Saturday, September 17, 2011

Writing against type and the "Heinlein Effect".

A number of years ago, I noticed that you could almost never mention author Robert Heinlein on certain message boards without some flaming idiot uh, enlightened superior intellect flying off on a tangent about Heinlein's alleged "latent fascism". I had been aware of this debate since I was a mere young 'un back in the late '70s and knew that it had been raging for a good number of years prior to that (and prior to me, thank you! hehe). This near- knee jerk reaction is part of what I've dubbed "The Heinlein Effect" and essentially it is the (I believe dubious) contention that an author only writes what he or she knows or believes. The supposedly "logical" conclusion is that an author's writing reveals their true nature or beliefs. In the case of Heinlein, the story goes that readers in the 1960s who were enthralled by his more mature novels of the era (such as Stranger In A Strange Land) went back to read his "juvenile fiction" of the '50s and were appalled by the brutal, simplistic, anti-utopian tales they found. In particular, Starship Troopers drew their ire for it's apparently positive depiction of a harsh, militaristic and seemingly fascist future society on Earth. Never mind that Heinlein espoused and tried to live a highly individualistic and libertine life, or that many of his stated philosophies are essentially "Libertarian" in nature. Clearly, having written one book from the point of view of a heroic character who serves a militaristic world government, the reader must conclude that Heinlein is (or well, was) some sort of jackbooted Neo-Nazi.

Obviously, lacking any other solid evidence to substantiate this claim, I have taken the position that it is total crap. Norman Spinrad faced similar accusations after the publication of The Iron Dream in spite of its obvious satirical nature and Spinrad's long stated Anarcho-Syndicalist political philosophy.

My bottom line belief is that a good author can write against type. Many do use their work for a philosophical "soap box" but not necessarily everything someone writes should be taken as a window into the deep, hidden recesses of their soul. Having attempted to write against type myself a few times, I have gained a good deal of respect for those who can do it well. I tend to get bogged down in disliking protagonist characters with whom I would normally disagree or even find reprehensible. I see where cardboard villains with bumbling subordinates and cannon fodder minions come from. It's hard NOT to write such characters as silly, maniacal, violent but wretched buffoons who ultimately destroy themselves with a bit of help from "our hero".

In part two of this little diatribe (dear God, a part two? NOOOOOO!), I'll discuss my own descent into madness while attempting to create a believable and maybe even somewhat likable "good bad guy" that has consumed a fair amount of my limited spare brain power over the last year or so. Stay tuned and keep some extra strength aspirin handy!

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