Sci-fi, Libertarians, Heinlein and other stuff

I got bored with my previous habit of checking on the clumsy articles at Quillette — the online magazine for people who want to be reassured that reactionary ideas are really quite nice if you stand on your head and squint at them for long enough. However, a recent article crossed into multiple aspects of my interests that I really thought I should write about it. Entitled “The Libertarian History of Science Fiction” ( it is not a particularly great examination of the topic but not so blisteringly awful as to be funny. In responding to it I appear to have gone off in many directions and have used many words and long run on sentences. So more after the fold…

The essay positions itself as a kind of response to the notion that science fiction has always been progressive. That is a bit of a straw man if posed as that is ALL science fiction has been but the essay by Jordan Alexander Hill doesn’t dispute the progressive aspects of science fiction but just argues that there is a long libertarian tradition as well. Which is true and a reasonable point to make. There is a libertarian thread within science fiction but then there is a libertarian thread in progressive politics as well, doubly so within literature because any story that includes a premise that *a* government is bad is a story that adjoins a thread of literature which assumes that governments in general are bad. Rebels fighting an evil empire can be read as progressives fighting right-wing authoritarians or as independent minded people fighting against a more generic dead-hand of government. Left-anarchist, non-anarchist left, libertarian and even conservatives can find alignment with their own politics and such stories. Indeed, consider how the term “rebel” is coded in US political and social culture and how the American far-right twists the narrative of the US civil war and the Confederacy, rebellion against an evil regime while not politically neutral is a mercurial narrative, capable of being appropriated almost without dissonance into utterly opposed ideological stances.

I’d go even further and say that while science fiction manifestly has a long and necessary progressive aspect to it, it has never lacked a reactionary and pro-authoritarian aspect. The tools of imagining the world to be different are not purely committed to the pursuit of liberty or justice. Willy Ley’s 1947 essay in AstoundingPseudoscience in Naziland” pointed to the influence of Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s 1871 novel “The Coming Race” on some subset of Nazis.

“That group which I think called itself Wahrheitsgesellschaft — Society for Truth — and which was more or less localized in Berlin, devoted its spare time looking for Vril. Yes, their convictions were founded upon Bulwer-Lytton’s “The Corning Race.” They knew that the book was fiction, Bulwer-Lytton had used that device in order to be able to tell the truth about this “power.” The subterranean humanity was nonsense, Vril was not, Possibly it had enabled the British. who kept it as a State secret, to amass their colonial empire. Surely the Romans had -had it, inclosed in small metal balls, which guarded their homes and were referred to as lares. For reasons which I failed to penetrate, the secret of Vril could be found by contemplating the structure of an apple, sliced in halves.”

Nor should we ignore the long and ignoble history of L.Ron Hubbard and Scientology within science-fiction’s capacity to explore the mechanics of toxic ideas not as a warning but as “how to” or instruction manual for controlling significant numbers of people for regressive ends. Added to that is a very long and ugly history of racism within science fiction from writers such as H.P.Lovercraft where racism as fear of the other is rippled through his most influential work to H.G.Wells whose progressive ideas didn’t prevent him making use of racist stereotypes.

Doubling back to the essay that ostensibly is the topic of my post but which I note that I’m largely ignoring, it starts very badly but in an interestingly bad way:

“When mainstream authors like Eric Flint complain that the science fiction establishment, and its gatekeeper the Hugo Awards, has “drift[ed] away from the opinions and tastes of… mass audience[s],” prioritizing progressive messaging over plot development, the response from the Left is uniform: Science fiction is by its very nature progressive.”

The quote from Flint is from an essay post-Worldcon 2015 about the Sad Puppies decrying generalisations about the kinds of books the Sad Puppies where campaigning for*. The opening gives a clue to the framing of the essay, it is very much a shallow presentation of how Baen-adjacent culture sees itself as part of a libertarian tradition. Even the Flint link to the quote hits a Sad Puppy apologia rather than a meaty essay that followed that which explains the quote better ( <- I don’t recall writing about this at the time but I think Flint is wrong in an interesting way here but I’m trying to limit the number of tangents I’m spinning off into).

While I could pick holes throughout the (is Flint a good example of ‘mainstream’?) I’ll just leave the second paragraphs peculiar political analysis here:

“From conservatarian voices like Robert Heinlein, Larry Niven, Vernor Vinge, Poul Anderson, and F. Paul Wilson to those of a more flexible classical liberal bent like Ray Bradbury, David Brin, Charles Stross, Ken McLeod, and Terry Pratchett, libertarian-leaning authors have had an outsized, lasting influence on the field.”

I assume he doesn’t mean “classical liberal” which has a specific meaning ( ) or maybe he really does mean that (given the next sentence) but whatever he means it is hard to see how Ray Bradbury fits into a neat political category with Stross and MacLeod and even hard to see how ‘classical liberal’ would describe the circle in a Venn diagram encompassing that whole list.

The essay carries on in much the same way, switching between (but without ever properly clarifying) the distinction between themes around liberty and personal freedom within science-fiction (which run through a range of political positions), works that have more specifically inspired US right-leaning libertarians and works that expressly are connected with those movements (i.e. Atlas Shrugged). That doesn’t negate the central argument, which, as I’ve already said, is correct: there is a long libertarian tradition in science fiction in multiple sense of the word ‘libertarian’. So the piece tends to drift around a point or swerves into a Baen advert:

“There’s also a prominent publishing house, Baen Books, that prioritizes liberty-themed SF literature. Though its authors and editors are ideologically diverse, ranging, says author Larry Correia, “from libertarian to communist,” Baen nevertheless represents an impressive cohort of staunch liberty defenders, among them Correia himself, Sarah Hoyt, and Michael Z. Williamson. Although Baen has attempted to distance itself from political affiliation, the company frequently publishes liberty-themed tracts and anthologies, including the recent Taxpayers’ Tea Party: A Manual For Reclaiming Our Country, by Sharon Cooper and Chuck Asay.”**

There are quotes from Eric S Raymond (who I’d forgotten was a Puppy nominee) and a lot of the Quillette essay appears to have been shaped by Raymond’s own accounts of libertarian science fiction. Raymond himself of course is almost a manifestation of the contradictions and ironically-authoritarian tendencies within American libertarianism. Taking you’re-not-boss-of-me or get-off-my-lawn as political maxims does not make for a coherent ideology and much of the “libertarian” aspect of tech-culture amounts to little more depth than this. That essence has led formal Libertarian Parties to become little more than crank-magnets, leaving control of the ideology as primarily a convenient fig-leaf for political conservatives who are very against government in the sense of using taxes to pay for hospitals and very much in favourite of it in the sense of using taxes to pay for a militarised police and for a political military.

