book that engaged me so well but where I really disliked (as you are supposed to) the protagonist/anti-hero. It was well done.
Now, Asimov was way more accessible to me than Heinlein or others like him. I read Robots of Dawn first for some reason, then backtracked and got all the Foundation books and Robot books and spent the 80s reading and rereading a lot of those.
Thanks to the posters here for lots of memories and reminders of books I must get on Kindle (John Bellairs was a HUGE favourite as a kid, so a House With A Clock In Its Walls was purchased yesterday along with the Big Idea book. Scalzi’s website — keeping me broke…LOL).
Yeah. Very wrong. I can’t help it though. I just like them :)
It’s really cool when you share your parenting reflections like this; because, I feel like that is the important bit here. Thank you for it. :)
I remember my mother kept trying, for years, to get me to read The Mists of Avalon, and I just felt like “ugh, that’s a mOM book”, but when I read it, I thought it was pretty good. Did it turn me on to Arthurian stuff like my mom may have secretly hoped? No, but, it did give us something that we could share. Our Shel Silverstein, I guess you could say.
Everyone is recommending Podkayne of Mars. Have any of you read it lately? Do you deal with young people at all?
I work with the local high school students. Podkayne of Mars is assigned reading in the science fiction course. It is without a doubt the most hated book in the entire school. Not just disliked, it is hated with the heat of a thousand suns. The only positive remarks in essays are “Since Podkayne is TSTL at least she gets killed in the end”.
A protagonist who starts out wanting to be a spaceman and by the end is looking forward to cooking, cleaning and serving the “real” spacemen does not go over well. For anyone.
Look at the protagonists in other novels. Even in the classics, the protagonists move forward and upward. I can’t think of another novel where the protagonists give up their dreams and look forward to a life of cooking and cleaning. Can you?
Sassy Coconut: A very good point you made with “Frankly, when someone suggests a book to me, it actually makes enjoying the book more difficult.” Come to think of it, my parents never recommended a particular book to me that they themselves had read when they were younger. (I got into SF at my junior high school library, with Have Space Suit, Citizen of the Galaxy, the early Silverberg collection The Calibrated Alligator, and Andre Norton’s Quest Crosstime.)
(With respect to the 12 Heinlein juveniles published by Scribner’s, there was no paperback edition of any of them until the mid-1970s. So there were many years when a parent wouldn’t very likely have had a personal copy in the house to recommend to a child; they could only be discovered in libraries.)
We don’t have children, but I’m very familiar with the issue of engaging cultural materials that are not part of What’s Happenin’ Now, Baby: I spent nearly twenty years watching college students encounter literature from what they sometimes called “the olden days” (which in 1966 seemed to extend to up around 1950), and another nearly-thirty watching *their* sociocultural children over my wife’s shoulder. I used to teach Dante and Shakespeare (and all them other high-falutin’ Greeks) and my wife still includes Austen and Ovid and Homer in her undergrad non-major courses. Any attempt to engage these writers requires a reader to imaginatively enter their rhetorical, social, philosophical, political, moral, and even economic worlds. The common reader might not need a doctorate in Austen studies to enjoy Pride and Prejudice, but really getting Aunt Jane requires getting *out* of a mind-set that can ask, all innocently, “Why don’t they just marry for love?” or “Why do they have to marry rich men?” or even “Why are they so worried about marriage at all?” Even though Austen’s DNA is still found in the modern romantic comedy, the particular social issues that powered her plot engines are not immediately grasped by the historically uninformed. (Don’t get me started on the barriers to “getting” The Merchant of Venice, Othello, Measure for Measure, or even parts of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.)
As thoroughly as I understand the fact that some readers/viewers will bounce off a book/film that seems “outdated” in content or presentation, it has never made emotional sense to me. Before I stumbled on SF (via, as it happens, Rocket Ship Galileo in 1955), I was looting my aunts’ collections of popular novels from the 1930s and 40s. I soaked up movies of the same period on TV. I lived imaginatively as as much in the world of my parents’ youth as in my own present. Decades later, when I revisit some vintage, pre-electronics/computer-revolutions SF title, I simply read through the slipsticks (Heinlein) or rocket engine throat liners (Vance) for whatever the real point of the story might be. Cultural and social-value matters, of course, are trickier, but with complex writers a similar mental operation will reveal whether the aesthetic payoff is worth the effort–whether there is something on offer that goes beyond the limits of the particular time and place of composition or that contributes to a larger vision that is of value and interest.
