Another Heinlein juvenile, another curious blend of work by a virtuoso visionary and his unfortunate co-author the cheating hack.
THE GOOD: Heinlein'sAnother Heinlein juvenile, another curious blend of work by a virtuoso visionary and his unfortunate co-author the cheating hack.
THE GOOD: Heinlein's early treatment of his Martians (the ones used nearly two decades later in STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND) is excellent. These guys are subtle and weird and so far beyond earth norms that every interaction with them is fraught and puzzling. Also, while you can see prototypical versions of many of his stock characters (crusty old Dr. MacReady is a stripped-down and far less annoying Jubal Harshaw), their excesses are restrained by the better sense of the people around them.
THE BAD: All the tension of the heroic stand-off with murderous forces of authority is defused when everyone in the ranks of that authority turn out to be cowards, simpletons, paranoids, and gross incompetents. Heinlein loved to stack his decks like this, and it does him no more credit here than it did anywhere else. Also, the treatment of gender is blindingly awful, even for 1948, especially for Heinlein. Boys in Martian society are accounted men when they can carry guns; girls are considered adults when they can cook and help with babies. You'd think a guy who could write something as mind-bendingly weird as Heinlein's Martians could apply some of that mental plasticity to an examination of the women of his own species. ...more
A peculiar book, containing some delightful time-travel shenanigans and some of the very best science fictional handwaving and lampshading ever writteA peculiar book, containing some delightful time-travel shenanigans and some of the very best science fictional handwaving and lampshading ever written about the paradoxes involved. Truly, that section of the book is a glory and a wonder. Up the Line is also very, very much of its time in one unfortunate fashion-- its women are furniture. A scene in which the narrator angrily forces sex with a semi-willing woman is uncomfortable enough, but the way in which an adult male pedophile's constant physical overtures to a 12-year-old girl are painted as a sort of merely comical nuisance to both the narrator and the girl's father (!) is just unsavory as hell. ...more
So much to rant about here, so little time. When I finished the first chapter of Podkayne my grin was so wide I damn near cut my own face off. HeinleiSo much to rant about here, so little time. When I finished the first chapter of Podkayne my grin was so wide I damn near cut my own face off. Heinlein had an indisuptable gift for killer openings (see for example "The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag") and this one promised absolute glory to come. The trouble is, the glory never comes. The magnificent possibilities of the first chapter and its coda are set aside. The plot meanders, and then in classically half-assed fashion picks up without warning a scant few pages from the end... the incredibly condescending, problematic, throw-the-book-across-the-room end.
The only net positive I can find in Podkayne is that it's a fine example of Heinlein in exploratory rather than prescriptive mode. The cast visits several different societies and interacts with their laws and customs, always wondering and speculating rather than lecturing or insisting. This is such a stark relief from what I call Heinlein's "LOOK, YOU!" mode, where a mouthpiece struts across the page shouting "Look, you! This is how things are and the only way they oughta be, see!" In reference to the all-pervading corporatism of Venus, for example, one major character "...can't make up his mind whether it is the grimmest tyranny the human race has ever known... or the most perfect democracy." The evidence is presented and the reader is invited to do their own pondering. Heinlein the Philosopher could certainly offer up some tasty thought experiments when Heinlein the Authoritarian was out of the room.
It's a crying shame that this book, which had the velocity of a home run ball as it left the plate, somehow managed to plop softly into the dirt somewhere short of second base. ...more
The highlights of this anthology are a dreamy high fantasy piece by Tanith Lee and a darkly amusing Fafhrd and Mouser story from Fritz Leiber, in whicThe highlights of this anthology are a dreamy high fantasy piece by Tanith Lee and a darkly amusing Fafhrd and Mouser story from Fritz Leiber, in which our intrepid heroes are essentially told to go piss up a rope by every woman they have ever loved, lusted after, or crossed. Avram Davidson's "Milord Sir Smiht, the English Wizard" is perhaps a touch less narratively satisfying, but it is also marvelously weird and technically accomplished, presenting a baroque flavor unlike anything else in the collection.
Lin Carter, bless his heart and his ever-bubbling enthusiasm, is involved in virtually everything about this antho that is less successful. His "The City in the Jewel," starring bare-assed Conan pastiche Thongor, declines into jumpy incoherence unworthy of even Carter's low narrative ambitions. It's also a perfect example of his facile comprehension of the stuff he desperately loved and wanted to emulate... Robert E. Howard's dark passion is here transmuted to purple strutting buffoonery. Carter had energy and vocabulary to spare, but he seemingly never developed artistic judgment to match.
When I first examined the table of contents, I wondered where Clark Ashton Smith's "The Scroll of Morloc" had come from, since to the best of my knowledge Smith had been dead for many years when this anthology was published. The unwelcome answer was that it wasn't really Smith's work at all but Lin Carter's "posthumous collaboration." In other words, a Carter pastiche based on Smith's notes. Again the poor guy expends all of his energy on emulating surface trifles and ever-weirder made-up nouns, capturing none of the haunting or atmospheric qualities that marked the best of the emulated writer's fiction.
"Posthumous collaboration" with the assorted original writers of the Lovecraft/Mythos circle is, incidentally, one of those literary trends I am not unhappy to see more or less buried in the past.
Carter commits one final annoyance in his list of "The Year's Best Fantasy Books" by throwing one of his own books in without a hint of apparent shame. I admire audacity in a writer and have no use for false humility, but even so, this strikes me as a bit much. Were works not written by Lin Carter really so thin on the ground that year?
A few of the other tales provide slight amusement, but a depressing number are simple variations on the so-old-it-creaks formula of "someone enters a cave/tomb, offends a dark power, and suffers the consequences." Even in 1976 this trope was thoroughly moth-eaten and none of the vaguely Lovecraftian oogedy-boogedies have any interesting new ways of haunting their forbidden fanes or eating people. Just think of the incredible advances in every human science between the 1920s and the 1970s; surely we had some right to expect a qualitative enhancement in the field of carnivorous horrors, too.