What I do like is that he puts Heinlein at the heart of it and there I thing the essay touches on an essence of something. I don’t think Heinlein is easy to categories politically and there is more than enough variety in his work and his eagerness to explore multiple ideas that there’s no simple causal relation between whatever his personal political views were and his works. Also, to a substantial degree, I’m not that interested in Heinlein the man. Rather what interests me in terms of the influence of his works in terms of the political strand of science fiction is that the same three novels are cited over and over:

  • Starship Troopers
  • The Moon is a Harsh Mistress
  • Stranger in a Strange Land

Each have been influential in their own way but the narrative around them is often framed in terms of contradictions. Stranger is often posed as being counter-culture and more libertine than liberty. Troopers is militaristic and dallies with fascism. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress though is the book that has been most associated with US right-wing libertarianism. As the Quillette piece notes:

“[Milton] Friedman even named his 1975 public policy book after the novel’s slogan TANSTAAFL (“There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch”).”

The section on Heinlein also notes the role of the “competent man” in Heinlein’s works. Ken MacLeod in his own essay on politics in science fiction says of Heinlein:

“Heinlein’s liberalism (in the above sense) is fairly consistent, as is his movement from democratic to elitist formulations of it. His earlier works show a faith in ‘the common man’; his later, in the competent man. His works include some that are sensitive to the realities of politics, and some that decidedly are not, but which do embody the imaginative exposition of a political philosophy. The best example of the former is Double Star; of the latter, Starship Troopers. One that attempts to do both, and fails to do either, is The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.”

The Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction (Cambridge Companions to Literature) . Cambridge University Press. Kindle Edition.

Of course that competent man is epitomised more broadly in science fiction in the form of the heroic engineer, indeed the Quillette essay opens the section on Heinlein with a quote about engineers (which, of course, takes us right back to Eric Flint’s Sad Puppy essay).

As I said, what Heinlein’s actual views were are not something I’m interested in establishing: the fascist elements in Troopers are there regardless of Heinlein’s personal views and pointing them out isn’t part of some prosecution case to cancel Heinlein. Likewise, that Moon is often ambiguous in its depiction of quasi-anarcho-capitalism doesn’t belie the love for it among libertarians (see Milton Friedman above). However, as a trio of stories (and again just a fraction of Heinlein’s overall work) I’d argue they really do form not a coherent common ideology but as a kind of fictional map of common ideas within the US right-wing libertarianism.

Troopers only seems to stand in opposition to Stranger if we expect that the culture of libertarianism (as opposed to the claims made by libertarians about what it is an abstract ideology) are wholly opposite to those of fascism. In reality this is simply bunk. Modern American libertarianism has at time stood in opposition to America’s wars (notably the Iraq war) but culturally and manifestly has been pre-predominately pro-military. Within science fiction, that ‘libertarian’ strand that Quillette points to is often manifest in the form of military science fiction (a sub-genre in part descended from Starship Troopers). Stranger is aesthetically quite different but it still fits within the same gamut of ideas: there are special people who know what they are doing and should be left alone to get on with it. Tech-libertarianism (e.g. Eric S Raymond) follows from that same elevation of (believed) compotence as the mythical sci-fi heroic engineer: the man with a job to do who would just get that job done if there weren’t all these people interfering***!

I see over and over again within the sci-fi right (which predominately has described itself either now or in the past as libertarian including the overtly nationalist Vox Day who very much used to call himself a libertarian) these same set of ideas applied to the military, the police and to society in general. It is a notion that there are simple natural laws of reality (‘the cold equations’ if you like or TANSTAAFL) that ‘competent’ people get (soldiers, law-enforcement, engineers of one kind of another) that if only they could get on with things everything would be sorted but which they can’t do because of [them]. The [them] being whoever the villain of the day is and for the more overtly neo-Nazis are given ethnic groups and for the others are ‘SJWs’ or Marxist professors or civil servants or whoever.

Again, that’s not intended as a dig at Heinlein. Quite the opposite. That he sort of mapped out the connection between this milieu of thinking that somehow accommodates both sexual-repression and sexual-permissiveness**** demonstrates the breadth of his imagination. The issue isn’t whether it is Heinlein’s fault that his works were admired by both Milton Friedman (see above) and Charles Manson (see Jeet Heer’s essay ) but rather that there is this weird space that encompasses both this trio of works by Heinlein and a cultural/ideological thread that connects utterly different people such as Friedman and Manson.

Ken MacLeod argued that:

“The central political voice in genre sf is that of Robert A. Heinlein. To recognize this is not necessarily to agree with his views. Sociology has been described as a dialogue with Marx; the political strand in sf can be described as a dialogue with Heinlein.”

The Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction (Cambridge Companions to Literature) . Cambridge University Press. Kindle Edition.

I don’t know how true that is but I think it is notable (and paradoxical)that the voices in recent years objecting to politics within their science fiction have often aligned themselves as heir to Heinlein.

*[I’d also say it is a very disingenuous essay from Flint, he castigates critics of the Sad Puppies for claiming that they want stories about brave white male engineers with ray guns when the works of Hoyt, Ringo, Freer and Torgersen aren’t like that but then ignores that ideal of sci-fi is pretty much what Torgersen and other pups were claiming as an example of the thing that needed to be returned to science fiction or if not exactly that then Brad’s Nutty-Nugget expectation of:

“A few decades ago, if you saw a lovely spaceship on a book cover, with a gorgeous planet in the background, you could be pretty sure you were going to get a rousing space adventure featuring starships and distant, amazing worlds. If you saw a barbarian swinging an axe? You were going to get a rousing fantasy epic with broad-chested heroes who slay monsters, and run off with beautiful women. Battle-armored interstellar jump troops shooting up alien invaders? Yup. A gritty military SF war story, where the humans defeat the odds and save the Earth. And so on, and so forth.”

Anyway the link to Flint’s piece is here: ]

**[I actually have a copy Taxpayers’ Tea Party: A Manual For Reclaiming Our Country, by Sharon Cooper and Chuck Asay. It is a very odd thing and notably it is an updated version of an older book. Very odd that he calls it ‘recent’ though.]

***[And yes, I’ve been in that headspace myself so many times and I get it and I’ve also been the person interfering. Neither is a good basis for developing a model of society.]

****[Indeed, if we take the trio of novels as a map of mental space it almost predicts an otherwise improbable ideologically connected sexual-repression:sexual-permissiveness that we really did see in the alt-right which variously pivoted between pick up-artistry to anti-pornography arguments often from the same people]

89 thoughts on “Sci-fi, Libertarians, Heinlein and other stuff

    1. Stross: “It’s in the nature of many folks with an extreme political-intellectual position that they try to re-frame literary figures they respect as supportive of their beliefs. ” Yep. endless variations of “This movie is really incredibly conservative” or “these great rock songs are all very right wing.” High Noon, written with an anti-blacklist subtext, is conservative because it shows how a Real Man stands up to evil. One now-dead libertarian site listed any movie that could be considered pro-freedom as libertarian.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. And honestly I think that’s OK.
        Put another way *every* reality is inspired by reality even if each twists, distorts or draws the wrong lesson from reality. I shouldn’t be surprised if ideologies react to fiction in the same way and art that is sufficiently complex probably will engender a myriad of responses in the same way reality does.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. The author’s idea of what Frankenstein truly symbolises is an excellent example of pretzel logic.