But in the long run, the longitudinal audience decides who lasts and who gets shunted off to the pile labeled “Of Historical Interest Only”–the one that only scholars of various kinds bother with, and then usually as dissertation fodder rather than ordinary reading.
@gottacook: “(With respect to the 12 Heinlein juveniles published by Scribner’s, there was no paperback edition of any of them until the mid-1970s. So there were many years when a parent wouldn’t very likely have had a personal copy in the house to recommend to a child; they could only be discovered in libraries.)”
That’s fascinating! I still have all of Dad’s old Ace paperback editions of the juveniles, which were my first introduction to Heinlein; I didn’t realize that they were printed that late. So when I was reading Red Planet in 1976, the paperback was actually younger than I was. I didn’t realize Dad was still reading SF at that point.
Actually I give you credit for writing and admitting you are a Heinlein fan. (What I’ve read is too dated to me) but that’s not the props i’m sending out. It’s that most Public White Liberals in SF today have had to take the dirty honesty that pervades us all under the surface and hide their shame in the closet during this politically correct witch hunt by the so called enlightened Beliebers and Cyrus generation.
It’s all basically a coin flip, Whatever the person calls(Heads or Tails) is the side they are on at that time.
I’ve been trying for the better part of the last 5 years to try and get into some of the older SF authors and my experience has basically been Athena’s and I’m in my mid 20s now. Slogged through Stranger in a Strange Land a couple years ago since the guy I was seeing at the time was reading it and was super into it but it was such a struggle. None of the adult figures throughout my child/teenhood read much so there was no one guiding what I read (or policing) so it wasn’t until I dated a girl in college whose parents were avid SF/F readers and had a massive collection that a lot of the older authors were even brought to my attention. Still I keep cycling back to stuff and trying again and sometimes 5th time will be the one where it sucks me in. This is all made so much easier by my eReader.
“As thoroughly as I understand the fact that some readers/viewers will bounce off a book/film that seems “outdated” in content or presentation, it has never made emotional sense to me.”
“…this politically correct witch hunt by the so called enlightened Beliebers and Cyrus generation.”
I must say, not impressed with the whole “these books aren’t outdated, young people are just stupid” theme going in the thread recently.
@Russell Letson – If you and your wife teach classical literature, you both must be more than aware that the vast majority of books that transcend their time do so because their central themes and conflicts are timelessly relevant. A play like Othello remains accessible because jealousy has no cultural context, even if the dynamics introduced by Othello being a “moor” do. Where you have continued resonance at the center of a work, you can get around something like Dickens’ paid-by-the-word writing style or the rather blustering machismo of Homer’s characters.
There are some fears, attitudes and struggles that are very specifically of their time and place and when society moves past them, it becomes difficult for work built around them to resonate with a new audience. It’s also much harder to move past the stylistic foibles of the work’s founding period if you don’t have a continuing relevant thread to pull you on, and that gets ever more difficult as convention changes.
@Maddogs – I can’t decide if you’re trying to get a rise or if your contempt is genuine. If the former, well nuts to you, but if the latter…really? I could get deeper into this, but…really? It’s no wonder you apparently haven’t had a proper discussion with anyone my age if you’re this clearly disinterested in engaging with them in good faith. Also – since when is it an act of bravery to call yourself a fan of one of the most canon SF writers ever published?
When I was a kid, I didn’t have access to Heinlein juveniles. I read his books for adults as a teenager — and loved them. But that was many years ago, when the popular culture I was consuming was full of nonsense about gender roles. I recently read Podkayne of Mars and I was appalled. I shudder at the thought of teenagers reading that book, with its message that girls shouldn’t aspire to anything other than housekeeping and childcare, and a mother who works leads to a son who is an antisocial killer. That’s not just my interpretation. The edition that I read had the ending that Heinlein first submitted, his letter to the publisher defending that ending, and then the ending that was published. Heinlein’s letter clearly explains that was the message.
