July 22, 2008

"If I were sitting in a Tube train and all the people opposite me were reading 'Mein Kampf' with obvious enjoyment and approval..."

"... it probably wouldn’t disturb me much more than if they were reading Heinlein, Tolkien or Richard Adams."

Amba quotes science-fiction writer Michael Moorcock in a post that ends with the words "the coming Obama presidency."

33 comments:

MadisonMan said...

Isn't Tube train redundant? And Moorcock is a writer?

Salamandyr said...

Good God, I thought Moorcock was mouthing off again. But no, somebody else is just spouting drivel he wrote in the seventies as if it was deep.

Mike, I liked Elric, but it wasn't nearly as transgressive as you thought it was.

Balfegor said...

Was all ready to copy and paste and make the connexion with Obama, when I got to the end of the post and realised that the connexion had already been made explicit.

I could say all kinds of things here, but nothing that isn't said already in the comments over there.

I do find it amusing that so many of the commenters try to argue that Obama's fanatic supporters don't worship him. I'm sure he has many supporters who don't, who really do settle on him with a recognition of him as a flawed political creature who will, nevertheless, implement their policy aims. But the notion that those eerie chanting hordes don't worship him . . . cor.

Mike, I liked Elric, but it wasn't nearly as transgressive as you thought it was.

Isn't he the albino anti-hero with the evil sword? He's practically a cliche now.

Trooper York said...

Tales from Amy's Garden 3

Fiver: There's something very queer about the warren this evening...
Hazel: Is it dangerous?
Fiver: It's not exactly danger, it's... oh, I don't know. Something oppressive... like thunder.
Fiver: I feel it too. I think there will be lighting and thunder soon.
Hazel: Well the lady in the cottage must think so. She is running around shutting off all of her machines and pulling things out of the wall.
Fiver: Yes. But I think she is just lonely. She has been walking through the streets looking to talk to people. And she keeps putting out things on her windowsill to entice visitors
Hazel: I know. But they see like very strange gifts. What is this Ruinite? And why is it in a box?
Fiver: Bigwig heard her talking to herself. And she didn’t shut off all of her machines. She has a little one that seems to be buzzing a lot. Especially at night.
Hazel: People are strange sometimes. I prefer rabbits.
(Watership Down, 1972)

Salamandyr said...

Isn't he the albino anti-hero with the evil sword? He's practically a cliche now.

Yeah. Moorcock designed Elric to be the polar opposite of Conan--civilized, sorcerous, and physically weak, relying on an evil magical sword for vitality. Add in a bunch of freudianism, season with nihilism, and a dash of despair, and you've got one pillar of the triumvirate of sword and sorcery heroes (Conan, and Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser are the other two)

Basically, Moorcock is the JD Salinger of the fantasy set. His books are real deep when you're a teenager just discovering that the world won't give you free sex and pixie sticks, but a bit shallow if you try to re-visit it as a grown up.

Ann Althouse said...

I only want to know if Moorcock is his pen name ... his pen(is) name.

Paul Zrimsek said...

A self-described radical really ought not to be so perpetually shocked to find large numbers of people disagreeing with him.

Revenant said...

I can see a left-leaning writer claiming that Heinlein was fascistic. I'd think he was an idiot and lacking in basic reading comprehension skills, but I can see how someone might believe it. The same holds true for Tolkien, whom people love to accuse of being racist for ill-defined reasons. But Richard Adams? "Watership Down" Richard Adams? "Plague Dogs" Richard Adams? What the hell did HE do to offend Moorcock?

Anyway, I liked Moorcock's Elric books, but it was apparent even to my young teenaged self that he wasn't much of a writer. His work reads like the Cliff's Notes to a good fantasy series rather than as a good fantasy series in its own right.

Balfegor said...

I only want to know if Moorcock is his pen name ... his pen(is) name.

Well, real live people have names like "Cockburn." They pronounce it "Coburn," to try and hide it, but we can read.

Trooper York said...