    And while Charles Stross, Ken MacLeod and Terry Pratchett are popular among Libertarians (Stross and MacLeod have both won the Prometheus Award and Pratchett was beloved by several of the more libertarian leaning Sad Puppies), neither of them are/were Libertarians. Stross and MacLeod are both Socialists. Eric Flint self-indentifies as a Socialist, though he strikes me more like a typical US Libertarian who happens to believe that unions are a great thing. From what little I’ve seen of Flint’s work – the blatant inaccuracies in the 1632 series make it unreadable to me – he or rather his character also really like guns.

    Ray Bradbury also doesn’t fit in either with the rightwing Libertarians or with the explicitly leftwing Scottish/British writers. Except for Fahrenheit 451 (which again can be interpreted in many different ways), Bradbury’s work is also less explicitly political. Though I noticed that during WWII, he wrote several stories wherein non-combatants (e.g. someone who retrieves corpses from the battlefield, a newsreel photographer, an undead nurse, etc…) save the day and win the war. I suspect that the small town Americana aspects inherent in much of Bradbury’s work appeal to certain conservatives, though the Campbellian hard SF crowd often doesn’t like Bradbury’s work, because he did not care about equations and hard science.

    As for Heinlein, I agree that he was a more complex figure than both his strident defenders and critics make him out to be. He definitely had a libertarian bent and moved politically further to the right as he aged, probably due to the influence of his third wife Virginia. But then he isn’t the only SFF author who moved rightwards with age. Leigh Brackett, another SFF author with a libertarian bent, started out writing explicitly anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist stories, several of them starring people of colour, in the 1940s and by the 1970s was writing about evil welfare states and evil space hippies. Interestingly, Brackett is a favourite of the pulp revolution offshot of the puppy movement who somehow seem to completely miss the anti-colonialist, anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist implications of her early stories.

    Science fiction definitely has a strong liberal thread (liberal in the European, not in the US sense) running through it. However, this liberal thread runs along a spectrum from left-liberal to rightwing libertarian.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Oh yes, regarding the “competent man”, Heinlein certainly had a thing for competent and later hyper-competent, near superhuman protagonists, but the “competent man” protagonist is not nearly as common in golden age science fiction, even that published by John W. Campbell in Astounding, as many people seem to believe.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. Im just trying to understand why someone would call Pratchett a LIberatalian, other from the obvious reason “I like him, he must be like me”.
      I mean, OK, I can see Mumm as a Liberatalian hero, if you squint a lot and stretch and sit on your head maybe Weatherwax as well.Burt it completly unravels with the Trucker-triology, Rince Wind and of course Good omens. Im not even sure of Vetinari fits.
      It seems to me, that this is a case of putting single pieces together, that could be Liberatalian and ignore everything that is not.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I haven’t read a lot of Pratchett but I think anybody who isn’t too overtly SJW and in some way satirises bureaucracy or government gets co-opted as libertarian friendly. Fair enough I suppose.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. They seem to ignore that he was SIR Terry Pratchett, thanks to a ritual handed down from medieval times, tapped on the shoulder by a woman descended from centuries of guys who claimed to rule by divine right.

        Hereditary monarchy is the definition of centralized state power, innit?

        Liked by 1 person

      3. It’s because of Vetinari. Vetinari has the view that people are sheep/serfs and feel much better if intellectual elites are quietly deciding what’s good for them. The libertarian view became that there are property owners (new lords) and workers (serfs,) that we should go back to that and government should not interfere with property owners doing whatever they want to anything they want. That the property owners were smart and superior Makers (divinely anointed, genetically inherently blue blooded,) and those below them are Takers. To a lot of right wing libertarians, Vetinari’s views of governance are libertarian and Randian. There’s a lot more nuance to Vetinari’s views than that and Pratchett often shows that Vetinari’s views are wrong, even when he’s successful. But Vetinari is what men libertarians imagine themselves to be, so that’s one of the main reasons they try to claim Discworld.

        Liked by 1 person

    3. All those people who claim that Pratchett had libertarian leanings simply aren’t attentive readers. He made his thoughts on modern capitalism quite clear by writing the “Most von Lipwig” novels. Giving him the Prometheus for Night Watch was a bit of a self own, too.

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      1. The Prometheus Award is just as likely to go to British, mainly Scottish, Socialists as to US Libertarians, which has always puzzled me. At least, the winners are usually pretty good, though the last two years a really dreadful book and its sequel won.

        Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m a huge Brackett fan myself and likee the Skaith trilogy a lot. That said, the evil happies baffled me even more than the evil welfare state thing, because I literally could not wrap my head around the idea of evil murderous hippies, because it just seemed so absurd.

        It wasn’t until last year and the much commemorated 50th anniversary of the Manson family murders that I realised that in the early 1970s, many Americans, particularly in California, really were deadly afraid of murderous hippies*. And Leigh Brackett wrote the screenplay for Rio Lobo, which came out in 1970, i.e. she was probably in Hollywood when the murders happened. So to her, evil murderous hippies were not nearly as far-fetched as they seemed to me when I was reading the Skaith trilogy in the 1990s.

        *I was aware of the Manson family murders, of course, but to me they were something horrible that happened a long time ago in a place far away. Plus, from my POV, the 1960s were a very violent time full of horrible things happening, so the Manson family murders were just one more horrible thing that happened during a time where a lot of horrible things happened. However, the weird commemoration last year and that Tarantino film showed me that I vastly underestimated the impact of the Manson family murders on American culture.


    4. If Stross is particularly popular among libertarians, I’m guessing that that’s mostly because 1. he likes to talk about technology, 2. he likes to write about techies, and 3. he is vocal in his disdain for what he imagines to be the beliefs of leftists other than himself. I gave up on reading his commentary when he expounded on how people who didn’t support the expanded use of nuclear power weren’t just wrong, but were literally in favor of dismantling all of Western civilization and returning to a pre-agricultural condition; that is, he didn’t just acknowledge that deep-ecology radicals exist, he was firmly convinced that they’re a dominant force among people who don’t agree with him on this matter.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Stross’ blogposts and articles frequently annoy me as well, including his pro-nuclear power stand (in Germany, only the far right is in favour of nuclear power, while everybody on the respectable political spectrum vehemently opposes it). However, while Stross may come across as a jerk on his blog (I briefly met him at Eurocon last year and he’s very pleasant in person), he’s not even remotely libertarian.


