September 29th, 2012
|05:25 pm - last essay for F&SF class|
While I was reading Little Brother, I was struck by how much the book reminded me of another science fiction novel, written by Robert Heinlein, which is known as The Sixth Column, or by another name, The Day After Tomorrow. In plot, there is only a little similarity, but in the way I felt as I read it, I had the same feeling of tension and awe.
In Little Brother, the protagonist, Marcus Yallow, is tortured and humiliated by the Homeland Security service, rather than protected by it. This leads him to vow vengeance on them, and the plot proceeds. He manipulates the Internet systems to do his bidding, and in the end gets the aid of adults to shed light on the excesses being done to ostensibly make safe the USA.
In The Sixth Column, written in advance of the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Pan-Asian Union attacks and defeats the US, and they occupy the nation. One secret laboratory has discover a ray that can, when manipulated properly, transmute elements, and kill specific races of people. The survivors of the lab's research team, led by an advertising agent, recruit secretly, and overthrow the invaders from within the nation.
Why did these books seem so similar to me? In both, race was a factor, shown by Jolu and Van and how they react and are treated in Doctorow's book, and by the way the Asians treat Caucasians, and vice-versa in The Sixth Column. In both, a seemingly overwhelming force had taken over the familar territory from outside (the former from Washington, D.C., the latter from Asia). In both, use of a technology, in Little Brother, familiar and plausible, in Heinlein's novel, magical and unlikely, leads to the defeat of the force. They each had a feeling of unease, as the underdogs were constantly on their guard.
I found in each deep fascination.
I've read Heinlein's "Friday" and "I Will Fear No Evil", thought they had very interesting ideas, especially the latter. But I can't say I enjoyed the actual writing much.
Both of those were long after he'd hit his prime; in fact, both of those were after his stroke. My favorites are The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, Citizen of the Galaxy, Starship Trooper (forget the movie...), The Rolling Stones, and Stranger in a Strange Land (get the original version that was edited, not the later one in which his widow had them use the manuscript prior to the editor's work). There's several story collections of his works in the 40s and 50s which present a lot of ideas that are rather good, and ring true. Finally, he worked on the movie Destination Moon, a 50s era SF movie about a flight to the Moon; about as good as they could have gotten back in those years.
The Day After Tomorrow (which is the title that I read it under) was what convinced me that RAH wasn't a complete hack; my only previous exposure to his work was Double Star, a political novella that I found more than passing dull. I should probably re-read it one of these days to see if it was me -- I was fairly young when I read it -- or if the writing really was that bad.
The Day After Tomorrow is one of my favorite RAH books; if it has some screwy/racist ideas, at least the plot moves, and it isn't dragged down by RAH's hobbyhorses, as everything from Stranger in a Strange Land onward was.
RAH's oeuvre is strongly colored by his predilection for young stuff (which can be spotted as early as Time For the Stars and The Door Into Summer) and incest, usually presented in crypto fashion (TFtS; TDIS; Farnham's Freehold), but sometimes not (The Number of the Beast). Then there's his implausible ideas about how smoothly S-group marriages, or whatever, can run (SiaSL; The Moon is a Harsh Mistress; Friday; Methuselah's Children too, IIRC).
I think that his real worth shows in his short stories, written in the 40s and 50s, honestly. Some of that stuff easily holds up now. At least, to my best recollection...
To me, his really short stories collected in The Past Through Tomorrow tended to be too formulaic and sentimental. IMHO, he doesn't really get a chance to shine unless he's got at least 30 pages to work with ("Life-Line," "The Roads Must Roll," "Blowups Happen"); but, honestly, the pieces that I most fondly remember from that collection are the novella The Man Who Sold the Moon and his first novel, If This Goes On---.
The latter one was especially interesting to me, given that its plot consisted of the U.S. being ruled by a far-right religious dictator whose reign is challenged by a Masonic secret society. I've often wondered if this work black-balled RAH in the minds of some of the loonier sci-fi fans....
I was thinking of The Man Who Sold the Moon when I made my recommendation; I'm right with you there.
I liked "Little Brother" but it felt somewhat lightweight to me, more like a novella than a novel, but I can't put my finger on exactly why.