See the post above for the pen(is)effect.

Cedarford said...

Moorcock wrote that after "Starship Troopers" enraged Left-leaning writers enough that they made a cottage industry of trying to out-denounce one another that Heinlein was fascistic.

Tolkein, though?

Anyways, I always thought Heinlein was more realistic - not about wiping out evil bug monsters exactly - but his noting that society is guaranteed nothing by a scrap of paper proclaiming rights, freedom from a foreign king - but by the blood, toil, and sacrifice it takes to make the scrap of paper real and have force.

When people believe that all rights have no cost, they are simply guaranteed to happen without effort..you end up with a sick and dysfunctional society. In "Starship Troopers" Heinlein had a society where citizenship and the right to vote was secured by hard work. Not simply by being a baby plopped out on the "right" soil by an illegal alien. Where voting had to be earned...

50 years later, in real life, America has become a nation where half the voters pay no income tax and 10% of that number are fully subsidized by taxpayers. Can democracy work when a solid voting majority wants more goodies from the Feds but pay no price for demanding it from the minority? Or where their "precious rights" are protected and enforced only by a small cadre of law enforcement and military that are becoming more insular and hereditary in nature and more despised by the Elites as well?
Heinlein has other SF where lawyer-Elites and Owners of accumulated wealth - and parasitic masses absorbed in their bread and circuses are upended by the despised soldier caste.

vbspurs said...

I'd think he was an idiot and lacking in basic reading comprehension skills, but I can see how someone might believe it.

Ooh, be careful for the Wrath of Instapundit, Revenant!

blake said...

I thought Starship Troopers was pretty fascistic at the time, though I see that's not technically correct in retrospect. I guess you'd call it "militocracy".

I also equated the behaviorist sentiments, and poor understanding of human nature, with fascism, though it was really more the communists who were into that.

Still, it beats all the later stories with the wall-to-wall, superfluous sex.

That's one think Moorcock, Heinlein and probably Dick have in common: An appearance of relevance based on what seemed transgressive at the time they were writing.

blake said...

Actually, replace "appearance of relevance" with "appearance of quality". They were relevant, after a fashion, at the time.

And I think Heinlein's earlier works--however "juvenile" they seemed to the sophisticates who worship Stranger in a Strange Land--will hold up far better.

Revenant said...

Even if "Starship Troopers" was fascistic (which it was not), it was *one* of Heinlein's 45 books. The most common political views in his work were those of meritocracy and individualism.

The world government of Starship Troopers runs based on the idea that you cannot vote without having served in "the military" (not necessarily in a combat branch); at the same time, the military is not allowed to deny anyone their right to serve, and no current member of the military may vote. The military leadership are lifers and thus never able to vote. There is no difference in civil rights between veterans and non-veterans, aside from the ability to vote.

This is not fascism, which holds that all citizens have a duty to the state. It can't really be called militarism, either, since the military and those who serve in it are politically powerless. It is "veteranism", the form of government which fans of the word "chickenhawk" seem to favor.

vbspurs said...

Insty had a recent link about why many women do not caring for SciFi.

I'm afraid I'm one of them. Never read any Heinlein, at all.

But I'll tell you, every human being should read Isaac Asimov, especially his grammar books.

He transcends.

Revenant said...

And I think Heinlein's earlier works--however "juvenile" they seemed to the sophisticates who worship Stranger in a Strange Land--will hold up far better.

That's a strangely dated sentence. The days when "sophisticates" were "worshipping" Stranger in a Strange Land were over forty years ago! We're well past the point where we need to speculate about whether or not his juveniles have held up better than that book; we already know it hasn't dated well. People talk about it because for most folks it is the only Heinlein novel they ever read.

amba said...

Ann, sometimes a moorcock is just a moorhen's husband . . . especially if you're English.

Hector Owen said...

There's a nice bunch of Heinlein reviews here, mostly of the juveniles, which are really about as juvenile as Tom Sawyer, but including Starship Troopers. A much longer piece on Starship Troopers, comparing and contrasting the book and the movie, is here.