      2. Sure, I know Stross isn’t a libertarian (and I can certainly believe he’s a nice guy in person)… I’m just saying it makes sense to me that those people would find certain aspects of his work and in some cases even his political commentary to be congenial to them, especially if they’re not exactly careful readers.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Apparently a number of libertarians/objectivists love Tolkien too, and see the One Ring as a symbol of Big Government which is why the good guys reject using it. They apparently don’t notice that the novel ends with the restoration of a monarchy.


  2. Have you read the Farah Mendlesohn book in the Related Works yet? She suggests that one of the aspects of Heinlein’s political writing is him trying out the pros and cons of various ideas, so one story may glorify militarism or statism, while another takes a more cynical view.

    I’m not sure about Heinlein showing faith in the “common man” – his early stuff is pretty well populated with Competent Men, technocrats doing their technocratic thing; even if they’re not in the higher social strata, it’s still clear they know what they’re doing and should be left to get on with it – look at the protagonist of “The Roads Must Roll”, for instance, or the kids in “Rocketship Galileo” who are clearly technocrats-in-training under the tutelage of the uncle…. One counter-example I can think of offhand is the protagonist of “Magic, Inc.”, and he’s not a terribly good counter-example because he’s mostly a spectator inside his own plot – the actual resolution of which is driven by a (super-competent) witch. (I suppose there are a few others – the guy in “Coventry” who is an English Lit graduate until he gets a stern Heinleinian dose of How The Real World Works and resolves to become an engineer; the protagonist of “Double Star” who grows into his role… but I think the idolizing of the Competent Man is a pretty consistent strand in Heinlein’s writing from the early days onwards.)

    Liked by 2 people

    1. “One counter-example I can think of offhand is the protagonist of ‘Magic, Inc.'”

      Or “Waldo” (which I associate with “Magic, Inc.” because I had a double edition as a kid), where the title character is very competent as an engineer, but doesn’t achieve his personal breakthrough until he steps outside of his area of competence and dabbles in magic that he doesn’t understand at all.

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      1. In “Waldo” the hero starts out as a super-competent engineer – but he’s miserable, and makes anyone near him miserable by contagion. He grows up and gives up engineering for dance, makes friends and becomes happy.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Haha, well, I’m glad you mentioned the dance part (it’s possible that one reason I was fascinated with tap dance at an early age was “Waldo”), but the only reason he’s able to pursue dance is that he’s healed or circumvented his myasthenia through the study of folk magic. He didn’t just decide to give engineering a rest.


    2. The guy in Coventry is an interesting case, because he thinks he’s a rough and tough individualist who can survive by his wits, and with the mobile home full of supplies he’s brought with him. The real competent men and women in the story treat him with contempt until he learns to do something worthwhile by their lights – and that something is to risk his life in the service of other people.

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  3. I think the worst failing of Libertarianism is that it cannot offer a rationale for non-discrimination laws. Indeed, I suspect that most Libertarians are primarily motivated by a desire to bring back their “right to discriminate.”

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    1. I’d consider that merely a particular example of the biggest failure.

      Libertarianism generally opposes government power, but is happy to allow anybody with economic or social power to run rough-shod over the liberty of everyone else. At least when it suits them.

      Anyone really concerned with liberty has to consider the balance of interests, and the government’s role in defending liberty against the exercise of power.

      Non-discrimination laws enhance liberty in general, by restricting liberty in particular – and they really were needed for just that reason.

      Liked by 7 people

      1. The late Tibor Machan, a libertarian columnist with the chain I used to work for, was quite emphatic that a libertarian world would have less democracy: privatize everyone, then have the owners dictate who can use roads, what gets taught in schools, who gets to march in parades. As there’s no government involved, nobody has any rights to object and so society becomes smooth and orderly instead of special interests interfering and derailing the pure libertarian system he wants.
        Quite aside from the authoritarian aspects, he was foolish to imagine this would actually prevent people having a say: private schools, for instance, have to deal with a lot of parents who expect a return on their fees (why aren’t their kids getting all A’s? Why aren’t they getting into the Ivy League?).

        Liked by 2 people

          1. Machan, like a lot of libertarians, blithely ignores the company town problem — that sometimes “go shop somewhere else” isn’t an option. Where I used to live there was one major east-west highway and if the hypothetical corporate owner refused to let you drive on it or simply let it fall to pot-holes, it would have been impractical to find alternatives (I’ve had to do that when hurricanes shut stretches of the road down and it was a nightmare).

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        1. That sounds like the Libertarian Golden Rule: “Those who have the gold make the rules.” Who the heck would want to live there? (Of course, with the extreme income inequality and corporate personhood, it’s almost like that in the US now.)

          Liked by 2 people

    2. Yeah, that’s one thing that always gets me – opposition to the idea of protected classes.

      At its most basic legal level, a protected class is something the government cannot discriminate over, that’s why they get enumerated in rights documents.


      1. No, no, no, they HATE discrmination. They feel really bad and wring their hands at the thought of blacks or Jews or gays being denied service or jobs, but you know, it’s just not something government should be able to fix. Besides, before affirmative action, jobs were awarded purely on merit, isn’t that a much better approach?

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  4. For all their wanting to be the heirs of Heinlein, everyone found out how shockingly unfamiliar the Puppies actually were with his works (other than Starship Troopers, maybe). In their own words, even.

    The Puppy authors (save Larry, I guess?) aren’t actually that popular/best selling anyway, as far as I can tell. Big fish in a small pond. And as a whole, I don’t think Heinlein would consider them “competent men” (or women; RAH had them too).

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    1. Yes very much. I don’t think Flint was even right about there being a change in the Hugo’s versus best selling either. Even in the case of Orson Scott Card, were he really did fall out of favour for a well understood reason, the pattern of a big win at one point in his career followed by no wins is not very different from Ursula Le Guin. [ETA: Actually LeGuin was a bad example on my part because I forgot she was a finalist in 2002]

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      1. Never mind that many recent Hugo winners have sold very well indeed. Ann Leckie and N.K. Jemisin both made the New York Times bestseller list. Mary Robinette Kowal sells well. And Liu Cixin has probably outsold all Hugo winners not named J.K. Rowling.

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      2. Flint wrote that essay in August 2015. 2 or 3 month earlier Scalzi announced his 13 book deal. Needless to say he sold well beforehand. It would be easier to find a novelist in the last 15 years or so of the Hugo Award who doesn’t sell well then someone who does.

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      3. Flint seems to suffer from what I call the Baen fallacy. Some baen authors like Weber, Flint, Correia, Ringo, etc… seem to sell very well in parts of the US, mainly in the Midwest and what I’ve been told is called the Mountain West. Probably the South, too, judging by the heavy Baen presence at Southern cons. Many of the authors also live in the regions, where their books are popular, so they probably assume it’s the same everywhere.

