Gary K. Wolfe
Yeah, but if Hollywood leads people to worthwhile literature, it has its place. I have little doubt that all those epic misunderstandings of Philip K. Dick have led a fair number of people to try his fiction.
The point is that it’s useless for old farts like us to prescribe books or writers to the young. If some oddballs out there pick up and grok Heinlein or Burroughs, more power to ’em. But whatever future of the genre is being forged right now, Heinlein is at best an indirect, two or three times removed, part of it. In this vein, I think it’s of interest that a major–in fact authorized–Heinlein bio failed to cop a Hugo. Even the field has moved on.
Your first point is valid — it’s useless for old farts like us to prescribe book or writers to the young. (Though it’s not wrong for us to at least MENTION books we liked when we were kids.)
Your second point, in which you seem to want not to prescribe but to proscribe Heinlein (only for oddballs! Normal kids will read R. L. Stine! (or whoever the latest flavor is), seems utterly and senselessly wrong. I don’t know if “kids these days” will like or get Heinlein — perhaps they won’t, and if so, no blame to them, but I don’t think the fact that he wrote and set the novels in the ’50s is that much of a reason why.
The failure of Patterson’s biography to cop a Hugo — voted on mostly by old farts like us — seems entirely irrelevant. Perhaps blaming Patterson more than Heinlein would make more sense.
As a teen I read a few of the Heinlein juveniles about the same time I was getting introduced to Heinlein’s fiction for adult readers. But for their younger characters, I didn’t see that much of a difference between the two. The attitudes and philosophies permeating were pretty much the same, as might be expected. Same goes for the juvies written by Asimov, Nelson Bond, and del Rey.
The whole concept of “juvie” science fiction is fascinating. I guess the growth of the juvie market in the postwar years is a sign of science fiction’s newfound respect as an adult fiction that science fiction got in the wake of the atom bomb and the dawn of the space race. At the very least, it reflects that an aging audience of science fiction readers perceived a difference between what entertained them and what would entertain a younger readership. But who do they think were buying all of those pulps during the Golden Age?
Farmer in the Sky and The Rolling Stones both were serialized in Boy’s Life. But as Jeffrey points out the others that were serialized appeared in adult science fiction magazines, including Starship Troopers, which was serialized in F&SF. Mind you, Heinlein’s name on a magazine cover sold issues, so editors probably wouldn’t turn down a juvie novel in the belief that it would be too “young” for their readership. But maybe this shows that the whole idea of juvie science fiction and adult science fiction–at least in Heinlein’s case–was artificial to begin with.
Of course, the dating goes further than just 1950-era period details, and extends into the social attitudes that inform the work. I’ve heard many young readers, particularly young women, dismiss Heinlein as being racist, sexist, militaristic, jingoistic, right-wing, and so on. He actually does better on racism than you’d first think he would, and was slipping non-Anglo characters into his YA stuff at a time when few of them were appearing either in other SF work or in the mainstream work of the time. Sexism is harder to defend against, especially as the highest goal women seemingly can aspire to in both Heinlein’s YA and adult work seems to be to get married and have as many children as possible, but again, it’s more complex than it first seems–Heinlein was also writing about super-competent women who could be starship captains or engineers and were able to kill a man with a blow of their hand long before they were filling these roles in most of the rest of SF, and I’ve met two or three (older) women who said that Heinlein was eye-opening for them in terms of showing them the kind of roles other than housewife women might aspire to in the real-world. “Right-wing” and “jingoistic” are harder still to defend against, but again there are “yes, but” arguments that might be made, although it would take more time and effort than I’m willing to put into it.
But although it’s not as cut-and-dried as it’s sometimes said to be these days, there’s undeniably a whiff of these outdated social attitudes to all of Heinlein’s work, one that might be strong enough to put off at least some of today’s young readers.
This weekend, I had the real head-spinning experience of seeing the most recent incarnation of “The Thing” and watching the end credits roll up “Based on the story ‘Who Goes There?’ by John W. Campbell.” We’ve moved on from Campbell, and certainly from the pre-Golden Age era that story closed out. But though the stories as physical artifacts may seem dated and irrelevant to modern readers, some of the concepts behind them seem to be revisitable in media like film or graphic novels, where they can be updated for modern readers.
But this is my point exactly. Campbell’s influence is there — but it is three degrees removed. The majority of the viewers of this film don’t know Campbell or care to know about him — and it’s naive at best to think that “based on the story by Campbell” will lead any but–I’m sorry–oddballs to look him up. It’s still more unlikely that, having done so, a modern young adult or adult for that matter would then pursue Campbell’s other writings. I should add that I don’t consider “oddball” a perjorative term at all. I’m one myself, and probably most people on this list are too. But the judgment of history does not take into account our nostalgic attachments to the writers who shaped our sensibilities. That’s what critics are for! I simply don’t think Heinlein is directly relevant to young people today or that anything can make him so–even if the forthcoming Have Spacesuit movie is a huge hit.
Based on the trailers I’ve seen for the forthcoming John Carter of Mars, I’m not very sanguine.
John Carter looks as though it’s being pitched to a younger audience, and the involvement of Pixar would seem to reinforce that. So he may be doing the reverse juvie route–stories he wrote for an adult readership are being seen the perfect fare for a YA crowd.
I sometimes wonder if one of the reasons why fantasy has more readers today than science fiction isn’t because science fiction pretty much gave up on publishing YA books in the ’60s and ’70s, after the last of the Heinlein YAs had cycled through, and fantasy did not. Today, there are all sorts of gateways into reading adult fantasy, from children’s books to lots of YA books of different levels (like, for instance, Harry Potter), all of which nurture readers along until they’re ready for more sophisticated stuff, but, until very recently, there was almost no YA SF available, so that readers had to jump right into reading adult SF, or not get into reading it at all. Obviously, as the responses here demonstrate, some of them were capable of that, and probably still are. But I can’t help but think that there are many for whom it’s too big a jump, the reading protocols to difficult to learn all at one go.
An even more heretical thought, I sometimes think that the much-despised “media novels,” Star Trek and Star Wars novels, haven’t actually been preforming a valuable service for the genre as a whole by acting as a gateway experience for SF, less difficult work that acclimates young readers enough to SF reading protocols to enable them to appreciate more sophisticated work when they eventually encounter it–de facto Young Adult novels, in fact. Perhaps the Young Adult SF work of today has actually been there in front of our faces all along, but we just don’t notice it.