Are there "sophisticates who worship Stranger in a Strange Land?" I've seen hippies, trying to emulate the water sharing, and so on; but not sophisticates. Bearing in mind that when I say "hippies," I mean "people who have seen some other people doing something that looks cool, and want to imitate it, though they don't understand it." Stranger was a comedy, though it had its dark moments. Much as I love the Marx Brothers, I don't think I would want to live with their on-stage personae full-time.

Moorcock has always wanted to ├ępater la bourgeoisie just for the sake of doing it. I subscribed to his (government-subsidized!) New Worlds magazine for a couple of years, and found plenty of literary experiments there, all of the sort that dare the reader to comprehend: junior varsity Finnegans Wake type of thing. I did enjoy some of his fantasy novels, particularly the Corum stories, as I was going through a Celtic mythology phase at the time.

blake said...

Really, Victoria? Asimov?

I've never read his grammar books, mind you, just some really, really, really dry stuff about robots.

He did write a bunch of mysteries with cool science-y hooks, though. That was entertaining.

blake said...

Rev,

Even if "Starship Troopers" was fascistic (which it was not),

As I said, it's not by any strict definition of the term "fascist", though that was my reaction at the time. But in the less accurate and I-agree-should-be-stamped-out definition of being gleefully pro-military, it is.

It's stupid to put that kind of label on SF works, of course, since part of what they do is explore alternative social structures.

it was *one* of Heinlein's 45 books. The most common political views in his work were those of meritocracy and individualism.

Undoubtedly.

This is not fascism, which holds that all citizens have a duty to the state.

Well, I don't know about that. Heinlein was big into what the individual owed the state.

It can't really be called militarism, either, since the military and those who serve in it are politically powerless. It is "veteranism", the form of government which fans of the word "chickenhawk" seem to favor.

That seems sort of naive. Actually, "naive" is a good word one doesn't hear much of Heinlein's writing, but which actually fits pretty well.

Guaran-damn-teed that if it were necessary to serve in the military to vote, the military would end up suffused with all kinds of political "education" of the sort that would both inflate the power of the military and whatever philosophical aims it ended up with.

Also guaranteed: There'd be a cushy career track for elites who were eyeing a political career.

Now, I don't think Troopers fascistic, and I certainly don't the he was a fascist, but he seemed to put a lot of faith in the power of a strong central state.

Hector Owen said...

Asimov had a sense of humor, and, being the nonstop writer that he was, published several books of jokes and limericks, some of them quite vile, as limericks often are.

blake said...

Good link, Hector, to the reviews.

The movie Starship Troopers is a parody, basically of the old French Foreign Legion films. Verhoeven is a slippery bastard, and it's not always clear whether he's reveling in something or criticizing it, or perhaps both in some self-loathing way.

As for my use of the word "sophisticate", yes, it should have been in scare quotes, and yes, it's "sophisticated" based on wildly outdated notions. I'm just not one who thinks that speculative fiction was improved by sex, drugs and pessimism.

(Yet I love Harlan Ellison. And Splatterpunk. Go figger.)

Heinlein, I think, peaked at "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress". But then, I haven't read his newer stuff, because it irritates the crap out of me.

blake said...

Yeah, Asimov was startlingly prolific. I've enjoyed a lot of his work.

I just can't abide the robot stuff.

This can easily be taken as an anti-robot bias. I look at those three laws of robotics and ask myself, "Now...how would you program that?"

And then my head explodes.

blake said...

I liked Fafhrd & Gray Mouser quite a bit. I'll still pick up anything by Lieber. Conjure Wife, however dated, is still a fun read.

I was surprised when I came across Conan how much I enjoyed reading it. (Same with Tarzan and other pulp heroes.) Howard was on to something with that guy.

I found Elric interesting, but not so interesting that I sought out a lot more Moorcock. I've read a few of his books but can barely remember them.

amba said...