        However, Baen books don’t sell equally well in other parts of the US. And since they have a well known problem with international distribution, Baen books are not easy to find outside the US. You can usually special order them and Amazon carries them, but you won’t find them on bookshop shelves unless it’s a specialty bookshop. So when Damien Walter mortaklly offended Larry Correia by calling him a little known author, he was telling the truth from a UK POV. Larry Correia was not well known in the UK at that point, because he’s published by Baen and Baen books are notoriously difficult to find in Europe. The only places where I’ve ever seen books by Larry Correia, Sarah Hoyt, David Weber, John Ringo, etc… in the wild in Europe was in the big Forbidden Planet stores in London and Birmingham and at Hodges Figgis in Dublin. Not to mention that Correia’s books are also very American, so they won’t appeal to international audiences as much.

        Baen authors are big fish in their regional ponds. However, they have no idea how big the ocean really is.

        It’s a similar phenomenon you see with certain self-published authors. They’ve been in a top ten at Amazon, maybe multiple times, they’ve been a Kindle Unlimited All-Star, were Kindle deal of the Month, they make six figures, etc…, so they assume that they’re famous authors. And then they go to a con and realise that very few people know who they are, because there is a huge world beyond the Amazon eco-system.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. @myself @7:20

        The last sentence might no make sense. Want I meant of course was that the majority of Hugo nominees and winners were and are selling well contrary to Flint.

        Re:Cora @8:13

        The likes Correia, Weber and several others are well represented in German book stores just not in English but in translation which means publishers other than Baen. But people like Freer or Hoyt et al. are probably unknown. Some of these authors are also past their prime. What I don’t know about is the reach of Baen’s electronic subscriptions and eBook sales.

        Lastly afaik none of them neither Weber nor Hoyt nor Bujold who has crossed over into other media. Even if you have several million books in print like Ringo you can be thus not really well known.

        Liked by 1 person

      5. It’s interesting that Eric Flint does not mention Lois McMaster Bujold at all, since she’s a popular author with a long career and one of the highest number of Hugo wins and nominations in the fiction categories. And she’s a Baen author/semi-Baen author, too. Plus, her last Hugo wins were in 2017 and 2018 respectively.

        But yes, even Lois McMaster Bujold’s books are not easy to find in Europe, because Baen’s distirbution is crap.

        Regarding Ursula K. Le Guin, if we included best related work and art book, her span would be comparable to Martin’s and Asimov’s, because she kept being nominated and winning even after her death. And Le Guin’s career started relatively late in life, otherwise her span would be even bigger.


      6. Cora: “It’s interesting that Eric Flint does not mention Lois McMaster Bujold at all,”

        If he did, then it would have completely undermined the theorem, so he didn’t. Flint isn’t as conservative as the Puppies, though he’s worked with them at Baen, and he was trying to bridge build between arguing groups and so he, essentially, kind of lied. One of the Puppies’ morphed rationales for what they were doing was that Baen Books was being shafted, had gotten nominations before but was now closed out of the race due to unproven SJW shenanigans with rigging the elections towards non-popular, liberal, not pulpy works. But that wasn’t true.

        Baen Books was founded in 1983. It took till 1991 for it to get a Best Novel nomination and it was Bujold, one of their lead authors, who won. Their second nomination was in 1995 and it was again Bujold, who won again. In 1997, they got two nominations — Bujold and Elizabeth Moon, also a star author, neither of whom won that year. Bujold then got nominations in 2000, 2011 and 2013 and those were the only Baen Books nominations. (And then they had Correia’s in 2014, which was the campaign of a voting block.)

        So Baen’s success in the Best Novel Hugo category was almost entirely due to Bujold, a category bestseller and then bigger bestseller and one of their lead authors. And Bujold, while she didn’t get it every year, was part of a cluster of authors getting nominations a lot in the 1990’s and then had a few more nominations from books in her series that Hugo voters liked. Because of Bujold, Baen Books had Hugo nominations and two wins for twenty years. Because of Bujold, Baen Books has never been shut out of the Hugos since their first 1991 nomination for her work. So the narrative that Baen Books used to be rewarded with nominations and then was shut out in the last ten years, or fifteen years, or twenty years from politics — all arguments the Puppies made around the theory of the dastardly scheming of “liberal” Tor Books — only works if you don’t actually present the facts that past and present Baen participation has been entirely dependent on Bujold, a not quite conservative or liberal author who is a super popular bestseller who is also respected for her writing ability and role model role in women authors of SFF — feminism.

        So they pretended she wasn’t there while claiming the past glory of her laurel wreaths. It’s a neat bit of erasing a major woman writer in SFF and one of Baen Book’s most important authors. And Flint went along with it, which is not to his credit. The Puppies routinely ignored inconvenient women authors in their diatribes about how the SFF field had horribly changed politically — the feminist SF movement, Afro-futurism, major books by women in the 1980’s and 1990’s, and if they were pointed out, then suddenly the time that everything horribly changed kept being pushed back to an earlier time period.

        They also ignored the simple fact that each generation gets more liberal and more supportive of equal civil rights and thus SFF over the years will reflect that in Hugo voters’ choices even if authors didn’t attempt activism for equality in the field itself. They have to ignore that because their whole argument is that conservatives are the “silent” majority, at least in the glory of the U.S. and among U.S. SFF fans. So an increase in stories oriented on civil rights issues is surely a SJW plot to them against the “popular” majority.

        But people kept dragging the data out in front of them, whatever argument they made, including Bujold’s existence and record for Baen. So they either declared that they didn’t believe the data (David Gerrold doesn’t know anything about the show he wrote on, etc.) or switched to a new argument (it’s now unpopular indies against big corporate publishers instead of popular bestsellers against obscure and academic literary SJW works, etc.) Eventually people gave up trying to argue with them as it was like grasping ooze and just started working on how to keep groups from using voting blocks to wreak havoc on the awards.

        Bujold may not get many more or possibly any more nominations for Best Novel because she’s now a grand dame of the field, but she also gets nominations for shorter fiction. And she’ll continue to be ignored by far right pundits who find her existence and record inconvenient for their sweeping theories of the field.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Libertarianism became a big thing in science fiction in the 1980’s, though various ideas had been kicking around before then and obviously there were Rand’s books, though they weren’t in the genre market. You had Reagonomics (which obviously involves Friedman,) that advanced trickle down ghoul capitalism with stock profits at the top being prioritized over capitalization investment and sustained productivity. And you had the backlash social conservative movement which tried to slow down the advancement of women and minorities in business and government, which was generally seen as a good thing by business types, particularly in tech where the women were forced out with crowbars and libertarianism particularly appealed as they milked the governments for money. Eighties SF was a mix of social cynicism, dystopias and military SF on steroids. The idea of a future where governments had given way to giant corporations with serfs was extremely popular in a lot of 1980’s science fiction.

