11 May 2012

Civilians as infra dig

Science Fiction | Robert Heinlein

Coincidentally, just about when I decided to go online and review the book Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein, +Carlos Angelo posted this review onto G+, so you can always read the linked review instead of mine. :)

Robert A Heinlein is an icon in science fiction, and no wonder. His writing can best be described as charismatic. You come away fully convinced of the correctness and cogency of what he writes about. There are beautiful lines, like the one about the difference between a soldier and a civilian. (The soldier puts his body at risk to protect his country).

And yet. Things have changed from the late 1950s. Today, no sane person would advocate for public whippings as punishments for everything from traffic violations to mutiny. Heinlein's premise is that the faint-hearted liberals are/were all wrong, and the only substantial psychological theory is that nobody learns anything unless their survival (or a reasonable facsimile) is at stake. Newly promoted sergeants need to beat up their erstwhile unpromoted comrades to gain their acceptance and trust. The mobile infantry is sent in to enforce... something. The enemy is technologically vastly inferior. A few dozen MI soldiers proceed to devastate the main city. Women in this society have fixed roles--for example, in the army, they are pilots--since they are more empathetic. Yeah, huh moment.

While a smooth read--even the political and philosophical positions are lightly presented without too much exposition--and Heinlein's imagination was first with personal armour as a concept, I am still left with a sense of wrongness. I read Stranger in a Strange Land a couple of decades ago, but even then, some things just did not go down smoothly. Till today, I cannot fathom how or why a woman would be comfortable as the object of 'male gaze', let alone delight in it, or feel that there are some things a woman just should not do, and leave it to the men. Let me not get started on a legal system where a person can own an entire planet, or how on Earth (sorry, how on Mars) a set of aliens can 'bring up' a kid to adulthood.

Perhaps it all made better sense in the 1950s. It doesn't, today.

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