Seeing Barbara’s post above, I’m sad to see that children are being required to read the book, but delighted that they’re rejecting the message. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s turning them off of “science fiction” while they happily continue to love Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, Twilight, and the latest space movie extravaganza.
I am delighted at the way YA books have exploded. My local bookstore has a huge section full of great stuff by people like Scott Westerfeld and Patricia Wrede. I didn’t get to read a lot of books aimed at kids when I was one myself, so I don’t have nostalgia for the books of yesteryear. I know that when I read older books in general, I frequently have to squint past the sexism, racism and antisemitism. I persevere for the other joys to be found in writers like Josephine Tey, but I understand why readers would want to avoid the Suck Fairy.
ERose: Thank you for the egg-sucking lesson, but do note that “historically uniformed” is not a synonym for “stupid.” Having skipped to the Quip Modest, I will just say that “Your If is the only peacemaker; much virtue in If.”
For anyone who doesn’t have an edition of Podkayne with the dual endings and Heinlein’s letter that janet1 mentioned, I was able to find the letter by using Amazon’s Look Inside feature on the page of the hardcover edition. If you want to take a look, you can find the letter by searching on “preposterous.” It’s interesting, though as depressing as janet1 describes it. Heinlein says that “the theme of the story is that death is the destination for all of us and the only long-range hope for any adult lies in the young–and that this double realization constitutes growing up, ceasing to be a child, and putting away childish things.” Earlier, he refers to Podkayne’s ambition as “preposterous” and a little farther down says, “The true tragedy in this story lies in the character of the mother, the highly successful career woman who wouldn’t take the time to raise her own kids–and thereby let her son grow up as an infantile monster.” It’s clear that putting away the preposterous childish ambition and being the kind of mother Mrs. Fries was is the ideal destiny he saw for Poddy (if it hadn’t been necessary to kill her to make the plot work better).
That edition of the book also has essays by other people (contest winners?) about the ending. Patrick Hannan makes the claim (astute, I thought) that Podkayne must die because “It is the only way her brother Clark can grow up and grow out of his asocial behavior” (which Heinlein definitely does lay at the feet of the mother in that letter). A little farther down, Hannan says, Poddy “must die in order to save her brother from a worse fate, so that he does not grow into the character of Mrs. Grew” (one of the kidnappers). Then it clicked for me: Podkayne has to redeem her mother’ “failure” by being an innocent martyr to the cause of her male sibling’s opportunity to maybe (just maybe–but probably not if he’s a sociopath) develop empathy and responsibility toward others. The girl dies so the boy can grow up to be a good man. Ick ick ick. I’m so glad to know that the kids hate this book.
Ack, that should have read “being the kind of mother Mrs. Fries was not.”
Nor is “historically uninformed.” (Don’t want to get on the wrong side of the Anachronists.)
I remember that Podkayne was quite low on my RAH list , but honestly didn’t recall any real reason why.
Thanks, people, for reminding me [/sarc].
 Not remotely as low as Farnham, but that is rather damning with faint praise isn’t it? Truth is, after I Will Fear No Evil and Time Enough for Love, RAH went into my three-strikes list. And I’m a rather slow-learning knuckle-dragging dude. I really don’t want to contemplate reading a lot of his stuff as a teenage girl.
Erose, I’m calling what you stated as Naive.
How would you know who I have discussed things with????
Why mention you could expound after coming back with nothing!!!
And it isn’t heroic but it takes a little balls to admit you are a fan of someone who is on the black list of todays Liberal Pretenders.
A Black List that will only become more bold as the arrogant/ignorant youth are held not in check but in horrendous awe such as the little Mao kids pointing fingers and sending their parents to the camps.
Yes, Don’t trust anyone over 30, and you’d be a fool to listen to anyone under it.
A little less drama and name-calling, please. It undercuts your point more than you might want. Thanks.
I’m not sure that’s precisely generational. Heinlein never spoke to me either.
The place he came from, the world he expected, never much resembled anything familiar to me and so his authorial voice never connected. I came away from my brief forays into Heinlein (Stranger in a Strange Land, Starship Troopers) with the impression of him as a strange, unpleasant, and disturbing individual, and without any real desire to further explore that dissonance.
Of course, maybe it is generational. I’m what they call a “leading-edge millennial” after all,
But I loved Asimov.