    In some ways, libertarianism in science fiction in the 80’s was a rebellion against New Wave SF and a return to “Campbellian” adventure SF and 1950’s values, which fit the backlash attempts of the far right in that decade to return society to 1950’s values, whereas Heinlein’s novels embraced many aspects of the New Wave. By the 1990’s, science fiction was a lot more fractured, larger, less focused on short fiction/magazines and not built around a small cluster of big name, mostly white guy icons. Series became more important than standalones, the wholesale market collapsed and created a lot of market changes, and you had a lot of women authors making a big impact in SF.

    Obviously libertarian fans feel Heinlein was influential to their political view, but it’s a very big leap — the kind favored by libertarians — to say that it was the central political theory of science fiction. (Progressivism wasn’t always seen as the enemy of libertarianism either for libertarians until libertarianism got progressively more right wing and discrimination minded.) Progressivism and civil rights ideas were always a critical part of science fiction but were often subverted by having social issues loaded onto aliens instead of given direct analysis. In more recent science fiction of the last two and a half decades, subverting those issues is still a thing but less of a thing. The market also became more international, as did all fiction markets, meaning that more perspectives were exchanged in the English language market, which increases progressivism.

    But as we know, the arguments that the Puppies kept trying to make about the political make-up of modern science fiction in regards to the Hugos never managed any coherency. Whenever they made a claim and it was shown to be false by easily accessible data, they’d make a new claim about why they had to try to destroy/control the Hugos and run a voting bloc. They couldn’t even articulate their own political philosophy — they had no central cohesion beyond “liberals bad” — and indeed kept trying to insist that they wanted SF rewarded that didn’t have “any” politics in it, even libertarianism. That claim was clearly false as they kept trying to argue that only pro-civil rights material (progressivism) was political, that right wing libertarian politics made good plots, that it was politically right wing authors who were getting shafted specifically for the right wing politics in their science fiction (and fantasy,) etc. We used to rule and now we don’t though we’re still more popular than you seemed to be most of the yelling and data-wise it wasn’t true.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. I started reading SF in the 1980s, reading a mix of golden age and new books, though I largely avoided the New Wave stuff due to two bad experiences early on. However, I don’t recall that many explicitly libertarian works, unless the political implications went over my head.

      I did notice that Heinlein really, really didn’t like unions. I also bought The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, because the title and premise sounded cool and was then squicked out by the group marriages and bored silly by all the political bloviating.

      I also read a lot of Poul Anderson, because the import bookstore where I bought my SF books carried a lot of his books. He’s generally considered a Libertarian, but I found his work all over the place politically. And of course, one of his most famous characters is a government agent.

      That said, the store where I bought most of my SF did not carry the most egregriously rightwing stuff. Whoever was responsible for stocking that spinner rack knew their stuff.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Anderson has said that his political views changed over time: in the 1950s he saw the UN as a vital tool to keeping the world in order, by the 1980s it was part of the New World Order.
        He wrote a godawful essay in the late 1960s arguing (in a “tongue in cheek but I’m really making a valid point way”) that everyone whining about discrimination and oppression is full of shit.
        However I agree he’s more complicated than just conservative.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Yes, Anderson is a complex example, almost as complex as Heinlein. I always preferred his earlier work, particularly the Dominic Flandry stories. Until I found Bujold and realised that she did something similar to Anderson, but so much better. I read some later work from the 1980s and even a fairly obscure novel with a hippie artist protagonist from the early 1970s.

        Meanwhile, I never cared for Anderson’s fantasy, particularly the now fondly remembered Broken Sword, High Crusades and Three Hearts and Three Lions. Too Catholic for me.


        1. I loved Anderson’s fantasy, more than his SF. Three Hearts is in some ways an example of Anderson not being conservative by modern US standards: his heroine is quite keen on sleeping with the hero (he chooses to remain chaste) but there’s no sense of slut-shaming.

          Liked by 1 person

    2. Eighties SF was a mix of social cynicism, dystopias and military SF on steroids.

      And somewhere William Gibson was tearing his hair out, saying “This was supposed to be a warning, you fools! Why are you treating it as cool?”

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Exactly.

        All sorts of writers in the 1980’s and 1990’s that the Puppies tried to ignore in their timelines and when pointed out to them, had to keep moving the tipping point of the supposed conspiracy further and further back into essentially the 1800s.

        There was Pat Cadigan in cyberpunk, Nalo Hopkinson who burst on the scene with Brown Girl in the Ring, Steven Barnes’ Dream Park series with Larry Niven — all authors who got Hugo nominations. Cyberpunk was inspired by and built on the roots of Samuel Delaney, Phillip K. Dick and others critiquing capitalism, colonialism, bigotry, etc. And of course you have all the Japanese cyberpunk, which came out of their culture and their writing and anime has in turn inspired countless western science fiction writers over 35 years.

        Liked by 2 people

  6. The difference of terminology between U.S. and European notions of libertarian is driving me nuts.
    I always considered myself a progressive libertarian here in Europe. When talking to my US friends, it’s always a confusion and needs explanation, as they think more of Turbo capitalism.
    I found a good example here:
    And yes, the baker thing was really a case in Germany.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Re: Pre-1980 Libertarian fandom, I will say that in 1975-6, I had youthful Libertarian tendences, and many of the fans around me contributed to that. Some were ex-military, and went halfway to hippieness, which seems to take one to that. I worked in a comic shop (My boss may have had a libertarian streak: His goal was to make a million before he was 21, and he did.), and often whiled away idle hours and minutes drawing comics. During that time, L. Neil Smith, who was a local fellow for me, came by, and we somehow got talking about doing a Libertarian comic strip or book together, but since he never showed up again, that’s officially ‘on hold’ for the time being. At the time, Libertarianism didn’t seem all that incongruous next to, say, the Star Trek ethos, perhaps as a result of not examining the consequences of either philosophy very far.

    I got better. In 1980, I didn’t see any reason to prefer Reagan much over Carter (who I disliked for rather stupid personal reasons at the time), so I flushed my vote to the Libertarian candidate. When Reagan started acting nutty enough for me to notice, I began a long, slow path to redemption, so when I lecture people on helping an odious candidate by throwing their vote away, I’m speaking with the authority of an ex-smoker or reformed alky.

    There are still some libertarians I respect. Roy Edroso comes to mind.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Edroso isn’t Libertarian at all but solidly progressive. He supported Sanders during the last two elections and votes Democratic. He presumably has choice words for the guys at “Reason”.


