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Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

A book right out of the R. A. Heinlein tradition

Gregory Benford has a new book out, called Rewrite, and while I tend sometimes to be careful of pre-publication hype, this looks mighty promising and a good way for me to while away the hours as I fly to Hong Kong in a few days’ time. The author gets an interview in Wired magazine, proof that good things occasionally do appear in that publication, despite what appears to be its turn to eco-lefist nonsense in recent years.

I really enjoyed his novel, Timescape. Chiller, a book that features cryonics, is also good.

By the way, there is a Robert Heinlein Society, which runs a scholarship programme. I think the writer, former Navy officer, fencing expert and blood donor advocate would have approved.

Heinlein once wrote about The Crazy Years, a period in his early writings known as the Future History series. I am not the first person to wonder if our own era deserves that moniker, although with hindsight is it any nuttier than any other?

10 comments to A book right out of the R. A. Heinlein tradition

  • William H. Stoddard

    On one hand, Robert and Virginia Heinlein appear as characters in the novel, as you may know. But on the other, I don’t think this is actually all that much like a Heinlein novel. It’s actually less overtly hard SF than most of Benford’s fiction, though there’s a quantum mechanical rationale for the narrative premise, whose hardness i’m not competent to judge. I certainly found it readable, but on a first read it feels like light entertainment. It may actually be about right for a long flight.

  • Paul Marks

    The evolution of Heinlein’s political thought is interesting – he was never an orthodox socialist, but he did start off despising the limited government beliefs of Calvin Coolidge – a few decades later the limited government beliefs of a Warren Harding or a Calvin Coolidge were the beliefs of Heinlein himself.

    This is NOT just the “people get more conservative as they get older” thing – it is the logical working out of Heinlein’s own belief in Civil Liberties. Heinlein came to see that Civil Liberties (Freedom of Speech and so on) were incompatible with the Big Government economic policies he had once supported.

  • Aetius

    It is a great many years since I read any Heinlein, but his general outlook on life greatly influenced me in my teenage and student years.

    Probably it is some where in ‘Time Enough for Love’ that he contrasts Kansas City in the era of Lazarus Long’s childhood with it during the Crazy Years, when you would need an armoured personnel carrier to travel through the city. That particular observation has stuck in my mind ever since.

    I don’t know about the States, but, courtesy of the Cultural Marxists and the Greens, Western Europe is certainly deep in the Crazy Years.

    Reality will in due course break in, and the Crazy Years will come to an end. However it will be very difficult re-building on the physical, cultural and moral ruins.

  • terence patrick hewett

    People of Earth, your attention, please. This is Prostetnic Vogon Jeltz of the Galactic Hyperspace Planning Council. As you will no doubt be aware, the plans for development of the outlying regions of the Galaxy require the building of a hyperspatial express route through your star system. And regrettably, your planet is one of those scheduled for demolition. The process will take slightly less than two of your Earth minutes. Thank you.

    There’s no point in acting surprised about it. All the planning charts and demolition orders have been on display at your local planning department in Alpha Centauri for 50 of your Earth years, so you’ve had plenty of time to lodge any formal complaint and it’s far too late to start making a fuss about it now. … What do you mean you’ve never been to Alpha Centauri? Oh, for heaven’s sake, mankind, it’s only four light years away, you know. I’m sorry, but if you can’t be bothered to take an interest in local affairs, that’s your own lookout. Energize the demolition beams.

    I don’t know, apathetic bloody planet, I’ve no sympathy at all.


  • George Atkisson

    Aetius –
    Concerning your thoughts on rebuilding. The meme that “Hard Times build Strong Men”, etc. is probably valid. I doubt that rebuilding the Western Civilization that was, is possible. Certainly a great deal of technical knowledge will be preserved. The new culture will simply have to grow from whatever system was successful in surviving those Hard Times. There will probably be a significant effort to avoid whatever is considered by the survivors to have been the root cause(s) of the collapse. What will emerge is probably unknowable to present day culture. We are too accustomed to our own prejudices and expectations, conscious and unconscious. It would be fascinating to know.

  • Roué le Jour

    What was the name of that chap, Indian army I think, who wrote that no civilization has ever come back from collapse?

    I think future historians, should there be any, will call this the “Age of Treason”, when western governments turned on their citizens.

  • Julie near Chicago

    George, I agree entirely that it would be fascinating to know about Then. But we are Here, which is Now, whereas Then is There, and Doc Brown’s special DeLorean is only fiction. So, to quote the saying as I learned it, You can’t get There from Here. (Which may be just as well.)


    As to the issue of whether this era is our version of “The Crazy Years” or rather their precursor, some of us, such as VDH, think that things do not look so hot. So I suggest that you Brits substitute a nice hot cup of hemlock tea, accompanied by arsenic-buttered toast, for your normal breakfast. Americans, you might care to choose the same for your regular nightcap.


    Completely O/T (except in a very broad sense), there is this animated explanation of how our tax system works. (Unfortunately, it seems that some people aren’t moved by analogies. It occurs to me that the areas in which our minds work best may vary from person to person.) About 4 min.


  • Eric

    Wouldn’t you have thought you were in The Crazy Years back when they were burning people for witchcraft or because they didn’t like the new prayer book?

  • Digger

    Fencing expert and blood donor advocate, these interests seem connected…

  • Paul Marks

    Rour le Jour – I think you are thinking of “Glubb Pasha”, the English creator the Arab Legion (which almost destroyed Israel in 1948).

    His idea empires last about 250 years depended on him being rather naughty concerning the historical facts. And his idea that people become morally decadent before their Empire collapses does not really stand up either – for example Roman society was a lot more decadent during the RISE of the Empire than during its decline, and the same is true of the British Empire. During the rise of the British Empire society here was rather decadent – and during its decline we were rather straight laced (the opposite of what Glubb Pasha would have predicted).

    However, he did make a lot of valid points and is always worth thinking about – although he did not hold that the decline was inevitable (he was not a determinist – not a “you can not choose to do other than you do, so just embrace evil and decay” type), he argued there were certain things that people could choose to do that would save their civilisation.