At the risk of being sexist…… I think Heinlein may speak to males better than to females. Ten years ago, my son sucked up all the Heinlein he could find. A lady I know who is more than ten years older than me read some Heinlein thirty years ago and found him a horrible misogynist. Much if not all of Heinlein’s work has an unrepentant libertarian streak, which, I would guess, is more acceptable to young men than young women.
My son told me he didn’t much care for Stranger in a Strange Land because it “felt like a copy.” He realized, of course, that really the newer books he had read were the derivative works and SIASL was the original. But I understood exactly. I had the same feeling when I read Edgar Rice Burroughs. Creativity brings popularity brings imitation which leads to commonness.
I have recently been digging back into books that my father read me as a kid. One of the few that really stood the test of time was Harry Harrison’s work. The Deathworld Trilogy and Bill the Galactic Hero do not seem dated at all. It is good to see it was not just a fond memory, but solid work.
Styles and the times change and as they age they often become harder to read. Also, children of today have many more choices in literature and it is, by and large, much better than it used to be.
My daughter is very close to the same age as Athena, but I’ve almost given up making book recommendations to her when she asks for something “interesting” to read. She usually says my books are “too old”…sigh. Maybe if I buy the eBook copies on iTunes…
I loved reading Heinlein’s YA books when I was a kid. “Star Beast”, “Podkayne of Mars” and “Citizen of the Galaxy” were my favorites. I can understand why your daughter didn’t think much of it, however. No doubt the material is dated – the technology in the books are old-school, for sure. Also, Heinlein tends to write for teenage boys and your daughter is not the target audience. She may have felt a little alienated by it all.
“Well. We still have Shel Silverstein in common. I can work with that.”
What about “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”? ;) Your comment made me think of that song.
ERose: Maddogs… I can’t decide if you’re trying to get a rise or if your contempt is genuine.
Maddogs: the little Mao kids pointing fingers and sending their parents to the camps.
I’d say troll. Either that or a genuinely delusional/paranoid conspiracy theorist.
Rod: A lady I know who is more than ten years older than me read some Heinlein thirty years ago and found him a horrible misogynist.
Because his writing IS horribly misogynistic.
Barbara: thanks for the reality check on Podkayne of Mars. I think I read all the Heinlein juveniles when I was in middle school, and it was the only one I hated. HATED.
I would have called him one of my favorite authors, back then. I did dip into a fair bit of golden age sf, and Heinlein was by far my favorite of that. But I also read a lot of historical fiction, and so I had an unusually high tolerance for earnestness. If you can make it through Pollyanna, the gee-whiz by-his-bootstraps do-it-yourself attitude of Rocket Ship Galileo won’t faze you.
I went on to get his adult novels out of the high school library, but my interest in his work waned as he got… caught in his own undertow, I think. I abandoned him when I was around 15, so I’m not surprised that Athena isn’t any too interested.
On the other hand, I’m clearly strongly influenced by nostalgia, because I read and enjoyed this whole thread, and it has me itching to re-read my long-forgotten favorites: The Door Into Summer and Citizen of the Galaxy. If I had a teenager, these are the two I’d leave on the coffee table: Door is a period piece and Citizen has no period, so I think they’d hold up pretty well.
My favorite is The Rolling Stones, and I still reread it from time to time. When I was young, Hazel Stone reminded me of my grandmother. Now, she reminds me of Ginny Heinlein. Hazel is the absolute spitting image of Ginny’s personality.
I also am very fond of TMIAHM, to a large extent because Hazel is in it as well.
I think “Citizen of the Galaxy” would be a better bet than “Starman Jones”. It starts with a younger protagonist and covers a broader spectrum of ideas. I don’t see what ideas anyone gets from The Hunger Games.
Aside from Stranger In A Strange Land and Glory Road, which my mother wouldn’t let me read till I was 12, if a Heinlein was published before 1966 I read it before I was 12.
I thought Star Beast would be an excellent intro to Heinlein for my 9-ish nephew, but he got to where Lummox eats the little yappy dog and wouldn’t have anything further to do with that book or any other Heinlein.
I recalled the yappy dog scene as being hilarious, not upsetting, and on rereading it just to check, found it still pretty funny. But apparently that is now too violent for children.
NB, I love little yappy dogs and don’t actually advocate eating them.