      1. So you’re saying I’m wrong? Wrong? Me? Is that what you’re saying here? That I’m wrong?

        Huh. I guess I’m wrong. I guess the question now is whether I have him confused with someone else, or I’m just confused a la carte.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Roy rips into them with the same fervor as he does National Review. Probably because these days they’re social conservatives who just find “libertarian” better for marketing.


        1. I do like Peter Bagge, though, and he publishes his cartoons at Reason. I suspect it’s as contrarian as he can get without violating his conscience.


  8. Of possible interest – Heinlein was reprimanded by the Navy for writing a letter (and signing it with his rank) which criticized the police for beating an 18-year-old woman unconscious while breaking up a college demonstration. Plus ça change.

    Liked by 3 people

      1. Depending on where you draw the line for “middle-aged,” that makes sense. Heinlein was pretty progressive until his late 40s, say. I’d say the “weird” and the “non-progressive” showed up at about the same time, though.

        He was never a two-fisted adventure writer, though.


        I still can enjoy the 1970s style libertarian SF writers like Smith, Hogan, and Wilson (at least the last time I tried them – maybe that wouldn’t work again).

        Liked by 2 people

  9. I came across Libertarians for the first time in fandom in the early 80s. With their tiny-font unreadable flyers, and fervor in their demeanor much like the Scientologists (But the $cinos dressed better and had dead eyes).

    It’s been the standard shorthand for *decades* that “Libertarians are Republicans who want to have sex and take drugs.”

    The saying continues to be true.

    @Kip: I had a friend who fell into L. Neil’s orbit, as your and my faanish space-time continua overlapped for a bit.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. As usual, Cam, excellent post.

    One of the more delightful bits was that you reminded me of a time in the 80s when I was arguing with a friend about politics. He was willing to admit that most of the libertarians he had met were assholes, but he thought that was just a coincidence, and then asserted that their political philosophy had some good points. And I responded that they didn’t have a philosophy beyond, “Get off my lawn you filthy kids!”

    At least twenty years later he told me that while debating a particular ballot measure in our state with a mutual acquaintance who was a vocal Libertarian, he finally decided I had been right all those years ago. In part because he realized that in those twenty intervening years every single Libertarian he had met was also an asshole, but also because in this argument (that I didn’t witness), all of the arguments boiled down to, “You’re not the boss of me, but I should be the boss of everyone.”

    For another example of pretzel-thinking, the acquaintance who was a vocal Libertarian loved the Pratchett character of Carrot, because he was such a great example of a competent man who didn’t seek fame but managed to get things done anyway. Completely overlooking the constant contradiction within the narrative: Carrot could accomplish things because the universe bent his way because he was the rightful king–and the Carrot leveraged or eschewed that fact when it suited him (well, actually, when it suited whatever joke Pratchett was telling at the moment, but…).

    Liked by 3 people

  11. The “competent man” concept shows up a lot in police matters, both fictional and non-. “Dirty Harry” is a paean to that kind of thinking: Harry knows what has to be done but bureaucrats, sensation-seeking reporters, red tape, and cowardly politicians all stand in the way, which is why he can’t play by the rules. “Dark Knight Returns” plugs Batman into the template (of course by the 1980s cowardly politicians were struggling to prove they were tougher on crime than their opponents, not worrying about the rights of the accused).
    Similarly, a common justification for giving police a free hand is that they know who needs locking up or whose house or car needs searching — worrying about constitutional rights is just a legal loophole protecting guilty people (Reagan’s aide Ed Meese specifically asserted that we shouldn’t worry about the rights of the accused because the police never accuse anyone who isn’t guilty). Vagrancy laws in the 20th century were a common tool for locking up anyone the police wanted to hold; they were so insistent they needed that authority that it wasn’t until 1972 the courts finally axed the power (the book Vagrant Nation is a good guide to this topic).

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’ve been repeatedly surprised, though I really shouldn’t be by now, at how many people saw The Dark Knight Returns as satirizing conservatism just because it has a Reagan caricature in it. Never mind the ultra-tough-guy Batman taking on mobs of almost literally inhuman street criminals— it’s got an idiot psychiatrist who unleashes the Joker on society because the psychiatrist is such a touchy-feely liberal that he doesn’t believe the Joker could be a bad guy. And of course we all know that everything is run by touchy-feely liberals! Especially in 1986!}

      Liked by 1 person

      1. The politics didn’t strike me on first reading but when I reread it, yeah (though I still like it).
        It reminds me of No More Mr. Nice Blog’s observation that for Republicans it’s still 1969: hippies, radicals and blacks are burning the cities, crime is running wild, society is on the brink of anarchy.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I think partly it just felt like a breath of fresh air to see Reagan being made to look terrible in a mid-’80s mainstream comic. Elektra: Assassin benefited from a similar effect, and similarly goes out of its way to insinuate that liberals can’t be trusted either (I mean, I know Ken Wind in his demon-possessed state is not an actual liberal, but we’re basically given to believe that what Democrats say doesn’t actually matter at all because it’s just a bunch of empty platitudes and people are just voting for him because he’s a pretty face and isn’t a total shambles like the Reagan character)… although that one is so whacked-out and has so little to do with any kind of regular human activities that it comes across more as just apolitical. Plus it’s gorgeous and it’s funnier than the Batman one.

        Liked by 1 person

  12. “[Milton] Friedman even named his 1975 public policy book after the novel’s slogan TANSTAAFL (‘There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch’)”

    Oh for crying out loud. Do they seriously think Friedman was paying tribute to Heinlein? Friedman used the phrase “there’s no such thing as a free lunch” for the same reason Heinlein did: because it had been a very well-known expression in the US for decades, especially when both of them were growing up.

    I kind of suspect that the author just looked up this Wikipedia article, saw the part that said “Friedman also increased its exposure and use by paraphrasing it” immediately after a sentence about Heinlein, and simply didn’t take an extra second to understand that those were two independent points. Then again, I’m not sure it’s wise to assume that mistakes in Quillette are good-faith mistakes.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Even if Friedman knew of and admired the book, I think it’s a bit silly to frame it that way: “Milton Friedman even…”, as if the fact that a man of Heinlein’s generation used a phrase that had been in common use for at least 30 years before Moon/Mistress was clearly a sign of how influential SF libertarianism was, and as if it would’ve been taken by Friedman’s readers as a reference to Heinlein rather than a quote of something people had heard lots of times.

        Like, if Friedman had been writing about scams, and he named his book There’s A Sucker Born Every Minute, and he was a fan of the 1942 film There’s One Born Every Minute and that’s what made him think of the title, it’d still be odd to say that his book’s title was a sign of how influential that movie was (or even to say, as Wikipedia does, that he was “paraphrasing” its title rather than simply quoting another very common wording of that phrase that the title didn’t quite use).


  13. Eli

    “the only reason he’s able to pursue dance is that he’s healed or circumvented his myasthenia through the study of folk magic. He didn’t just decide to give engineering a rest.”