But then again ... Moorcock, Heinie-lein, and Dick ... hmmmm.

amba said...

Blogger was down, or I'd have posted that more timely-like.

Christy said...

Hector, thanks for the link to that site of reviews.

I must have come too late to Moorcock, he bored me. But I'm willing to admit that perhaps I picked up the weakest of his >100 novels to start. I began reading Heinlein when I was in 7th grade and still reread his juveniles once in a great while. I hated Stranger... when I read it in my late teens. Don't ask me why I own 3 editions of it. I actually think his juvenile Citizen of the Galaxy is his most sophisticated novel.

I agree with Blake that naive is a good word for much of Heinlein's work. He couldn't write women at all, but I loved the fact that he had smart capable women in his tales.

I finally forced myself to read Atwood's 1980 Handmaid's Tale this past year -- I could never get past the dystopian beginning during previous attempts -- and was shocked to discover that it was a rewrite of Heinlein's 1939 novella If This Goes On.... I just find it incredibly funny that one of the most progressive and holy of modern writers wrote the same book that old "fascist" Heinlein wrote 40 years earlier.

I've enjoyed Asimov's mysteries. His science fiction bored me.

Hector Owen said...

blake, "I look at those three laws of robotics and ask myself, "Now...how would you program that?"

And of course that was exactly the question that all of those stories were about. They all dealt with defining "human," defining "harm," and so on. These were the questions that Susan Calvin had to try to answer.

Hector Owen said...

amba, when you said that Moorcock was "(figuratively speaking) blind in his left eye" were you thinking of his character Corum, who was literally blind in his left eye? I suppose I should ask this at amba's site, but they seem so serious over there.

blake said...

And of course that was exactly the question that all of those stories were about. They all dealt with defining "human," defining "harm," and so on.

Oh, totally. (And I should reread all these guys. Just after college, I checked all the ASF mags from '38-'51 out of the library, which was interesting on many levels.)

Some of it strikes me as fantasy rather than sci-fi. "Now, having solved the problem of AI, we'll saddle our robots with impossible ethical problems...."

Christy's right: Heinlein really couldn't write women, but it wasn't due to any lack of desire to have strong female characters.

Not sure Moorcock actually belongs in this discussion. Heh.

Revenant said...

Heinlein was big into what the individual owed the state.

Can you give an example? Even "Starship Troopers" didn't support that idea; service was quid pro quo, not something owed.

Guaran-damn-teed that if it were necessary to serve in the military to vote, the military would end up suffused with all kinds of political "education" of the sort that would both inflate the power of the military and whatever philosophical aims it ended up with.

That's an argument against the realism of ST (which was one of his "juveniles", let's not forget), not against its philosophy. While in real life the military would probably capture the government to serve its own needs, in the ST universe the military's program of philosophical indoctrination -- which all officers went through -- promoted the idea that the military existed to serve, not run, society.

he seemed to put a lot of faith in the power of a strong central state.

Starship Troopers doesn't describe the power of the state. Considering that the main character's father is an educated and rich captain of industry who openly scoffs at the notion of needing to vote it seems unlikely that the state is especially powerful or important. Consider that most of what the current American government does -- wealth redistribution and handouts -- is something the ST society apparently openly rejects as decandent and unsupportable.

blake said...

I wasn't strictly limiting myself to Starship Troopers; I agree that much has been made of it's alleged fascism. I've read a lot of his early stuff, less of the post-sexual-free-for-all stuff, and a number of the Lazarus Long things. I'm not prepared for a detailed analysis.

Though I would say, vis a vis realism, that one can fairly raise the same objections of modern cinema that glorifies communism. Plenty of indoctrination went on, and it didn't help. And Heinlein surely observed this (and perhaps justified it as, "Yes, but I'm right.")

The scene in ST where the hero and his teacher are discussing education as it compares to house-breaking a dog doesn't fill me with a lot of confidence that RAH understood the problems of education.