Back when I was a student at Davy Crockett Jr. High School in Irving, Texas, my little preview of Hell, there was one thing and one thing only that made the place worthwhile (except for Miss Hull the history teacher with nice legs) and that was the bookshelf of science fiction in the library, seven or eight shelves of it. I read it all. My favorites were the Heinleins. I read and reread them until the politics started to sink in, and I quit. Teaching science fiction, I talk about Heinlein when we do the fifties, heaping praise and stressing his influence, but never teaching. I found Bradbury’s politics in F. 451 painful enough, but Heinlein? I couldn’t do it. But still. Then the used clothing store where I buy all my snappy wardrobe put all their books on sale. Paperbacks for 25 cents. There was a pristine Starship Troopers. I remember reading it when it was new, and it totally blew me away. There were scenes I could still remember. How many books do you remember for almost 50 years? What the Hell.
The first thing that struck me is that narratively he’s doing the same thing I’m doing nowâ€”a fictional memoir of an ambiguous protagonistâ€”in his case, Johnnie Rico, and in mine, Lucifer. Even though I have no interest in “military science fiction,” it was the perfect book for me to read right now. The second thing that struck me, and I don’t say this about many sf writers of the 50s and 60s, is what a good writer he is. The voice, and the whole thing is Johnnie Rico’s voice, is pitch perfect. The rest of the world is all by-the-way suggestion. The ethical arguments so thoroughly grounded in the imaginary world Rico lives in, I defy you to find your way out. It’s quite the performance. I disagree with the creaky tooth and claw notions of evolution that form the foundation of his thought, but that shouldn’t matter. I don’t believe Yeats’ nonsense either but love the poems.
Like Heinlein, I probably sympathize with my ambiguous hero more than I ought to reveal to the reader, but in Heinlein’s capable hands, I found that part of the fun.Â Many thanks to a master.