    True – but it’s still unexpected to have a Heinlein hero who gave up engineering for dance as soon as he was physically able to. Also, Waldo seemed to enjoy engineering because it gave him the opportunity to make other people grovel; when he could dance, he enjoyed that for itself.

    Liked by 2 people

  14. Troopers is militaristic and dallies with fascism.

    I disagree with that description of ST. There is nothing in the text to support that conclusion. I know the movie makes that conclusion, but that was inserted by the director rather than by RAH.

    The story is told through the eyes of a young trooper. But the story also makes it clear that anyone can earn the franchise including through non-military (yet still harrowed and risky) service.

    there are special people who know what they are doing and should be left alone to get on with it.

    I believe that is a misinterpretation of Heinlein’s general message. It isn’t that there a special people that are capable. It is that people, in general, are capable and are unreasonably hindered by the special people that enforce government regulations. RAH has a fairly anti-corporatist message throughout his works.

    One example (I might be repeating myself) is an early short story about a guy that invents a machine that can determine how long a person will live. Insurance companies sue him because people learn they will live a long time (and thus don’t buy insurance) or learn they won’t (and do buy insurance). The judge tosses the case saying that there is nothing in the law that guarantees companies will operate at a profit.

    TAGLINE ERROR! Report to tech support

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “I disagree with that description of ST. There is nothing in the text to support that conclusion. I know the movie makes that conclusion, but that was inserted by the director rather than by RAH.

      The story is told through the eyes of a young trooper. But the story also makes it clear that anyone can earn the franchise including through non-military (yet still harrowed and risky) service.”

      No it doesn’t. That was RAH’s retcon later and possibly that’s how he imagined it but there’s nothing in the story to show another option. Though if you have counter examples to quote from the book, feel free — it has been a while since I read it.


      1. I’ve read it at least a dozen times. But my paper copies are gone. Thanks for giving me a reason to buy an electronic copy. Here’s an extensive section from Chapter 2 that suggests government service is open to everyone and that while it is regimented, it is not necessarily military in nature. [FWIW – I’m most of the way through it (again) now and it still holds up for me. Thanks for motivating me to get another copy.]

        It says that everybody, male or female, shall have his born right to pay his service and assume full citizenship—but the facts are that we are getting hard pushed to find things for all the volunteers to do that aren’t just glorified K.P. You can’t all be real military men; we don’t need that many and most of the volunteers aren’t number-one soldier material anyhow. Got any idea what it takes to make a soldier?”

        “No,” I admitted.

        “Most people think that all it takes is two hands and two feet and a stupid mind. Maybe so, for cannon fodder. Possibly that was all that Julius Caesar required. But a private soldier today is a specialist so highly skilled that he would rate ‘master’ in any other trade; we can’t afford stupid ones. So for those who insist on serving their term—but haven’t got what we want and must have—we’ve had to think up a whole list of dirty, nasty, dangerous jobs that will either run ’em home with their tails between their legs and their terms uncompleted . . . or at the very least make them remember for the rest of their lives that their citizenship is valuable to them because they’ve paid a high price for it. Take that young lady who was here—wants to be a pilot. I hope she makes it; we always need good pilots, not enough of ’em. Maybe she will. But if she misses, she may wind up in Antarctica, her pretty eyes red from never seeing anything but artificial light and her knuckles callused from hard, dirty work.”

        I wanted to tell him that the least Carmencita could get was computer programmer for the sky watch; she really was a whiz at math. But he was talking.

        “So they put me out here to discourage you boys. Look at this.” He shoved his chair around to make sure that we could see that he was legless. “Let’s assume that you don’t wind up digging tunnels on Luna or playing human guinea pig for new diseases through sheer lack of talent; suppose we do make a fighting man out of you. Take a look at me—this is what you may buy . . . if you don’t buy the whole farm and cause your folks to receive a ‘deeply regret’ telegram. Which is more likely, because these days, in training or in combat, there aren’t many wounded. If you buy at all, they likely throw in a coffin—I’m the rare exception; I was lucky . . . though maybe you wouldn’t call it luck.”

        He paused, then added, “So why don’t you boys go home, go to college, and then go be chemists or insurance brokers or whatever? A term of service isn’t a kiddie camp; it’s either real military service, rough and dangerous even in peacetime . . . or a most unreasonable facsimile thereof. Not a vacation. Not a romantic adventure. Well?”

        Carl said, “I’m here to join up.”

        “Me, too.”

        “You realize that you aren’t allowed to pick your service?”

        Carl said, “I thought we could state our preferences?”

        “Certainly. And that’s the last choice you’ll make until the end of your term. The placement officer pays attention to your choice, too. First thing he does is to check whether there’s any demand for left-handed glass blowers this week—that being what you think would make you happy. Having reluctantly conceded that there is a need for your choice—probably at the bottom of the Pacific—he then tests you for innate ability and preparation. About once in twenty times he is forced to admit that everything matches and you get the job . . . until some practical joker gives you dispatch orders to do something very different. But the other nineteen times he turns you down and decides that you are just what they have been needing to field-test survival equipment on Titan.” He added meditatively, “It’s chilly on Titan. And it’s amazing how often experimental equipment fails to work. Have to have real field tests, though—laboratories just never get all the answers.”

        There is a later section where the doctor administering a physical indicates that the only disqualifying factor is if a person cannot understand the oath of enlistment. Even a person confined to a wheelchair and blind in both eyes could enlist for a term and become a voting citizen.

        This reads to me as there being non-military government organizations that require work and personal risk and thus are qualifying as a voting citizen. Sort of like the CCC that began back in the 1930s.

        During the early boot camp passages, the book mentions that older men had enlisted and were having trouble keeping up with the physical training. They retained the option to shift over to a different form of federal service. During the later passages where Rico is in OCS, the Commandant mentions that most voting citizens are not military veterans. He points out that anyone serving on active duty is ineligible to vote. And there is a discussion about various filters that every civilization has used to restrict the franchise; age, gender, property ownership, etc.

        I have never understood the case for asserting that ST contains any noteworthy fascist elements. Having a strong military is not fascist; although fascist states almost uniformly do have strong militaries.

        Restricting the franchise isn’t inherently fascist, although fascist states invariably use franchise restrictions to stay in power. One has to be 18 to vote in the US. I’ve met brilliant 15-year-olds and 40-year-olds that…ummm….are a long, long way from brilliant. I’ve met renters that could name all of the Supreme Court justices (as one measure of political acumen/engagement) and property owners that can’t name a single one of their elected representatives.

        The “unique poll tax”, as the Commandant terms it, of ST is not inherently fascist either.

        If you see significant facets of the book that are fascist, then I’d be interested in reading that.

        One cannot and must not try to erase the past merely because it does not fit the present. – Golda Meir


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